Last year at this time Bears General Manager Jerry Angelo stepped behind the Halas Hall microphones as if he were facing a firing squad. Thursday was different.
"Happy New Year!" the jovial GM started out saying, "hopefully good news will continue this year."
Angelo had reason to smile. His Bears won their 3rd division title in 6 years and were headed to the postseason as a #2 seed. But he realizes the past 3 years weren't just a mirage, there was serious damage done to the folks at 1000 Football Drive in Lake Forest.
"There's a perception coming out the last few years, that we weren't getting it done" Angelo understood, "I know we lost some credibility. I'm sure some people looked at it as we being a hopeless team and it was just a matter of time when the ship would sink."
But on Thursday Angelo showed gratification to a team that stayed the course and stayed focus. Thanks to new coaches in Mike Martz and Mike Tice, and Rod Marinelli taking over as defensive coordinator. "We needed to make changes because things weren't working, change is never easy."
Change they did. From 7-9 with a .438 win percentage last year, to 11-5 this year.
"The rewarding thing is how fast it came together" Angelo acknowledged.
Angelo wasn't ready to gloat, he simply asked football observers to keep an open mind, as he has done with a team he admits is not the most talented he's overseen.
"I don't see this as a team with great talent, but (one that) came together" Angelo admitted. "I do believe this is the best football team we've had because of the thing we've had to go through...how the deck was stacked against us."
Positivity flowed, from kudos to Cutler: "He's off to a very good start.,..he has all the traits to be an elite quarterback". To Praise for Peppers: "Players like that come along once in a career." With a little Angelo-ism sprinkled in: (on the Bears being so healthy): "I wish I could tell you I'd bottle it and get out of this and sell snake oil!"
Angelo was proud standing in front of the assembled media Thursday. Proud there remains a focus on the task at hand - to win it all. From the front office to the playing field. That's why Thursday was not a day to stray from that focus and talk about contracts & extensions. On Lovie Smith? "When the season's over, hopefully not for awhile, we will address those things."
To his own future and speculation Angelo would step down after the season. "I heard that... the only one happy to hear that is my wife. But, that's not going to happen."
Playing it cool to the end. Not even an "I told you so".
GRIZZLY DETAILS: on the much criticized playing surface at soldier field, Jerry Angelo said: "No NFL team wants to play with 3" of grass on the field." Yet the Bears GM admitted the team discussed it after last season and will re-evaluate it again this off season. "Ted (Phillips) said he wants to get more comfortable with research...I'm not ruling it out."