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hat is the point when a school goes from ‘nice story’ to ‘serious title contender’? Is it when they sign their first blue chip prospect? How about when a player on the roster starts showing up on several different Heisman Trophy watch lists? Or could it be when the team knocks off a topfive opponent? If those three questions are the criteria, then the University of Illinois Fighting Illini have to be among the teams considered legitimate threats for the Big Ten title. The Illini brought in the twentieth-ranked class in America third in the conference - last February, which included two five-star recruits. Junior running back Rashard Mendenhall is now showing up on lists of Heisman hopefuls, thanks to his 772 rushing yards (fifth in the country) and 12 total touchdowns. And last weekend, the Illini knocked off the fifthranked Wisconsin Badgers 31-26, to improve to 5-1 overall (3-0 in conference) moving them into the Associated Press Top 25 poll for the first time since 2001. The future looks bright in Champaign, especially when you throw in the struggles of the traditional Big Ten powers. When coach Ron Zook was hired to lead the Illinois football program in 2005, the program was coming off back-to-back seasons where the combined record was an atrocious 4-19 with only one conference win. Zook himself had just finished three seasons coaching at the University of Florida, where he had the honored position of replacing legendary Gator coach Steve Spurrier. Zook’s reign in the Swamp was not a successful one, as Florida lost more games at home (six) in his three years on the sidelines than they did in all twelve of Spurrier’s. So it’s not a stretch to say that not too many people were predicting Big Ten championships when Zook took over in central Illinois. But despite his less-than-stellar won-loss record, Zook has always been one of the best recruiters in the country. At Florida, he brought in two great classes that ended up laying the groundwork for the Gators’ national title earlier this year, including quarterback Chris Leak. And at Illinois, he has done the same - his first full year of recruiting, which was the class of 2006, had as many elite players (six four-star recruits according to Rivals.com) as Ron Turner’s last three years combined. That class included Isiah “Juice” Williams, a speedy quarterback from Chicago Vocational High School on the south side of the Windy City. Williams came in and started almost immediately for the Illini last year, just as Leak did in his freshman year at Florida. Zook’s debut class also featured tight end Jeff Cumberland of Columbus, OH and cornerback Vontae Davis (brother of 49ers tight end Vernon) from Washington D.C., both of whom also played major roles in their first season wearing the Orange and Blue. Trying to build on that ‘06 class, the Illini coaching staff brought in an even better group of players this past winter. Going back to where they found their top 2006 talents proved to be wise, as the top three guys in the class of ‘07 also hailed from central Ohio, the nation’s capital, and - naturally Chicago. Offensive lineman Mark Jackson from Columbus turned down

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Rushing Illini

by Eli Kaberon photos by Michael DiNovo

Michigan, Oklahoma and his hometown Ohio State to attend Illinois. Ultra-fast wide receiver Arrelious Benn was a teammate of Davis’ in high school and was named to multiple high school All-America lists. And defensive end Martz Wilson, from Simeon High School, has been called the best defensive recruit to come to Champaign since Simeon Rice. Both Benn and Wilson were considered five-star players, and were ranked among the top thirty players nationally, regardless of position. They are already paying dividends for Zook, with Wilson contributing to the Illini pass rush and Benn leading the team in receptions, receiving yards, and kick return scores. All the top freshmen in the country, though, wouldn’t be able to beat backto-back ranked teams in conference like U of I did. To win those types of games, a Big Ten team needs to be able to play good defense, avoid making stupid mistakes, and run the football. And only three teams in the entire country - none in the Big Ten - have run the ball better than the Illini. Through six games, Illinois runners have accounted for an astonishing 1,567 yards, which amounts to about 261 per game. The Illini can really pound the rock; and the catalyst for that running attack has been star tailback, Rashard Mendenhall. Buried behind fellow backs Pierre Thomas and E.B. Halsey in his first two years on campus, Mendenhall is finally looking like the runner who was the best prospect in the Chicagoland area in 2005, playing for Niles West High School in Skokie. Blessed with a rare combination of power and speed - and aided by the fact that teams have to account for QB Williams on any running plays in offensive coordinator Mike Locksley’s spread option attack - Mendenhall is a legitimate threat to take the ball to the end zone every time he touches it. Take for example the first of his three touchdowns last Saturday against Wisconsin. On second and five from the Badgers thirty-two yard line, the Illini came out in their spread option formation: five linemen; one receiver split to the far left, two split to the right; Williams in the shotgun, with Mendenhall directly to his left and fullback Russ Weil on his right. Just as center Ryan McDonald is about to snap the ball, Mendenhall comes in motion to line up behind the QB. Williams gets the ball and immediately runs up field to the right, following his O-lineman and Weil, with Mendenhall following the play from behind. As soon as a Badger defensive player is about to tackle Juice, he pitches it back to Mendenhall at the thirty-nine yard line. By then, there might as well already be six points on the board. Mendenhall takes the lateral, turns on the afterburners, and runs untouched thirtyfive yards until Wisconsin cornerback Jack Ikegwuonu finally makes contact with him at the four. But it’s way too late, as Mendenhall dives into the end zone head first, jumping over the pylon on the right sideline to give the Illini the first score of the game. Plays like those are tough for any team to defend, but especially for the surprisingly in-consistent teams in the Big Ten. At the start of the year, many prognosticators thought Illinois would finish in the middle of the conference -

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October 22, 2007


anywhere from fifth to ninth. But nobody in their wildest dreams could have predicted that Penn State would lose back-to-back games to start their Big Ten season, or that Iowa would be 2-4 and winless in conference halfway through the year. Wisconsin isn’t as good as a lot of people thought they would be, and Michigan struggled early with two losses to open their season. The time is right for the Fighting Illini to make their run, and a lot of those same people who said ninth place are now talking Rose Bowl. Zook’s team still has some tough games left, including a night game with Michigan, an in-state rivalry matchup with surprising Northwestern and a dangerous road trip to the third-ranked team in the country, Ohio State. Can the Illini pull it off and make the school’s first trip to Pasadena since 1984? First they have to take care of Iowa this Saturday, and coach Zook doesn’t think it will be easy. During his weekly media conference, the coach said of the Hawkeyes,

“Obviously, we’re going there, to a hostile environment, a team that you might say is backed up against the wall a little bit. Any time you get someone

that’s backed into the corner, you know they are going to come out fighting.” Will the Illini be able to handle the fight? Considering Iowa ranks a

dreadful 115th out of 120 nationally in scoring (17.3 points per game), all Illinois needs to do is give the ball to Mendenhall and get out of the way. Though the Hawkeye defense isn’t too bad, they will have no answer for the Illinois running game - much like the rest of the Big Ten. Thanks to Zook’s recruiting, the Illini can match up talent-wise with almost anyone; and because nearly every team in the conference is on a down year, it looks like that will translate into a January bowl game, perhaps even the Rose. Mendenhall is the real deal, and so is the entire team. Eli Kaberon is a 2005 graduate of Evanston Township High School and currently is attending Columbia College in the loop, majoring in print journalism. A life-long fan of the Cubs, Bears and Bulls, Eli also works as a seat vendor at Wrigley Field and has sold hot dogs to everyone ranging from Bears tight end Greg Olsen to Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. His blog, the Hot Dog Guy, can be seen at http://wrigleyvendor.blogspot.com.

