Mitchell Trubisky Ready to Be the Bears' Savior, 'Make People Eat Their Words'

Tyler Dunne @TyDunne NFL Features WriterJuly 18, 2018

Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky (10) shakes hands with fans after beating the Cleveland Browns 20-3 in an NFL football game in Chicago, Sunday, Dec. 24, 2017. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)
B/R

LIBERTYVILLE, Ill. — The man has every reason to be miserable. Outside on this summer day, it's a borderline monsoon. Back home, Mom just had ACL surgery after a four-wheeling excursion gone wrong in the Caribbean. Dust blurred her vision, she swerved, hit a stump and ejected airborne into a tree. That's why son stayed home in Mentor, Ohio, an extra day before driving the six-and-a-half hours to Chicago last night. To help her recover.

Later today, he'll speak in front of 300-plus kids at a high school. Then another school. Then another. Mitchell Trubisky is cool performing in front of 80,000 fans on a football field, but this exercise has him admittedly nervous. Public speaking was never his forte.

And this all comes the heels of a four-day camp back in Ohio and another five days in Chapel Hill for his alma mater's recruiting camp.

What the heck, man? Trubisky should be on a beach with a margarita in his hand, his toes in the sand and country music in his ears. This is the only dead period on the NFL calendar. His life's about to change for the (much) better or (much) worse very soon. Yet from the moment this 23-year-old snakes through a crowd of families waiting for tables at Wildberry Pancakes and Cafe—past the woman with a bandage under her eye in a sweatshirt that reads, "I'm not crazy, my mother had me tested"—to the second he's finished polishing off an omelet splattered in salsa, he is freaking...beaming.

Talking a mile a minute. Holding permanent eye contact with every word.

Leaning over the table—gyrating his hands, raising his voice—to punctuate every point.

And when Trubisky punches in the code on his cellphone, he smiles as if unlocking the key to eternal quarterback success.

"Pick a number," he says suddenly. "One to 103."

On his haul to Chicago last night, Trubisky brainstormed topics to bring up to those high schoolers. Quotes. Stories. Life lessons. He voiced them all into his phone one by one and could not stop until 103. What began as an exercise for those kids became a six-and-a-half hour look into his own soul. His future. His plan to bring back the Chicago Bears.

Start with No. 10. His jersey number.

"Servant leadership," Trubisky reads. "That's the type of leader you try to be. When I think of servants, I think of Jesus Christ. And Martin Luther King. ... If you're a great servant, people will follow you."

Let's go with No. 85. For the '85 Bears.

"Oooo," Trubisky says, excited. "This is a quote: 'Live in the moment. You can't do anything about the past because it's already over with. And the future is too far away.'"

No. 44 is the main reason he's here today: "No days off." As a meager 190-pound freshman at UNC, Trubisky made the decision to literally never take a day off and beefed up to 220 pounds. He trained so much the team's strength coach scolded him. He ate so much he'd get legitimately sick. It all paid off: Trubisky finally started 13 games and was drafted No. 2 overall.

No. 103? "There's more than one way. There's not one single recipe."

And, no doubt, those high schoolers will hear all about No. 51: "The Mrs. Elwell Story." This is the one that gets to the heart of the question on the mind of every tortured Bears fan. In fifth grade, his teacher asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up. Mrs. Elwell did this with every class, every year because she wants kids to dream. Trubisky, like countless others, said he wanted to play in the NFL.

Only, this was different. Elwell genuinely believed Trubisky.

She saw that same gleam in his eye that's here today.

Photo by Tyler Dunne

"She could see in my eyes that 'this kid's serious,'" Trubisky says. "And she said, 'From that moment on, this kid is actually going to be in the NFL.'"

So when Trubisky vows right here to turn the Bears into a winner, you better believe him.

"It's going to happen," he says. "For sure."

And he keeps staring...and staring...almost uncomfortably until you're forced to look away.

The curse has lingered for 98 years now. Trubisky should be afraid because, here, names change, but the calamity does not. From McNown to Hutchinson to Grossman to Orton to Cutler to Glennon, this franchise is a horror show of terrible draft picks and terrible contracts. Epic defenses are wasted. Hopes are crushed. Chicagoans can only watch and weep as their Wisconsin friends to the north taunt them with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

Trubisky gets the history, gets your torment and absolutely gets the circumstances of 2018 and beyond.

