Bears coach Matt Nagy explained to his players the first time they gathered in April of last year that the ultimate goal is winning the Super Bowl — and admits now that not many of them at the time believed it could happen.
Fast-forward a little more than 14 months. Nagy is the Coach of the Year, and his Bears are the reigning division champions. The team just enjoyed a goose bump-inducing weekend celebrating the franchise's centennial season, where Super Bowl discussion — from fans and franchise legends alike — was inescapable. And Nagy has no interest in escaping it.
"It feels good because we have good players, we feel like we have a good team, we did it last year. But now last year is gone," Nagy explained Tuesday following the first of three mandatory minicamp practices prior to a five-week respite before training camp. "We're going to use it, but when we walk out on the field against the Packers in Week 1, it's a new year. And there's a lot of different expectations from a lot of different people. That's my job is to make sure I corral that and keep those blinders on that we've always had on and we focus on Week 1. We don't focus on Week 16, 17, 18, etc.. And I welcome that challenge, and I know our players do too."
Still, when Pro Football Hall of Famers Richard Dent is drawing parallels between the 1984-85 defenses and the current unit and Mike Singletary is saying the Bears have the talent to achieve their goal, and Mike Ditka proclaims he likes the trajectory of Nagy's club, the hype train has officially left the station with the iconic '85 Bears driving it.
Linebacker Danny Trevathan, one of the vocal leaders and second-leading tackler on the NFL's top-rated defense, explained what hearing from those legends feels like.
"Goosebumps, man. It’s a foundation that has been laid, our standards have been raised," he said. "That’s the way we want it and that’s the way you want to keep it here. It feels good to know those guys have our back. We don’t get to see them as much. So when you do hear it, it’s great to know that they’re around for us and they know that we can do special things."
But it's a delicate balance, Nagy explained, of knowing when it's OK to be loose and embody the coach endearingly nicknamed "Swaggy" and when it's time to be serious. The Bears' perfect attendance for the majority of their voluntary offseason program has been discussed plenty in this space. But beyond the physical participation, Nagy senses his players — only two days from a five-week break — signaling they're ready for Bourbonnais, not the beach.
"They've shown an amazing ability to know when to be super serious and try and get better as a team," Nagy said. "And then I know when to help them pull back and have some fun and create our own identity and keep what we built last year, keep that going. And now we're at the point, like I said, they're ready for training camp to get here. ... They'e ready to put the pads on. They just want to play."
Well, perhaps not everyone is rounding into top form and ready for camp. The Bears' much-ballyhooed kicking competition remains very much a work in progress, with all three kickers missing in the "Augusta Silence" from 42 yards Tuesday. There was even a doink from Eddy Pineiro, before Chris Blewitt pushed his attempt wide left and Elliott Fry went wide right.
After his tongue-in-cheek reply to a question about what went through his mind watching that — "whatever went through your mind went through my mind" — Nagy's tone turned more serious.
"Yeah, no I mean that's about as real as it gets," he said. "They were 0-for-3 out there. For today, we can't have that. We are going to figure this thing out, but 0-for-3 today, no good."
Nagy said the key for the Bears is continuing, as a collective, to believe in their evaluations of the current trio competing and leave no stone unturned in the process. The Bears responded by waiving Blewitt Wednesday. But Nagy probably wishes it were as easy as the advice he received from Ditka, whom Nagy said he relished visiting with more than anyone else at Bears100.
"You know, he was chewing his gum, [and] he said, 'you know there's really good football players and then there's not so good players. Get rid of the not so good players.' And I was like waiting for a point and then I started thinking about it — that's pretty easy. So that's what I want to do, I just don't want to have not so good players, I want good players. So the more good players we can have, then I guess you can win a Super Bowl.