I'm a little late to this party, but maybe it's because I've never understood the ruckus resonating from Gale Sayers' recent comments about the state of Chicago's franchise. From what I've seen of his banquet speech in Omaha, Neb., the "criticism" was reasonable and in most cases defensible.
Here's the key quote based on The Associated Press' account:
"Cutler hasn't done the job. [Linebacker Brian] Urlacher, I don't know how good he's going to be coming back. He's 33 years old. They need a couple wide receivers, a couple defensive backs. They haven't done a good job. If Lovie [Smith] doesn't do it this year, I think he's gone. He had a good team the Super Bowl year. Nothing came together for him the last couple years."
Contrast that statement to those we heard last year from former Minnesota quarterback Fran Tarkenton, who came off as a bit crazed and mostly out of touch in criticizing the Vikings' pursuit of quarterback Brett Favre. Among other things, Tarkenton proved to be about 25 years late on the realization that NFL players don't have the same loyalties to their original teams as players of his generation did.
In Sayers' case, I'm sure the Bears would prefer not to have a Hall of Fame alumnus pointing out their potential pitfalls in public. But let's look at what Sayers said on face value:
Cutler hasn't done the job. We only have one year to go on, but no one could argue that Cutler did the job the Bears were expecting last year. You could interpret the statement to suggest Sayers doesn't expect much improvement, which would be unfair. But that reading would be an inference at best.
[Linebacker Brian] Urlacher, I don't know how good he's going to be coming back. He's 33 years old. Frankly, it's refreshing to hear someone with football credibility say this in public. We haven't seen the "real" Brian Urlacher for at least two seasons. Last year's wrist injury shouldn't have long-term impact, but it's wrong to assume Urlacher will be the same player he was in 2006 simply because he has recovered from it. Be it bad luck or a trend, there is an undeniable pattern of physical breakdown over the past few years.
They need a couple wide receivers, a couple defensive backs. They haven't done a good job. This is more of an opinion, but one that is reasonably held. The Bears like their receiving corps, and it might prove to be more than adequate to make Mike Martz's offense run. But it's a projection, and projections are always fair game for questioning. The same is true at defensive back, where I presume Sayers was referring to the unsettled nature of the safety position.
If Lovie doesn't do it this year, I think he's gone. He had a good team the Super Bowl year. Nothing came together for him the last couple years. Again, what is there to argue here? Smith's now-or-never status has seemed cemented for months, ever since team president Ted Phillips said this in January: "We don't feel that we have to put up with another losing year."
(I even agreed with what Sayers said about silly comparisons between him and New Orleans running back Reggie Bush: "You can't compare that, because he gets hurt too much. He's a fine young man. He's a little light. He's not a player who's going to carry 25 times a game. He'll get five carries, catch three passes and run back a couple punts.")
I wouldn't blame the Bears if they are stung by Sayers' comments. He is a big part of their history and someone I'm sure they would prefer to be promoting the team rather than questioning its direction. But as they say, sometimes the truth hurts.