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October 22, 2007

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Page 13


GREG ODEN’S by Charlie Danoff s everyone reading this knows by now, Greg Oden the top pick in this year’s NBA draft - will miss his entire rookie season following microfracture knee surgery. Oden has had poor luck with injuries: an injured wrist forced him to miss the first seven games of his college career, and a tonsillectomy only let him play two summer league games. While Jason Kidd and Amare Stoudamire came back strong from the same surgery, Chris Webber and Kenyon Martin have never been the same. Just like former Blazer centers and top picks Sam Bowie and Bill Walton, Oden is in danger of starting an injury-filled, disappointing NBA career. Clearly the Blazers screwed up big time, and should have taken Kevin Durant. The franchise has now officially reached doomed status. Times seem even worse than a few years back when the Blazers were more known for Blazing than basketball- UNLESS, in reality, this Oden injury is the best thing that could have happened for the franchise long-term…

A

Master Plan

that TLC (R.I.P. Left Eye) wrote their song about - you have a year to figure it out.

II - The Blazers’ Plethora of Big Men Even without Greg Oden, the Blazers have one of the deepest big men rotations in the league. Raef LaFrentz (the #3 pick of the 1998 draft), Joel Przybilla (#9 in 2000), and the newly acquired Channing Frye (#8 pick in 2005), have all started over 50 games in a season.

the , n e d O big reg t G s e t p u e o e h t d Even wi ve one of the ue. ha g s a r e l e z e a l h B in t s n o i t a men rot

I - Gives Oden time to Clean up his Appearance Mr. Oden, speaking as an objective observer, the first footage from your NBA career should not be of you in mesh shorts and a tank top. On top of that, it should not be a home movie showing us your knee, and talking about the bed in your living room. As a side note, Greg, your camera work is blase and leaves a lot to be desired. The only people who need to know the location of your bed are the countless young ladies you will surely be able to lure there. Even if you don’t end up sleeping with 20,000 women like another famous center, I imagine you will do just fine. Especially this season, given that you can party all night without worrying about waking up to play the next day. Beyond that, I would find your whole “I’m going to come back better than ever” claim more viable if you were dressed like an adult. Even if I wear that same outfit or worse on a daily basis, I am not the face of a multimillion-dollar NBA franchise, or taking millions to advertise for Nike. Go out and get a $10,000 suit - or at least put on a shirt and pants. Coming off like a bum at this stage, when Blazer fans are undoubtedly mad at you for duping their team into picking you ahead of Kevin Durant, does you no good. But I feel like I’m not being clear enough in what I’m trying to say; Professor Crash Davis, will you please educate the rook? “Your shower shoes have fungus on them. You’ll never make it to the bigs with fungus on your shower shoes. Think classy, you’ll be classy. If you win 20 in the show, you can let the fungus grow back and the press’ll think you’re colorful. Until you win 20 in the show, however, it means you are a slob.” In other words, until you at least play an NBA game, no more letting the world see you looking like the scrubs Page 14

season, at least; that’s four guys to play two spots at 48 minutes per spot, leaves 24 minutes for each. Realistically, with Oden back in the fold next year, they are only going to need two of these other guys. Oden and the other post starter will require 30-35 minutes per game and a backup can take the remaining 20 minutes or so. This year will let the Blazers front office decide whom they should keep around and who is

They were also all very high draft picks for a reason. LaFrentz never became the star he was supposed to be, but he did start 16 games for the 2002-03 Dallas team that played in the Western Conference Finals. He is a more-than-adequate reserve at this stage of his career, and could start for many teams. Consider that Mark Blount, Mikki Moore and Francisco Elson all started over 40 games last year. Similarly, Przybilla has largely underwhelmed throughout his career. Since coming to Portland in 2004, however, he has carved out a legit starting role as a rebounding, shot blocking force. In 05-06, he averaged 2.32 blocks per game, finishing seventh in the league. Frye, entering his third season, was acquired in a draft-day trade for clubhouse cancer Zach Randolph. He’s the latest of many good value draft picks by Isiah Thomas, and he should continue to develop as an offensive big man, averaging 10.8 points in only 25.3 minutes per game in his two-year career. At the least, he is addition by subtraction for ridding the team of Randolph’s poisonous attitude. Beyond these three, the second-best big man on the Portland roster is only the second overall pick of the 2006 draft, LaMarcus Aldridge. He was expected to team with Oden to form the best NBA frontcourt since Tim Duncan and David Robinson - this year, Aldridge will have to do his best without the help of the OSU star. Coming off a strong rookie year, with a 17.17 PER, Aldridge seems like a good bet to continue developing as one of the NBA’s top young big men. So, besides Oden, the TrailBlazers have four other Top 10-overall picks who are 6’11” or taller. All of them are under contract through the 2008-09

expendable. Once they figure that out, they can actually give the expendable guys some minutes without sacrificing Oden’s playing time. Using the time on expendable players will up their value, and help the Blazers get more in value back in trades. As a quick note, the Blazers also have 6’11” Josh McRoberts (from Duke, once thought to be a lottery pick) and own the rights to 6’11” Joel Freeland (another 2006 first-rounder) who is playing overseas.

III - Improve the 2008 Draft Pick While some have written that with Oden the Blazers were a potential playoff contender this year, I found that doubtful. Nevertheless, without him they are definitely a bottom-feeder. In that respect, this is great for them in the long term. Contending for the #1 pick will give them a shot to potentially land O.J. Mayo or Derrick Rose. Both will be freshman point guards this season, and are expected to duke it out all season to be the top pick. That would mean the Blazers’ future starting lineup could have four potential all-stars - next year’s draft pick, Roy, Aldridge and Oden. It would transform the Blazers from a team that could potentially win a championship or two into a team that might become a dynasty. Furthermore, even if they only got a top five pick, they could package it with one of their current players in a trade to get an established veteran.

IV - Lets Rest of Team Develop This is sort of a re-hash of my second point, but it extends to the rest of the roster as well. Including those aforementioned big men, Portland has a total of seven lottery picks on their

roster, without Oden. Missing their future leader will force other players to step up their game on both ends of the floor. 2007 Rookie of the Year Brandon Roy will have to continue evolving his all-around game. Last year Roy averaged 16.8 points, 4 assists, 1.2 steals and 4.4 boards per game. Many young players can do one thing well, but very few put up numbers across the board like that. Martell Webster, one of the guys who is not very well rounded, will hopefully accelerate his slow development since coming out of high school. Signs even point to Darius Miles playing this year, which despite his poor career is a positive if only because the Blazers still owe him over $26 million. In addition to the lottery picks, the Blazers expect solid play from Jarrett Jack, Steve Blake and Travis Outlaw. Jack did well his first year as a full-time starter, averaging 12 points and 5.3 assists per game. Coming off a successful year running and gunning with Allen Iverson and Carmelo in Denver, Steve Blake is expected to challenge him for the starting spot, and add depth and stability to the point guard position. Outlaw is a jack-of-alltrades who has steadily progressed since coming out of high school. Given the number of scorers already on the squad, he figures to complement his teammates well. As a comparison, consider how in 05-06, coming off their first great season with Nash, the Suns were forced to play without Amare Stoudemire for basically the whole year. Other players - Raja Bell, Boris Diaw and Leandro Barbosa, to name a few - stepped up in his absence to make them a better overall team when Amare returned. Knowledgeable fans also know that Coach Nate McMillan always demands maximum defensive effort from his players. Perhaps playing without Oden, who would theoretically allow others to relax a little on D, will force the rest of the team to elevate their stopping ability.

