In a Super Bowl field as wide open as any in recent memory, the Chicago Bears have somehow found the shadows of obscurity.
The Packers, Jets and Steelers can play the disrespect card as a means of motivation, but with the Bears, the lack of love seems more tangible.
Despite hosting Sunday’s NFC Championship against Green Bay, a team Chicago has beaten once this season, the Bears are four-point underdogs, according to Bodog.com.
The spread seems narrow, but at the same time so cavernous for a game between the two oldest rivals in professional football, who have never met in the playoffs outside of a 1941 encounter to decide the old NFL Championship.
But the blatant disregard for the Bears extends beyond Las Vegas.
In his weekly Monday column, Sports Illustrated writer Peter King ranked Chicago fifth among his top 15 teams. For clarity, at the time King penned his words, the Jets had long since trimmed the playoff field to four with their win over New England, which King inserted one slot above the Bears at No. 4.
You punch a ticket to the conference championship, yet still take a back seat to a team that will be watching the rest of the playoffs from home.
Of course, you won’t find many sympathizers in Green Bay, New York or Pittsburgh. Opposing fans are too busy claiming their own teams are getting the snub.
At this point, it seems the only people—save for the population of Illinois and maybe, just maybe, scattered areas in the southernmost parts of Wisconsin—that give the Bears a fighting chance are Barack Obama and reality television star Kristin Cavallari, who is equally invested in the success of Jay Cutler, but for completely different reasons.
Maybe it’s because the Bears don’t play the most exciting brand of football. Built primarily on defense, Chicago mirrors a team like the Jets, with one huge exception: Lovie Smith is nooooo Rex Ryan, at least in terms of psychological warfare.
Cutler is a fine quarterback, but he has two fewer rings and less cachet than Ben Roethlisberger and is no Aaron Rodgers, who just last week, with a “Brett Favre Successor” label taped to his back, completed 86 percent of his passes to set a team postseason record.
Maybe roles would be reversed, believe it or not, if the Bears were playing at Lambeau. Chicago lost its season finale at Green Bay, but that was one of only two losses away from Soldier Field, where the Bears lost three of eight during the regular season.
Maybe it’s the way inauspicious nature in which Chicago was seemingly handed a 20-17 win in Week 3 against Green Bay, which committed a franchise-record 19 penalties to wipe out a sizeable differential in total yards, especially through the air.
Or maybe it is being perceived, through no fault of their own, that the Bears have traveled the least rocky postseason road to get to this point.
Both the Jets and Packers have won consecutive road games to reach the conference championship as a Wild Card, toppling the top seed in the process. The Steelers, albeit off a bye week, orchestrated a spirited second-half comeback against a Baltimore team that had won 13 games.
Meanwhile, the Bears are perhaps marred by the distinction of being the ones responsible for dispatching the first ever sub-.500 playoff team in the history of the game.
There’s no sexiness in that.
Whatever the reasons behind the Bears getting the shaft, none of it will matter on Sunday.
I predicted Chicago will lose to Green Bay, but I know no more than anybody else. The Bears are a solid overall team, stout against the run, and excel at creating scoring opportunities through special teams.
With no clear-cut favorite to clutch the Lombardi Trophy at Cowboys Stadium next month, the Bears are as capable as the other three teams.
That doesn’t mean they will. But that doesn’t mean they won’t either, although some people have them written off already.