Monday, November 21, 2011

Winning can still happen

"Tough break"

That was the headline in both the Tribune and the Sun-Times this morning with news that Bears QB Jay Cutler is likely out the rest of the regular season with a broken thumb on his throwing hand after breaking it making a tackle on an interception in the fourth quarter. It puts a damper on a season that has seen the Bears win their last five games and pull into likely the fifth seed in the playoffs as a wild card.

It kills the good mood Bears fans were in following the team' 31-20 win over the Chargers yesterday at Soldier Field. Cutler looked sharp in completing 18 of 32 passes for 286 yards and two touchdowns in the victory. He also managed to avoid getting sacked for only the second time in 30 games, according to ESPN.

But it was one of his few mistakes that did him, likely for the next six to eight weeks.

With the Bears driving, Cutler threw a pass meant for WR Johnny Knox, who slipped on the Soldier Field turf, that was picked off by Chargers DB Antoine Cason, who returned it 64 yards before he was knocked out of bounds. Cutler gave chase and caught up to Cason, but was knocked down by LB Donald Butler. However, the hustle allowed RB Matt Forte to knock Cason out of bounds, and the Chargers subsequently were not able to score.

That in itself was possibly the good news out of this mess, in that Cutler continued to rid people of that notion that he is not a tough quarterback as his hustle did enough to slow Cason to allow Forte to catch him. Add to the fact that Cutler finished the game with that thumb injury and he is doing plenty to erase doubts that have followed him following last year's NFC championship game when he was knocked out with a knee injury.

The Bears also still have hope for the final six games of the year as they enter them with a 7-3 record.

One, despite backup QB Caleb Hanie's relative inexperience, his major experience came from the pressure cooker that was that NFC title game, in which he completed 13 of 20 for 153 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. However, save for the two picks, and Hanie almost pulled off the impossible and got the Bears to the Super Bowl.

Two, the Bears have a favorable schedule. Yes, they have a tough road game this upcoming Sunday at an improving Oakland Raiders, and they still have to visit an undefeated Green Bay on Christmas night. But the other four games are very winnable (home games against Kansas City and Seattle, road games at Denver and Minnesota). If they win four of those games and even split them, they're likely in the playoffs.

Three, the Bears' formula for success centers on a good running game and a good defense. The defense looked a little shaky at times Sunday against the Chargers, with San Diego WR Vincent Jackson torching a defense ranked just above Green Bay and New England in pass defense for 165 yards and one touchdown on seven catches, but they have come through when it counts. Plus, for Forte in a year where he's trying to prove that he is worthy of a big contract, now is the time to put up or shut up, when the team needs him the most.

It can happen.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Who's the new Cubs manager?

Source: Sports Illustrated
Former Milwaukee Brewers and Boston Red Sox coach Dale Sveum will be named the new manager of the Chicago Cubs Friday morning, the Chicago Tribune reported Thursday.

That ends a three-week search following the firing of Mike Quade after a disappointing 71-91 season in 2011, and is the latest Red Sox-related hiring by new team president Theo Epstein.

But who is Dale Sveum? A 12-year major league veteran who played for the Brewers among other teams, he has recently spent the last several years as the third-base coach for the Red Sox and the hitting coach for the Brewers. This followed a short, two-week stint as the Brewers' interim manager when they fired Ned Yost shortly before the end of the 2008 season, yet Sveum led Milwaukee to the playoffs. Staying on as hitting coach, he helped Brewers players such as Prince Fielder and others lead the league with 185 home runs as they won the NL Central title.

However, can he manage? He beat out Phillies bench coach Pete Mackanin, Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux, and Indians bench coach Sandy Alomar Jr., all of whom interviewed for the job but none of whom has managed in the big leagues before. Former Red Sox skipper Terry Francona discussed the job with Epstein before deciding to take 2012 off after spending the last eight years in the pressure cooker that is Fenway Park, where he won two World Series titles in 2004 and 2007. But, as notes, he believes in advanced statistical analysis, something that Epstein and company have a strong belief in.

Sveum will have his hands full in turning around a club that slipped to 20 games below .500 just three years after winning its second straight NL Central title. He may get back pitcher Carlos Zambrano, whom Epstein said will be given a good chance to return to Chicago after a tumultuous 2011 season that for him ended on Aug. 12 due to behavior issues. He will lose third baseman Aramis Ramirez, though.

On the plus side, Sveum's connections to Milwaukee could be enough to bring hotshot Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder to Wrigley Field. The Tribune reports that the Cubs are not likely to meet his salary demands, but the two sides are at least talking. Plus, there's always a chance they could snatch top pitcher Mark Buehrle away from the crosstown White Sox, though he is 33 years old and could potentially lose more of his 85-mph fastball during the course of any long-term deal.