All in all… Even if I’m wrong and its not the best thing for the team in the long term, I still think Oden and the Blazers will be fine. Many medical experts think he can eventually make a full recovery, and I agree with them. When he returned from his wrist injury at Ohio State it took him a little while to catch up, but all he did was lead his team to the title game as a freshman. Furthermore, if he never does come back, the Blazers still have an enviable young core to build around, even if it is not at a championship level without him. Still, if I were another team’s GM, I’d be calling up Kevin Pritchard to see if I could trade for Oden. Maybe Pritchard will let his emotions get the best of him and give him up for less than he’s worth. Overall, despite his poor appearance, I believe Greg when he says he will come back stronger than ever. Charlie is an aspiring writer and a caddy at Skokie Country Club. Odds are you will hear a lot about him in the years to come.

CHICAGO SPORTS REVIEW “A weekly sports magazine that drives Chicago’s sports your way.”

October 22, 2007


Northwestern vs. Michigan

MICHIGAN 28, NORTHWESTERN 16

9.29.07

photos by Michael DiNovo October 22, 2007

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Page 15


A c h i l l e s B r o w n by Dustin Beutin

nd then Achilles rose up, donned the new armor that his mother had brought, fresh from the forges of the god Hephaistos, and plunged back into battle, routing the Trojans and slaying Hector, their general

“A

and the oldest son of King Priam. Soon thereafter it was Achilles turn to die, at the hands of Paris, Hector’s brother, who pierced his heel with a poisoned arrow guided by Apollo, who had not forgotten the death of Troilus.

Thus the prophesy was fulfilled, and Achilles’ ghost rejoined his friend’s in the Elysian Fields. Their ashes were mixed together in a golden urn, and the Greeks buried them in a common tomb.

The Greeks understood entertainment. Their theatre and literary works form the foundation of the Western world’s culture of entertainment. The physical trials of ancient Greece, symbolized so eloquently by the Olympics, form the basis of our sporting heritage. Just as everything else has evolved since Ancient Greece, so has entertainment. My evidence? For one, we (thankfully) no longer perform sports in the nude. After all, who would want to see some of our “athletes” emblazoned on an urn in their full glory? Maybe a select few Bradys and Sharapovas, but certainly not Bobby Jenks or Jamal Williams. As entertainment goes though, what links us to our past is that our entertainment choices still seem to reflect a desire to see the cruelty of the world from which we are trying hide. Greek tragedies are not that far of a jump from HBO’s The Sopranos. Perhaps that’s why football is so popular: it embraces a cruelty that the Ancient Greeks would have so enjoyed. And it is cruel. Ask fans of the Buffalo Bills just how cruel it can be. And there is cruelness of a completely different nature in what happened to Mike Brown last Sunday. The cruelness of fate. Mike Brown will probably go down as one of the greatest safeties to ever play for the Bears, even though he now stands perilously close to spending more games on IR than on the field. That’s the thing about greatness in Chicago: it doesn’t just spawn from epic battles on the playing field. It also comes from weaving yourself into the fabric of this city. What Bear in recent memory has captured the imagination of Chicago so deeply that the mere mention of him being able to play incites people to declare the Bears early favorites for the Super Bowl? What player on any Chicago team in the last decade has been so inspirational, motivating and intelligent as to be revered by nearly every teammate as their “heart and soul”? Sammy Sosa, with all of his Page 16

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October 22, 2007


talent, never inspired his teammates to such levels. Kirk Hinrich, though extremely likeable, doesn’t dominate games the way Chicago needs its sports heroes to do on occasion. Maybe the 2005 White Sox, but the subsequent dismantling and collapse has been so rapid that it left us little time to really get to know them. Michael Jordan was the last, but here lies the difference: Air Jordan never spent back-to-back-to-back-toback seasons on the bench with a major injury. Can Mike Brown be compared with the king of the Bulls? No. But, neither can basketball be compared to football. And make no mistake - Chicago is a football town. When you think back on any game Mike Brown has started, you instantaneously have memories of him making game-changing plays. The overtime interceptions against San Francisco and Cleveland in consecutive weeks will forever stand as the legend of Mike Brown in this city. People have already started to say “I was there when…” in regards to that moment; and certainly, ten years from now, nearly one million Chicagoans will claim to have been at Soldier Field on one - if not both - of those days. But to focus solely on those plays only belies the incredible work Mike Brown has done for the Bears. Look at the record books. Though he will now spend his fourth consecutive season on IR, Mike Brown is… • Tied for second all time in Bear career interception returns for touchdown • Tied for first all time in singleseason interception returns for touchdown • Holds the record for the secondlongest fumble returned for a touchdown (95 yards) • Sits atop the Bear record books with the most fumble return yardage of any Bear - ever. How can a player that has played so little hold so many records? How can a player who brings so much passion and so much game to the field be injured over and over again? The answer is a mystical crossing of talent, passion and fate. To compare his career with any other Bear player is almost impossible. Blessed with intelligence, leadership and playing ability and cursed with a rash of injuries so freakishly inadvertent, it just boggles the mind. Perhaps you could reference Dick Butkus or Gale Sayers, both of whom were given the opportunity to build their Hall of Fame resumes before having their careers cut short by knee injuries and suspect medical advice. However, with both Butkus and Sayers, they were able to return from injury and fate gave them a chance to put in at least one more season before pulling the rug out from under them for good. Additionally, for the era, their careers lasted what was then an average NFL lifespan. Standards are higher today. Blame medicine, or science, or both. Players aren’t expected to be finished at 29. The head-shaking sadness of Mike Brown’s four-year run of futility is incomparable, if only because it feels October 22, 2007

as if we’ve only seen the surface of what Mike Brown could accomplish with a few more healthy seasons as a Bear. Perhaps that’s why Bears players, management and fans love Mike Brown. Because he shows his love for all of us by playing like a Greek hero every time he is on the field. The fact that it occurs in a stadium designed to hark back to the era of Olympics, gods and epic battles adds to the illusion that somehow Mike Brown is descended from Olympus itself. What seems even more painful is that seeing the Bears play without Mike Brown makes us feel that the Bears just aren’t a contender anymore. Sure, the team has seen a lot of success without him on the field over the last few years - it’s just a sensation that’s impossible to describe, other than to say that Mike Brown changes games and gives the Bears a shot even at times when they don’t deserve one. It also inspires flashbacks to the recent Jauron era, when it seemed that the Bears were just moments away from being in contention if QB Jim Miller could just stay healthy. He teased us with a string of immensely exciting games in 2000, including a set of 300-plus-yard passing performances that etched his name in the record books. Then he was hurt and the season took a nosedive. In 2001, Jim was the inspirational spark that fired the Bears up against the Vikings after 9/11 and took them on a run to a playoff showdown with the Eagles… only to be hurt in the game on a dirty block, a change in fortunes that contributed to the Bears being shut down by the Eagles on their own field. After that game, the Bears collapsed in 2002 as they waited in vain for Miller to try to get healthy. All the while, people in the city walked around muttering that the Bears had a chance if they could just get Miller behind center. Alas, it was not to be. Miller’s career ended a journeyman’s death a year or two later as the Bears sent him packing in favor of guys like Kordell Stewart. What made Jim Miller so much like Mike Brown is not only that the city felt the Bears had a shot if Brown or Miller could play. It’s that Jim Miller, like Mike Brown, was so inherently likeable. A tough, everyman kind of guy who looked like he’d happily meet you in the backyard for a steak and a beer. He was kind to the fans, cared about his teammates, and clearly loved the game. Chicago appreciates that kind of thing. It shines through and, when it does, it ties the player into the heart of the city. Interestingly, there is something else that Jim Miller and Mike Brown share: both players at one point suffered a blown Achilles tendon. In the case of Mike Brown, the analogy is fitting. A player that is mythically good, who seems to destroy players and teams singlehandedly, whose appearance on the field is enough to inspire his fellow players and frighten his opponents. A game-changer, impervious to the cruelty of the game. That is, except for a single chink in the armor that keeps him from dominating the record books. If this was indeed Mike’s last season, it would be fitting that the Bears honor his play and his dedication to the city with more than a farewell announcement at halftime. Maybe

