Monday, December 31, 2012

Firing Lovie the Tough, but Right, Move

After months of speculation, it's finally official. As news trickled in this morning that the Bears had fired Lovie Smith, I couldn't help but think of the alternatives. What if they had fired Mike Tice instead? What if previous GM Jerry Angelo had put more on the field for Lovie to work with right away? What if the Bears hadn't sustained injuries to Jay Cutler against Green Bay in the NFC Championship game in 2010, or lost Cutler and Matt Forte last year? What if Lovie had a better QB in the Super Bowl in 2007 and had pulled out a victory? This, and endless other scenarios, played over in my head because I realized that I had respect for Lovie as a man, coach, and leader. I appreciated what he had done for this franchise and started to agonize over the decision, wondering if there wasn't something that could be done. Then I realized that Bears management was doing the same thing, but at the end of the day they had to make a cold business/football decision, one that was best for the franchise. It's hard to come to terms with it, but I believe they made the right choice.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Bears' Season Continues to Collapse

The more things change, the more they stay the same. After dropping a downright horrific loss to Green Bay this past Sunday, the Bears slipped out of the playoff race and now must win their final two games, with some help, to even make the playoffs. The Bears, losers of 5 of their last 6 games, are now on the verge of missing the playoffs for the 5th time in 6 seasons. Even with the shiny new toys on offense and all the promises of a high-octane offense that can produce consistently in the NFL, the Bears continue to lose games much like they have for most of the bad parts of Lovie Smith's tenure: by failing to score. The abysmal performance of the Bears' offense again against the Packers is proof positive that Smith's tenure as coach here is probably over.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

New Culture Taking Hold at Illinois

Wow, what a win. A great win for John Groce, for the Illinois program, for the players involved; one of those this-team-is-for-real type wins. By taking down a good Gonzaga team, in a feisty atmosphere, this early in a new season and new era, Illinois has shown that this team is here to stay. Even more than that, it shows the impact that Groce has had on this team and program after only 10 games. Would anyone have expected this team, the team that lost nine of their last ten games to end last season, to be undefeated at 10-0 and poised to enter the top 10 rankings in the country? It's a testament to the work that everyone in the program has put in, from AD Mike Thomas in hiring Groce, to Groce and his staff for their tireless work and culture change, to the players, specifically senior leaders like Brandon Paul.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Who are the Real Bears?

I know it's hard, but try to think back a month. Basketball season had just started, the weather was still relatively nice, and we still had to endure those awful political advertisements every time we turned on the TV. For the Bears, they had just finished off a 51-20 defensive domination of the Tennessee Titans to improve to 7-1, putting themselves in the driver's seat to another playoff appearance and positioning themselves as a favorite to contend for the Super Bowl. That defense, spearheaded by Charles Tillman, Tim Jennings, Brian Urlacher, and the rest of one of the best collective units in the NFL, was drawing comparisons to some of the better team defenses in league history and was putting to rest all of the preseason questions of age, speed, and durability.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Next Stop, South Beach

It really couldn't have happened any other way. Sure, Irish fans, and their collective nerves, hoped that the Irish could waltz into the Coliseum, blow away USC in a no contest victory, and finally put to rest the hate that the team has faced from the talking head pundits all year. But after watching this team all year, wouldn't the moment that a National Championship appearance was clinched have to come in something like a goal line stand? And not any ordinary goal line stand. No, this was one that withstood two defensive pass interference calls with potential National Championship hopes on the line. To me, it was a microcosm of the entire season, and the culmination of Brian Kelly's rebuilding project.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Irish One Win Away from National Championship Game

Beat SC. That refrain, which has been an annual tradition for the Fighting Irish for decades, now has a new meaning this year. After the crazy losses last night from Kansas State and Oregon, a win over USC is all that stands between presumptive #1 ND and an improbable berth in the national championship game. For a program that believed in itself from the start, this comes as no surprise and is merely the following through of a mantra that has been hammered home since Brian Kelly became coach. For the Irish faithful, one look at the toughest schedule in the country prior to the season had even the most ardent supporters wondering where the Irish would land. But you see, that's the best part of being a fan. We've endured two decades of Notre Dame futility, some of the worst years in the program's history. It's been a rough road, one that we all stuck to even as the clamoring of how Notre Dame will never succeed again, how they're irrelevant, and all other cries like that emerged. But that's what makes this so special. As a fan of the Fighting Irish, peering over the precipice to a potential national championship berth, realizing what we've been through as a program and a fanbase makes this all the more sweeter.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Was the Bears' Loss an Aberration?

We've seen a lot from the Bears this season. There's been the turnovers, both on offense and defense. There's been the defensive touchdowns, which have practically given the Bears a second offense the entire season. There's also been the revelation of each position group on offense, from the brilliance of the secondary to the dominance of the defensive line. Included in this has been the emergence - at least to those outside Chicago - of Charles Tillman and the resurgence of Tim Jennings. Then there's been the offense. We've seen the Jay Cutler to Brandon Marshall connection play out like we wanted to. We've seen spurts of excellence. But at the same time, we've seen woeful stretches of inadequacy and an underutilization of Matt Forte. All of this begs the question - will the offense's inconsistencies prevent a potential Bears' championship?

Friday, November 9, 2012

2012 Illinois Basketball: What to Watch For

Tonight, a new era of Illinois basketball begins. Hopefully gone are the seasons of underwhelming results with overrated teams. Now, in this new era, square talent isn't being forced into a round hole. Under John Groce, the Illini should transition to a basketball program that recruits, signs, and develops talented basketball players that fill whatever role Groce feels is most appropriate, rather than plugging them into a system that does not fit their style.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Irish Continue to Fight as they Stay Undefeated

Some call it a team of destiny. Others call it a distorted version of that ole Irish luck. Still others, those of a more pragmatic nature, claim that it's a result of discipline, hard work, and adherence to fundamentals. The ESPN talking heads, the rest of the pundits around college football, and all of the college football fans who chomp at the bit to claim that this 9-0 team isn't worthy of any praise, of any lofty rankings, or even a place in the National Championship conversation, can bark all they want. After all that is over, after the Irish toyed with their own fans emotions on a dreary Saturday in South Bend, the end result is the same. Because as Julius Campbell so eloquently put it, the team has won every single game they have played until now. This team is still perfect.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Bulls Opening Win a Sign of Things to Come?

Flash back to April 28th, 2012. Bulls fans held their collective breath as Derrick Rose lay writhing on the ground holding his knee. Everyone feared the worst, hoped for the best, and probably figured somewhere in between. I mean, this was Derrick Rose after all. We've seen him crash hard in the lane only to be toppled over. His grimacing, slowly rising routine was one that had become familiar with Bulls fans. After news trickled in that Rose had torn his ACL, we watched as the Bulls tried to grind out a slow, defensive-minded series battle against a young upstart Philly team.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Irish Rout Over Sooners Should Quiet the Critics

The Irish certainly have reason to celebrate
Navy. Purdue. Michigan State. Michigan. Miami. Stanford. BYU. And now, Oklahoma. With a rousing victory over the Sooners in Oklahoma last night, the Fighting Irish appear to have finally quieted all of those critics. Where are you now, Mark May, with your prognostications that Notre Dame is overrated? Where are you now, Rick Reilly, with your ridiculous notion that Notre Dame is irrelevant? And where are the rest of the rank and file college football pundits with their belief that Oklahoma, favored by double digits even though ND was ranked higher, would put Notre Dame in their "rightful place" by relegating them to the back of the pack with a foregone conclusion that the Irish would be thrashed by the Sooners?

