Danny Trevathan saw it in Denver, as a member of the Broncos. Eddie Jackson saw it in Alabama, where playing for less than a national championship at the end of a season was an admitted disappointment.
Both are seeing stirrings of that same “it” in Chicago, the kind of it that is about achieving more than a Super Bowl. For core players on one of the NFL’s both youngest and most talented rosters, reaching or winning a Super Bowl will not be enough.
“We want to be a top-five team every year, want to be up there for the ring every year,” said Trevathan, whose Broncos went to two Super Bowls, winning one, and reached the playoffs the other two of his four seasons there. "And we have to do that every game. It started last year and it’s up to the players, coaches and whole organization to keep that level up there.
“It takes a special group to do that year in, year out. We’re talking about being in that top bracket, the five teams that show up every year. That’s what we want to do right now.”
Easy to say, not to do.
Indeed, to be one of “those teams,” the ones consistently at the top of the Super Bowl odds lists, is arguably more difficult that actually getting to and winning a Super Bowl. It begins with the obvious dance-ticket of reaching the playoffs, and only two teams currently have playoff streaks longer than two years: New England an NFL-record 10 straight (2009-18) and Kansas City four (2015-18). The Bears did hire the coach who’d been part of the Chiefs’ first three in the string – Matt Nagy – but it is ultimately about the players.
How difficult is sustained membership in the top-five club? Over the span of the Patriots’ 10-year playoff run, the Packers, Giants, Ravens, Seahawks, Broncos and Eagles all won Super Bowls. Green Bay’s came in their eight-year streak, but Baltimore, Denver and Seattle topped out at five straight playoff years.
The top-team goal is cheap talk. Former GM Phil Emery constantly spoke of “multiple championships” and laid out a match for Trevathan’s mission statement as he targeted, “Be in the mix at the end, be in position to get in the playoffs and win championships,” then oversaw successive playoff-short win totals of 10, 8 and 5.
The longest “modern” playoff streaks, ones since 2000, are:
Team Years Quarterback
New England 2009-18 (10) Tom Brady
Indianapolis 2002-10 (9) Peyton Manning
Green Bay 2009-16 (8) Aaron Rodgers
Seven tied with 5
What it requires
Consistency among the elites involves elite quarterbacking; the best of the last 20 years have been led by Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Trevathan saw how that worked while in Denver, when Manning arrived.
(Does he believe the Bears have their “Peyton?” “Absolutely!” he said with a smile as he went into detail on the merits of Mitchell Trubisky, all of which will be part of an upcoming column.)
Sustained excellence is about more than one position, however.
The Crimson Tide ranked No. 1 nationally in 2011 and 2012, the two years before Jackson joined the team. Alabama then finished seventh in 2013, fourth in 2014, No. 1 in 2015 and No. 2 in 2016. More was involved than simply Nick Saban.
“[It is] just basically everyone coming in having their mind set on one goal, not being selfish,” Jackson said. “You’ve gotta be real selfless. At Alabama, that’s what we had. We had a lot of players that were determined. We all had our mind set on one goal.
“You feel it here now, especially after last season. Everybody knows how close we came. The mindset for the team right now is big. The goals and everything we want to accomplish, we know what we have to do to accomplish that.”
Trevathan was signed away from Denver to bring some of the excellence character that he’d been part of cultivating with the Broncos. He believes that even through the down years with John Fox that the result is that core of excellence both in expectation and execution.
“You have to believe it and it’s up to the players not to let that level of expectation fall,” Trevathan said. “It’s kind of similar to that [Denver] situation, but I’m a little bit older now and in that older group now. I was part of that group there.
“The guys here buy in and we know each other, know we can be great. We know we can get to the Super Bowl and that’s the way we work every day. It’s the attitude. The passion for the game. The want. The will. All that stuff factors in and you’ve got to be around your guys, have a feel for that.”