place a plaque in the north end zone, where he so famously ended the OT games in 2001. Do something to recognize all the passion he showed the team and the city. Hopefully - for both the Bears and the fans - Brown will dig deep and find the courage to prepare himself for another shot at playing a full season. Who could blame him if he doesn’t, though? Can it be imagined what it’s like to spend a fourth year in physical therapy after three times thinking oneself fully recovered? Perhaps the greatest thing that can be said about Mike Brown is that despite how tough his medical journey will once again be, Chicagoans expect, in their hearts, that he won’t hang up the cleats. If there’s one thing we’ve learned about him, it’s that he doesn’t quit. There have been rumors the Bears will cut Brown and move on now that he’s injured again. Logically, one

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could point to the investment side of the NFL “business.” But, if the Bears are so stupid as to try and cut him after this season to save money, the fans in Chicago may just riot. No way can Halas Hall let Mike Brown go the fans won’t care if he spends every year from now to eternity on the IR. He is Chicago’s Achilles, for better or worse. Though other sportswriters in Chicago might still be unpacking their carpetbags, Dustin Beutin is a born and bred Chi-town sportswriter. Heading into the heart of the Big Ten (Purdue) broadened his sports views, and it was during the Jauron era that he lost the innocence of blind love for Chicago sports and began looking for an outlet to vent his frustration. A trip out west to USC for a Master’s in writing was only tolerable with high doses of ESPN and Dodgers games, though it gave him a respect for the national perspective. Now in the early stages of a sports-writing career, Dustin hopes to give back to the city of Chicago everything it gave him: opinions and heartburn.

Page 17


Perhaps in some weird way an avowal of guilt from

REGGIE Might Soon Sound Like

by D.K. Wilson

Bush, for two years, has vehemently maintained his innocence. Jones, for seven years, vehemently maintained her innocence.

MARION chased the Reggie Bush story like a hapless defensive back with 4.45 speed chasing… Reggie Bush. I could see that there were problems on the horizon - but for which party? The Bush party or the New Era Sports & Entertainment, Lloyd Lake party? After chasing for a while I stopped and watched from afar, like a hapless defensive back with 4.45 speed watching Reggie Bush run toward the end zone in the California late-afternoon smog. Only now Bush is in the pros, far away from Trojan battlefields and Coliseum glory. He has a memento from those winning escapades - a Heisman - but the millions in bonus and contract money is all his. But the university he left behind - if Bush and his family did receive money and gifts

I

from Lake - might well be on its way to shambles. Joe Castiglione, athletic director of the University of Oklahoma, made overtures indicating the NCAA favors USC while applying the cat-o-nine tails to the exposed back of the OU football program. One-time Sooners head coach Barry Switzer went so far as to say outright that the governing body of collegiate athletics has it in for Oklahoma and actively protects Notre Dame and USC. Hell hath no fury like university rednecks scorned. Lake said all along that he has the Bush family by something far more sensitive than the scruffs of their necks, and now he is dead set to prove it. Meantime, the apple of everyone’s

Bush might be the final chink to complete the circle and bring to a close a brief but contentious era of athlete “scandals.” eye, Reggie, appears to be leaking worms. It was curious even last season, his rookie year in New Orleans, that every time he touched the ball there were two extra defenders in his path. The moves he made in college that should have translated to the NFL did not. He was hit late often and always around his legs. After a tackle, he received a quick elbow to the small of his back or a hand to the helmet, or knees to his calves. It seemed like these men of the men’s league wanted to send a loud and clear message that Bush is indeed no darling; no perfect apple, red and delicious. This season it is worse. Players and ex-players alike often say that once they step on the field, all non-football problems vanish ¬- the task at hand is everything. Tell that to Reggie Bush. He runs like Lloyd Lake is the voudoun loa riding his back; runs with the resignation that a hell-hound is on his trail and there is no escaping the inevitable. Suddenly Bush’s doppelganger - Adrian Peterson, coincidentally an ex-Sooner - seems faster. Defenders seem to part when he bursts through a hole, and they tackle him with a respect that will afford him longevity. The apple, on the other hand, appears to be dead soft - and sprouting worms. Reggie Bush has been resolute in maintaining that he and his family have committed no NCAA sins. In fact, just before the 2006 NFL Draft, his attorney David Cornwell turned over what he said was evidence of an extortion plot against Bush by Michaels and Lake to NFL Security and the league’s Players Association (NFLPA). Bush has often declared his innocence with a knowing smile. Though evidence to the contrary sometimes dripped out into the public domain, as long as there was Katrina and her aftermath and as long as Bush was

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donating millions to restoration efforts, the drips were quickly sponged off. Now, though, the blush of emotion is off the New Orleans Saints. Quarterback Drew Brees, who was last season hailed as an on-field savior, is now just another undersized signalcaller with a problem seeing through the morass of helmets and flailing arms. His decisions are poor, and the game looks too fast for his mind. Last season Bush was New Orleans’ offfield savior, constantly giving time and money, money and time, and waking to do it all over again. He was the poster person for the NFL and its charitable services - especially those of the Gulf Coast. Now the Saints are winless “Aint’s” once again, and the world is free to show just how unrelenting in it’s prying and how vicious it can be. Or maybe it is only reality that caught this team, these two players, this one Reggie Bush. In April of this year Bush did settle out of court for a sum between $200,000 and $300,000 with Michael Michaels of New Era. For his money, Michaels was sworn to silence if approached by the NCAA about his dealings with the Bush family. In April Reggie Bush brushed off pesky reporters who questioned his veracity pertaining to illegal dealings with New Era. Two months later, in June, Bush and Lake sat before a mediator to work out another settlement. For whatever reason or reasons, Lake was unwilling to capitulate. Now Lake is turning Victor Conte to Bush’s Marion Jones. Jones married shot-putter C.J. Hunter, a known and admitted steroid user. She then took up with sprinter Tim Montgomery, a known and admitted steroid user. Lake was a gang-banger who served time in prison. Bush signed with agent Mike Ornstein who, in 1995, pleaded guilty to one count of mail fraud against the NFL. Jones, for seven years, vehemently maintained her innocence. Now we know she did use performanceenhancing drugs on her way to winning five medals in the 2000 Olympics. Bush, for two years, has vehemently maintained his innocence. All that is left in the story - in this parallel universe of these two uniquely gifted athletes - is... Perhaps in some weird way an avowal of guilt from Bush might be the final chink to complete the circle and bring to a close a brief but contentious era of athlete “scandals.” Perhaps then there can be meaningful discourse on the subject of PEDs - not with women, for they are dangerous to women’s’ health - and their worth, and there can be meaningful discourse on the subject of stipends for college athletes. ...for Reggie Bush to say “I’m guilty.” D.K. Wilson is a freelance sports writer. He is better known on the internet as “DWil,” and writes for the sports blog, Sports On My Mind.