Illini Hit Rock Bottom in Loss To Indiana

Homecoming. Every alumnus looks forward to the weekend, as it means reuniting with friends from college, spending time on a campus that you enjoyed some of the best years of your life on, pretending you're a college student again, and generally making a fool out of yourself at every turn. It's usually a blast, starting with the tailgate before the football game and continuing on through the day. When the football team is bad, though, the tailgating usually just turns into a party the rest of the day and the game  is ignored. This is the status of our program right now, as from the looks of it yesterday with a half-empty stadium, droves of alumni decided to continue tailgating rather than watch the nightmare that is Illinois football.

Friday, October 12, 2012

One Year Ago Today

Today is the one year anniversary of the start of this blog. I understand that really, in the grand scheme of things, a single year of writing a sports blog isn't high in the pecking order. But for me, it's been great  to watch this process evolve. I've been pushed for years to try and articulate my thoughts in some way shape or form, and I finally took the plunge a year ago today. Since then, I've had the pleasure of hearing feedback from friends, family, and even strangers.

It's just one thing I love about our society and modern technology - everyone has a voice if they so choose. Whether it's facebook, twitter, blogging, or anything else, we've all been afforded the opportunity to voice our opinions so that everyone can see it. It has a way of bringing us all together, and if I can be just a tiny, microscopic portion of that in the Chicago sports world then that makes me happy.

I just wanted to thank all of you who read any of my posts, whether it was one or all of them, for taking the time to do so. It means the world to me. If you ever have any ideas for improving this blog, or want to leave any feedback whatsoever, it is all more than welcomed. I started this blog because of my love for Chicago sports and the near constant discussions I had regarding it with those around me. If anything, writing on those same subjects for the past year has only reinforced my love for these same things, and hopefully brought some of the same to some of you.

Thanks again for reading this past year. It has been a great ride for me, and I look forward to continuing to do.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Our First Glance at the New Look Bulls

Our image from last season
It hurts to think about where we left off with the Bulls last season. Derrick Rose had blown out his knee, Joakim Noah was suffering through a bad ankle injury, and the beloved Bulls bench mob had coughed up a Game 6 in the final minute to lose to the 8th seeded Philadelphia 76ers. From there we entered an off season that saw the jettisoning of several players, including CJ Watson, Kyle Korver, Omer Asik, and Ronnie Brewer. When some of the faces that were brought in to not only supplement the loss of Rose for the majority of the year, but also replace those key figures of the bench mob, were, how should I say this, rather unfulfilling, reports of the Bulls' demise this upcoming season dominated the reports of Bulls beat writers and the Bulls blogosphere.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Irish Run All Over the Hurricanes

Maybe, just maybe, we'll look back at this game and realize this is the moment Notre Dame football was "back." Sure, we've heard it several times before, from a fast start under Ty Willingham to a couple great seasons under Charlie Weis, but this time it's different, right? This Irish team, with an emphasis on team, just feels different. The way they go out and dominate on defense like elite teams do, the way the coaching staff has recruited, schemed, and grouped these players together, and the way these players come out and play hard, tough, physical football for 60 minutes every game - it all just feels like the old Notre Dame teams that were perennial contenders. I know there's a long way to go, and trust me, I feel like I'm jinxing it right now, but something about this team makes me feel like ND is back.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Bears Put Together a Complete Game in Thrashing of Cowboys

Flash back to last season. The Bears, after convincing victories over Phildelphia, Detroit, and San Diego, looked poised to make a deep run into the playoffs before Jay Cutler's injury ended those hopes.  Had Cutler not gone down, though, the Bears were clicking enough on both sides of the ball that there was no telling where the team could have gone. Now, the reason I bring this up now is that I hadn't seen that same type of play from the Bears since then until this past Monday's game against the Dallas Cowboys. The Bears dominated that game in all facets from start to finish. The offense was clicking, the defense was their usual turnover forcing selves, and the special teams played well as well. All in all, it looked like the Bears were starting to click as a team in all the right ways.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

New Era? Not Aboard This Sinking Ship.

New Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas fired Ron Zook after his team tanked last year down the stretch, dropping the final 6 games of the regular season after starting the season 6-0. Recruiting had fallen off, fans/boosters/alumni were all losing faith, Memorial Stadium was half empty, and it looked like the players were just going through the motions. Thomas graciously thanked Ron Zook for taking a program from the depths of what he inherited to a respectable Big Ten program, and promised Illini Nation that a new coach, with new energy, was necessary to take a program on the cusp of perennial success into a new era. Illinois was a sleeping giant, we were told, and the right coach could tap the existing talent on the team, change the culture and philosophy in Champaign, and bring in new top notch talent to guide Illinois into a new era. Thomas' answer was Tim Beckman, and he's given us a new era for sure. An era even worse than the one before it.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Great Season Continues as Notre Dame Beats Michigan

After last year's debacle in Ann Arbor, the pressure was on Brian Kelly and this Notre Dame team to not only come out and prove that the team has grown since last year, but that their 3-0 start to this season is not a fluke. Kelly and the team answered in a fashion that is quickly becoming the core identity of this team - fierce, physical, and opportunistic defensive play. For a program that has struggled mightily with Michigan's Denard Robinson for his entire career, forcing him to turn the ball over so many times only illustrates how this Notre Dame program has progressed in Kelly's third year.

Beckman Era Off to Rough Start

Beckman isn't off to the greatest start
Lost in the shuffle of the rest of the college football world this past weekend was 52-24 trouncing that Illinois was given at the hands of an explosive Louisiana Tech football team. The loss came only two weeks after a similarly embarrassing performance against Arizona State on the road, and has Illinois reeling at 2-2 entering Big Ten Conference play. The 2-2 record is astounding when you figure that the beginning of the schedule was configured to ease Tim Beckman's transition as coach. There's no doubt that this team should be 4-0, or 3-1 at the latest. I mean, doesn't this team have all that talent that Ron Zook was known for recruiting?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Nunn Commitment Only the Beginning for Groce

When John Groce took over as head basketball coach for Illinois, it was after an arduous search that left many in Illini nation disappointed in the final choice. I disagreed and outlined why I thought he was an outstanding choice, given his abilities as a recruiter, his modern offensive philosophy that takes advantage of the players actually on the team, and his up tempo coaching style. But most importantly, I felt, was his energy, enthusiasm, and ability to forge relationships with everyone he comes across. I thought that these skills would be invaluable to everything the program did in his tenure, from actually getting into the Chicago recruiting scene, to schmoozing alumni, to hiring the best assistant coaches, to rehabbing the tarnished Illinois basketball brand. Groce seemingly got off to such a great start, garnering rave reviews from Champaign about from nearly anyone who came into contact with him. But it wasn't until the commitment of Kendrick Nunn, the senior shooting guard from Simeon Career Academy, that Groce had the entire fan base behind him.

Irish Forging Identity as Michigan Awaits

When Brian Kelly was hired at Notre Dame, he explained his decision to accept the job in his introductory press conference with the phrase that "there's a football coach, and there's the football coach at Notre Dame." Kelly made it his mission to reshape the Notre Dame football program into one of modern excellence, forging an identity of toughness, respect, and excellence without compromising any of the core values that makes Notre Dame special. This, of course, is a multifaceted undertaking, and given the depths of ineptitude that the program had reached, an enormous undertaking at that. On the field, Kelly knew that in modern college football, you needed to win in the trenches, particularly in the defensive front. So, as Kelly, ever the offensive minded football coach, goes through his third season as Notre Dame coach, it's amazing that his team has taken the identity of a fierce defensive team.

