TELANDER: Bears, Cubs improving, but rival Packers, Cardinals aren’t going away
BY RICK TELANDER email@example.com August 5, 2013 9:50AM
Aaron Rodgers, Brian Urlacher
Updated: September 3, 2013 7:56AM
Yes, fans, we have the Bears and Cubs being retooled, reschooled and rebuilt.
The White Sox are going through a similar process, but they are further behind and more confused and less is expected of them. For our purposes — because the Sox don’t have an archrival FOE, in capital letters — we’re leaving them out of this entirely.
You see, as the Bears and Cubs improve (or seemingly improve), they each have a hurdle the Sox don’t: a juggernaut in their own division that simply won’t go away. We’re talking about the Green Bay Packers and St. Louis Cardinals, respectively.
Fired Bears coach Lovie Smith went 10-6 last season, which is a good record in almost any season. The trouble is, the Bears lost twice to the Packers.
In 2011, the Bears were a mediocre 8-8 — and lost both games to the Packers. In 2010, they actually beat the Packers the first time they played en route to an 11-5 record and an NFC North crown. But the Bears lost the last game of the regular season to the Packers, then lost again to them in the NFC Championship Game. Like, when it counts.
In 2009, Lovie’s lads lost both games to the Packers. They split in 2008, and — holy cheese! — won both games in 2007. But we’re not going back any further in history because what we have now in the division that we didn’t have then is Aaron Rodgers.
The Packers’ Pro Bowl quarterback is right up there with Drew Brees, the Manning brothers and Joe Flacco as a superstar passer. The Bears might have Jay Cutler, all the hopes that come with new coach Marc Trestman and some new offensive weapons, but does any of it mean anything if it isn’t better than what the Packers can produce?
Ever since Brett Favre was at his peak with the Packers, the Bears have struggled as much in the NFC North as anywhere. The Packers have been to three Super Bowls and won two since 1997, while the Bears have been to one Super Bowl — and lost it — since 1985.
The Packers might seem like a small-time organization, but that isn’t the case. With a unique statewide ownership, the team has been efficient and well-built and always seems to reload.
Consider that Rodgers himself sat on the bench for three seasons while waiting for Hall of Famer-to-be Favre to leave town.
For the Cubs, the Cardinals are the small-town monolith always in their way. Year in and year out, the Cardinals are consistent, proud and good. Unlike the Cubs, they don’t take three or four years off and tell their fans: ‘‘Bear with us. We’re almost ready to be good.’’
The Cardinals are in a first-place battle with the oddly resurgent Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Central, but you wouldn’t want to bet against them going far in the postseason. The Cardinals have won 11 World Series, which is second only to the New York Yankees’ 27. They lose managers such as Tony La Russa, have sluggers such as Mark McGwire shamed and continue on.
In a Sports Illustrated story in May, writer Ben Reiter stated: ‘‘When we think of the Cardinals, we think of a distinct organizational culture . . . we think consistency. Their 11 championships have been well-distributed. No son or daughter of St. Louis born since 1902 has reached the age of 25 without having lived through at least one victory parade.’’
Indeed, the Cardinals went to six World Series from 1982 to 2011, winning three. The Cubs? Well, the way I see it, any son or daughter born in Chicago since 1908 never has seen a victory parade.
One thing the Cardinals have done is cherish the position of catcher. The development of two-time World Series champ and five-time All-Star Yadier Molina is a perfect example of the way a man can lead from behind the plate.
Though just put on the disabled list, Molina was behind the plate for 26 consecutive games when Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright pitched, helping him to become the dependable stopper he is. It probably was no accident that Wainwright — himself a product of the Cardinals’ pitching philosophy of variety and rebuilding — lost Wednesday to the Pirates with backup catcher Tony Cruz behind the plate.
But the Cardinals will recover. Count on it. They always do.
The point here is that it’s just not good enough for the Bears and Cubs to improve. They can win more games. They can dazzle fans with passing yards, home runs, big tackles and crazy fielding plays. But none of it means anything unless it propels them to the top of their small divisions and into year-in, year-out dominance.
Green Bay and St. Louis. The evil empires.
Who would have thought it?