Either way, the management of the Cubs appears to be set, and it's time to start focusing on who will actually take the field April 5 against the Washington Nationals at Wrigley Field.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review: "The Book of Basketball" by Bill Simmons

"The Book of Basketball" by the Sports Guy, Bill Simmons, can be described as many things. Long. Thorough. Self-involved. A valentine to the sport of basketball and particularly, the Boston Celtics.

One thing you can't say about it, is it's boring. Sure, it's nearly 700 pages long (at least the hardcover version of it). It's filled with stats (and more stats). But if basketball stories, arguments about basketball and pop culture references are your thing, then Simmons does the job in his second book (following "Now I Can Die in Peace" about the 2004 Red Sox winning the World Series).

Let me give the good news about "The Book of Basketball" and the bad news.

First the good news:

It is loaded with stories about players going all back to the early 1950s, the early days of the NBA. It goes into detail about the experiences of players (such as how racism affected black players of that era like Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson) and thoughts on what drove players. He includes several of his own experiences, including attending Celtics games with his father while growing up in the 1970s and sitting at a table next to a retired Michael Jordan and his entourage in Las Vegas (a great story).

He also goes into great detail with his arguments on who he considers to be the 96 greatest NBA players of all time (The Pyramid, which covers nearly 400 pages of the book), and provides a great argument for nearly every one of them (not to be a spoiler, but he was smart enough to realize Michael Jordan was the greatest player in NBA history and let his love affair with Celtics great Larry Bird color his opinion).

There are also the footnotes, which is almost as good reading as the regular book. Some of them are pop culture references in which he compares players and teams to movie and television characters, others just aside stories. Most are fairly entertaining.

Then there's the bad news:

First, there's the length. Nearly 700 pages is long, too long. It took me nearly six weeks to get through it (Hey, I do have a life outside of this blog and reading, after all). Some of the book could be considered filler, such as much of his arguments for his choices for the great 96 (Eventually you just go, "Ok, Bill, you made your point.").

Then there's the editing. Scattered throughout the footnotes thoughts from his editor (whom he called "Grumpy Old Editor") whom Simmons allowed to provide his quick thoughts on different points (often showcasing a homerism for his favorite team, the New York Knicks). However, there were several errors throughout the manuscript that should have been caught, including one reference to Pistons great Isiah Thomas' comment that if Larry Bird had been black, he would have been just another good player (at one point, the book said Thomas said if Bird had been white). Another error/typo said Clyde Drexler played for the Pistons when he went up against Jordan and the Bulls in the 1992 NBA Finals (Drexler played for the Portland Trail Blazers). If "Grumpy Old Editor" had paid more attention to the editing rather than chiming in on the Knicks, these things likely would have been caught.

Finally, and not spoil a point, in his chapter on the greatest NBA teams of all time, he inexplicably listed the 1996 Bulls (owners of the record-breaking 72-10 record and a fourth NBA title in six seasons, starting another three-peat run) as the second-best team of all time behind the 1986 Boston Celtics. Yeah, the 1986 Celtics were great, and had some great players (Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Bill Walton, etc.), but they don't match up with the owners of the team with the best record in NBA history, one that began with a 41-3 run to start the year. This was the example of his homerism showing (but then again, maybe that was the point of the section, to continue that argument of what was the best team in NBA history, and maybe this is MY homerism showing).

Overall, a good effort on Simmons' part. It has been said that a writer should write on what they know and what they love, and it is clear that Simmons did just that in "The Book of Basketball." Plus, with the news that the start of the 2011-12 NBA season has been pushed back to at least December 15 thanks to the continuing lockout, this may be the closest we get to NBA basketball outside of rebroadcasts of classic games for a while.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Paterno reputation tarnished by scandal

Source: AP
Last night, long-time Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was fired amidst allegations that one of his former assistant coaches sexually abused at least eight boys.

Paterno’s ouster as coach comes amidst a house-cleaning at Penn State that also claimed the job of the university’s president, Graham Spanier, who also was fired yesterday, and athletic director Tim Curley, who resigned last week. Curley also has been charged with perjury in an alleged university-wide cover-up of the allegations that Jerry Sandusky, who was Penn State’s defensive coordinator from 1977 to 1999, molested at least eight boys who came through his organization for at-risk boys, The Second Mile, between 1994 and 2009. One of the alleged incidents allegedly took place in the football team locker room, and was allegedly witnessed by a staff member, according to reports.