Friday, September 14, 2012

New Bears Offense Collapses in Loss to Packers

Well, that was ugly. The "new look" Bears offense returned to Earth last night against the Packers, with the lack of protection, bunches of interceptions, and Jay Cutler temper tantrums illustrating that maybe, just maybe, this Bears team has not yet turned the corner into a modern NFL offense orchestrated by a true franchise quarterback. Last night's game was more reminiscent of Bears performances in recent years, with the defense playing a great game considering the circumstances, while the offense shot themselves in the foot with turnovers and a record amount of pouting and finger pointing from Cutler. It was, above all, an embarrassing performance for a franchise that was looking to establish itself as one of the elite teams in the NFL.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Ladies and Gentlemen, Your 2012 Chicago Bears

Wow. What is there to say? We've never seen a Chicago Bears team like this in years, if ever, as the Bears overcame a slow start to put on an offensive show yesterday against Indianapolis. We were all excited before the season began at the prospect of finally getting some playmakers at wide receiver to help Jay Cutler, but I don't think anyone expected these results. And with the way that the defense played, specifically Tim Jennings, the sky is the limit for this Bears team. We'll know for sure if this team is for real after their game Thursday against the Packers, but it's hard not to be pumped.

Week 2 Notre Dame and Illinois Recap

Sort of a mixed bag this week, as Notre Dame eeked out a win against a better-than-advertised Purdue squad, while Illinois got pummeled in the Arizona desert Tuco-style. It leaves fans of both programs wondering what direction the teams are going to head the rest of the season. For me, I feel that both results, whether it was an escape by ND against Purdue, or the embarrassment by Illinois against ASU, are not indicative of how those teams will play the rest of the season. I'll explain why, starting with the Irish.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Even With All the Upgrades, It All Comes Down to Defense for Bears

Cutler and Marshall, the new look Bears
It's hard not to be pumped for this Bears team, a team that is moving in a new direction, albeit with veteran players. We just saw an offseason unlike any in recent team history. There's a new GM, a new offensive coordinator, a new quarterbacks coach, new wide receivers, a new quarterback, and a new running back. All of these, from Phil Emery to Michael Bush, combine to give the Bears a more exciting offense than we can remember. This from an organization that has built themselves on special teams and defense for decades. So it's crazy then that the real question marks for this team going forward are on the defensive side of the ball. Will Shea McClellin and Israel Idonije combine to ease the pass rushing burden off of Julius Peppers? Will the health of Brian Urlacher be a continuous issue for the Bears' linebackers corps? Will Tim Jennings bounce back from a down year to be a reliable second option to Charles Tillman? And speaking of Tillman, can he continue to play at a high level similar to his first Pro Bowl last year? Will the Bears finally find some consistency at safety, a position that has dogged Lovie Smith's entire tenure? These questions permeate a unit that was still strong last year, and has been the strength of a team for years. So, in a way, the questions behind the strength of such a unit mean that this team and it's potential success comes down once again to the defensive unit.

Irish In Form As Season Kicks Into Gear

Sure, it's Navy. Notre Dame should stomp a team like Navy every time they play them. But let's not confuse things - this isn't Florida State playing Savannah State, or Arizona State playing Northern Arizona. Navy had beaten Notre Dame a few times recently, and it is a program that has gone to four bowl games in the last five years. That's why it's encouraging to see such a dominating effort from the Irish. A win like that should set the tone for the rest of the season.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Bears Offense Looks Explosive

I'll preface everything that follows this statement by saying that it's only the preseason. The history of the NFL is littered with preseason MVPs who never amount to anything, and good preseason records ultimately mean nothing. Just ask Peyton Manning, whose previous team, the Colts, nearly always lost most of their games in the preseason only to move on to their typical 12 win regular season. But all of that aside, the Bears, in particular their first team offense, looked spectacularly explosive last night. It is potentially the most explosive Bears offense I have seen in 25 years, and yes, I realize that is not saying much.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Catching Up With Chicago Sports in a Post Bar Exam World

There's the bar exam, and then there's the post bar exam celebration. Both are epic in their respective ways, and both have prevented me from writing on this blog until now. So, in that spirit, why don't we catch up on what we, or maybe just I, have been missing since the last post on this blog? We'll start with the Bears, who are currently in the midst of training camp with football on the horizon. Keeping with football, we can quickly examine the past month or so of both Notre Dame and Illinois football, who have both recently started camp as well, not to mention the near constant unhealthy addiction that is college football recruiting. Of course, there's the Cubs as well. You know it's one of those seasons on the Northside when the players leaving and those coming from the minors draw more interest than what's actually happening on the field. Let's not forget our favorite off season teams either, where the Hawks and Bulls have taken somewhat different paths as both prepare for the upcoming seasons. In a way, it was nice to have sports taking a back seat during the bar exam (if you can call it that), because it allows me to take a look back at the past month or so with each team. Let's get to it.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cubs Look to Future with Rizzo Call Up

Every fanbase gets excited when a top prospect gets called up to the majors. Baseball fans have this fascination with top prospects; they represent a bright future and a sign that changes are coming at the major league level. Fair or unfair, whenever a top prospect is called up the expectations are that the kid is going to be instrumental in changing whatever event that precipitated his arrival in the first place. Now, this could involve becoming the final piece of a possible winning team (see Mark Prior and the 2003 Cubs) or being "The Man" who is going to start turning everything around. Regardless, the promotion of a top prospect to the majors places enormous pressure on that young player. And for Theo Epstein and the Cubs, the pressure is two-fold. Not only do they watch Anthony Rizzo arrive in the same fanfare as similar prospects with all of the above that comes along with it - his call up also will be used as a determination of how the new Epstein era is coming along as well.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Notre Dame Freshman Class Preview

It's been a trying summer. The Bulls season ended early with the horrific injury to Derrick Rose, which will even affect the next season going forward. The Cubs are awful; really, there's nothing else to say about that. The Hawks season ended early as well, and they're left with questions going forward as to whether their core can get the job done. And for me, personally, I'm left studying for the Bar Exam which leaves my free time (including posting here) sporadic and totally infrequent. So, the only reasonable thing to do during rough times such as these is to look forward. And with the incoming freshman class for Notre Dame arriving on campus this week for workouts and summer school, they're a perfect group to take a look at going forward.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Soler Signing Sends a Message

Let's face it: there hasn't been much to talk about in the way of baseball on the North Side this season. I haven't even written about the Cubs, aside from a specific piece on Kerry Wood, since their preview on April 4. Sure, I've been busy. But even more than that, the Cubs are downright terrible, finding themselves in the midst of a dogfight with the Minnesota Twins to secure the rights to the Number 1 pick in the 2013 MLB Draft. Such is the way things go after a regime change, and as Theo Epstein forewarned us in a refreshingly honest manner before the season, such is the way things will go for the foreseeable future. It takes a lot to tear down an underachieving, aging, and fundamentally unproductive team. This is especially true now that the foundation is being laid by Epstein, meaning the money overspent on veterans will no longer be the norm, and now will be the exception. Epstein has made it a point to establish the Cubs Way, and to bring players into the organization who will fulfill this calling. The problem is, when Theo got here the cupboard was relatively bare. But after some self-identification, some offseason moves, and a good 2012 draft, things are moving in the right direction. And yet still, none of these moves resonated with fans, even in a season desperate for news, quite like the signing of Jorge Soler today.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Two Years Later, Hawks Still Rebuilding

