As the fourth quarter drew to a close in the Chicago Bears’ Week 8 home game against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Bears trailed by one point and possessed the ball. The Chicago offense had muddled down the field into opponent territory, and thanks to an improvised scramble by quarterback Mitchell Trubisky—he does his best work while panicking—the Bears were in position to kick a potentially game-winning 40-yard field goal. Still, the better part of a minute remained on the clock, and Chicago had a timeout. The Bears could have tried to advance the ball, get a little closer to the goalposts, make the kick a little easier. Head coach Matt Nagy had a different idea: don’t. Forty yards is close enough, Nagy said.
Nagy commanded his offense to stop their charge at once. Despite a run game that had been effective against the Chargers defense, the Chicago Bears would seek no further yards on this day. The coach instructed Trubisky to take the snap and kneel, bleeding the clock to its last few seconds so there was only time for a game-deciding field goal. Nagy would put the fate of the team in kicker Eddy Piñeiro’s hands, which is to say, Eddy Piñeiro’s feet.
To make matters slightly but tellingly worse, it wasn’t 40 yards anymore. By kneeling, Trubisky had retreated slightly, so now that ball was spotted for a 41-yard attempt for Piñeiro. Forty-one yards is close enough, Nagy said.
It was not close enough. Final score: Chargers 17, Bears 16.
This week, the cast members of CBS’ professional football coverage are pointing and laughing at colleague Phil Simms, because he wrote something down.
Nagy has a fresh history with pivotal kicks. In the Wild Card playoffs last season, the Chicago coach watched in slack-jawed horror as kicker Cody Parkey’s missed 43-yard field goal attempt ended the Bears’ postseason run.
The disappointment of the loss was magnified by the humiliating manner in which the final kick played out, as the ball bounced first off the left upright and then off the crossbar, a freak billiards shot that NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth immediately and enduringly christened the “double doink.” Replayed without end, Parkey’s slapstick failure became the punctuation mark on the 2018 Bears season and a visual metaphor for Nagy’s aimless tenure with the team.
Curiously, no one has worked harder to establish the double doink as the defining image of the Matt Nagy era than Matt Nagy. During the offseason—a good time to let people forget about the crushing failures of your recent past—Nagy obsessed over the double doink. His neurosis manifested in the form of hokey training-camp stunts that ringmaster Nagy engineered under the guise of a grand search for a new kicker (which was necessitated by Nagy firing Parkey without a backup plan).
First, Nagy set up a competition in which eight different kickers had a chance, with the entire team watching, to kick a field goal from the same distance and position as Parkey’s “double doink.” As if to spite Nagy, six of the eight attempts missed. Yet even if they had gone eight-for-eight, it’s not clear what this sideshow would have accomplished. Maybe it would have exorcised the demons of the Bears’ playoff defeat, liberating the team to shape a new destiny. Or maybe it would have been a dispiriting, misguided waste of time no matter how many people managed to kick a field goal that didn’t count.
Undeterred, Nagy was back at it a month later, with new psychological tricks to play on any poor, unsuspecting kicker who might have the misfortune of darkening Soldier Field’s doorstep. As the Chicago Tribune reported, one of Nagy’s inspirational tactics was a drill called “Augusta silence,” which operated on the theory that the best way to help kickers succeed was to have everybody shut up and stare at them:
You know how still and quiet the gallery is when Tiger Woods putts at the majestic Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia? Well, Nagy at times demands the same “eerie” decorum from everyone present—players, coaches, executives, etc.—when any of the three Bears kickers lines up for an attempt in practice.
None of this appeared to do a lick of good for the Bears’ kicking game. Yet even if he failed to improve the special teams squad, Nagy’s Whiplash-style quest—his obsession with psychologically breaking down every jobless kicker he could find—did suck up oxygen in the Chicago Bears media bubble. That air might otherwise have been spent talking about Nagy’s own role in the Bears’ failures (to wit: he is the head coach of the football team and makes all important decisions).
