Hub Arkush: Suddenly, the Chicago Bears are champions again
Although the Bears’ nine NFL championships are the second most in the 99-year history of the NFL — only the Packers, with 13, have more — dating back to the AFL-NFL merger and the beginning of inter-conference play in 1970, Chicago has won only 10 division titles — including five straight from 1984-1988 and six of seven from ’84-to-1990.
In the 27 seasons between 1990-2017, the Bears claimed only four division crowns — in 2001, 2005, 2006 and 2010.
That is just the tip of the iceberg as to why the Bears’ 24-17 win over the Packers Sunday, securing the 2018 NFC North crown, appeared to elicit both a sigh of relief and a raucous celebration from millions of Bears fans throughout Chicago and across the country.
That the Bears secured the title by beating their archrival Packers, who had won nine of their last 10 and 15 of their last 17 meetings, while second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky significantly outplayed Aaron Rodgers — who entered Sunday’s loss to the Bears 16-4 against Chicago — made the win that much sweeter and the celebration that much rowdier.
But the greatest impact of the Bears being crowned champions of the NFC North Sunday is the juxtaposition of the team’s success this year with its performance over the past seven seasons since its last NFC North crown, including consecutive last-place finishes the last four seasons and a remarkably dismal 19-45 record.
As recently as seven weeks ago, when the Bears sat at 3-3 and were coming off back-to-back losses to the Dolphins and Patriots, nobody saw this coming.
Rookie NFL head coaches aren’t supposed to win division titles, even though the Rams Sean McVay turned the trick just last season.
Still, Bears rookie head coach Matt Nagy told us Sunday he sensed something brewing with this club early.
“Well, you could feel it all year long that we knew we had the talent,” he said. “I think more so than anything it was going to be how do we respond to adversity and how do our guys react to a loss?
“How do they react to a win? I’ll go back to the Minnesota game Sunday night when we played the Vikings, that was a big turnaround I think for us to be here at home and win that game.
“I think it kind of just really embedded into our players the true belief of how they felt where we could go.”
While celebrations grew throughout Chicago and wherever Bears fans are found Sunday night and will continue for many right up until this club’s first playoff game, of course these moments mean more to some than others.
Veteran CB Prince Amukamara earned a Super Bowl ring as a rookie in 2011 with the New York Giants, playing in just seven games, and this will be his first return trip to the playoffs.
But asked in the locker room what this Bears title means to him, he said, “I’m really happy for this organization. The McCaskeys are probably so excited. They are going to have an even better Christmas.
“This was for the fans, this was for the organization and we are glad that we were able to do it.”
Amukamara’s last sentiment has been a growing theme around these Bears, with Nagy awarding the game ball to the city and Bears fans a week ago Sunday night after their stunning thrashing of the Los Angeles Rams.
For a long time it has been increasingly difficult and at times even painful to be a Bears fan, and now they are suddenly the hottest ticket in the league.
While the Bears appear to be very young, very talented and poised for even greater successes for several years to come, it would be wise to soak up as much of this Bears euphoria as you can right now.
After all, as Bears fans know all to well, these moments can be fleeting.
Perhaps there will be more, but what we know right now is these Bears are division champs, and that feels incredibly good.