CHICAGO -- Jay Leno and David Letterman have made Chicago Bears jokes almost nightly.
A columnist from the Los Angeles Times referred to the Bears as "Da Bums" and as the "Munsters of the Midway."
A gentleman from ESPN said of the Bears: "You wonder how they reached the playoffs, much less the Super Bowl."
A fellow from a Chicago paper proposed after the Super Bowl that it might be best for all concerned if quarterback Rex Grossman went to a different team.
A football writer for Sports Illustrated suggested the Bears try to trade for the Houston Texans' David Carr, who is the quarterback of one of the NFL's worst teams.
A guy from Fox Sports cracked, "If Grossman were added to the presidential ticket, Barack Obama probably couldn't carry Cook County."
A columnist for The Denver Post wrote Grossman "stinks" and, furthermore, "Truth is, the Bears are vastly overrated."
That guy put those last two comments on the record before the Super Bowl.
What is going on here?
How did the Bears go from being one of the top teams in football to the butts of jokes and to the targets for all sorts of verbal and critical abuse?
How did a seven-point underdog lose a game by 12 points and suddenly turn into a different kind of dog?
How did a team win its division a month early, win its conference championship game by 25 points, win 15 of its games and lose four, only to end up on the receiving end of an almost daily bashing?
A week ago this day, the Bears were on a wet field in Florida with the favored Indianapolis Colts, a team led by perhaps the best quarterback of the 21st century.
At the end of a quarter, the score was Bears 14, Colts 6.
Chicago's fans must have been as proud as punch. Their heroes were up by eight. A 92-yard kickoff return put the Colts in a hole. Grossman threw a touchdown pass. Thomas Jones broke a 52-yard run. In a word, the Bears looked super.
At halftime, the Bears were behind, but only by two. They didn't touch the ball much. But there was a Colts fumble and a missed field-goal attempt. It was still anybody's game.
At the end of three quarters, the score was Colts 22, Bears 17.
It wasn't a blowout. It wasn't a Bears embarrassment. The favored Colts were up five. They did not score a touchdown on the Bears' defense in the third quarter. Manning passed for 54 yards in this quarter - big deal.
In the end, Indianapolis won. A team that was expected to prevail by a huge majority of NFL analysts - many of them former pro coaches and players with a certain amount of expertise - did, in fact, beat the Bears.
It was not an upset. And I, for one, was not upset. I was sorry to see my guys lose but grateful for a great season, as many of my Bears brethren were.
Bob Newhart, the comedian, a true-blue fan, called up to joke, "I've just entered a 12-step Bears recovery program."
We both expressed surprise at the way the team was knocked and mocked in the game's aftermath.
Hadn't the Bears had a spectacular season? Weren't the Colts supposed to beat them? Why did the Bears suddenly seem to be getting a worse beating in the post-game than they did in the game?
I have been to Super Bowls decided 42-10, 46-10, 48-21 and 52-17.
I saw a team led by John Elway get torn to shreds, 55-10. Now that's the kind of thrashing a team could get embarrassed about.
The Denver Broncos obviously should have gotten rid of that Elway bum.
Twenty-three teams lost games in the first 40 Super Bowls by margins as bad as or worse than the Bears'.
But now they are bums? They were lucky to make the playoffs? They were vastly overrated? They ought to dump a quarterback who went 15-4 and go get the quarterback of the Texans?
Look, no one likes to lose. In the painful first minutes after last Sunday's game ended, Bears wide receiver Bernard Berrian said that where winning the Super Bowl is concerned, "Anything less is failure."
No, it is not.
Did we imagine those division and league championships? Did we imagine Virginia McCaskey having the George S. Halas Trophy placed in her hands?
Did we imagine beating last season's Super Bowl runner-up, the Seattle Seahawks, twice? Did we imagine winning in Green Bay, 26-0; in St. Louis, 42-27; beating the two New York teams on the road by a combined 48-20? Did we imagine pounding Detroit, 34-7; Buffalo, 40-7; San Francisco, 41-10; and New Orleans, 39-14?
Did we imagine Grossman passing for 3,193 yards and 23 scores in the regular season? Did we imagine Jones and Cedric Benson rushing for 1,857 yards? Did we imagine Robbie Gould making 32 of 36 field-goal attempts and Devin Hester returning six kicks for touchdowns?
I don't know about you, but I thought Chicago had one heck of a team.
Mike Downey writes for The Chicago Tribune.