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October 22, 2007


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Hysterically Hester

by Tom Alexander

(Whoops, there I go; couldn’t even make it through a paragraph). These various talents, alongside a little bit of luck, great blocking from the rest of the guys on the field, and a variety of other factors, have led to one of the most incredible starts to a career that any of us will ever see. He’s fortunate that his particular talent is one that people will pay millions of dollars to see over the rest of his life, and we’re fortunate that someone who has his unique blend of skills performs for us every Sunday.

’ve got a bit of a penchant for hyperbole, so it came as no surprise to a friend of mine when I declared that Devin Hester is the greatest return man in the history of the NFL. My buddy demurred, stating that perhaps he’s not yet the greatest, and that maybe after about 25 games or so, it was a little early to anoint him as the greatest of all time. Make no mistake—the numbers are there. The six return touchdowns, not including the missed kick return, not including the Super Bowl return, were achieved faster than anyone in NFL history. He holds the all-time record for returns in a season, and he’s got three returns for touchdowns through six games this year. There is sentiment that the league will try and stop Hester, to do things that will eliminate his ability to be effective (this has been done before; Dante Hall comes to mind). At the time of this writing, however,

I

Devin Hester is still an unstoppable force. The league has not yet figured out Devin Hester. Maybe they will, or maybe he’ll keep running back kicks and punts to the Hall of Fame; it’s a bit early to tell, so we’ll leave that discussion for now. What it isn’t too early to tell is that Devin Hester makes people want to say and do crazy things. The folks at EA Sports, who have been producing Madden football games for years and years, gave Hester a “100” speed rating—the first in history. Faster than Michael Vick or Deion Sanders ever were. If you go on youtube, you can find videos that people have posted of their “sick” touchdown returns with Devin Hester’s video game character. On a discussion board following Hester’s two touchdown performance last year, Fraser Munden wrote “… Mr. Hester has the most phenomenal peripheral vision in the history of the

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I’m a big believer in the notion that the things you have accomplished can never be taken away. History and hindsight can be a cruel dose of reality, but the fact remains that there are certain things that can never be taken away, no matter what. Devin Hester’s accomplishments thus far are certainly in that category. What will happen for the rest of his career remains to be seen, but the fact is that we’ll all be watching, on the edges of our seats, with our hyperbole ready to roll.

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NFL,” and Courtney Diggins wrote “He’s the fastest man on earth in my opinion.” It’s an interesting thing, hyperbole, because the people who say things like that realize as they are saying them that they’re probably saying something inaccurate. What they’re really saying is “I want to believe what I’m saying is true” or “It seems like what I’m saying could be true, which is why it should really amaze you that I’m saying it.” So let’s try and do this without the hyperbole. Devin Hester, in my opinion, is probably the best I’ve ever seen at breaking tackles early in a return, to give himself a chance to have a good return. He’s one of the fastest I’ve ever seen at going through a seam, right up there with Deion Sanders, and when he turns on the jets, I am not sure that there’s anyone alive who can catch him

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October 22, 2007


hat was it the playoffs are supposed to be about, again? Oh yeah. Pitching. The big question, of course, about the first two games against the Arizona Diamondbacks is Why did Lou Piniella pull (Wednesday’s starter) Carlos Zambrano after just 85 pitches? Not only did he have a low pitch count, but he had looked absolutely dominant, having struck out eight batters in six innings while giving up just a solo home run to Stephen Drew (leading off the fourth inning). It hasn’t been a secret that Piniella has plans of starting Zambrano on short rest for Game 4 of the series (if necessary) and it’s possible that it was for such reasons that he kept Big ‘Z’s pitch count down about 40 pitches under his norm. I’d like to assume this isn’t the reason that Sweet Lou chose to pull his best starter, who was throwing his best stuff; I’d like to assume there was a different, more logical reason for him Number one draft pick, Josh Vitters may hold the rope doing this, but I can’t think of what it while others swing on it. might be. After the game, Zambrano spoke of how he had pleaded to go another inning, but in the end defended his manager’s decisions to cut his outing short. “Whatever they say or criticize Lou We trust him with our money, why don’t we trust him to finish a game? about the decision, he’s the manager. He’s the one who guides us. Whatever decision he makes is good. Let’s say he brings Marmol in and he does his job 1-2-3, and we win the game. Nobody talks about that.” by Glenn Anderson First of all, how glad are the Cubs to have inked this guy to a long-term deal? He’s an 18-game winner in the regular season, he’s young and durable (and probably hasn’t quite hit his stride yet), he clearly performs well in the playoffs (forgot to mention his leadoff double in the third inning) and - oh yeah - he backs up his manager even when you can tell he disagreed with the decision. How easy would it have been for Zambrano to turn around and talk about how he didn’t understand getting taken out that early when he was pitching so well and still felt good? Instead, he accepts his role as a ballplayer, and he accepts Lou’s role as the manager. This is a quality that for a long time was accepted as intrinsic in the construct of a team in any sport, but the modern sports era has brought with it a sense that highly paid athletes have the right to suggest their decisions might be better than those of their managers. Carlos Zambrano is absolutely right about another thing: if Carlos Marmol comes in and throws a 1-2-3 inning, like he has all year, nobody talks about the decision to abandon the rolling starter early. But he didn’t come in and sit down three in a row, so we’re going to talk about the decision. First things win the ballgame in front of you! Don’t they were spurred on by bright neon team might be without their lone leftfirst - an inning like that (which this worry about Sunday’s game. As of right signs flashing “NOISE!” (as opposed handed relief pitcher. Scott Eyre faced year for the incendiary Marmol should now, there very well may not be a to an unrequited, desperate love for one batter in Game 2, because that batbe regarded as a freak occurrence) indi- Sunday game. Wouldn’t you feel fool- their team) the crowd at Chase Field ter hit a shot up the middle over Eyre’s was loud, and it was that very crowd head, and he thought it would be a good cates that maybe the youngster wasn’t ish then? Just as with Marmol, though, this that helped Jose Valverde get those idea to reach up with his bare hand to ready for the playoffs and is a little greener than anyone thought. But don’t one isn’t all on Lou. Ted Lilly felt it final two outs in a pressure situation on try to catch it. Thanks, Scott. These are the questions that make blame the goofy-eared righty for the would be a good time to have his first Thursday night, after a botched double the playoffs so exciting, right? Well, play and a wild pitch left runners on truly bad start of the season on Cubs’ precarious playoff position, yes - though it’s a lot more exciting second and third with one out. The Thursday night, serving up six runs in because there are other parties accountwhen you win. With that in mind, don’t crowd helped, but the Cubs dormant only three-and-a-third innings. His able. expect any Cubs fans to just be happy lumber was the true hero for these two relief, Kevin Hart, came in and gave up Lou, it’s true you have a bullpen that about just seeing a good ballgame: for D-Back wins. another two runs, which would prove to has been wonderful in the second half the Wrigley faithful, the playoffs are The top five spots in the order this be more than enough scoring for the Dof the season, and you had every reason exciting when the ‘W’ flag flies over series are a combined 6-for-39 good Backs. in the world to trust them. But this is Waveland and Sheffield. enough for a whopping .154 batting The Cubs hitters in both games have the playoffs. You should know that you go with the most certain thing you can been stymied by the highly acclaimed average, which (believe it or not) is Glenn Anderson is a graduate of - and you know your ace has the ability pitching of the Diamondbacks. After actually better than their average with Chicagoland’s Evanston Township High to shut down the team you’re playing two games against the Snakes, looking runners in scoring position. The Cubs School and Pitzer College in beautiful southon that particular day. Your relief corps at the numbers tells us they will either are being out-hit by the worst hitting ern California. He is a life-long, die hard is very good, but on any given day, any win a close game or lose by a lot. team in the National League, their Cubs fan; thankfully this has not damaged his to the point where he can’t intelligently pitcher can get tagged. Stick with the Unfortunately, for a team like that, bullpen has given up four runs in 8-2/3 psyche comment on the team. guy who’s giving you the best chance to homefield advantage is huge. Though innings, and as of Thursday night the

