In the life of a sports fan, few days on the calendar are filled with as much hope and optimism as the day the NFL season begins in earnest. It is a kind of Spring in Fall – a new birth, a very real chance for renewal. That first honest gaze on Solider Field (the pre-season does not count, after all) offers restoration of the hopes and dreams of a fan base for the season ahead.

It is fandom at its purest. Not yet exhausted by botched play-calling or inept execution, supports truly believe that anything may lay in wait in the months ahead. Bitterness has not yet made its presence felt and the fates remain unknown.

There are, of course, those that would rather remain guarded and detached as fans and point to the optimism felt on Kickoff Weekend as a false hope, a by-product of the summer-long wait fans endure waiting for the season to begin anew. But I would contend, Bears fans, that there is no such thing as false hope – in sports or in life, you learn from yesterday, live for today, and hope for tomorrow. With the records reset and a season of possibilities available, it is only opportunity that awaits every team (…yes, even the Lions).

That is what makes this such a difficult letter to write. Indeed, I am writing you today as a friend, as someone that understands that you deserve better than the reality you awoke to this morning. Good citizens of New Gotham, the truth you are now faced with is anything but pleasant. I do not like telling you this, but…

Your team’s season is already over.

Of all the scenarios that you might have entertained last night around 8:30 EST, an unthinkably woeful performance from your franchise quarterback while losing the heart and soul of your defensive unit could not have even seemed a remote possibility. And yet, four Jay Cutler interceptions and a Brian Urlacher dislocated right wrist later, here we are.

I cannot begin to understand how disappointing this start must seem given the colossal expectations nationally around “The Cutler Era” (a title that already looks ridiculous to type…a Delhomme-like 43.2 passer rating will do that).

Your golden boy ended up looking more like a goat. Has there ever been such a thing as 21-15 blowout? The Packers certainly did not light the world on fire with their play on offense, yet still managed to take the game outright. They did not play with the same precision they had in the pre-season, and their team timing and rhythm were off throughout, but what was clear was that Green Bay brought an emotional toughness and a team-wide physicality that the Bears could not match.

Somewhere, Rex Grossman is doubling over in laughter.

You remember Rex, right? The last Bears pivot with a cannon arm and the over-confidence/brashness that comes with it? Like Grossman before him, Cutler consistently forced throws from across his body, from one foot, from anywhere but a solid pocket stance. He could have been picked off twice before his first interception and before it was all over he had literally handed the game to Al Harris and the Packers D. It is a safe assumption that Cutler will not replicate his last night’s performance for the entire season, but it seems safe to say that we are not looking at the new John Elway, either.

It may not have been entirely Jay’s fault though. Your team’s offensive line was positively rotten, and the receiving corps was not much better. Green Bay dared the Bears to throw on them and baited Cutler into believing in those wide-outs. That is not a formula for winning football games when your roster features nothing resembling a big-time weapon in the receiving depth charts. No matter how strong Devin Hester looked last night, he is not an elite-level receiver, particularly if he is working with a careless/reckless signal caller.

It was supposed to be different for you this time. You were supposed to be gaining a gunslinger, a rocket-armed youngster that would swing the tide in the NFC North and bring you your first real passing threat since Jim McMahon all those years ago. From the looks of things, what they got was an impulsive work in progress whose confidence in his arm outweighs his ability.

Now any hopes of meaningful playoff success seem fool-hearted and ill-considered. Unnecessary doom-saying? Perhaps. But you Chicagoan’s may have a hard time finding anyone on Michigan Avenue that believes the Bears have the horses to compete for a ring.

Of course that Chicken Little, sky-is-falling attitude about the offense should be paired with a calm, collected confidence in what has long been reviled as one of the league’s best defensive units. Right? Maybe not.

The news received yesterday that Brian Urlacher, team leader and anchor of the Bears’ vaunted (overrated?) defense, is done for the season. The Pro Bowler had surgery Monday to repair is right wrist and in doing so dampened the mood of even the most optimistic of you Bears’ fans on what lies ahead for the team. As we know, bad things come in threes, so it seems only appropriate somehow that the team also lost linebacker Pisa Tinoisamoa to a brutal-looking knee injury. It will certainly prove to be a test to maintain defensive superiority without the majority of the starting linebacker unit. In fact, the Bears were 0-7 in games Urlacher missed for injury during the 2004 season.

But you will keep the faith, Chicago. We know you will. Each summer you survive the Cubs’ and the unfulfilled promise that “this is the year.” Always having faith in next season is something you do better than most.

Collectively you also know the importance of a little doubt, that any belief worth having, whether that belief is in a community organizer or a young QB, must survive a little skepticism and disbelief first.

J. R. R. Tolkien told us that, “Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” The road is certainly dark now, when only a few days ago it looked glorious, shining.

Good night and good luck.

Your friend in misery,

Trevor D. Smith