Bears QB Justin Fields is ESPN’s new crush

Justin Fields was national news this week. When’s the last time that could be said about a Bears quarterback?

Sure, Jay Cutler made plenty of news for, well, being Jay Cutler. Jim McMahon made headlines when he mooned a helicopter during the leadup to Super Bowl XX. But I’m talking about favorable news. That’s what Fields made.

By now, you’ve seen, heard or read countless times about his 178 rushing yards Sunday, an NFL regular-season record for a quarterback, and his three touchdown passes. Field has been praised throughout the NFL universe, but one place in particular has had a Fields day, if you will.

Bristol, Connecticut. Home of ESPN.

On Monday, the network’s two morning talk shows, “Get Up” and “First Take,” flew their Fields flags. “Get Up” host Mike Greenberg, a Northwestern alum who was a reporter and host at The Score in the 1990s, couldn’t contain his excitement.

“Does Chicago have the best young quarterback in the entire NFL?” Greenberg said, teasing an upcoming segment. “Who would’ve thought we’d be asking that question?”

During the segment, he said, “There may not be a team right now in the NFL, and I mean this, that has a more promising future than the Chicago Bears. … They may have finally gotten it right at quarterback.”

“This is what a franchise quarterback looks like,” former coach Rex Ryan said.

Added former player Ryan Clark: “I said the Jets should’ve drafted him. I said the 49ers should’ve drafted him. Because I knew when he put it together from a talent standpoint … there was no one else that could do what Justin Fields was doing.”

The adulation continued on “First Take,” where Hall of Famer Michael Irvin made his weekly appearance. Irvin ranked Fields first in his segment, “Playmaker’s Top Playmakers.” I’d tell you what he said, but printed words wouldn’t do it justice. Imagine a combination of Little Richard and Hulk Hogan, and you have Irvin’s performance.

“Keep it spinning,” Irvin implored Fields, pretending to be a dancing DJ.

Granted, neither program led with Fields. He appeared in the last quarter of each two-hour show. But the excitement for him was palpable, and it continued during the week.

“I keep hearing, Trevor Lawrence is still unquestionably the best quarterback from that [draft] class,” Greenberg said Tuesday on “Get Up.” “I’m sorry. I’m watching Justin Fields play. That kid is going to be the best quarterback from that class. In fact, I think he already is.”

“You’re right,” former general manager Mike Tannenbaum said. “Trevor Lawrence has been given a free blank check the last few years where no one’s held him accountable. Justin Fields has a high floor and an incredible ceiling. And when you think about Trey Lance, Mac Jones and Trevor Lawrence, you gotta take Justin Fields.”

So how does an ESPN morning turn into a Fields lovefest, despite the fact the Bears lost?

“I’ll give you three reasons,” said Antoine Lewis, ESPN’s vice president of studio production. “No. 1, it was one of the most entertaining games that Sunday. The second reason is people love the story of someone on the way up. And the third reason is because everyone knows the Bears have never been known for their quarterbacks.

“Why do people get up early like they did Tuesday to see an eclipse? Because we rarely see this.”

Lewis is keenly aware. He grew up on the Far South Side, went to Lincoln Park High School and Northwestern and worked at NBC 5 and WGN in the ’90s, among other stops. He has been leading “First Take,” with Stephen A. Smith and host Molly Qerim, since 2013.

Lewis said shows don’t share their topics for the day with each other, but they know what the biggest storylines are.

“We know what people are talking about,” he said. “You can see the buzz, whether it be social media or other avenues off of Sunday’s games. And that was a huge storyline. I sent a note to my coordinating producer asking how we’re going to discuss Justin Fields for the simple fact that it was a great game and a record was broken.”

ESPN has a habit of falling in love with certain players to the point of overexposure. It’s way too soon to know if Fields will fall into that category, but Lewis made no bones about hoping Fields does.

“He’s exciting, he’s young. I think that we’re going to be talking about him for many years to come,” he said. “This is tremendous for me. I’m tired of hearing about the Patriots and now the Giants having a good season and the Eagles and all that. Let’s get some Bears in there.”

Remote patrol

NFL regional games airing Sunday in the Chicago market: Lions at Bears, noon, Fox-32 (Kevin Kugler, Mark Sanchez); Colts at Raiders, 3:05 p.m., Ch. 2 (Kevin Harlan, Trent Green); Cowboys at Packers, 3:25 p.m., Fox-32 (Kevin Burkhardt, Greg Olsen).NBC will air its first women’s college basketball game at 3 p.m. Saturday, when No. 9 Notre Dame faces Cal in St. Louis. The game also will air on Peacock.Read More

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