If you’re a diehard NFL fan, you know that the 2021 draft was filled with lots of quarterback drama.
It was a given that former Clemson star Trevor Lawrence would be the No. 1 pick of the Jacksonville Jaguars. The intrigue unfolded with the San Francisco 49ers having the third selection. Much of the mock draft talk earlier this year projected Ohio State’s Justin Fields heading to the Bay Area, but, as with all good dramas, there was a twist in the making.
Instead of heading to sunny Santa Clara, Fields will be showcasing his talents in the Windy City as the new face of the storied Chicago Bears franchise. Once a projected top five pick, Fields slipped out of the first round to number 11, where the Bears traded up for him and were ecstatic that he was still on the board. That slip cost Fields quite a bit of cash, roughly an $11 million difference in his signing bonus, but he handled it with grace and humility, saying, “I’m the kind of guy that thinks everything happens for a reason, so I think this is God’s plan for me to be a Bear.” Fields continued by offering more insight, sounding much wiser than his 22 years: “I’ve been in so many different situations in my life where I think I want something. … I put my full trust in God, and he’s put me in a perfect place for me.”
Everything happens for a reason. This is not the major storyline following Fields as Bears fans have been longing to get back to the Super Bowl. The team’s last appearance was in 2007, where they lost to the Indianapolis Colts. My generation was in awe of the 1985 Bears, famously known for the Super Bowl Shuffle and winning a championship with legendary Hall of Fame players Walter Payton and Mike Singletary, along with rock star quarterback Jim McMahon. Fields is already the instant star many Chicagoans are hoping will bring back that 80s-like glory; however, I believe they will come to appreciate him much more for his stellar character grounded in his faith.
For all the years that I have been watching the NFL draft, I’ve heard analysts talk about how team GMs look for not only athleticism and skill but also leadership intangibles, the attributes that win the locker room and spur guys to battle in the trenches of the gridiron.
Fields exhibited this type of leadership when he fought for the Buckeyes to have a college football season last year. This was a move of unselfishness, as he could have opted out of playing due to COVID-19 and trained for the draft as a first-round lock. Fields also displayed great maturity when unfounded attacks on his work ethic and dedication to winning surfaced in the media during the draft process. Such assertions were baffling, since he had played with bruised ribs in the Sugar Bowl against Clemson, throwing for six touchdowns, and had a passing completion rate of 73.4% during Ohio State’s seven games.
As his pro career begins, Fields is learning a hard lesson that those of us who are much older have experienced. Sometimes people will not give you credit for your accomplishments even with a sterling resume — in his case, awesome game tape. In reflecting further on Fields’ comments about God’s plan, I actually look at the unsubstantiated claims against his commitment to his craft as a test rather than an attack. A test measures how you handle adversity and overcome it. Football has taught Fields a lot about being tested, and he spoke on this in a 2019 interview for Cleveland.com, stating, “Usually when bad things happen there’s a reason behind it, a lesson behind it … you have faith that you’re stronger than the trial or tribulation you’re going through.”
As a rookie quarterback, Fields will definitely face some trials when he gets to play during his first NFL season, but he has demonstrated that he has the fortitude to handle whatever comes his way. I believe that Fields will be successful for “Da Bears” not just because he was a great QB in college but because he is looking at the bigger picture beyond football. He’ll soon find out why Chicago is God’s “perfect place” for him.
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at Ohio State University’s Lima campus.