It's been two years since The Goal
Jesse Rogers, the Hawks beat writer for, published an interesting article in rememberance of the Hawks' two year anniversary today of their 2010 Stanley Cup Victory. In the article, Rogers, who I respect very much for the work he puts into following the team, details the team's failures in achieving success in the two years since the Hawks won the title. He brings up several valid points, whether it be that only 8 players and 1 coach remain from that team, the general manager of that team is up for an award for a different team, and how all the expectations of the team's core have not thus far played out. But most importantly to me is the distinction that Rogers makes regarding "dynasties." His claim is that as of right now, the Hawks, who organized their core of players to resemble the dynastic underpinnings of the annual success of the Detroit Red Wings, more closely resemble the failed "dynasty" of the Chicago Bears in the mid to late 1980s than the Detroit Red Wings of the past 10-15 years. In a way, he's right. But I don't quite agree with him.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Smith Commitment Bolsters Already-Strong 2013 Irish Class

Jaylon Smith
In today's college football world, it seems like the biggest and brightest of the stars overwhelmingly head off to schools that operate with the mantra that if you aren't cheating, you aren't trying. College football fans see it time and time again. Whether it's Urban Meyer telling recruits that God would want Meyer to be the recruit's coach, Nick Saban oversigning recruits and simply cutting the ones he didn't want, or the general lack of academic integrity by most of the schools in the SEC and other power house programs, the fact is that a large portion of the highest level of talented prospects head to those programs. Sure, programs like Michigan and Notre Dame, among others, have landed great prospects while retaining both academic and ethical integrity, but in this day and age, it's only natural for an elite prospect to see the easy road at one of the aforementioned schools and go down that path. There's a reason the SEC has been dominating college football for the better part of the last decade.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Focus on Bears as Rest of Chicago Sports Suffer

You could make the argument that Chicago is, always has been, and always will be a Bears town. Sure, the Bulls are supremely popular, just as they were in the Michael Jordan era. But I personally know plenty of people who don't care for the NBA, so I'm assuming that this is a normal trend. You could also make a case for the Blackhawks, who have an enormous following. Yet, how many of those fans watched the team before they got popular again? I'm talking the days of not having home games broadcast on TV, or getting student discount tickets for practically nothing. I think that alone puts them slightly behind the Bears. Baseball can't come close, because Chicago has two teams that divide the city. The Cubs have a large fanbase, but the team stinks every year and a ton of fans show up to Wrigley for the experience, not the baseball. Thus, this year, as the Bulls and Hawks both made an early exit from the playoffs, the Cubs are woeful and the Sox are just ok, the Bears are going to bear the brunt of the attention from a rabid sports city.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Wood Ends Career On His Own Terms

It's hard to believe that it's been 14 years. It seems like only yesterday that Kerry Wood burst into the lives of Cubs fans on an early May day, a day that seemed to be the start of a long and prosperous career. Wood struck out 20 Astros that day and was instantly crowned the savior of Chicago baseball. It's hard to imagine more pressure being placed upon the right arm of a young player, an arm that we all now know couldn't hold up to it. Over the course of his career, we saw the dominating talent that made Wood such a prodigy when he arrived in the league, but we also saw the downside of the abuse of that arm, resulting in Wood taking up a second home on the disabled list for most of his career. Even through all of that, and the subsequent failure of another phenom, Mark Prior, and his career due to injury, Woody was a figure that endeared himself to Cubs fans. He was a Texas transplant, but over the past 14 or so years, he's become a Chicago man through and through. That's why, even though he was only a portion of what he could be, it was so hard to see him go yesterday.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Bulls' Strong Effort Comes Up Short as Season Comes to an End

Noooooo. In the matter of less than 10 seconds, the Bulls went from forcing a Game 7 to ending their season. After a season that started with so much promise, with the desire to build off last year's success, the number 1 seed for the second consecutive year, and another year filled with great teamwork, leadership, defense, and consistency, a couple serious injuries and their impact on the rest of the team led to a first round ouster. The Bulls got great games from Luol Deng, Rip Hamilton, Taj Gibson, and especially Omer Asik, but their lack of offensive execution, and really the loss of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah, meant an end to the possibility of a special season, whether it was last night in Game 6, a potential Game 7, or in any subsequent round of the playoffs.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Collective Effort Keeps Bulls' Season Alive

Maybe this is the time it all comes together. The Bulls have struggled to put together a cohesive effort since the end of Game 1 when Derrick Rose went down. They thought they were starting to come around in Game 3, building up a double digit lead, and then Joakim Noah goes down. It wasn't until tonight, in Game 5, where we saw a collective effort from a Bulls team that had banded together all year, through each injury to each player. I want to think that it was just a Bulls team that had become so dependent on Derrick Rose that it took a while to find their stride in his absence. But in reality, this was the first game all series where everyone (or really, those who were healthy) stepped up at once.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Bulls' Season on the Ropes

Rewind back just over a week ago. The Bulls' season, on the eve of the playoffs, was full of promise. They were not only the number 1 seed; they were a fundamentally sound, disciplined, dangerous team finally read to make some noise in the Eastern Conference. The team had their sights set on the Eastern Conference finals with Miami, with all the confidence in the world that a year after their loss, it was now their turn to advance to the finals. They had the best coach in the NBA, regardless of who the award went to. The front court of Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer was clicking, Rip Hamilton was finally playing as the team had hoped when they signed him, and most importantly, Derrick Rose was back and ready to attack the playoffs. And for most of Game 1, the Bulls were right on schedule. D Rose & Company were dominating Philadelphia for most of the game, until the Bulls' season and future was thrown into doubt when Derrick went down.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

A Tale of Two Halves as Bulls Get Blown Out in Game 2

What a difference a half makes. The Bulls, coming into their first game without Derrick Rose, knew they had to play as a team. They had to bank that the sum of their parts was going to carry them through the playoffs, at least against Philadelphia. And from the onset of Game 2, it looked like that was going to be the case. The Bulls came out firing in the first half after an emotional appearance at center court by Derrick Rose in the pregame. Joakim Noah led the way, providing scores of intensity, rebounds, and even scoring. The Bulls entered halftime confident that all the questions were answered about whether they could win without Rose, whether the Bulls could get a basket when it counted without their best player, or any of the other questions that come after losing your MVP. And that was it. Once the second half started, the Bulls were finished, with perhaps their worst half of the season.

Monday, April 30, 2012

Playoff Hopes Dashed with Rose Injury

Through the first 46.5 minutes of Game 1 of the Bulls first round series against Philadelphia, it was looking like this Bulls team had what it took to make a serious run in the playoffs. You could tell they were an experienced team firing on most cylinders, unlike their Game 1 against Indiana last year where they struggled much of the game. Derrick Rose looked like he had his legs back, even making some solid drives to the basket that looked like the D Rose we all know and love. At that point, he was even on the verge of a triple double, piling up 23 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists. The Bulls had gotten a great effort off the bench from Kyle Korver. Luol Deng was his usual consistent self. Joakim Noah and Carlos Boozer controlled the rebounding from the frontcourt. And Rip Hamilton, a guy I said would be the X factor for the Bulls this postseason, had begun the 2012 playoffs in strong fashion with 19 points in only 27 minutes. But more than that, the Bulls had controlled the tempo the entire game. In this year's playoffs, the Bulls were dictating terms like a seasoned veteran team, ready to pounce on an overeager 76ers team that had perhaps come in a little cocky. Things were looking good going forward. And then it happened.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Chicago Bulls 2012 Playoff Preview: Only One Goal in MInd

The Bulls ended the regular season in top form last night with a decisive victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers. The victory sealed their second straight season as the number 1 overall seed not only in the Eastern Conference, but the entire NBA. More importantly for the Bulls, however, is the way they finished the season. For a team that struggled with injuries all year, the Bulls had a healthy team together for the final two games and it showed, with a big win over the Indiana Pacers as well as last night's win. I don't think we can understate the importance of two good team wins, by a fully healthy Bulls team, going forward into the playoffs.

