Good times return to Soldier Field
The Chicago Bears are back.
Not back to winning -- not yet, anyway -- but back to being fun. Back to being likable.
Sunday's season-opening game at Soldier Field felt different from recent seasons. Brighter, like a cloud had lifted.
That cloud's name is Jay Cutler.
I know the departed quarterback had some fans here -- there were seven of them at last count -- but I found him immeasurably loathsome. He appealed mainly to scowling enthusiasts and recreational mopers, and while his physical potential was obvious, his inability to capitalize on those gifts made him exhausting to watch and, in turn, made the Bears un-fun.
Cutler spent most of his time on the field looking like he would rather be earning millions of dollars elsewhere. He tossed interceptions at decidedly inopportune moments with a frequency that suggested he held a lifelong grudge against Chicago and was out for revenge.
But Sunday's game against the Atlanta Falcons was gloriously Cutler-free. The Bears lost 23-17, yet it felt like Chicago fans once again had reason to cheer.
Consider the final moments of the game. The Bears had the ball close to the end zone with four downs to go, needing only a touchdown and an extra point to win against the heavily favored Falcons.
At quarterback was a guy who isn't Jay Cutler. It was Mike something-or-other. The name is irrelevant. Let's just call him Mike NotJayCutler.
The beautiful thing about those four attempts at a touchdown was that fans had reason to believe the Bears might score. Or, to put it another way, they didn't have reason to believe the Bears would absolutely not score.
With Cutler under center in the same situation, you could bet the farm he would disappoint. He'd drop the ball or throw an easy interception or overthrow his receivers.
But with Mike NotJayCutler, anything seemed possible. And so those four downs were actually exciting. And fun.
The Bears' failure to score, while disappointing, didn't feel like something the city would have to get used to seeing over and over again.
We don't know how long Mike NotJayCutler, the veteran, will be the starting quarterback. Behind him is Mitch NotJayCutler, a rookie who seems to be talented and exciting and humble and, as previously noted, is not Jay Cutler.
I honestly don't care who plays the position. They could put a rusty catapult in at quarterback and it would still be more fun than the past eight seasons under Pouty McDripface.
Of course Sunday's game wasn't just about the absence of one player. It also introduced Chicago to Tarik Cohen, a 5-foot-6, 181-pound running back who racked up a stunning 158 all-purpose yards.
Cohen is the anti-Cutler, a little guy with heart. Some call him "chicken salad," because he makes something out of nothing.
The Bears have always been at their best when the team's players fit the city. Tough. No-nonsense. Hard working.
Chicagoans love rooting for the little guy to make it big, and Cohen showed Sunday he has the potential to make us love him.
That's the element the Bears have so desperately needed. People will tune in to root for chicken salad, someone with an attitude that can lift a city up, win or lose.
We haven't had that for some time. We had Cutler, who seemed to shrug off losses, ignoring that many Bears fans sweat each game like it's their last.
On a clear day at Soldier Field, everyone could see Cutler's cloud had lifted. He's with the Miami Dolphins now, and I'm sure he'll drive fans in South Florida crazy enough that they'll eventually hate not just the team but actual dolphins as well.
I'll take Mike or Mitch or Rusty Catapult any day. Heck, put Cohen in at quarterback and see if he can make something out of nothing, I don't care.
It's high time the Bears have some fun. The team might not win a lot this year, but if Sunday is any example, Chicago has already won by subtraction.
We've been de-Cutlered. And the whole place just feels lighter.
(Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and a noted hypocrisy enthusiast. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @RexHuppke.)