When general manager Ryan Pace traded away four picks simply to shimmy up one slot for the QB a year ago, hundreds of jobs in the building (and the heart rates of the 2.7 million residents outside the building) were retroactively put in Trubisky's hands. The burden to win—and win now—rages louder here. Fail and he'll be mocked, memed, banished forever. Trubisky acknowledges that reality yet isn't consumed by it. Because the one common theme through those 103 points in his phone is that Trubisky doesn't give a damn about anybody's expectations but his own.

This is a quarterback who's been looking inward every way possible.

He's ready for that burden.

"I can help deliver what I believe these fans deserve," he said. "That's a great organization to root for. That's winning. ... I think they're hungry and starving for that. I am too.

"Hopefully, they can match my intensity."


He grew up in the suburbs and still lives in the suburbs. It's calmer that way. This breakfast spot is eerily similar to the one Trubisky loved back in Ohio, Yours Truly. A young waiter gently asks how the team is looking this offseason, and eyes dart Trubisky's way in wonder.

The owners know him well. No paying for a meal this day.

Rather than rent some high-rise pad in downtown Chicago, he bought a house about five minutes from here. One that's also near the team's Lake Forest practice facility. In fact, other than home games, Trubisky has only been to the city itself for the occasional steak, two Bulls games, one Blackhawks game, one Cubs game and one White Sox game.

The locals didn't exactly present their new neighbor a warm apple pie upon arrival.

Hours after Trubisky was drafted, he attended a Bulls game, the announcer called out his name and the fans booed. And booed. Told that a photo of Roger Goodell on the videoboard likely lathered up those fans—given a chance to cut those locals a break—Trubisky shakes his head. Nah. He knows he was a source of their vitriol that night.

"They were booing me too," he says. "That's something I'll never forget. Definitely a humbling experience of, All right, kid, you better get to work. I'm glad it happened. I didn't look at it like I was happy or sad about it. That's how it is in all sports. You either do your job, and they love you, or you fail, and they're going to hate you, and you're going to be out of there. It just has to motivate you."

When he finally got his shot to turn those boos into cheers, he didn't exactly inspire at a Deshaun Watson level. His passer rating of 77.5 ranked 28th among starting quarterbacks. He threw seven touchdowns in 12 games. He won four, lost eight. His supporting cast? Mostly in casts. And coaches did everything but make Trubisky a Bubble Boy with unimaginative game plans straight out of the 1950s.

Yet here he sits on the brink of Year 2, bursting with confidence.

On those fans: "I feel like I landed in the perfect situation in the perfect town."

GREEN BAY, WI - SEPTEMBER 28:  A Chicago Bears
fan holds a sign referring to rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky during a game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on September 28, 2017 in Green Bay, Wisconsin. The Packers defeated the Bears 35
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

On last year: "You're stepping into the huddle, and they expect you to boss around these grown-ass men. To do that, you really have to earn their respect. Everybody has to buy into the same plan. If everyone's not bought in, it's not going to work. If everyone believes in the plan—believes in you, who's leading—and respects that, then you have that authority to really take over and start to hold guys accountable."

On this year: "I walk into the building, and I can talk to anyone. I know everyone, I have their respect."

On his energy being contagious: "Are you making the people around you better? Are you uplifting them? Or are you bringing them down and being an energy vampire?"

No, Trubisky wasn't shy before, when he met with B/R prior to the 2017 draft. But he has now discovered the type of leader he was always meant to be. On his phone, he reveals a screenshot he took from a page of Sam Walker's book The Captain Class. Walker spent 11 years studying leadership on the best sports teams around the world, gave his book to the Bears, and Trubisky couldn't get enough.

Right there are the seven traits Walker found in the world's best captains.

"Read that," Trubisky says, "and tell me you wouldn't want your captain to be all those things."

1. Extreme doggedness and focus in competition.

2. Aggressive play that tests the limits of the rules.

3. A willingness to do thankless jobs in the shadows.

4. A low-key, practical, and democratic communication style.

5. Motivates others with passionate nonverbal displays.

6. Strong convictions and the courage to stand apart.

7. Ironclad emotional control.

Adds Trubisky, "Not once does it say, 'I want this guy to cuss his teammates out' or give a big halftime speech."