Beckman Lands Major Recruiting Coup in Bailey

Bailey is a dynamic player
It's been an interesting few months for Tim Beckman as the new coach for Illinois' football team. He came in, had a decent, but not great finish to the 2012 recruiting class, but more importantly took charge of the program. He went out and hired some excellent assistant coaches; guys who not only can recruit well but know how to coach too. He invigorated the program with needed changes, instilling tempo, competitiveness, and work ethic into everything the football team does on and off the field. He guided the team through it's first real chance to get to know each other, spring practice, and came out the other end knowing the direction the team can head in. Beckman and his staff were even off to a decent, although not spectacular, start to the 2013 recruiting class. But something was missing. It was a spark, some source of momentum that would carry the staff through the rough summer football-less months. And it came yesterday in the form of quarterback prospect Aaron Bailey, who could potentially be the Robert Griffin III for Beckman's program.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Hawks Fall as Rollercoaster Season Comes to a Close

If, or when, the Hawks were going to fall, this was the way you figured they'd do it. In a game that fluctuated in a way that served as a microcosm of their season, the Hawks dropped Game 6 in embarrassing fashion to end a season that certainly wasn't for the faint of heart. The game, like the season, was up and down; the Hawks started fast, slowed down, then plummeted towards the earth in startling fashion. It was a game that both frustrated fans hoping for a miracle comeback in the series and yet probably, once the emotion and hurt from the loss wears off, comes as a surprise to no one who closely followed the team this season. The loss exposed all the weaknesses of the team right now, so perhaps can serve as a moment to use going forward this summer. And still, above all, it just hurts to see the Hawks go down. It means there's no more Chicago hockey for months.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Hawks Stay Alive with Epic Overtime Winner

For the first 40 minutes of last night's Game 5, the Hawks looked like a team that was ready for the offseason. They looked ready to trade in their sticks for golf clubs and move on to next year. The team, outside the first 5-10 minutes of the game, had no hop in their step, no pacing, no sense of urgency - nothing. It was alarming to watch the team in a game of this magnitude - IT WAS POTENTIALLY THE LAST OF THE SEASON - look so listless, apathetic, and slow. And then, the old Hawks were back. The Hawks hit the third period rejuvenated, pressuring the Coyote defense, keeping up the forecheck and pace, and making Coyotes' goaltender Mike Smith's life miserable. This culminated in the deflected slapper from Nick Leddy to equalize the game, and then the epic moment from Jonathan Toews in overtime:

Friday, April 20, 2012

Hawks on the Brink After Another Overtime Loss

If there's one thing that binds all Chicago sports fans together, it's optimism. Hope springs eternal is probably a more accurate way to describe it given the tumultuous history of Chicago sports. We will believe, with all evidence to the contrary, that something good will turn out for our teams. Nowhere is this more true than with the Blackhawks this year. We saw an 82 game season twist and turn more often than a rollercoaster at Six Flags. We saw a defense collapse but other times hold strong. We saw a goaltender ride the waves of his own confidence, with many highs and lows along the way. And we saw an offense, loaded with talent and designed to be the strength of the team, either fail to show up or act like a force to be reckoned with. Above all, what we saw made us believe that this Hawks team, starting right now, would put it all together and make some noise in the playoffs. Boy, were we blinded by our old friend, optimism.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Hawks Fall Amidst Vicious Hit by Torres

Torres is a dirty goon who doesn't belong in the NHL
It's been an interesting playoffs for the NHL. This is the first year that they've enjoyed a national television audience for each of their playoff games, allowing them to showcase what, to me, is the best playoffs of any major sport. But that showcase has coincided with a stark rise, or perhaps just a reminder, of how dirty and vicious the game has become, with cheap shots, dirty hits, and suspensions on the rise. It was with this kind of atmosphere that the Hawks took on the Coyotes in Game 3 of their first round series tonight, and it only took about midway through the first period to see the worst example we've seen of the dirty side of the NHL.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Bulls' Bench Mobs Heat to Move Closer to Number 1 Seed

The stage was set last night for an epic showdown of the two best teams in the Eastern Conference. Rose v. James, Chicago vs. Miami - next on TNT! Derrick Rose was fresh off an ankle injury, one that he got when he was fresh off his groin injury. The NBA couldn't have hoped for a more marquee matchup, with the two best teams facing off with some of its biggest superstars. And yet, at the end of the day, it was guys named Watson, Gibson, and Korver who sealed a huge win over Miami and made the number 1 seed in the East the Bulls' to lose.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Blackhawks Playoff Preview: First Round a Clash of Styles

This isn't your typical 6th vs 3rd seed matchup. Because of the NHL's playoff formatting setup, where the division winners automatically receive the top three seeds, the Hawks actually enter their first round playoff series against the Phoenix Coyotes as favorites, even though they hold the 6th seed. But really, seeding doesn't matter once the playoffs start, especially in the NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs, where lower seeded teams advance far into the playoffs every year. Regardless of seeding, however, it's going to be an intriguing matchup between the two teams, mostly due to the fact that they represent vastly different styles of play. Who will come out in the end? Well, that depends on several different factors.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bulls Win as Rose Sits Again

The win by the Bulls last night over the Knicks epitomizes the enigma that this season has been. The game was close for the first quarter, but the Bulls utilized their traditional methods of success - defense, rebounding, effort, depth, and team cohesiveness - to pull away and eventually own the game. Those skills, against a Knicks team they had already played Sunday, show why the Bulls are such a dangerous team in a playoff series. No team adjusts like the Bulls, making it tough to beat them not only in consecutive games, but taking 4 out of 7 in a series against them. And they did this all without Derrick Rose, who sat again with a new injury. Now, think back to Sunday. The Bulls had Rose back for the first time in a month, and the team looked out of sorts, struggling to an awful first half before rebounding to make the game close. What gives?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Meyer Again Shows the Darkside of College Football

Meyer represents all that is wrong with the game
College football has so many things going for it. It gives people a chance to share pride (or anger) in their undergraduate institutions, uniting large masses of people together under one common goal. You get to enjoy it the best while at that school, ensuring that you can engage in some epic tailgating while in your prime partying years. And it even allows you to forge a deep hatred for another academic institution just because they're rivals with your particular team. Yet, above all that, one of the best things about college football is that it is supposed to be the last reflection of amateur football, a true representation of the student-athlete. We get to watch these athletes excel on the field with the supposed notion that they do it for the love of the game. Now, we know this isn't completely true, given that all of the top athletes are gunning for the NFL. But the fact remains that one of the more appealing aspects of college football is the fact that the vast majority of the players are playing their last years of football. From that, comes the sort of innocence and authenticity that makes the sport what it is.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

2012 Chicago Cubs Preview: The Rebuilding Begins

We've heard and been through all of this before. We've heard all the positives of countless previous general managers and managers. All of those previous managers were "the guy" who was going to institute a culture change on the North Side. All of those managers were curse-breakers, i.e., guys who can actually end the long, embarrassing drought from World Series titles that encompasses every fabric of the Cubs organization and Cubs history. And even more than that, we've been through it all. As Cubs fans we've lived through generations of characters who come to Clark and Addison with every intention of changing the way its done and bringing home a championship. And time and time again, we're left empty handed.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

What's Behind this Bulls Funk?