W

on the ropes at

WRIGLEY

October 22, 2007

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Page 3


uarterbacks and running backs are the glory boys. When they’re doing well, the team shines and the fans bask in the ability to brag about their favorite team. Woe to any team, however, when one or both of these positions struggle. Everyone can see when a starting QB flubs up plays (see: Grossman) and everyone can tell when a running back isn’t making plays happen. Here in Chicago, the Bears are blessed with a variety of playmakers Urlacher, Briggs, Hester, Tillman, Harris being the cream of this bunch but currently everyone is waiting and wondering if Griese and/or Benson will step up. Most Bear fans know from watching the games and listening

Q

kreutz bradley

Under the Radar ning plays, every halfback needs holes to get through the first level of defenders and into the secondary, where he can really do damage. The sum of all this is that Kreutz needs to find a way to light a fire under Fred Miller’s butt (without breaking his jaw) and get better play out of Roberto Garza so that both Benson and Griese have the opportunity to get something done. You know, like touchdowns. Rumor is they’re important.

Mark Bradley: The

kreutz

wide receivers on this Bears team underscore the remarkable job Jerry Angelo can achieve with late-round draft picks and wise use of free-agent money. Just a few years ago, he was being criticized for an inability to find a receiver in the top of the draft with both hands and a flashlight. Now, teams around the league are lusting

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maynard ogunleye

after a Bears’ receiving corps that boasts six players capable of starting on most teams (the possible exception being Hester, but his raw talent would be too much to pass up for any team in the league). The number five guy at this position, Mark Bradley, brings to the field explosiveness and “run-afterthe-catch” abilities that none of those above him on the depth chart (save Hester) can match. With Berrian in some form of early-season slump, Hester not able to be on the field every play and “The Moose” either showing signs of old age or suffering from postGrossman depression, this group needs someone to step up and provide a big, easy target for Griese. Bradley must take advantage of this opportunity for both himself and the Bears. It’s his third year with the team, he has the size and skills to be a difference-maker

radar players who’ll need to pick up the slack to make this Bears season a success.

Olin Kreutz: If there’s a guy you’re glad to have on your side, it’s got to be Kreutz. Everyone knows he is not only a vocal leader of this Bears team, he is also one of the best in the league at his position - a perennial pro-bowler. His offensive line, though (and it genuinely is “his” oline; you’d be a brave soul to try to prove otherwise) is under-performing. While it’s true that Griese and Benson both need to elevate their game, they aren’t going to be able to achieve this if Kreutz can’t find a way to motivate fellow linemen to more effectiveness. Without the offensive line playing better, Griese won’t have the time he needs to get the ball to open receivers. And let’s face the sad truth of Griese’s 32-year-old body: he ain’t gonna outrun anybody anytime soon. Additionally, while it’s Benson’s responsibility to make a move on run-

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bradley

to the national media cover this team that a lot hinges on these two players taking their game to a whole new level, as well as the aforementioned crew of all-stars maintaining their normal quota of excellence. Certainly, this season will fall flat on its face if Brian Griese proves to be nothing more than a mediocre journeyman. His pedigree, experience and track record point to him being able to maximize his talents and at least provide the Bears’ offense with some stability. Whether this occurs or not, there is a lot of pressure on Cedric Benson to be effective in moving the ball to balance out the short-yardage play of Griese. But the ability of these two players to succeed from here on out is only part of what needs to happen for Chicago. If the Bears are going to do anything more than vie for a wild card berth in the suddenly competitive NFC, they are going to need a handful of players somewhat further from the spotlight to step up and make a difference. Here are five of those under-the-

clark

October 22, 2007


ing position. If Griese can consistently pin other teams back, the Bears defense is good enough to force teams to kick early and often, giving the Bears ideal field position for their low-octane offense. The second reason Brad needs to keep form is that he becomes an amplifier of the “Devin Hester Effect.” Teams seem willing to sacrifice 10-20 yards on each punt to keep the ball away from Hester - but that becomes harder and harder to do if they are kicking from their own end zone. If Maynard works those “coffincorners” and keeps other teams inside their own 20, the offense will have shorter and shorter fields to traverse on their way to that still-elusive end zone.

Adewale Ogunleye:

clark

With all the injuries in the secondary,

the Bears’ defensive line must create havoc in opposing teams’ backfields in order to mask the weaknesses that exist downfield. Tommie Harris appears nearly back to form, and Mark Anderson is living up to the promise of his rookie season. The rotation of replacement nose tackles has been at least effective, though they are starting to show some cracks against the run game. Ogunleye, however, has been the silent partner of this crew so far this season. With Harris and Anderson drawing consistent double-teams, leaving Ogunleye one-on-one with offensive tackles, it is critical that he take advantage of the situation by streaking into the backfield on a regular basis. While this is easier said than done, it is important for him to force teams to account for him on every play. This would open up opportunities for

Desmond Clark:

Brad

M a y n a rd :

Without a doubt, the Bears have the best special teams unit in the NFL. Forget the silly ratings system or announcers who have favorite teams or coaches, no other special teams in the country can boast the combination of kick-blocking, kick-coverage, field goal and kick-return abilities that comprise the Bears “third phase.” And while no one would dare underestimate Brad Maynard’s skills as a punter, much of what is about to unfold through the rest of the season now rides on his ability to consistently pin teams back deep in their own territory. The reasons are twofold. First, Benson’s short-yardage runs and Griese’s short-yardage passing mean that the Bears need a short field in front of them in order to get into scor-

Anderson and even Harris to face a single offensive lineman on occasional plays, setting them loose on unsuspecting quarterbacks and confused runners. If Ogunleye can find a way to make this happen, not only would he help the bruised secondary a heck of a lot, he would earn his fat paycheck. It’s time. Though other sportswriters in Chicago might still be unpacking their carpetbags, Dustin Beutin is a born and bred Chi-town sportswriter. Heading into the heart of the Big Ten (Purdue) broadened his sports views, and it was during the Jauron era that he lost the innocence of blind love for Chicago sports and began looking for an outlet to vent his frustration. A trip out west to USC for a Master’s in writing was only tolerable with high doses of ESPN and Dodgers games, though it gave him a respect for the national perspective. Now in the early stages of a sports-writing career, Dustin hopes to give back to the city of Chicago everything it gave him: opinions and heartburn.