Needless to say, this tarnishes the great record of Paterno, who we were just celebrating on Oct. 29 when he notched his 409th career win with a 10-7 victory over Illinois. Paterno and Penn State football are virtually synonymous, with “JoePa” having been a coach at the school since 1950 and its head coach since 1966. He had a great record and an even greater reputation, maintaining a clean program free of NCAA violations that came to haunt other big-time college football programs throughout his tenure.

However, Paterno, 84, needed to go as this scandal grew. While he has yet to be charged with any criminal wrong-doing in the case, what he knew and when he knew it casts a huge shadow over his legacy. According to reports, he told Curley about an alleged incident in the Penn State locker room in 2002, but then did nothing else.

That in itself could possibly be defended if he was confident that that Curley or some higher-up would do something about it, like call the police. However, he apparently let it lie, and that cannot be allowed to stand, as the head of the program.

Sadly, Paterno also was more concerned about helping Penn State University than the alleged victims. In a statement released Wednesday on his retirement before the news broke that he was fired, he called the scandal a “tragedy” and “one of the great sorrows of my life,” adding he wished he had done more. 

However, the end of the statement was more telling to me and others:

“My goals now are to keep my commitments to my players and staff and finish the season with dignity and determination. And then I will spend the rest of my life doing everything I can to help this University.”

It's a sad end to a career tarnished by a story that continues to get sadder as it grows.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

10 notable basketball movies

Today, we should find out whether NBA players will accept or reject a proposal from owners on splitting revenue roughly 50-50. At this time, it is seemingly more and more likely that the players will reject this, with Commissioner David Stern likely canceling more games past the start of December to at least 2012 (and possibly beyond).

That will leave us with three options for getting our basketball fix this winter: college hoops (not a horrible option), watching old NBA games on NBA TV and ESPN Classic, or watching movies on basketball.

While there are not as many good basketball movies (as a matter of fact, this list will include some bad ones, in this writer's humble opinion), we do have a few we can look at. Please note this: I know there will be a few good omissions such as "He Got Game" and "Finding Forrester." mainly because I have yet to see them (They are on my movie bucket list). But these are films I can say something about.

So here are the top 10 notable movies, from worst to first (with Honorable mention to "Bad As I Wanna Be: The Dennis Rodman Story"):

10. Space Jam (1996)

What to say about a film starring my favorite basketball player of all time in Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny and friends, all childhood heroes of mine?

Basically, looking back on it, too sweet. WAY too sweet. The whole flick was in essence an act of worship for Jordan. It starts off with him playing baseball for the minor league Birmingham Barons, with the crowds adoring him and a team assistant (Wayne Knight) waiting on him hand and foot like the good little suck-up he is. But then he is sucked into a game in the cartoon to save Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck and friends from aliens who want to enslave them. As if that isn't enough, and not to give the ending, the game plays a role in his deciding to give up the baseball career and return to the NBA and the Chicago Bulls. Yeah right.

9. Teen Wolf (1985)

Premise: Geek is hated in school, then turns into a werewolf. Now the hairiest students in school, he becomes the big man on campus, starring on the basketball team. The end is even more improbable.

8. Glory Road (2006)

The story of Texas Western University (now University of Texas-El Paso) basketball coach Don Haskins who started the first all-black line-up against an all-white Kentucky team and wins the 1966 NCAA title. Good info, but drags in place.

7. White Men Can't Jump (1992)

Starring Wesley Snipes and Woody Harrelson at the height of their careers, this is a generational icon mainly because of the title.

6. The Fish That Saved Pittsburgh (1979)

One word for this flick featuring Julius Erving and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: Afros. Cool afros.

5. Blue Chips (1994)

Nick Nolte shines in this story of a major college basketball coach who gets tangled up in a recruiting scandal as the pressure to win at all costs mounts. Features Shaquille O'Neal stretching his thespian skills (aw, who am I kidding?) along with other notable players.

4. Eddie (1996)

Whoopi Goldberg makes this movie along with former NBA players John Salley and Malik Sealy about a mega-Knicks fan becoming their coach. While entertaining, it is hard to look past the ultimate improbability (as in never going to happen) of a) a fan coming down from the stands to become the head coach of an NBA team, and b) the Knicks EVER being allowed to even to think about leaving New York for a smaller market like St. Louis.

3. Above the Rim (1994)

I went into this one thinking it was going to be the same thing we had been seeing in terms of these gangbanger movies in that era (see "Boyz N The Hood," "Menace II Society), especially with rapper Tupac Shakur as one of the stars. However, this was way better than I thought, with Duane Martin as a high school basketball star in the projects of Chicago torn between two brothers, one a drug dealer and the one a former basketball player who is now a security guard.

2. Coach Carter (2005)

Samuel L. Jackson is fantastic in the true story of high school basketball coach Ken Carter, who made news  in 1999 when he benched his entire team (undefeated at the time) for not doing well in the classroom. 