The problem with the Bulls right now, who just lost consecutive games for the first time in the regular season since February of 2011, is more than just missing Derrick Rose. It's more than just missing Rip Hamilton. No, the problems behind the Bulls' recent funk are deficiencies in the very traits that make them such a successful team - defense, energy, depth, and effort. The sources of the problem could have come from a multitude of areas, from the compressed schedule of a lockout season to the comfort of being on top of the standings all year. Regardless of the source, however, the Bulls will need to get it together to make a stretch run until the playoffs start in three weeks.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Hawks Clicking at Right Time as Playoffs Approach

Over the past few weeks, the Hawks have started to resemble that dangerous offensive team that we know so well from a couple years ago. Their loss last night notwithstanding, the Hawks have put forth consistent offensive efforts seemingly every game. Even the loss last night was a game riddled with offense. It's great to see the Hawks starting to click, but even more important that that is the timing of the matter. For a team that's starting to get hot on the eve of the playoffs, the timing couldn't be much better. The NHL hosts arguably the best playoffs in professional sports, one where the hottest team could end up being the champion, regardless of seeding. It is within this framework that the Hawks find themselves, and they've done it without their best player.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Make No Mistake, Groce the Right Man for the Job

Sports is a funny business. This is particularly true in coaching searches, where the search can concentrate on the supposedly top candidates and be deemed a failure before a coach is even hired merely for failing to hire those top candidates. In college basketball, more and more mid major coaches are sticking at their positions, staying happy with their competitive salaries and solid programs. As a result, finding the right coach has shifted more from finding the hottest candidate on the market to finding the right fit. And in John Groce, Illinois didn't land the hottest name. He's not going to make fans jump out of their seats (yet). He might not force the phones in the athletic department to ring off the hook with ticket requests (yet). But one thing is for sure:  he's the best fit for Illinois basketball.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Irish Dominating Recruiting as Spring Practice Picks Up

Only a month ago, Fighting Irish football fans were naturally anxious. They were fresh off a tumultuous second season that saw terrible QB play undermine potentially great success. They saw several recruits, and a couple coaches, either get poached by other programs or just drop ND all together. To make matters worse, ND recruiting for the 2013 class had started slowly, forcing fans to sit back and watch Michigan pull in top recruits left and right in a fashion more akin to Texas recruiting. So when the Irish held their Junior Day last week, it coincided with the start of spring practice to give ND fans some form of hope for a fresh start. Little did they know that in South Bend this year, March would actually start roaring like a lion at the end of the month.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Hawks on the Right Roll at the Right Time

Rewind back a month. The Hawks, reeling from a nasty losing streak, face the rest of the season from the ropes. A team loaded with talent has lost its way, teams are picking apart their special teams seemingly at will, and there are even rumors creeping in of Joel Quenneville losing his job. The special core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and the rest appear to bounce between pressing too hard or not trying hard at all. The Hawks faceda steep goaltending competition, and GM Stan Bowman appears to have to sacrifice it all to make much needed changes. Above all, any hopes for the season appeared to be lost.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Bulls' Will to Win Supersedes All

Bill Simmons calls it The Secret. Others call it an ultimate competitive drive. Still others call it a superior will to win. Me? I refer to it as simply giving a sh- ... well you get the point. In the NBA, of course talent matters. Having the best players means you are far more likely to succeed than the average team. Having money matters to get those players. And having a good coach matters to instruct those players. But above all, more than anything else, a team isn't going to win unless they have the collective "give a crap" attitude. Look no further than the Bulls' stomping of Orlando tonight for the perfect example.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

No Rose, No Problem, as the Heated Rivalry Continues

Whew. Now that was a game. In their second matchup of the season, the Bulls took down the Miami Heat minus the MVP, Derrick Rose, in what emphasized every aspect that makes the Bulls, as Luol Deng says, a "real team." The team defense was outstanding, there were contributions from many different people, and the bench as a whole dominated. The Bulls were able to survive some horrible officiating, and the UC was rocking with an atmosphere more akin to a playoff game than a game in the middle of the season.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Landing Marshall a Coup for Bears

By trading for Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall yesterday, Bears GM Phil Emery showed he's not only serious about making moves to help the team, but that he's focused on bringing in the weapons to surround his franchise quarterback. The move exceeded the expectations of going out and trying to sign Vincent Jackson. When you combine his addition with the signing of Jason Campbell, it's easy to see that Emery has come out swinging in his debut for the Bears.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Time for Emery to Shine as Free Agency Begins

With the NFL free agency period set to begin tomorrow afternoon, the Bears enter it with the all-too-familiar need to improve multiple positions on the roster. Almost every position on the roster needs upgrades or depth. Sadly, the Bears found themselves in this same position last year, coming out of the lockout with a clear need for several positions that was simply not addressed. Perhaps Jerry Angelo spent too much time during the lockout playing golf, who knows. But there is hope for change, as the woeful management of Angelo has been replaced by Phil Emery. Although not much is known about Emery's intentions in terms of philosophy, the simple fact that the Bears moved in a new direction creates hope, false or not, that the Bears will start to more closely resemble what a professional football franchise should look and act like.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

RIP, Phil.

The world lost a great one when Phil Patnaude, a great friend, brother, family member, fiancee, and person, passed away this weekend in Chicago. I've spent the past couple of days trying to come to grips with how to deal with this, as I can only imagine his closest friends and family have done. That's why I'm writing this here, even though this is usually about sports. I want to remember Phil. I want everyone to remember Phil. And really, that will never be a problem, as Phil left a lasting impact on anyone fortunate enough to meet him.

I remember meeting Phil at the University of Illinois in the Fall of 2005, my freshman year and his senior year. I wasn't particularly interested in rushing a fraternity, as I found the large size of many of the houses on campus a turn off. Yet, I knew a couple of guys in Delta Phi, a smaller fraternity. I decided to give it a shot.

Now, at most fraternities on campus, the sheer size of the frat contributes to a sort of division between the various pledge classes that join the house. This wasn't the case at Delta Phi, where the small size of the house necessarily led to a more cohesive brotherhood. But that wasn't the only reason for the lack of a division. The older guys in the house, completely out of the norm for the Greek system on campus, seriously cared about the incoming guys and wanted to be friends with them. Phil was the epitome of this.

He made it a priority to take time out of his last year in school to make friends with the younger guys, not out of necessity because of the size of the house, but because he wanted to. It instantly made me want to be a part. I watched how close he was with the rest of his class as well, and it made me realize how truly close the guys in the house were. I will seriously never forget that.

As the bad news rolled in Monday, I couldn't help but first think of all those who had remained really close to Phil over the years. His fiancee, his close friends from Delta Phi, his family, etc. Those guys were always together, coming down to Champaign for homecoming or just for the hell of it, and each time impressed me with their desire to be friends with all of us younger guys, and the way they all stuck together and stayed close friends even those years after college. I can't possibly imagine what those guys and others close to him are going through, because I know myself the impact that Phil has left on me.

I wasn't super close to Phil. I knew him well during my freshman year at Illinois, and fell back into a good friendship anytime I saw him or the other older guys come down in the years after they graduated. I wish after I had graduated I had taken it upon myself to cement relationships with those guys, who always impressed me with their ability to care about us and each other, at least more than just the random sighting at a bar or playing fantasy football. But one thing I do know is that I'm hurting bad from Phil's loss, probably not even close to what those closest to him are feeling, but bad. And really, that's a testament to the impact that Phil had on nearly everyone he came across.

The outpouring of love, support, and consideration for Phil only shows how valued he was as a person to so many different people. People who didn't know him are heartbroken just by seeing the reactions of those close to him. Everyone, whether they saw him everyday or just once, know what a loss this is to the world around us. It's heartbreaking.