maynard

Yes, we’re all excited about Greg Olsen. He’s an exciting pass-catcher, he clearly creates matchup issues for opposing defenses and it’s easy to get pumped about a first-round tight end with the pedigree that Olsen brings from Miami. Let’s not forget reality, though: rookies in the NFL tend to struggle at some point during the year, and it’s not wise to depend upon them for late-season success. Sure, one out of every 300-400 rookies makes a season-long difference, but rarely does that translate into Super Bowl trophies. Add to that the responsibilities of tight ends to both block AND catch and you have a situation where Olsen will probably wear out before the playoffs if he’s being depended upon as a starter. For the Bears to succeed in the running and passing game, it will have to be Desmond Clark that steps into the breach. The offensive line is currently struggling with their blocks, both in the running game and the passing game, which means they need an experienced hand such as Dez to come in and lend some support. Further, Griese’s tendency towards the short-pass-based offense means that he will be looking to the tight end with regularity to make teams pay for blitzing or double-covering one of the receivers. Finally, Griese and Clark played

together in Denver, which means that Dez can help Brian find a level of comfort as he builds up his timing again.

ogunleye

and he can make life painful for teams that allow him to catch the ball in the open field. If he shows up on the field soon, Griese will have a potent target available to him while the other receivers shake off their current issues, whatever they may be.

October 22, 2007

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Page 5


Jim Thome and Angels catcher Mike Napoli watch Thome's 500th homer clear the left field fence at U. S. Cellular Field. The Chicago White Sox overcame a 6 run deficit to defeat the Angels by a score of 9 to 7.

Tatterin’ It was a quest that began in 1991. It became a dream realized in 2007.

During that period, seventeen seasons have unfolded, treks leading up to a Sunday, September 16th afternoon, bringing the moment when a slugger joined the most mythic “club” in baseball history. On that fateful day, Peoria native Jim Thome pounded what became his 500th career home run over U.S. Cellular Field’s left-center wall, a bomb that all but cements his place in baseball’s Hall of Fame.

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Further, not only did Thome’s blast mark achievement of ultimate excellence for what defines an all-time elite power hitter, it also became the first instance throughout the sport’s history that a player totted number 500 in a game winning cause. It was a shot that culminated a dramatic come-back win for a franchise that has wallowed through the 2007 campaign—one of few moments that will make those around the Chicago White Sox smile amidst a season of misery. Despite the great accomplishment recently attained by Jim Thome, the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Major League Baseball’s home run legitimacy continues to haunt the game—marred and paralyzed by allegations of steroid use. Thome, to his credit, has never been amongst those alleged to have taken any kind of artificial—and more importantly illegal— enhancements, though his achievement, nevertheless, has been seen in a different light—one tainted by slugging colleagues Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Sammy Sosa, Rafael Palmeiro,

Thome

Garry Sheffield, as well as others. Due to the aforementioned players’ overhanging “clouds of suspicion,” athletes such as Thome have had to pay the expected, but undeserved price of questioned greatness, falling victim to those of which at some degree have tainted what 500 home runs mean to baseball historians and fans alike. And because of the steroid era’s darkness, there are those who inquired if Thome has what it takes to be included with Cooperstown’s immortals come five years after the former first baseman, and now designated hitter’s retirement. Ironically, it is a similar shadow which haunts former White Sox’ first baseman, and also now DH, Frank Thomas—currently with the Toronto Blue Jays. Eerie it seems, that both sluggers achieved the 500 home run plateau in the same season, each through what has readily been believed via natural means, be they by hard work on and off the field. In any case, Thomas to a lesser extent (as two MVP awards in 1993 and 1994 never hurt), along with

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Thome have been lumped into the tsunami of an era which although is being much celebrated, has additionally brought much doubt. Regardless, Thome’s body type has never changed, nor have there been any other symptoms hinting that any shenanigans might have occurred from the past Cleveland Indians and Philadelphia Phillies bomber in regards to steroid use. Due to that assertion, there is no reason why his 500-plus home runs should be looked upon any differently than past sluggers which have been judged and defined. Thus, Jim Thome shouldn’t be readily evaluated against the doubted and inflated totals of those like Barry Bonds and Rafael Palmeiro, but rather those of Mickey Mantle and Willie McCovey. And during most of the game’s history—until the mid-1990’s—500 longballs were a lock for Hall of Fame enshrinement. And unless a player has had it proven that his total was amassed synthetically, it probably still should be. Smaller parks and other similar factors cannot be road blocks to diminishing an individual’s accomplishments, especially when evaluating what 500 dingers mean, for Major League Baseball has set out minimum distances which fences may be placed from home plate. Thus, Jim Thome has only been playing under the rules set forth to him as well as his accompanying big league athletes. Too, don’t forget, the Polo Grounds in New York weren’t even 300 feet down the lines either! Nor were dis-

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October 22, 2007


tances looming in right field at Yankee Stadium, a location where Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, and Lou Gerhig called home for so many years. Instead, baseball analysts should focus on what Jim Thome has laid forth: a wonderful career with many competitive teams, ones that he has played a very influential part, including two World Series appearances with the Indians in 1995 and 1997, each campaigns that saw his club every bit as able as the eventual champion (Atlanta and Florida respectively). Moreover, Thome has overcome various challenges on his way towards a Hall of Fame bid. For one, he struggled mightily on the defensive side in his formative Major League seasons as a third baseman prior to a move to first. Many times could shouts be heard throughout then Cleveland Stadium, “Jim don’t hit the ball TOME!” But eventually, and adequately, Thome settled in at first. Secondly, the Chicago White Sox DH didn’t rapidly find offensive success during his debut season in 1991, or over the first three years for that matter, becoming a mainstay with the Tribe only in 1994, hitting 20 longballs during the campaign. Thus, in reality, Thome accumulated 500 dingers in a very short time—one that has seen the power-hitter miss additional time to occasional injury, most notably a season that limited him to 59 games in 2005. And finally came the relatively recent death of his mother to cancer only a couple years back, a significant loss to any child no matter his or her age. But despite such challenges, Jim Thome compiled eleven campaigns over 30 home runs; and those eleven would have probably been twelve consecutive had they not been tripped up by 2005’s malady stricken season October 22, 2007

where only seven were amassed. Additionally, the right-handed throwing, lefty hitter’s high was a whopping 52 for Cleveland in 2002. True it is that Thome hasn’t the fleetest of feet, nor was he the greatest defender of his time; however how many players have entered baseball’s Hall mainly on those criteria? Instead, a great number of offensive athletes gain Cooperstown admission through their bats, an aspect of which Jim certainly hasn’t disappointed. However, for all the stats Thome has posted, nothing more equals the quality of person he is, always polite and courteous, philanthropic and com-

passionate. During his time with the White Sox also brings another aspect of his dealings—those with the media, where it must be noted that the 37 year-old engages all the press alike, making sure that each feels that he or she is one with which he is speaking, evidenced through purposeful and genuine eye-contact—a look of a man who represents more than a mere ballplayer. Nothing could have been purer than Jim Thome’s achievement of 500 home runs, or in the fashion of how he did it that cloud-free Sunday game, his influential father and wife both gleefully in attendance. Further, doing it in his

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home state, not many miles away from where the Illinois Central alum was born and raised could be nothing but a cherry on top of an historic feat. If any justice is granted at all, Jim Thome will indeed eventually be included among the Hall of Fame’s roster; though at just age 37 in a time where players keep in top shape and play longer than in the past, he has many more baseball objectives yet to claim. Maybe 600-plus home runs? Maybe a World Series crown? For Jim Thome, we can only hope. Phil Myers is a freelance writer. He is also a columnist and reporter for YourSportsFan.