1. Hoosiers (1986)

It was a toss-up between "Coach Carter" and "Hoosiers" for the number one slot. "Hoosiers" gets it only for longevity and the emotional impact that it has left on a generation of basketball fans.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Will there be an NBA season?

Yesterday, NBA commissioner David Stern strongly suggested that NBA players accept the latest owners proposal of 49 to 51 percent of the revenue (down from 57 percent last year) before Wednesday afternoon's deadline.

Considering the history of this lockout (now in day 132 and counting), here's the question: Will there be an NBA season this year? Take the poll at the right, and also give your thoughts in the comments below.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Bears clip the Eagles - A running diary

It’s the Bears! The Eagles! On Monday Night Football!

The Bears came into tonight’s game needing a win to keep pace with Green Bay and Detroit in the NFC North and in the NFC wildcard races. I don’t know if we can call this a must-win for the Bears, but it definitely would come in handy, and if the Eagles can go back to their bad-Philly mode that saw them lose four straight earlier this year, that would help.

So grab a seat and a cold drink, and check out this running diary of tonight’s game (all times are Central Time):

  • 7:32 p.m.: ESPN analyst Jon Gruden says Michael Vick can beat you with his preparation since he can audible more now. Ron Jaworski says the Bears’ offensive line has shaped up somewhat, with QB Jay Cutler getting sacked only three times in the last two games. Sounds good.
  • 7:35 p.m.: ESPN’s Page 2 already taking their shots on Twitter: Eagles sack Jay Cutler. Opening kickoff to follow. Hmmm…
  • 7:42 p.m.: Matt Forte gets 25 yards on a carry. Bears, pay the man!
  • 7:43 p.m.: Wish I could say the same about WR Roy Williams, who drops a pass that was admittedly a little behind him.
  • 7:46 p.m.: notes Forte has 45 yards on first three carries. Make that 54 yards on first four carries. Again, pay the man.
  • 7:51 p.m.: TE Matt Spaeth catches the 9-yard pass from Cutler for the touchdown! Man, the Bears’ offense looked, including the offensive line.
  • 7:55 p.m.: Eagles get to start at own 40-yard line after Robbie Gould's kick goes out of bounds. Not a good start for the Bears' defense. 
  • 7:59 p.m.: What do you know? The Bears hold Michael Vick and company and the Eagles gotta punt. 
  • 8:04 p.m.: The Bears are starting to get stupid again, getting called for a 12 men on the field penalty. They need to keep their heads on straight on third and seven. 
  • 8:05 p.m. Somehow, the Bears' offense redeems itself. Cutler is given plenty of time to look for a receiver in the pocket, and eventually hits Roy Williams for 14 yards and a first down. More importantly, they're getting out of that hole they started in after Devin Hester took a fair catch on the punt at his own 12-yard line. 
  • 8:06 p.m.: Harry Caray's Ghost (@GhostHarryCaray) on the 12 men on the field penalty the Bears got: "It's hard to count to 11." 
  • 8:11 p.m.: Interesting note from ESPN's Page 2 on Twitter: Bears FB Tyler Clutts is a great story, rising to the NFL from lower levels like Canada, Arena League and the Cleveland Browns. 
  • 8:13 p.m. Larry Mayer at makes an interesting observation that the Bears have Cutler rolling to his right early and often. My question is whether the Eagles might figure that out eventually and do something about it. 
  • 8:15 p.m.: The hits keep on coming: Chicago Tribune's Steve Rosenbloom on Twitter: "When the Bears converted four straight third downs to start the game, I thought they were going to send the ball to Canton." 
  • 8:16 p.m.: One quarter in the books, and the Bears have a 7-0 lead. Somehow, the offense has looked pretty darn good, and the defense has held up well against Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy, keeping them off the scoreboard. Can they keep it up? 
  • 8:19 p.m.: ESPN says Eagles CB Asante Samuel could be out of the game, as he has gone back to the locker room with an unspecified injury. Should help the Bears, but not the way you'd ideally want to win this one.  