If you think of Matt Nagy as a person trying to inspire actual grown men, his offseason behavior appears insane. If you instead imagine that his primary object was to ensure that “those damn kickers” remained the story instead of “that damn coach,” Nagy makes sense again.
This theory of the case—that Nagy is a real big football man who hides behind kickers so people won’t say mean stuff about him—could also explain Nagy’s peculiar willingness to accept that doomed 41-yard try on Sunday. After a missed 43-yard kick ended Chicago’s 2018 season, any Chicago coach with a functioning sense of fate would hesitate to invite a repeat performance. But on Sunday, when an uncannily similar set of circumstances emerged, Nagy was content to let the movie play again. Maybe he didn’t hate the ending as much as he claimed, all spring and summer, when he kept bringing it up all the time.
At his postgame press conference, Nagy pretended there was no choice but to run Eddy Piñeiro out there for a star-crossed mindfuck of a field goal attempt. As reporters asked the Bears coach if he had weighed his alternatives in the crucial closing seconds of a one-point contest, Nagy responded, “I’ll just be brutally clear. Zero thought of throwing the football. Zero thought of running the football.” It was very important to Matt Nagy that everyone understood how little he had considered the Chicago Bears’ options in the closing seconds of a one-point game. (That is, unless Zero is the name of the Bears’ offensive coordinator, in which case I must concede, it sounds like he did his job properly.)
Zero thought of scissors, zero thought of paper—only rock. This was Nagy’s boast. He believed that his lack of intellectual curiosity was evidence of his correctness. I have met my share of digital media executives who live by the same axiom. But I digress. One member of the press, sensing Nagy’s pique and looking to extend the moment, asked if Nagy entertained the idea of passing before the field goal try. Nagy laughed, a whinny of insecurity, the kind of laugh that a self-styled “alpha” laughs when he feels weak and reflexively pretends that actually, no, you just don’t get it.
“Throw the football? Right then and there?” Nagy scoffed. (Throw the football on a football field, during a football game????) “What happens if you take a sack or lose a fumble?”
The reporter considered Nagy’s hypothetical and responded, “You lose the game.”
“Yeah! Exactly!” Nagy exclaimed, with another one of those laughs. You lose the game; quod erat demonstrandum. Whereas, by sticking to Nagy’s plan, the Bears lost the game.
4. Los Angeles Chargers
3. Seattle Seahawks
2. Detroit Lions
1. Philadelphia Eagles
I have no beef with Nagy. I’m sure he’s very good at whatever he imagines a head coach’s job to be. At the same time, he does remind me of people I dislike. So, in my personal television show of the NFL, he’s a villain—but he’s a minor one, since I have no stakes. For the Chicago fanbase, Nagy is a true heel. With a record of 3-4, the Bears have stumbled their way to near-irrelevance at the midpoint of the season, and Nagy is a focus of the impotent rage that has ensued among the Bears faithful.
Part of the NFL’s weekly proposition to fans is a primal scream. The opportunity to yell. It’s not a necessary part of the experience, but for a certain portion of the league’s viewers, it’s part of the allure. In exchange for selling a bit of your soul by tuning in to this violent pageant, you may at some point be moved by the spirit of “YAHHHHHHH!” (whether or not you express it as such). Ideally, the scream is a cry of hard-won victory, but that only works for half the teams, at most. What about the fans of the losers? They need their own catharsis. Therefore, local sports talk radio exists.
The Bears postgame show on Chicago’s own WGN Radio 720 AM is The Hamp & O’B Show With Koz. It is a realm where Nagy is the symbol of every ill that troubles the Bears, football, and greater society. I was tipped off to Hamp & O’B when a friend told me it was a radio show where an ex-Bears player shouts at the top of his lungs into a microphone. The primal scream, I thought.