With each word, each anecdote in the book, light bulbs went off in Trubisky's head. College coaches used to tell him to bark orders when, deep down, he knew that wasn't him. This was. This book has helped Trubisky amplify his best qualities. He brings up the headliners in Walker's book: "The Water Carrier" on a Hungarian men's soccer team, Carla Overbeck on the U.S. women's soccer team, a captain on France's handball team. He too embraces thankless jobs behind the scenes, fetching towels and water for teammates. He too is getting to know everyone in the building, from Jorge (the team's smoothie-maker) to Roberto (a team janitor).

Roberto is actually teaching Trubisky Spanish daily.

This relationship—like all relationships in that building—is cherished.

"Everybody knows I'm here to win football games," Trubisky says. "But I'm here for you as well as a person. My teammates know that, and I think that's helped me gain everybody's respect and helped them believe in me. And their belief in me gives me confidence."

Paul Sancya/Associated Press

Walker met with the Bears this offseason and cultivated a close relationship with Trubisky. The two communicate regularly. It's not uncommon for Walker to, say, send Trubisky video clips of Tim Duncan interacting with teammates. As Walker says, Trubisky is someone who plays with unbridled joy...so what are the emotions he projects when times are tough? "His resting pulse rate," as Walker puts it, "his resting emotion."

The author studied those game faces in elite leaders, and, sure there are flashes of frustration and joy, but there is a distinct, raw "intensity" at crucial moments.

Trubisky loves how demanding yet compassionate Duncan was on those Spurs teams. He approached teammates right when something went wrong with two hands on their shoulders. His face one foot away from their faces. Eyes locked onto their eyes for three...four...five seconds that felt like hours. And the problem was fixed. Since Duncan never went ballistic, such a serious gaze packed a serious punch. Trubisky wants to operate as Duncan did.

He has his Duncan Game 7 imitation going here at breakfast.

"Hand gestures. Contact. Bringing them in close. Just body language to where [they think]: Wow, Mitch, he's really locked in. He really cares about me, not only as a player but as a person. He's got my back. I'm going to go play my ass off for this guy," Trubisky says. "That's what the Spurs did for Tim Duncan. ... Are you touching them? Are you locked on? Eye contact? Because they can tell.

"If I'm not yelling at you but I'm trying to get a point across and I'm right here: Hey, don't worry about the last play. Let's get this next one. I'm right here. What else can they think about besides what you're saying if you're that locked in?

"It doesn't have to be cussing someone one. It has to be real."

Or, you know, the exact opposite of what Jay Cutler did most of his eight seasons in Chicago.

Trubisky reads and rereads those seven traits daily to engrain them deeper into his subconscious. He loves No. 7—"ironclad emotional control"—but says he hasn't been truly tested here like Brett Favre losing his father or Tom Brady dealing with his mother's cancer. Overcoming a severe knee injury in middle school makes Trubisky feel like he's ready for anything, but his ability to handle serious adversity at an NFL level remains to be seen.

One major takeaway from Walker's book? Once teammates know you'd do anything for them, they'll do anything for you.

Walker does see this Duncan-like sacrifice in Trubisky. A genuine "transparency." A "consistency."

"The great strength Mitchell has, the advantage he has, is he cares. A lot," Walker says. "He's putting in the work, and he's sacrificing for the team. It gives him an incredible amount of capital with his teammates. Now when he tells you that you broke too soon on a route or your blocking technique is off—anything he says—they know where it's coming from. They know it's not coming from his ego. It comes from the desire to help the entire team collectively.

"That's hugely powerful."

The key is for Trubisky to grow with a coach the same way Duncan did with Gregg Popovich and Brady did with Bill Belichick. That "push and pull," Walker says, that "conflict" is imperative. Accomplish this and Walker sees the Bears building a winner that'll last.

He sees a championship culture.

"I would go long on them," Walker says. "I would buy and hold on the Bears."