No one can truly prepare for the loss of a friend. But something tells me, or at least I hope so, that it will bring us closer together. I know that it helps to see friends, brothers, family members, or anyone who knew Phil, to help get us through this. Maybe together we could all try to emulate Phil's infectious smile, engaging and gregarious personality, sheer honest and kind attitude, ability to have fun and bring that fun to others, and all of the other amazing qualities that made him who he was. At least I hope so.

I want to express my heartfelt condolences for those who knew Phil better and were closer to him than I was. All of the older guys at Delta Phi, his fiancee Selena, his family, and everyone else he met along the way. I am hurting, and I can only imagine what you're going through. I am here for anything you can possibly need. 

RIP, Philmo. You will most definitely be sorely missed.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Can This Bulls Team Win the Championship?

In last night's big road win against San Antonio, the Bulls played their usual game. They kept the game close against a good team by playing good defense, and for the most part, relying on Derrick Rose. This is the formula that the team has used to tremendous regular season success for almost two years now. More encouraging were signs at the end of the game of just what consistent contributions from other players could bring to this team. In the 4th quarter, after 3 quarters of a game reliant solely on Rose, the Bulls awoke. Ronnie Brewer started to land his jumper. Joakim Noah solidified his defense and crashed the boards even harder than he did before. Luol Deng came out of his slumber to land a couple clutch 3's. And Carlos Boozer, well, he still sucked.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hawks Fail to Add Major Piece at Deadline

The trade deadline in any professional sport is a day consisting of a flurry of rumors, phone calls, and the overpowering stench of desperation. GM's know that this is the day, fair or not, that can define the rest of the season. It can get a GM fired or keep him on board for another year. And in the NHL especially, a sport with no equal in how quickly managers can be hired and fired, succeeding on the trade deadline is an important thing.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Neal Commitment Comes at Right Time for Irish

Nearly three weeks after National Signing Day had ended, there were still those who were glum about the way things finished for the Fighting Irish. They had lost two highly ranked players, Ronald Darby and Taylor Decker, to Florida State and Ohio State respectively. To make matters worse, 5 star receiver Deontay Greenberry pulled an absolute shocker and switched to Houston on Signing Day. And on top of that, a few prospects that Notre Dame was after chose to go elsewhere.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Is This Hawk's Surge Real?

Just a week ago, panic had set into the entire Hawks fan base. The Hawks were playing their worst hockey of the season, essentially nosediving from a great start to ultimately fighting hard for a playoff spot. The defense and goaltending was a mess, and the Hawks offense was in such a deep funk that it couldn't bail them out. Then, suddenly, the Hawks exploded against the New York Rangers, dumping four goals on them in the first period, setting the stage for an easy win against a top team. From there, the Hawks notched an easy win over NHL doormat Columbus and a tough, gritty, defensive/goaltending won battle against hated rival St. Louis. The Hawks have looked like their old selves in the midst of their mini winning streak, but therein lies the question:  are these Hawks here to stay?

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Nail in Weber's Coffin

Well, that about does it. Illinois' loss to Purdue last night all but ensures that Bruce Weber will be sent packing after the season is over. Last night's game embodied everything we've seen from the Illini last season: lazy first half play, bad passing, lack of execution, a second half surge that comes up short, turnovers, bad shot selection, etc. It was nice to see the Illini play uptempo in the second half, utilizing the athletes on the team and just letting them play basketball instead of worrying about them executing Weber's offense. You even saw Weber throw in a little zone defense, something he NEVER does, with a mix of some triangle-and-2 defense on a couple possessions in the second half. But in the end, the effort came up short, as it seemingly always does for Illinois, and Weber's fate (and Illinois' tournament chances) is practically sealed.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

What's Next for the Hawks: Is this Rock Bottom Yet?

Is this seriously happening? Is the chatter surrounding the Blackhawks, in the midst of a 9 game losing streak, really considering the firing of Joel Quenneville? Well, that's what it's come to. For a team that was at the top of the Western Conference standings a month ago, it's unfathomable. But as the Hawks keep piling up loss after loss after loss, in a fashion unbecoming of an elite club, Coach Q's seat is only going to get warmer.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Pushing the Hawks Panic Button

Where do we start? The Hawks are in a free fall, piling up loss after loss in a steady dive from the top of the standings to potentially fighting for a playoff spot. The way the losses have come, after such a sustained period of success, has been nothing short of devastating. But really, the problems leading to this "slump" have been here since the Hawks Stanley Cup season of 09-10. Bad defense, no offensive depth, and weak goaltending. The only difference is that the Hawks have finally reached the point where the great "core" cannot hold off the glaring weaknesses under the surface.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Illinois Basketball: Approaching the End of an Era?

It pains me to write this, but it might be time for a new direction and new leadership in Champaign. I've liked Bruce Weber as a coach and a person for his entire tenure at Illinois, but the stagnant and perennially mediocre status of the Illinois basketball program has gone too far. In the last month alone, Illinois has beaten Ohio State, then lost to Penn State, beaten Michigan State, then lost to Northwestern. With fans and key boosters leaving in droves, there may be no alternative but to look for someone else to lead the program - even if it's not all Weber's fault. I hope that somehow, it doesn't have to happen that way, but there may be no other choice.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

National Signing Day Illustrates the Dirty Business that is College Football

Recruiting is a dirty business, but also necessary to the success of any program. To win in college football, you need to have the best players. Forgetting for a moment the Boise States of the world, the teams that have the best players usually win the most. If you look at the most recent champions, especially Alabama, they typically bring in top 5 recruiting classes every year. As a result, the struggle to recruit and sign kids has turned dirtier each year, as coaches with multimillion dollar contracts try to get to bowl games and championships that in turn make their respective schools and conferences millions of dollars. All of this while these kids are showcased on television as the result of multibillion dollar television contracts. At the end of the day, gone is any notion of amateur athletics, and we forget that the pressures these kids face from these recruiters is unlike that of any other 17 or 18 year old kid graduating from high school and choosing a college.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Bulls Fall to Heat in First Test of Rivalry this Season

Sorry, it took me a couple days to recover from the Bulls loss to the ESPN, I mean, Miami Heat on Sunday. As you would expect, a rivalry as intense as Bulls-Heat went down to the wire, with D Rose and LeBron James exchanging missed free throws, some weird officiating moves, and finally the D Rose miss that would have tied the game. This was the first of four games the teams will play, and I have a feeling that each one will match the intensity of this one - a gritty, all-out battle that has the same feeling as those epic playoff matches had last year. Here's hoping that the Bulls use this game as a lesson for the rest of them.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Loss to Pacers Illustrates Difficulties for Injury-Ridden Bulls

Last night's loss against Indiana was a tough one. First, we played a tough playoff series against them last year that catapulted the Pacers to the top of the Bulls rivalry list. That series was rough, dirty, and words were exchanged between the teams numerous times. Players like Jeff Foster and Tyler Hansbrough in turn catapulted themselves to the top of Bulls fans' hate list. So losing to that team last night stunk. Secondly, the loss gave a legitimate intra-division rival momentum and confidence going forward, knowing that they could take down the best team in the NBA. Third, the way the Pacers celebrated last night after the REGULAR SEASON win was as if they had all won the lottery, personally won the War on Terror, cured cancer, fixed the US and global economic depression, AND won multiple NBA titles. All in one night. I'm just glad that someone else noticed. The Pacers are like that annoying kid on the playground that steps up to challenge the big guy, gives him a fight, and talks trash and plays dirty the entire time. There's nothing technically wrong about the kid, but if you're on the side of the big guy (the Bulls), man does it royally piss you off. And most importantly, the loss illustrated the difficulties the Bulls are going to have going forward with the injuries they have.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bulls Should Sit Rose Until He's Healthy

