It seems entirely appropriate, in a perverse sort of way, that the Green Bay Packers determined the Bears’ fate Sunday.
After all, pandering to the masses has long been a Lovie Smith trademark, especially as he talked of needing nothing more in life than a victory over the Bears’ storied rival.
But that was more story than rivalry, as the Packers have won six straight and eight of nine from the Bears, who defeated the hapless Lions on Sunday in Detroit and then flew home, watching from afar as the Packers lost in the final seconds to Minnesota.
The local NFL season is over, the Bears becoming the first team since 1996 to start 7-1 and miss the playoffs.
And how pathetic it was for the Bears — so smug back in early November — to have to beg for help from their Wisconsin neighbors.
Nevertheless, it was all up to Aaron Rodgers to save the Bears from themselves and extend Smith’s Bears career by another week at least.
It didn’t happen, and now another year for Smith will supposedly be up to GM Phil Emery, who discouraged many a Bears fan when he talked to WBBM 780-AM before Sunday’s game and made it sound as though he’s a big fan of the head coach.
“Great team-first person. He’s done an outstanding job coaching the Bears,” Emery said. “It is the full season and the whole body of work. It’s about steady progress toward our goals, which is to win championships.”
Before a game the Bears needed to win to stay alive, it would have made no sense for the GM to say the head coach had something to prove, so maybe it was just Emery saying the right things and avoiding controversy.
But he sure didn’t appear to be a man ready to dump the head coach.
“When you’re evaluating players, you’re always looking for body of work,” Emery said Sunday. “It’s no different when you’re evaluating coaches.”
If Emery is being forced to keep Smith, or wants to retain Smith and is looking for ways to explain his decision, Emery could say that Smith averages 9 victories a year and has made the playoffs three times in nine seasons.
Those numbers sound extremely mediocre to most Bears fans, who would also point out that Smith has won precisely three playoff games and zero Super Bowls.
That “body of work” wouldn’t be all that enticing in most NFL cities. As for “steady progress toward our goals, which is to win championships,” what exactly is the progress Emery sees? And where are the championships?
Until further notice, we’ll assume Emery was merely paying lip service to the idea that Smith is the right guy for the job, at least until he actually says Smith will return for the final season of his contract.
We’ll assume that he’s smart enough to know the difference between “progress” and “digress.”
We’ll assume he can count, and that the number of “championships” Smith has won in Chicago has yet to total one.
The alternative to making these assumptions is to believe Emery really thinks Smith is a great coach and that staying the course is absolutely the right way to go.
If that’s the case, Emery is merely another McCaskey puppet, and he’s just another GM beholden to Ted Phillips, who doesn’t want to see Smith go anywhere anytime soon.
For most Bears fans, that’s just too much to ponder as the Bears pack up their stuff and head somewhere warm for golf season.
It’s just too much to think that the Smith era in Chicago will go on for another season — and maybe much more than that.
If that’s the case, hollow doesn’t even begin to describe 10 victories in 2012.
And optimism for 2013 will be very difficult to find.
ŸHear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.Copyright © 2013 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.