So it's building. Slowly. The Bears can feel it. Trey Burton repeats that Trubisky possesses that rare ability to relate to players from every type of background. While he didn't have the eclectic, topsy-turvy childhood like Duncan—an elite swimmer who lost his zest for swimming after Hurricane Hugo destroyed St. Croix's Olympic-sized pool and lost his mother to cancer one day before his 14th birthday—Burton believes Trubisky has a similar laid-back vibe that endears him to everyone.

It's natural, and that's not always the case. Burton knows quarterbacks at every level try to force it. Trubisky's trying to master that delicate balance of changing the names of plays in meetings (as he has) and telling a receiver to "Shut up!" in the huddle (as he has), all while being a dude you'd run through a wall for.

"Especially with the new generation, there's a way to do that," Burton says. "He knows how to get people to respond and different ways to talk to different people. ... Alpha, you don't necessarily need to be screaming at somebody. Sometimes Alpha is pulling somebody aside and having a sit-down conversation with them and trying to figure out what's going on behind closed doors. He definitely has the ability to do all that."

Of course, Trubisky also plays in a division with one quarterback (Matthew Stafford) who has the swagger to missile any throw at any angle, one (Kirk Cousins) screaming into the cameras, "You Like That!" and one (Aaron Rodgers) who'll snipe at a young receiver one moment, flash The Belt at a defender the next and then reach into your soul and remove your heart with three seconds left.

DETROIT, MI - DECEMBER 16:  Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford #9 talks with Chicago Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky #10 after the Lions defeated the Bears20-10 at Ford Field on December 16, 2017 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

Trubisky can learn Spanish.

He can fill a water bottle.

He can prove himself off the field as a leader worth following.

On Sundays, he'll still need to be a diabolical Alpha.


Everything crystallizes in his mind. Trubisky can envision every snap of every game, and, man, what a beautiful sight. This season, he vows to step up to the line of scrimmage "in absolute control."

What does control look like? He pauses for seven seconds. Stares ahead.

"You know what you want to happen, and you know that you can make it happen every single play," he says. "You know what the defense is doing. You know what you're doing. Knowledge is power. No panic. Play calls, you're ripping them in and out, to the line of scrimmage. Getting the checks. Getting the protection call. Mike'ing the right 'backer in the run game. Rolling. You're just out there not thinking. Everything is second nature."

You make it sing, as Trubisky puts it, "like your favorite song."

And even if Trubisky has some troubling taste when it comes to country music, standing by his allegiance to Florida Georgia Line and the unmitigated disaster of a song, "Simple"—"Banger," he says, unflinching, "banger"—he redeems himself by assuring he's all about Luke Combs right now. Especially the track "Must've Never Met You." (Whew. Close call.)

That's the quality of tune you should have in mind when you think of Trubisky making the Bears sing—the type that could bring them back.

Nobody should be shocked if he makes the same jump his pal Jared Goff did in Year 2. That's the goal. Goff's rookie season went even worse—much worse, actually—than Trubisky's. Yet after resembling a human punching bag, Goff (like Trubisky here) spoke in bold strokes and then backed it up with 3,804 yards, 28 touchdowns and a division title.

The parallels are striking. Like Trubisky, Goff was stymied by stale X's and O's and even staler weapons. When all of that changed, so did his performance.

The two quarterbacks lived in a house together while training in Newport, California, this offseason. Goff has told Trubisky that he'll feel unleashed in a new offense. Liberated.

He'll be given more of the control he craves in a bona fide spread offense.

He'll change plays. Change runs. Do more run-pass options (RPOs). Shockingly, last year's Bears staff didn't tap into Trubisky's athleticism via the NFL's latest craze. He said he ran RPOs on only "a few plays" as a rookie. And Trubisky cannot wait to chuck it deep surrounded by new weapons in Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Burton.

Expect new head coach Matt Nagy to cut Trubisky loose.

Gail Burton/Associated Press

"Coach Nagy has a gunslinger mentality," Trubisky says. "He wants to gun it. He wants to bomb it. He just wants to attack the defense.

"He's relentless, and I love it."

Which is why Mitchell Trubisky is downright giddy.