  • 8:21 p.m.: Bears S Major Wright gets hit with a 17-yard pass interference penalty, giving the Eagles a first down. The good news, though, is Vick is continuing to get pounded by the Bears' pass rush.
  • 8:24 p.m.: More on Vick taking punishment from the Bears and other defenses: MNF crew (via Rachel Nichols on Twitter) notes Vick takes defensive contact 1 out of every 3 times he drops back. 2nd-most in the league. He's bound to feel it eventually.
  • 8:26 p.m. Major Wright makes up for the pass interference penalty and picks off Vick, running it back 36 yards from the Bears 12-yard line. That's what the Bears needed: A good, timely stop.
  • 8:30 p.m.: More stupid penalties: WR Earl Bennett gets the first down after catching a 10-yard pass from Cutler, but he got open because he pushed off on the defender. But he redeems himself on the next play and gets the first down anyway. The Bears are showing a little something different tonight, doing something stupid and then redeeming themselves with a good play.
  • 8:34 p.m.: Robbie Gould helps the Bears (and my fantasy team) with a 51-yard field goal, giving the Bears a 10-0 lead.
  • 8:40 p.m.: Bears DE Julius Peppers, who has been quiet so far, hurts his left knee again. He's been tough since he hurt it against Detroit, but he hurts it again helping stop an Eagles running play.
  • 8:45 p.m.: The Eagles are starting to turn it on, with Vick completing a 30-yard pass to Jeremy Laclin for a first down into Bears territory and then another 10-yard completion.
  • 8:47 p.m.: Julius Peppers comes back from his injury apparently okay as he gets to Vick and sacks him. Good move on his part, with the Eagles discounting him and not blocking him.
  • 8:48 p.m.: Eagles get on the board with a 47-yard field goal from K Alex Henery. Bears' lead drops to 10-3 with a little over two minutes left in the first half. The Bears are still looking pretty good against what is supposed to be a great Eagles team.
  • 8:52 p.m.: Cutler airs it out to Devin Hester, but it is broken up by Asante Samuel. Samuel, by the way, is playing with what is being called a "groin laceration." Can you say ouch?
  • 8:53 p.m.: So much for the good play. Cutler, on third and 10, throw to Matt Forte, who catches it and then fumbles it away, with Eagles LB Brian Rolle returning it for a touchdown. The play is under review, however, since we have passed the two-minute. Michael C. Wright of notes on Twitter that this is his first fumble this year.
  • 8:57 p.m.: The play stands. ESPN notes this is Forte's first fumble since October 2010 and in 347 touches. The game is now tied 10-10.
  • 9:03 p.m.: Not getting better. Cutler WAY overthrows Forte on third and five as the Bears give it right back.
  • 9:04 p.m.: Scratch that. Eagles KR Jeremy Maclin fumbles the ball after Corey Graham strips it from him and Sam Herd recovers at the Eagles 9-yard line. First down Bears!
  • 9:07 p.m. Cutler looks horrible on this drive, way overthrowing Devin Hester (remember, he's only 5-foot-11). But Cutler draws a roughing the passer penalty, keeping the drive alive. Marion Barber makes it count with the 4-yard touchdown run through traffic! Bears up 17-10.
  • 9:14 p.m.: Halftime is here and the Bears are up 17-10 going into the locker room. The Bears are helped by Jay Cutler playing it smooth with 10 of 20 passing for 102 yards and one touchdown, two turnovers by the Eagles, and a potential big play avoided by Jeremy Maclin dropping a good Michael Vick pass near midfield with about 15 seconds left. The Bears will still need to step things up in the second half to get the win and prove me wrong.
  • 9:28 p.m.: With the start of the second half, ESPN's Suzy Kolber says Lovie Smith says he has a plan for keeping Vick in check. We shall see, though so far, so good.
  • 9:35 p.m.: The Eagles drive down to the Bears 20-yard line, but Lance Briggs stops them cold on third down. Fourth and inches for the Eagles, and they're going for it.
  • 9:36 p.m.: LeSean McCoy gets the first down and keeps the Eagles' drive alive. Vick exploiting the weaknesses in the Bears' defense.
  • 9:40 p.m.: RB Ronnie Brown ties it up with a short touchdown run. The Bears are having difficulty putting this one away, to say the least. Score tied 17-17 with 8:18 left in the third quarter.