By the time the Bulls suit up tomorrow night against Cleveland, Derrick Rose will have sat for nearly a week without playing a game. Rose, nursing a nagging turf toe injury, looks to miss the next couple of games for the Bulls this weekend as well. The Bulls are handling this perfectly, and if I'm Tom Thibodeau, Gar Forman, or John Paxson, I make benching D Rose a permanent thing until he's 100% healthy and ready to play.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Just When You Thought the Irish Were Out, Kelly Pulls Them Back In

It's official. Gunner Kiel, consensus number 1 quarterback in the 2012 class, has decommitted from LSU and is enrolled in classes at Notre Dame. This is an extraordinary recruiting coup for Brian Kelly - it's not every day in the modern college football world that a top notch quarterback drops his commitment to an SEC team that was in the National Championship game to attend Notre Dame. This is different than the Taylor Decker/Urban Meyer situation, where Meyer poached a recruit from ND. Here, Kiel made the decision himself with his family. Moreover, it speaks volumes to the preparation, hard work, and true appeal of the current Notre Dame coaching staff under Kelly, and could open the floodgates down the homestretch to National Signing Day.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Urban Meyer Poaching the Irish as National Signing Day Approaches

Sure, every coach and college football program recruits players committed to other teams. After all, a verbal commitment is merely that - verbal - until National Signing Day on February 1st, when recruits in the Class of 2012 can begin signing letters of intent to play college football for their chosen programs. As a Fighting Irish fan, I had been ecstatic about the incoming class, which is excellent by any measure. Any excitement I had has now been destroyed by the new resident douchebag in Columbus, Urban Liar. Er, Urban Meyer. Regardless, Meyer has caused destruction to Notre Dame recruiting in his usual sleazy ways, stealing two coaches and one recruit already.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What's Wrong with the Hawks?

After a blistering start, the Hawks have started to cool off a little bit, sliding from the number one seed in the Western Conference to the fourth in a matter of days. Dropping game after game doesn't help, but is this more an indication of a slump that every elite team goes through, or is it indicative of deep flaws that could disrupt a great season? I think it's a little bit of both.

To be sure, the Hawks beat up on a miserable Columbus Blue Jackets last night to stay in the 4th spot in the conference. They did this even with immeasurable loss of Patrick Sharp for a month (and really, if there was ever a bad month to lose Sharp, isn't it right now??!?!). But the problems for the Hawks have been masked by great play by the stars all year. Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Patrick Kane, Patrick Sharp - all elite players - have hidden the fact that the Hawks lack of depth nearly everywhere, combined with a terrible back end to the defense, need to be addressed or the playoff success of the Hawks could well be moot.

Theo Instituting the "Cubs Way"

We're Cubs fans. We're used to hotshots stepping into the offices at Clark and Addison and promising the world to Cubs fans. Yet, here we are, in Year 104 of the Cubs' rebuilding project, witnessing a new leader promise the world to us. But something is different here. Changes are actually coming. Theo Epstein, the newest hotshot kid on the block, announced with a firm resolve that he was instituting a new culture in Chicago, dubbing it the "Cubs Way." This was more than just words. In the few months since Theo took over, the representative symbols of the old Cubs are on their way out, with a new foundation for success taking its place. While all these moves signal the Cubs already giving up on the 2012 season, really, who cares? Did we expect them to be good anyways? Let's build for the future, something that the moves of Theo and GM Jed Hoyer seem to be doing.

Theo and Hoyer have made some signings, bringing in random young utility players who fit his statistical mold, like David DeJesus and Ian Stewart. Those kind of moves only pique the interest of fans who waste all their time like me. No - the big moves made by Theo thus far indicate a desire to improve the ball club and refuse to tolerate childish nonsense that was the name of the game throughout the past.

Illinois Plays the Giant-Killer

With the way Illinois has been playing, I had almost zero hope that they would come into last night's game against Ohio State and be competitive, let alone win the matchup. Ohio State was everything that Illinois had thus far proven themselves unable to be, a basketball program that recruits very well, but at the same time develops players and consistently wins basketball games. I've gone on here to talk about how Bruce Weber and the Illini have loads of talent, but just need to play within a system, develop that talent, and translate it into wins on the court. Much of the time, I focus on G/F Brandon Paul within this context, noting that although he is a Junior and has untold potential and talent, that he is far too inconsistent. Well, hopefully we can take all that talk and shove it, for I think we just witnessed Paul and the Illini's coming out party.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Era of Accountability Begins?

Wasn't Christmas a week ago? Well Bears fans are getting either a late or very early Christmas present, as Jerry Angelo was fired today, a huge and startling move from the Bears. I feel like Ralphie from A Christmas Story, thinking that I'd gotten everything I wanted until finding that last one gift tucked away, waiting to come out and dwarf the rest of them. Now, if George McCaskey and Ted Phillips can go out and nail the new GM hire, could this possibly mean that a new era of accountability has begun at Halas Hall? It's possible, and the ramifications for this fire could be big starting immediately.

To be sure, the Bears have had a sustained period of success under Angelo that is much more reminiscent of Bears traditional success than his predecessors in the 1990s. The Bears won the division several times, made the NFC Championship game last year, and went to the Super Bowl in the 2006 season. He picked out the likes of Devin Hester, Lance Briggs, and Matt Forte. But in all reality, the writing was on the wall this year after he left the Bears woefully unprepared to survive a season with a few injuries, as I've talked about numerous times. For the Bears, it's also important that Angelo didn't simply retire. By announcing that he's been fired, it illustrates to Bears fans that from the top, Angelo's performance isn't acceptable. It's tantamount to announcing a culture change under the new McCaskey.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Years Weekend Recap; Hawks, Illini, Bulls, and Bears

It's New Years, so I figured that in lieu of posting some lengthy entry on one of our teams, I'd save us all the time and post one lengthy entry on all of them. This was a big sports weekend, with Hawks/Red Wings, Illinois' bowl game, an Illinois Big Ten conference basketball game, Bulls/Clippers (more like D Rose/CP3), and Mr. Irrelevant, Bears/Vikings in the last weekend of the Bears season.

Toews MVP?
I had the good fortune of making it to the Hawks/Red Wings game on Friday, and the crowd's atmosphere was appropriate considering the magnitude of the game. Granted, Hawks/Red Wings always carries an elevated sense of importance, but this year, with the two teams at the top of the Western Conference standings, the game was even more important. With the crowd fired up, both teams played a back and forth game, trading goals (including a sick Jonathan Toews penalty shot) for much of the game before the Hawks took the lead for good off a blast from Brent Seabrook. It was a great game that really illustrated what the Hawks can do when they get serviceable goaltending and defense. Toews continues continues to play at an MVP level at both ends of the ice, and every night the Hawks are able to put more playmakers on the ice than the team playing them. Like I say everytime though, the Hawks will have trouble going deep into the playoffs if they do not address the shortcomings on defense. There are plenty of teams that have dominated offensively in the regular season only to see their season flame out in the playoffs, where the ice shrinks and physical, defensively tough teams often come out on top. After Duncan Keith, Seabrook, and Nick Leddy, the depth at the blue line is horrible. Niklas Hjarmalsson is a bust, and the other guys back there aren't even worth mentioning. But really, I have faith that Hawks management will make a move, given the available cap to maneuver with at the trade deadline, and that one key piece may be all the Hawks need to bring the Cup back to Chicago.