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What’s In Your Bears Glass? by Dustin Beutin

hose big, two-liter bottles of soda aren’t meant for personal consumption. At least, it’s hard to finish one yourself unless you’re really working at it. That’s why when you open the refrigerator and see that mysterious bottle of Coke sitting at the back, half-full, there’s always the question: has it gone flat? After all, there’s a chance it was opened once, poured out to several people and closed again, preserving its mystical carbonation. Then again, perhaps the ten-year-old in the house opened it 15 times for a fading Garfield-glass-worth of video-game fuel, rendering it lifeless after just a few days. You never know until you unscrew that cap. Will you be sprayed with a haze of sweet goodness, or be walking the carbonation-lacking sugar water to the sink? The Bears are doing their best impersonation of that unloved bottle at the back of the fridge. They have forced every fan in Chicago to wonder if they’ve gone flat and lost that magic sparkle. In other words, is the season - and more importantly the “Super Bowl window” - over? It is a dire question full of depression, loathing and wondering whether we can really get excited about Ben Wallace wearing a headband.

T

If your glass is half full... The Bears have ripped off win streaks of seven games in 2006 and eight games in 2005. It’s important to point out that not only did both of these runs happen under Lovie Smith, but they both occurred in the face of injuries to critical defensive players (notably Mike Brown) and questionable offensive production. Hope, then, can at least spring from the thought that this Bears team has a track record of putting together the kind of win streak needed to pull back into the hunt. Along with this, Brian Griese does seem to be an answer at quarterback for this season. (Note, though, that he is not the answer... only Peyton Manning- or Tom Brady-caliber play could really be the answer for any team.) He is clearly capable of making tough throws, of leading comeback drives and of not being the knife in the back-field to the offensive efforts. The result of this is that the Bears can move the ball downfield. Any team that can advance the ball in the NFL has a chance of winning games, no matter how poor the defense plays. And to Angelo’s credit, most GMs strike out numerous times on drafting quarterbacks and, though he took too long to bring in an experienced back-up,

Angelo deserves credit for adding Griese to the roster a year ago. The defense is banged up, but the injury list gets shorter and shorter each week. That means the right people are getting on the field. Further, despite the historically bad play in two of the

last three games by this D, Lovie Smith made his career building great defenses. It’s hard to believe this defense will continue to play so poorly with Lovie taking a hands-on interest in their failures. As far as the “Super Bowl window” exists, the Bears are perilously close to seeing it shut on their fingers - but keep in mind that the difference between teams that continually open these windows and those that wait decades to see them starts with the front office. While questions abound about Angelo’s success with firstround picks, he has shown that he can build a Super Bowl team with great later-round draft picks and quality free agent signings. Lovie has proven that he can take such a team to the Super Bowl. Add these two factors together, and what Bear fans should be thinking is that even if this window closes, it probably won’t be another two decades till the next one opens, thanks to the stability and the success of this GM/coach partnership. Further, the player-pieces exist to make it realistic that the window could remain open beyond this year. The Bears possess two great cornerbacks in Vasher and Tillman, a solid corps of receivers, one of the game’s most electric players in Hester and still have Urlacher in the prime of his career. When you consider that few teams can say the same about so many positions, Bear fans do genuinely have a lot of things to be hopeful about.

If your glass is half empty... Sure, Lovie Smith’s teams have put together impressive winning streaks Page 8

CHICAGO SPORTS REVIEW “A weekly sports magazine that drives Chicago’s sports your way.”

October 22, 2007


the last two seasons. But looking at 2006, their streak came against a string of seven teams that offered just one playoff entry (the Seahawks), who at the time were reeling from their own Super Bowl loss and playing without star running back Shaun Alexander. The rest of the Bears’ season stood them up against only three other playoff teams, where they went 2-1, losing to the Patriots while beating the wildcard Giants and Jets. In other words, considering their poor play against the Colts in the Super Bowl, their loss to the mighty Patriots last regular season, the “one and done” in the playoffs against Carolina two years ago and their poor start this year, any sane person must wonder if the Bears have really only been an above-average team capable of occasional playoff success, but without the real parts to talk about a “Super Bowl window.” Looking at this season, the Bears’ division is clearly no longer a bunch of cupcakes with new coaches, like it was last year. The Vikings and Lions have reloaded with special players, while the Packers have rebuilt around one of the best quarterbacks in NFL history (insert gagging noise here). The Bears, meanwhile, have seen first-round pick after first-round pick fail or leave due to injury over the last few years. Many of their best players (Tillman, Vasher, R. Brown, Tait, Briggs, Berrian and M. Brown) have suffered season-ending or difficult, nagging injuries. This volatile mix has left the Bears in a situation where they don’t have an inherent edge over their division and must play 110% in order to win games that were easy W’s last year. Add to this the questionable play calling of Ron Turner and his incoherent, stop-and-start usage of his best players. Ron Turner seemed over the last two years to be the patient, competent offensive master this team needed to complement Lovie’s knowledge of defense. But lately he just seems confused or overwhelmed, and his choices on offense seem to make little sense or, at the least, seem designed to avoid blame. Worse than this, Bob Babich is either going through the normal growing pains of a new defensive coordinator or is unfit for the job. Unfortunately, no one will know which one is the real answer until next year. Thus, the season might already be written off as a sacrifice on behalf of Lovie promoting a close friend. If Babich proves to be a great coordinator, all will be forgiven; but for now it’s clear that he isn’t motivating and/or directing his defense properly. And to think of the “Super Bowl window” remaining open is a bit of a joke. The Bears have shown some brilliance the last two seasons, but only flashes and nothing that seems substantial. But the real problem is that few teams genuinely hold open Super Bowl windows without a franchise quarterback and/or an elite head coach. While Lovie may yet prove to be that type of coach, for now it seems as if the Bears have neither - and that doesn’t bode well for hopes of returning to a Super Bowl in the Smith era. Further, though Angelo has show himself adept at making late draft picks and adequate free-agent signings, his failures at the top of the draft violate the age-old rule that successful NFL teams have successful first-round picks on their roster. When you tally these things up, it doesn’t seem like the Bears have the pieces to go the distance this year or the foundation to return to a Super Bowl soon. The eviOctober 22, 2007

dence certainly suggests that the Bears had the talent and coaching to beat the teams they should beat, but not enough to be considered special.

So... Is the glass half full or half empty? For better or worse, we’re about to find out. Here’s to hoping the Bears aren’t flat yet. Though other sportswriters in Chicago might still be unpacking their carpetbags, Dustin Beutin is a born and bred Chi-town sportswriter. Heading into the heart of the Big Ten (Purdue) broadened his sports views, and it was during the Jauron era that he lost the innocence of blind love for Chicago sports and began looking for an outlet to vent his frustration. A trip out west to USC for a Master’s in writing was only tolerable with high doses of ESPN and Dodgers games, though it gave him a respect for the national perspective. Now in the early stages of a sports-writing career, Dustin hopes to give back to the city of Chicago everything it gave him: opinions and heartburn.

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