CHICAGO – Losing hurts.
But losing to the Green Bay Packers? In the final minute? To end your season?
That’s a whole ’nother level of sports heartbreak.
And it happened to the Bears. At the hands of the Packers.
No wonder the Soldier Field speakers blared a sad song in the waning moments of the Bears’ 33-28 loss to their oldest, most bitter rivals. The outcome lifted the Packers into the playoffs as NFC North champions, while the Bears turned to face a long, painful offseason that could include many difficult personnel changes.
The lyrics filled the ears of stunned fans after the Packers’ game-winning score.
“You had a bad day,” echoed the song by Daniel Powter. “The camera don’t lie. You’re coming back down and you don’t really mind. You had a bad day. You had a bad day.”
For the Bears, it’s going to get worse before it gets better.
Any football fan will tell you that the line between winning and losing is razor thin. One ill-timed mistake can separate contenders from pretenders in the NFL.
That’s why it was tough to see Bears general manager Phil Emery make the rounds in a quiet locker room after the game. One-by-one, Emery visited with his players, placing an arm on their shoulder and offering some brief words of encouragement.
Some Bears players were so upset that they had not yet removed their pads more than 20 minutes after the final whistle. Others were so distraught that they leaned forward and braced themselves against their lockers, heads down, eyes shut.
Bears linebacker Lance Briggs wanted to escape. With his stare fixed on the carpet, he pulled a rolling suitcase and refused to stop and speak with reporters.
Other players spoke softly about narrowly losing a winner-take-all game.
“This is going to hurt,” cornerback Tim Jennings said.
“It’s hard, man” defensive tackle Stephen Paea said. “We do this for each other.”
“I don’t know what you say,” linebacker James Anderson said.
In a boisterous locker room on the opposite side of the stadium, Packers players celebrated like happy children. Laughter and loud voices filled the air. Some players snapped pictures with their cell phones to capture the moment.
What was it like when the Packers first entered the locker room after the game?
“Oh, my God,” defensive lineman Ryan Pickett said. “[We were] just excited, man. Jumping around. Everybody was happy, man.
“It’s our journey. We made it. Now we get to erase our slate, start a new one, and play ball some more in January.”
So close were the Bears to enjoying this moment.
So close were the Packers to a long, quiet offseason.
But every game, every week, is unpredictable in the NFL. This is why we watch.
“You can describe it a lot better with your writing,” Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “You guys are professionals. I’m not smart enough to really put it into words. I wish I was.
“But it was nuts. It’s been crazy, this whole run.”
As Hawk spoke, the image of Emery visiting with his players proved hard to shake. Those players will part ways this week and disperse to their hometowns across the country, and dozens soon might learn that they will not be coming back.
It’s nothing personal.
“This is the NFL,” Paea said. “If you don’t do your job, they make changes.”
Surely, the Packers could empathize as NFL brethren.
Surely, some small part of them could feel badly for the Bears.
“No,” Pickett said with a grin. “There’s not one part of me that feels for the Bears.”
Then he laughed.
It was the deep, belly laugh of a 6-foot-2, 340-pound man.
It was a winners’ laugh.
• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.