And so it is—although “primal” doesn’t capture the extent of it. Here’s how the conversation played out on Sunday’s post-Chargers episode of The Hamp & O’B Show With Koz (an excerpt of which is embedded directly above). First, a host recapped the outcome of the just-completed Chicago Bears game. Then, Ed O’Bradovich, a 79-year-old former Bears defensive end, pegged the VU meters on the WGN producer’s board to their maximum, for a remarkably long stretch of time. Throughout Chicagoland, 720-kilohertz radio waves crackled with the electricity of O’Bradovich’s rage.
Sometimes, one of the other ex-Bears, Glen Kozlowski or Dan Hampton, would chime in. They, too, are loud men, but they tend more toward rowdy indignation than O’Bradovich’s sustained rage. Their complaints give O’Bradovich, the main attraction, a chance to breathe while also stoking his furnace for another round of unbelievably impassioned shouting.
If Nagy hoped, on a subconscious level, that his timid field goal ploy would direct focus to the kicking game, O’Bradovich’s opening tirade Sunday dashed those hopes. It was a masterpiece of sports radio—electrifying for those who shared O’Bradovich’s profound disgust with Nagy, and hilarious to those who don’t much care. A mere transcript can’t capture the extended fortissimos of O’Bradovich’s delivery, but I will do my best:
We have a coach, by the name of Nagy, who does not understand the game at this level. He does NOT understand the game at this level! HOW IS IT POSSIBLE that you could be on the six-yard line, GOAL TO GO, and NOT ONE TIME! Not ONE TIME do you throw to somebody, or try to score a touchdown, to SOMEBODY IN THE END ZONE? HOW IS THAT POSSIBLE?
You come back again, what, on the FOUR-yard-line? And you have ANOTHER four downs to score a touch—AND YOU DON’T EVEN ATTEMPT TO GET INTO THE END ZONE? YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME! THIS GUY’S AN IMBECILE! MY GOD.
Nagy was not the exclusive target of the old defensive end’s ire, but if O’Bradovich occasionally stopped voicing his enmity for Chicago’s head coach, he never did so for long. At one point, when he momentarily ran out of bad things to say about Nagy, O’Bradovich switched to hammering Trubisky, the Chicago quarterback, as a brief intermission.
O’Bradovich: This guy—I’ve GOT IT up to my eyebrows with this Nagy. And the other kid, who we got—“Herky Jerky,” by the way, and that’s the name of the quarterback. Just watch him play football, folks. He is NNNNOT. A starting. Quarterback. In the National Football League. Never has, and he NEVER WILL BE! I’m—I’m SO AGGRAVATED THAT A TEAM COULD COME IN LIKE THIS, and TAKE A VICTORY away from us because of a STUPID, GUTLESS COACH!
Host Mark Carman: Are you referring mostly to—?
O’Bradovich: NAGY! DID I SAY IT LOUD ENOUGH?
Carman: You did, O’B.
Here we see O’Bradovich’s penchant for nicknames, as Trubisky is labeled with the mean but also oddly cute sobriquet of “Herky Jerky.” In this episode, the on-air talent also deemed Trubisky “The Bumbler,” which sounds like a second-tier ’60s Batman villain, appealingly so. That was comedy. In terms of drama, O’Bradovich reached his peak when he addressed Matt Nagy, over the air, with an ultimatum whose terms were vague and whose threat was toothless.
I’ll tell you something. Nagy, if you don’t—IF YOU DON’T LOOSEN UP, and if YOU DON’T START PLAYIN’ BIG-TIME! FOOTBALL! I hope the fans of this town run you out. To me—I’m done with you.
As the show wore on, O’Bradovich was persistent and resourceful as he searched for new ways to render Matt Nagy’s awfulness for the listening public. He even conjured alternate versions of the Bears season in which they had won even fewer games, and then blamed Nagy for that, too.