  • 9:43 p.m.: Michael C. Wright of notes on Twitter: "15 plays, 80 yards, 6:42. That's a drive, man." Yes, it is. Cutler and company will need to keep the ball for at least five minutes to give the defense a breather. Otherwise, they could be too worn out to keep up with Vick, McCoy, etc.
  • 9:48 p.m.: Forte fumbles again, but the refs rule he is down by contact. The Eagles are challenging. It looks like he did indeed fumble, but did the Eagles recover? The refs say yes, and Philly gets the ball back at the Bears 41. What's going on with Forte?
  • 9:52 p.m. LeSean McCoy takes it into the end zone for the touchdown, and for the first time tonight, the Eagles have the lead. The Bears' mistakes are costing them huge, and the question could be now whether Forte really deserves that raise with two fumbles in a key game. Eagles up 24-17.
  • 9:56 p.m.: Shot from ESPN's Page 2 on Twitter: 'Matt Forte: "I'd hang on to the ball a little better if it were wrapped in dollar bills."' Sad...
  • 9:57 p.m.: Jay Cutler throws a perfect bomb from his goal line only to have it dropped by Roy Williams 55 yards away. Why did the Bears sign him again?
  • 9:59 p.m.: Shot from the Tribune's Steve Rosenbloom on Twitter: "Help me out here: Did Matt Forte want to get paid before he got hurt or before he hurt the Bears?" 
  • 10:01 p.m.: Williams held on to a pass! Williams held on to a pass! Hey, the Bears are driving, now at the Eagles 30-yard line. 
  • 10:06 p.m.: Robbie Gould narrows the deficit to four points with a 38-yard field goal to make the score 24-20 Eagles. We still have an entire fourth quarter here. 
  • 10:13 p.m.: The Bears hold the Eagles and get the ball back near midfield after Devin Hester returns the ball 19 yards to the Bears 49-yard line. Now if Forte will just hang on to the dang ball... 
  • 10:17 p.m.: Cutler is looking good on this drive. He first somehow escapes a sack and tosses it to Marion Barber for a short gain. He then laterals it to Devin Hester for a first down (and more after the late hit penalty on the Eagles). Unrelated news: ESPN is now reporting that former boxing champion Joe Frazier has died following his bout with liver cancer. 
  • 10:19 p.m.: Cutler finishes the drive off nicely with a 5-yard touchdown pass to former Vanderbilt teammate Earl Bennett. The Bears retake the lead, 27-24 with 12:18 left in the game. 
  • 10:26 p.m.: That was close. The Eagles try a fake punt, but punter Chas Henry can't complete the pass. The Bears take over at their own 42-yard line. This was after Bears DB D.J. Moore drops a sure interception. 9:25 remaining in the game. 
  • 10:31 p.m.: Devin Hester limps off the field with some leg injury. Definitely need him back, if not tonight, then for future games. 
  • 10:34 p.m.: Matt Forte has 122 yards and 20 carries tonight (notwithstanding the two fumbles), and Jay Cutler has yet to be sacked as he has thrown for an efficient 18 for 31 for 208 yards (with a 99.9 passer rating tonight, according to Michael C. Wright of The offensive line is stepping up. Finally. 
  • 10:38 p.m.: If the offensive line's good job of protecting Cutler holds with him not getting sacked, his streak of 32 games (including playoffs) of getting sacked at least once will end, says Michael C. Wright of 4:05 left in the game and the Bears' drive now on the 5-yard line. 
  • 10:40 p.m.: Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune says on Twitter that Devin Hester has a left ankle injury and is not likely to return tonight. 
  • 10:41 p.m.: Robbie Gould extends the Bears' lead to 30-24 with a 22-yard field goal with 3:58 left. The Eagles get a break, and the Bears' defense will have to step up.
  • 10:44 p.m.: Michael Vick takes a whuppin' from Julius Peppers and Israel Idonije as he nearly gets sacked. But he completes a pass to Jeremy Maclin for 13 yards the next play for the first down to the Chicago 39-yard line. DB Tim Jennings then almost intercepts Vick's next pass as we go into the two-minute warning with 1.59 left. What a game!
  • 10:49 p.m.: Michael Vick completes a pass to Jeremy Maclin, but he falls a yard shy of the first down on fourth down after being tackled by D.J. Moore with 1;48 left. The Bears get the ball back and now have to run the clock out. 
  • 10:54 p.m.: What do you know? The Bears win! The Bears win! I enjoy being wrong sometimes.
Post-game wrap-up:

It wasn't really pretty at times, especially with Matt Forte's uncharacteristic two fumbles. But a win is a win and this is a big one for the Bears as they move up to a 5-3 record. While they are still in third place, three games behind the Packers and one behind the Lions, they stay in sixth and final playoff spot in the NFC, just ahead of the Atlanta Falcons based on the head-to-head matchup.

Source: Zimbio/Getty Images
It would be tempting to give the MVP for the game to the Bears' offensive line for providing the protection for Jay Cutler in not letting him get sacked and allowing Forte to gain 133 yards on 24 carries, but this game ball should go to WR Earl Bennett, who caught five passes from his former Vanderbilt teammate for 95 yards and a touchdown.

Next up for the Bears is a rematch against the Lions in the late game Sunday at Soldier Field. The Lions are coming off a week off that followed a 45-10 blasting of the Broncos in Denver.

It could be worse...

It could be worse, Cubs fans. We could be Cleveland Browns fans. (Warning: NSFW language in this clip)

Can the Bears take down Vick and the Eagles?

The Bears' matchup tonight against the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field (7:30 p.m. Central on ESPN) can be considered a true test of where they are in terms of competing.

With a record of 4-3 so far, including 1-2 on the road, the Bears will have their work cut out to prove that their performance the last time they appeared on Monday Night Football. During that appearance on Oct. 10, the offensive line had a whopping nine false starts penalties in a a 24-13 loss to the Lions in Detroit. And Philadelphia (3-4) is a MUCH tougher place to play than Detroit despite the Eagles' record.

With that said, let's look at the matchups:

When the Bears have the ball:

Jay Cutler and company will be going up against a defense that has given up an average of three touchdowns a game, including 35 and 31 in embarrassing losses to Atlanta and Buffalo. They finally switched it on last week in destroying the Cowboys in a 34-7 win, but that was more of the offense holding on to the ball for more than 42 minutes and subjecting the Dallas defense to its will.

While will really help is the Eagles' shaky run defense, which is ranked 19th in the league currently with 118.3 yards a game despite holding the Cowboys to only 85 yards last week. If offensive coordinator Mike Martz is smart, he'll unleash running back Matt Forte, who is fifth in the NFL with 672 yards rushing and two touchdown, early and often to exploit those weaknesses, and keep Cutler to efficient passing routes to maintain a 59 percent completion rate.

The offensive line also will have to keep its jitters to a minimum, not committing as many false starts penalties as they did against the Lions and doing a better job of protecting Cutler. The Eagles' defensive line so far has 22 sacks for the season, so it won't be easy.

When the Eagles have the ball:

Here's where it could get ugly.

While the Eagles as an overall team has been disappointing after being picked by many to be a Super Bowl contender, the offense has consistently good, averaging 25.6 points a game and more than 449 yards a game, tops in the NFL. Last week against the Cowboys, they showed just how good they could be with 495 total yards, including 239 yards rushing, including 185 yards and two touchdowns from RB LeSean McCoy.

While the Bears' defense has been okay against the run (12th in the league with 108.7 yards allowed per game), their pass defense is near the bottom, with nearly 272 yards allowed per game). Eagles QB Michael Vick had 279 yards passing against the Cowboys, and he is a vital part of that spread offense the Bears have had trouble defending against teams such as Carolina.


The schedule is expected to get a little bit easier for Chicago after this week, with home games against Kansas City and Seattle and trips to Denver and Oakland in the future. Cutler, Forte and the Bears' offense should be able to put a few points on the board against that Eagles' defense if the offensive line holds up. However, if the defense doesn't come out of it season-long funk and play the smothering D the Bears are known for, Vick and Company could roll and make this another Monday Night Nightmare for Chicago.

Predicted final score:
Eagles - 34
Bears - 17

Friday, November 4, 2011

When we will see the Bulls play again?

As I sit writing this late Wednesday night, I am watching Comcast Chicago's rebroadcast of Michael Jordan scoring a then-team record 58 points against the New Jersey Nets in 1987, a game that the Bulls won 128-113. It was interesting to see the old Chicago Stadium floor, Doug Collins (with an '80s perm) as coach, a game that was originally broadcast on pay-TV channel SportsVision, and Jordan basically the only truly special player on the team. It was a fun trip back to a time when I really became interested in basketball as a sport.

However, this was replacing the 2011-12 Bulls' game at New Orleans, a game that was canceled as the NBA lockout continued into its 127th day after the Bulls' opener Monday night against the defending champion Dallas Mavericks was called off as well. It was among those initially canceled by NBA Commissioner David Stern last month, and it was joined by another two weeks of games being called off Friday by Stern after negotiations broke down. As of this writing, the Bulls are scheduled to play their first game on December 3 against the Houston Rockets at the United Center.

For the Bulls, the cancellation effectively killed off their annual November circus trip to the West Coast. While that could be considered a good thing considering they now don't have to make that kind of trip, what kind of effect will that have on a team that was starting to gel into something that could be truly special? What kind of effect will this entire lockout have a team and a league that was coming off one of its better seasons in years and was looking ahead to something truly fun and great? Obviously we won't know until the games start (assuming they start at all), but we can also hope and pray they don't end up like the 1998-99 season, when a lockout shrunk the season to 50 games and led to the Spurs claiming a watered-down title against the Knicks (However, this may have saved Bulls fans more grief than they had expected since this was Year One of the post-Jordan era).

Separating the players and the owners is about $100 million a year in revenue and other issues, including whether to drop to a 50/50 split of revenues (what the owners want) from the previous 57/43 arrangement favoring the players.

