Fighting off the “Chicago Syndrome”

In yesterday’s print edition of the Chicago Sun-Times, former Bears offensive lineman Dan Jiggetts introduced the idea of a “Chicago Syndrome.” According to Jiggetts, many denizens of the Windy City “can’t believe one of our teams really got something right.”

In other words, Chicago fans are all doom and mostly gloom.

It’s true. By nature, Chicago fans always seem to be preparing for the worst. Which is kind of weird when you think about it. After all, in the past 25 years, the city has enjoyed a Super Bowl victory (and the ’85 Bears were one of the greatest teams in NFL history), six NBA titles (and Michael Jordan’s Bulls are considered among the greatest teams in NBA history), a World Series win (courtesy of the 2005 White Sox) and a hockey championship (thanks to the revival of the 2009-10 Blackhawks).

That’s a lot of winning. And those nine championships across the four major sports — including some true all-time teams — mark Chicago as one of the great sports cities in our country. Maybe even the world.

But dread is always right around the corner.

Maybe it’s the century’s worth of futility and suffering the Cubs have put us through. Maybe it’s the brutal winters. I don’t know. But whenever something bad happens, many Chicago fans will tell you with utter confidence that they saw it coming. That they knew this — whatever “this” may be — was going to happen.

To wit: Even though the Bears entered the game 4-1, there weren’t many people in the greater Chicagoland area who didn’t sort of expect something like Sunday’s home debacle against the Seattle Seachickens. While former Bears quaterback Kyle Orton is earning MVP talk in Denver, current Bear and former Bronco Jay Cutler — the guy who was finally going to give us a franchise QB — is getting beaten into oblivion: 23 sacks on the season, 15 in his last six quarters of play.

Would you blame Cutler for entering witness relocation? I wouldn’t. And hey, maybe he’ll be joining the Bears’ offensive line in hiding, because we sure haven’t seen much of them this season.

Baseball ended early in Chicago this year. Again. Thanks to the NHL’s hard salary cap, the 2010-11 Blackhawks barely resemble the 2009-10 team.

And the Bulls? They whiffed in their attempts to sign LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and/or Chris Bosh. Management recovered well enough, but then the team lost their biggest offseason acquisition to a broken hand — suffered in a freak home accident — before the guy had played a single preseason game. Carlos Boozer is out for what may be the team’s toughest stretch of the season. Two months? It might as well be an eternity.

Meanwhile, Ronnie Brewer (sore hamstring), C.J. Watson (strained left quadriceps), Taj Gibson (sore right heel) and now Kyle Korver (cyst in his left ankle) have all had ticky-tac injuries. The offense has been on-and-off. The shooting hasn’t been great. At times, rebounding has been an issue. Ditto for turnovers. Chemistry has been so-so.

And then there was last Saturday’s 38-point loss to the Magic where several Bulls players looked as dazed and confused as Jay Cutler. Maybe more so.

Is it time to hit the panic button? Some fans certainly appear to think so. Because of my status as an “expert” — I know, I know, try not to laugh — friends and co-workers at my Clark Kent job have been texting me or walking by my desk to ask what’s wrong with the Bulls. What’s wrong with the Bulls? They haven’t even played a regular season game yet! But some people around Chicago already believe the team is fundamentally flawed. Or, at the very least, that some unnamable thing is wrong with the them.

One co-worker told me: “They’re just destined to be a losing team, aren’t they?”

Losing team? Reality check: The Bulls are coming off two consecutive .500 seasons and two straight playoff appearances — the first of which, versus the Celtics in 2009, was one of the great first round series in league history. This despite various injuries, dubious coaching and a very real talent deficit.

It can be difficult to grasp the psychology of the Chicago area sports fan. Despite all the major titles and various non-championship playoff appearances, fans in the Windy City seem paranoid and forever on the verge of panic. But then again, maybe that’s simply the lot of the sports fan, where winning isn’t the most important thing…it’s the only thing.

The Bulls have nine new players and a new coaching staff. And yes, there have been some injuries, both major and minor. They aren’t what they can and will be. This is a process.

Said coach Tom Thibodeau: “Winning brings team chemistry. For the most part, we have high character and good workers on this team. I expect our chemistry to be very good. We’re still a work in progress. Each day, we’re getting better. We’ve looked at different combinations. We have an idea about the starting lineup. When we go to the bench, what combinations work best? We’re still figuring that out.”

Fair enough. Sadly, sports fans have little patience for the figuring out part. We want results. And we want them now, if not five minutes ago. (Or, in the Cubs’ case, 100 or so years ago.) And c’mon, coach. That loss to the Magic was pretty humbling.

Said Thibodeau: “You take every game and you try to analyze why you won or why you loss and then you try to take the necessary steps to improve. I thought it was a great game for us. The intensity that Orlando brings is good for your team to face.”

That which doesn’t destroy you only makes you stronger?

Added Thibs: “To be honest, I was really disappointed with the result of that game, but I haven’t been with the effort of our guys in practice. We have to continue to work. It was a great test for us to measure ourselves against an elite team and you’re facing a back-to-back. Back-to-backs are a big part of the NBA — we have 23 of them — so we know we have a long way to go in facing those challenges.”

But do the players feel the same way? I mean, seriously, the team rolled over and played dead in Orlando.