And still, hidden in that giddiness are spurts of ire. Moments that hint Trubisky is armed with the requisite maliciousness to spar with Rodgers, Cousins and Stafford in the NFC North. For starters, Trubisky believes mobs of opposing fans and players have already written him off as a bust beyond repair. He didn't display the magic in his 726 snaps that Watson did in his 464 or even Patrick Mahomes in his 63, per Football Outsiders. To this contingent, Trubisky promises the Bears will contend.

"If it's not the first game, it's the second game," he says. "If it's not the second game, it's the third game. If it's not this year, it's next year. But I do believe it'll be this year."

Despite the presence of those three quarterbacks.

Despite the fact that he'll be perceived as the runt of the litter in his own division.

"If that doesn't get you excited, I don't know what will," he says. "People say, 'This kid, no matter how good he does, he's going to be the worst in his division every year.' That's a challenge I'm going to accept. You have to go toe-to-toe with the big dogs. We want to make teams fear coming into Chicago—and when we come into their town, they know, We're in for a war.

"So get ready. I'm going to be prepared. I'm going to give you everything I've got. Hopefully, I make people eat their words with what they say about me."

For the Bears, it's simple.

If Trubisky fails, they fail. People will be fired. That's a daunting reality. Especially when that reality involves stepping onto the same field as Rodgers twice a year.

He's still staring through you.

"I've realized that these people you look up to—watching Aaron Rodgers, watching Tom Brady—they're humans just like I am," Trubisky says. "They can make mistakes. They're just people. We've all been through similar things to get to where we are now. ... As a competitor, you want the biggest, tallest challenge you can possibly ask for.

"So, yeah, give me the division with Aaron Rodgers, Stafford and Kirk Cousins. Bring 'em on."

Frank Victores/Associated Press

Trubisky's phone has been lighting up with messages from all three of his offensive coaches this offseason. Nagy wants his team and his quarterback "to be obsessed." A rallying cry Trubisky takes to heart. He brings his iPad everywhere, studying constantly. Chicagoans keep telling Trubisky that even though the Cubs won a World Series, this remains a Bears town. And seeing how revered that '85 Bears team is to this day only lifts his obsession to new heights.

Imagining the '18 Bears sweeping the city the way the '85 Bears did, Trubisky rubs his chin.

"It'd iconic. It'd be legendary. It'd be…everything you dream of."

A book helps. A new head coach helps.

So does a new offense and a new No. 1 wideout.

Ultimately, Trubisky knows all pressure falls on his shoulders. The noise will get louder and louder with every misstep. And like his sports idol, LeBron James, Trubisky is a huge fan of Teddy Roosevelt's "The Man in the Arena" quote. The words are written on a poster in his room, a poster he's getting framed soon. Arguably no athlete this generation faced more vitriol than James, and he, in time, found a way to block it all out to ruthlessly dominate his profession.

Now that he's in a spotlight, Trubisky lives by the former U.S. president's words: "It is not the critic who counts. … The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood."

Trubisky is now pointing an index finger to the table.

"Why would I be worried about what anybody has to say on the outside?" he says. "You're sitting in a chair talking into a microphone. I'm in the war. I'm in the middle of the hurricane."

That's what must separate Trubisky on the field. As Burton says: "Can you stand in the pocket and make the tough throws? That's ultimately what gets you the most respect from your teammates." And that's what must separate Trubisky between the ears. Right now, he makes it clear that nothing else matters. No boos from fans. No doubt. No noise. Trubisky dismisses the idea of being a savior, saying the term is too biblical.

Yet then, moments later, Trubisky cites a quote straight out of Luke 12:48—as if even in objecting to the term, he knows deep down a savior is exactly what this woebegone franchise needs.

"People have been telling me I have to prove myself this year. What do I have to prove?" Trubisky says. "I've been trying to prove myself since I picked up this brown ball at the age of 7. Who are you to tell me I have to prove myself this year? I've been trying to prove to myself every single day of my life that I'm good enough to be at this level, that I'm worthy to be playing this game.

"To whom much is given, much is expected."

Moments later, Trubisky heads outside. It's not raining anymore, and he's not skittish about speaking to those kids. He's devoid of all stress, all worry, and training camp cannot come soon enough.

He believes this city will be cheering soon.

And right there in his phone are 103 reasons to believe everything will transpire as he has planned.

              

Tyler Dunne covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter: @TyDunne.

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