It's been a popular topic to ask Lovie Smith and his players about since early in the season. How much of it are the Bears getting, and how much do they deserve? It comes up often because as much as football is supposed to be about winning, it's also about egos and recognition.
Smith was asked about it again after Chicago shut out the Dolphins in front of a national audience in Week 11.
"Seven wins — as far as respect — you can get respect when you have seven wins," he said. "A lot of people had a chance to see us tonight, but peoples' opinions don't really matter an awful lot. We will take the record right now. The team is confident."
No one has ever questioned its confidence. It appears to have plenty of that. The doubts about the Bears come from things like their offensive line's lack of talent, the running game's struggles and Jay Cutler's erratic play.
Observers look at their numbers — the 30th-ranked offense that averages less than 20 points per game — and the teams they have beaten and wonder if it's worth buying in at this point.
After all, the Bears have defeated one really good team (Green Bay) and six teams that range from really bad to so-so depending on the week (Buffalo, Detroit, Carolina, Dallas, Miami and Minnesota). The combined record of the teams Chicago has beaten is 23-47.
The reservations about hopping aboard the Bears' bandwagon could also be related to perceptions about Smith and Jerry Angelo. Some fans are convinced that the Bears would be better off without both of them and don't want to see the Bears make the playoffs and win in the postseason with them at the helm.
Bears players and coaches will say they don't spend a lot of time worrying if they're for real or not, and they shouldn't. Their job is to worry about winning each week, not their strength of schedule. WLB Lance Briggs offered his opinion of how to evaluate the 7-3 Bears following the win over the Dolphins.
"Greatness, I think, is measured by the guys that are on the field," he said. "... Your opponents. Those who play against you."
If that's the criteria for greatness, the Bears, as Briggs also said, have a long way to go.
They don't like criticism a whole lot, though, and they're going to hear plenty of it if the Eagles make them look like a pretender on Sunday.
This is the Bears' chance to clear things up in a game against an NFC title contender with an MVP candidate at quarterback in Michael Vick. A win would give the team the validation that it can beat the best, and no shortage of respect could follow.