Said Taj Gibson: “At the end of the day, every team says they want to win a championship, and guys on this team really want to win a championship and contend and go against the top teams. Getting beat like that was embarrassing. Guys said, ‘Even if we had a back-to-back, there are no excuses. Even if it’s the preseason, we have to come out and get better.'”

I want to believe Thibs and Taj. I really do. But when I think about all those back-to-backs, and then when I consider how the team will be facing the November circus road trip without Carlos Boozer, I break out in a Chicago Syndrome fever. Man, I wish there was a vaccine for this thing.

All I can do — all any Bulls fan can do — is take a deep breath and try to relax. There are two more preseason games that can be used for the working out of kinks. Boozer should be back by December. Rose and Noah will hold things together until then. I believe that.


10 Responses to Fighting off the “Chicago Syndrome”

    Chuck October 19, 2010 at 5:06 pm #

    At the end of the day the Bulls will probably win the division and will be a top 4 team in the East. People need to relax and realize that every team has flaws. No team has ever went 82-0 because those flaws will surface and you will lose games. In my eyes there are only 3 teams in the East that are argueably better.
    Celtics: They are deep and battle-hardened, but are old and injury prone.
    Magic: Dominating inside-out game. However, they do have Vince Carter and he is cursed…
    Heat: Best top 3 players of any team hands down. But they have no bench and are 2 injuries away from being the worst team in the league. Perhaps worst team in history. If any 2 of Bosh, LeBron or Wade go down, they won’t win a game.
    Bulls: One of the more complete teams in the league. A top 10 player (for position) at every position except SG. Decent bench. No outide shooting will allow defenses to clog the lane.

    tiffac October 19, 2010 at 8:27 pm #

    I’m not from Chicago, heck! I’m not even in the USA but I think I got your syndrome for this team. lol XD

    BoppinBob October 19, 2010 at 8:45 pm #

    Preseason games mean nothing for the team. It can mean something for players and coaches. Coaches have the opportunity to find out how each player interacts with other players on the team by putting them in games situations with those players. This mix and match process is extremely painful for fans to watch but are necessary for the coach and players to develop cohesion for the future. As far as the Orlando game, every one of the healthy prime Bulls played minimal minutes. This game has no serious impact on my opinion of the teams future. From now until 12/15/10 or 1/1/11 it will be a learning curve for the Bulls and their coaches. Putting the pieces in the right places will take time. Let’s not panic, we know the talent is better than last year. Now we need to give them the opportunity to gel.

    AK Dave October 19, 2010 at 10:39 pm #

    “A hockey championship?” HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIP?? (Playoffs??)

    That’s Lord Stanley’s Cup, or “The Stanley Cup” to you. Geez.

    Luke October 19, 2010 at 11:56 pm #

    Yeah, I am not sure why this whole Orlando game is getting so much attention. Just look at how many minutes certain players got, who is out with injury, and you’ll realize it’s not even worth mentioning. It’s preseason.

    Think about this. We have Korver who can shoot- exactly what we needed with Rose, someone who can truly benefit from his driving abilities. We will have Boozer back, someone who can score in the post. We have a defensive-orientated coach with a defensive team- brewer, noah, deng.

    And then we have Deng, who now has some legitimate offensive threats around him: is there a better season for him to break through and finally play the role that he showed us he could a few years ago?

    This team is 9 deep, MAYBE 10 on a good day: Rose, Brewer, Deng, Boozer, Noah, Gibson, Thomas, Korver, Bogans, Watson, James Johnson and Asik maybe. That’s 11. I don’t think all 11 will be very good, but with that many guys with the potential to play an important role off the bench, we will certainly survive Boozer’s hand.

    Bulls fans need to stop being so pessimistic. I think Boozer’s injury is good. He can continue to stay in shape- you don’t need your hand to run and do squats, the long road trip won’t wear the rest of his body down, he’ll come back in shape and for what will be to him, a shorter season. I prefer a happy, healthy boozer in March/April vs a worn down Boozer who helped us win a few more games on our road trip in November

  6. Anonymous October 20, 2010 at 12:10 am #

    This column hits the nail on the head, doesn’t it?

    People panicking about a pre-season loss where our starters played minimal minutes and half the team was dealing with ticky-tac injuries. Come on Chicago, are we done griping about the (1st place) Bears yet?

    joe October 20, 2010 at 12:35 pm #

    Did they fire Lovie Smith yet?

    zillaa October 21, 2010 at 1:34 pm #

    Did they fire our OL yet? Oh wait, Bulls board.

    Honestly I think it’s all because of the 90s Bulls teams. Before that, 80 years of baseball futility were ok if we had one Super Bowl in our pockets. Now? The Bulls will be considered a losing team if they don’t win 55+ games and get to the ECF this season. We’ve redefined the word winner to mean: Winning more than anyone else/winning a championship every year.

    thirdsaint October 21, 2010 at 2:08 pm #

    The only doom and gloom in this city comes from Cubs fans, that’s it, haha.

  10. Dan L. October 21, 2010 at 5:01 pm #

    I don’t think it’s a panic, I think we just recognize the reality of the situation – this is not a championship caliber team. We’ve seen champions and this bunch is not gonna get there the way it is. I think we just demand a lot from our teams, we’re the 3rd biggest American sports market and we want a contender every year.

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