There’s the other thing. You go back to the game in Denver, when the refs gave them ONE more second on the clock to kick the field goal and win that game? Okay? If that doesn’t happen, we’ve won TWO GAMES this year. TWO GAMES! And we’re supposed to be in the hunt? Whose fault is it?
I won’t keep you in suspense: O’Bradovich believes it is Nagy’s fault that the Bears have won only two games in a make-believe version of the 2019 NFL season.
As for Eddy Piñeiro, the kicker? His name barely came up, at least in the portion that I heard. He did not prove to be the distraction that Nagy might have hoped for.
Exhausted, I turned off the radio after 15 minutes. I needed to escape the primal scream. For Matt Nagy, it won’t be so simple.
Block & Tackle is the exclusive home of the QuantumPick Apparatus, the only football prediction system that evaluates every possible permutation of a given NFL week to arrive at the true victor in each contest. Put simply, Block & Tackle picks are guaranteed to be correct. When a game’s outcome varies from this column’s prediction, the game is wrong.
In Week 8 NFL action, 11 games corresponded with the QuantumPicks, and four games were incorrect. Don’t grow complacent. While this may seem like it was a strong showing for the forces of reality and coherence, any divergence from the divinations of the Apparatus is a sign of troubling instability in the space-time fabric of our universe. Remember: The Apparatus knows all. For instance, the other day, the Apparatus told me that a peanut is neither a pea nor a nut. How the heck does it know this stuff? (Overall season record: 71-50.)
Teams determined to be victorious by the QuantumPick Apparatus are indicated in SHOUTING LETTERS.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS vs. Arizona Cardinals (timestamped pick): The Cardinals almost won this game, which is a very Arizona Cardinals sort of victory! They are the champions of the almost-verse.
Houston Texans vs. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (NFL Network): This game is being played at a neutral site, London’s Wembley Stadium, but the edge goes to the Jaguars because Houston is 4,850 miles from London, while Jacksonville is only 4,260 miles away. So this will feel like a home game to the Jaguars.
Washington vs. BUFFALO BILLS (Fox)
Chicago Bears vs. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (Fox): Bears head coach Matt Nagy answers “A” on every multiple choice question. As soon as he walks into any restaurant, he says, “I’ll have the steak.” His favorite door on Let’s Make A Deal is Door No. 1—or, as he knows it, The Only Door. For the last time, do not ask him to consider the options.
Minnesota Vikings vs. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (Fox)
Tennessee Titans vs. CAROLINA PANTHERS (CBS)
Indianapolis Colts vs. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (CBS)
New York Jets vs. MIAMI DOLPHINS (CBS): The forecast calls for rain in Miami on Sunday. To mark the occasion, here is an uncomfortably close CBS shot of a rainy crossbar.
Detroit Lions vs. OAKLAND RAIDERS (Fox): Every once in a while, a jack-o’-lantern comes along that poignantly expresses the spirit of a football team. Oakland Raiders fan Jahmez Guerrero has now created just such a jack-o’-lantern to commemorate the 2019 Raiders, a team that makes you feel like one side of your face might be melting, or maybe on fire, it’s hard to tell.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (Fox)
Cleveland Browns vs. DENVER BRONCOS (CBS): A trick-or-treater in Iowa dressed up as the Broncos’ long snapper for Halloween, a sure sign of a young fan with discriminating taste in football positions. You have a bright future ahead of you, kid. The dogs will probably do all right, too.
GREEN BAY PACKERS vs. Los Angeles Chargers (CBS)
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS vs. Baltimore Ravens (NBC)
DALLAS COWBOYS vs. New York Giants (ESPN): The QuantumPick Apparatus foretells a final score of 4-2 in this contest.
The Atlanta Falcons, the Cincinnati Bengals, the Los Angeles Rams, and the New Orleans Saints are all professional football teams—so they claim. Yet suspiciously they all refuse to play football this weekend. That does not sound very professional to me. They will automatically forfeit, and their transgression will be reported to the commissioner’s office.
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