Needless to say, something needs to be done about the current system. In recent year, even with a soft salary cap in place, the NBA has begun to resemble Major League Baseball n that the major market glamor teams (the Knicks, Lakers, and Celtics and the Bulls and Heat to a lesser degree) are favored over the smaller market teams such as Memphis, Sacramento and Orlando. Seemingly every day, we see speculation of smaller market stars such as New Orleans' Chris Paul and Orlando's Dwight Howard being guided to New York or L.A., leaving those teams in the dust. Heck, it happened last year with Lebron James leaving Cleveland for Miami (a glamor team).

Did the NBA err in overexpanding to those markets? Perhaps, but small market teams can thrive under the right system (see the Green Bay Packers in the NFL).

Either way, a new system must be worked out, or we can kiss any sense of competitive balance or competition, period, for that matter, goodbye.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Quade fired as Cubs manager

Photo from AP/AOL News
The Mike Quade era at the Friendly Confines is over after just a little more than a year.

New Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein announced Wednesday that Quade was out after spending just a little more than a year as manager of the team. It was a tumultuous year for Quade, who previously had been the manager of the Cubs’ AAA farm team, the Iowa Cubs in Des Moines. After finishing strong in 2010 with a 24-13 record after taking over for Lou Pinella, the Cubs finished with a 71-91 record and a fifth-place finish in the NL Central, just ahead of the lowly Astros and 25 games behind the division champion Brewers and 19 games behind the eventual world champion Cardinals.

For Quade, it just plain didn’t work out. Having spent his entire managerial career in the minor leagues, he had developed a reputation as a good teacher of young players. However, he didn’t get that luxury with the major league team, having a squad with the sixth highest payroll in the majors with $125.5 million being spent on salaries. He also had the pleasure of dealing with meltdowns from one of his top pitchers in Carlos Zambrano, leading to his banishment from the starting rotation and eventually the team, likely for good if the Cubs can find someone to take on his massive contract that will pay him $18 million in 2012. He also dealt with plain bad play from his regulars like Alfonso Soriano (.244 batting average with 26 home runs) and the $10 million man, first baseman Carlos Pena (.225 average with 28 home runs).

Perhaps if the Cubs had had a young team with a lower payroll of around $60 million, Quade would’ve had a chance to mold them into winners like he had in previous stops. If the Cubs are smart, they will find a spot for him in their minor league system somewhere, maybe back at Iowa.

The firing of Quade continues a series of changes from the top town with the Cubs, which began with the hiring of Epstein away from the Boston Red Sox last week and continued with the hiring of new director of scouting and player development Jason McLeod and new general manager Jed Hoyer from the Padres. The hiring of Epstein was a “home run,” according to former Cubs G.M. Jim Hendry, and should provide a nice shot in the arm to the Cubs’ player acquisitions in at least the immediate future with him being a proven winner. This is assuming, of course, the Cubs don’t give up too much in compensation to the Red Sox for hiring Epstein away, which is still being negotiated.

With the top brass now in place, the next step for Epstein and Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts is to find a new manager.

Photo from
Upon the news breaking of Quade’s firing, speculation quickly went to whether the Cubs would bring in legend Ryne Sandberg. Sandberg had been considered for the Cubs’ managerial job before last season after four years of managing in the Cubs’ minor league system, but was passed over for Quade. Sandberg spent the last year with the Phillies' AAA farm team at Lehigh Valley (Penn.). However, he is almost certain not to get a second look by the Cubs, with Epstein quoted by ESPN Chicago as saying he wants someone with managerial or coaching experience at the major league level, none of which Sandberg has. This is despite word that Epstein tried to hire him to manage the Red Sox’s AAA team at Pawtucket before last season. Ironically, Sandberg could become the Cardinals’ new manager, with news breaking that the Cards asked the Phillies for permission to talk to him to possibly replace retiring skipper Tony LaRussa.

So who could the new manager be? Some have speculated Bob Brenly, currently a Cubs broadcaster but one who has won a World Series as a manager (2001 with the Diamondbacks), and I would consider him the favorite.

There also is the outside shot at former Boston skipper Terry Francona joining Epstein in Chicago. However, after the meltdown that the Red Sox suffered at the end of the 2011 season, Francona likely will take 2012 off. Other candidates that have been tossed around include former Brewers interim manager Dale Sveum (with word he’s been considered for the Red Sox job, former Cubs outfielders and current Rays coach Dave Martinez, former Indians catcher and current coach Sandy Alomar Jr.

A couple of things can be certain, however. One, the next manager likely will be named as soon as next week considering the pace that Ricketts and Epstein are moving at. Two, the new skipper will be
dealing with a different roster, with pitcher Kerry Wood and third baseman Aramis Ramirez having filed for free agency and Zambrano sold off for pennies on the dollar.

The Cubs string of 103 years without a World Series title likely will not end in 2012 with all of the changes, but it should make spring training more interesting than in years past. And stranger things have happened.