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Bears in Five

A Knee to Build a Dream On
by the Bearscast.com Hosts

One: Pay Attention Kids: Steroids Wreck Your Judgment
That's what we learned Sunday night as ex-Bear and suspected steroid user, Todd Sauerbrun, did the dumbest thing in football — he kicked to Devin Hester. After stating during the week that he respected but did not fear Hester, he provided Superman with plenty of motivation. Then, perhaps emboldened by Hester's muff in the first quarter, Todd and Mike Shanahan conspired to help Hester continue to scribble his name all over the NFL record book. With his third quarter punt and kickoff return for TDs (on which he was barely touched) Hester raised his career total to 10 (excluding the field goal and Super Bowl returns) in just 27 games. Odds are he is well on his way to shattering the NFL record of 13 and possibly carrying an entire franchise on his back in the process. Who will be the next coach or punter to disbelieve ESPN's Top 10 Plays? I almost feel sorry for that sucker. Almost.

Two: The Quietest Benching in NFL History
Maybe it was the endless string of sacks. Maybe it was the drive-killing false start and holding penalties. Maybe it was the Bears complete inability to run it to the right side. But last night in the fourth quarter Fred Miller was finally, mercifully, shown the way to the bench. Now Miller has been an outstanding player during a 12 year career and was an integral part of the Bears success over the last few years, but the time had come to admit when it's over. At 34 Miller is ancient by offensive lineman standards, particularly at tackle, and this year it has really showed. On a team having a horribly sub-par season and racked by injuries, I commend Miller for getting out there and competing every Sunday. However, this team is better off with him on the bench and letting John St. Clair do his best. The Benson injury is only going to make things more difficult for a team that needs to win every game the rest of the year; this move will make things a little easier.

Three: Benz Blows a Gasket
Now I don't expect any Bears fan to gush over the production of Cedric Benson over the last two games, but it's safe to say it was an improvement. And now that he is lost for the season, the Bears must plug a hole on an offense that's already full of them. Since the bye week, Benson had rushed for 208 yards on 47 carries and raised his average from 3.0 to 3.4yrd/att. He still missed blocks and was far from what we all envisioned at the start of the season, but this final stretch of games provided him with the opportunity to answer a few of the critics and build some momentum in what is becoming a struggle of a career. Now Cedric will watch from the sidelines as the man many had already hoped would replace him, Adrian Peterson, gets the chance to take his job.

The parallels with Rex's situation are interesting and I think this might be another situation where you don't know what you have til it's gone. The back-up is not always the answer, but before you go and pave paradise to put up a parking lot, let's just hope that's not the case and that AP fills in admirably. Still, I think the team is going to miss Benson.

Four: Someone Catch the Damn Ball!
Lost in the dramatic comeback, the ridiculousness of Devin Hester and the Benson injury seems to be that from about midway through the second quarter until almost the end of game no one on the Bears could catch the damn ball. Throw in the one good catch in that stretch — Olsen in the end zone (wiped out by a holding call) — and it's easy to see why the Bears needed two Hester returns to stay in this game. A lot has been said and hypothesized about the Bears' struggles this year and much of it was originally laid on Rex. However, since his absence and return it has become apparent that it's the players around him who are also not doing their jobs. Moose and the crew continually dropped easy passes and sure first downs, and if not for a penalty Mr. Muhammad himself would've dropped a pass that ended the game. We certainly can't expect receivers to catch everything thrown to them, but Bears receivers have averaged nearly three a game this year and that is unacceptable. Even if Bernard's great snag to send the game into overtime can make us forget a little, this is certainly something that needs to change.

Five: Some Things are More Important
...Than the Bears and even than football and that's why I want to take the time to send out prayers and thoughts to Sean Taylor. Taylor has not always been a personal favorite as he has often been a volatile player prone to personal fouls. However, no one should be struck down by such a senseless act of violence. Shot during a robbery attempt, he is now in critical condition. People often complain about professional athletes being overpaid, overhyped prima donnas, but as they have repeatedly become victims of home invasions and violent attacks (including several in Chicago earlier this year) maybe we can all find a little more sympathy. I certainly hope, no matter what your opinion of modern-day athletes, that you will take a small moment to hope for the best for a man who is now fighting for his life.

Pucks in Five


by Jeremy Piniak

One: Here Come the McHawks
The Blackhawks continued their string of hell-freezes-over announcements last week with the news that former Cubs President John McDonough will join the team as president. McDonough is Chicago born and bred, and has been with the Cubs franchise since 1983 in various positions. During his reign, the Cubs set attendance records year after year, even when the on-field product didn't warrant much support. McDonough is regarded as one of the top marketing executives in all of sports for his role in building the mystique of Wrigley Field and Cubdom. Given the Blackhawks' struggles to draw at the gate the past decade and the number of fans lost during Bill Wirtz's tenure, McDonough will have his work cut out for him on Madison. While it remains to be seen what changes McDonough may have in store for the Hawks, his hiring continues the unbridled optimism that has been seeping forth from the United Center in recent weeks. He understands the tradition and history of the franchise, and remembers the passionate and excitement the team created in the city during his youth.

Impressive resume aside, McDonough is aware that the best way to sell the product is to create a winning culture, stating during his press conference that "the biggest challenge is to win; and winning is the greatest marketing idea of all time." Blackhawks fans have been waiting for a Stanley Cup since 1961. If McDonough, along with GM Dale Tallon and Coach Denis Savard are able to deliver, the team will once again own Chicago's winter months, and McDonough will be a conquering hero.

Two: No Longer a Circus Act
Following the annual West Coast trip when the circus moves into town, the Blackhawks return to the United Center tomorrow against the Tampa Bay Lightning. In previous years, the extended road trip has been a death knell for the team's season, as evidenced by their 15-35-3-7 record since 1996. This season hasn't been a rousing success, but Chicago returns home with a 2-2-2 record. More importantly, the team kept pace with the rest of its foes in a tight Central Division race. After losing a half-hearted effort at Columbus, the Hawks battled back to force overtime in Nashville, earning a point, then responded with an impassioned win over Detroit for the fourth straight time.

The Blackhawks' schedule was slightly more favorable this year as the first three games were regional contests, rather than an extended West Coast swing, which also allowed the team to return home for a few days. Unfortunately, several players came down with the flu the last three games through Canada, necessitating Jacob Dowell, Petri Kontiola and Kris Veerstag all being called up from Rockford to bolster a suddenly thin lineup. The team defeated Calgary before gutting out an overtime loss at Edmonton and being shut out by Vancouver. Now, with 11 of their next 14 games at home, the Blackhawks have a chance to build on their 6-5 record at the United Center and work on building an imposing home-ice advantage.

Three: Sharp's Shorthanded Goals
Patrick Sharp keeps netting key goals for the Blackhawks with teammates in the penalty box. Sharp leads the NHL with five shorthanded goals and seven shorthanded points, and last week his two shorthanded goals against Detroit and Calgary were both game winners. The rest of the team is getting in on the act as well. The Hawks lead the NHL in shorthanded goals with 10. Rene Bourque added a pair of shorties in the Detroit game, and Jacob Dowell connected short-handed against Calgary for his first NHL goal. While Sharp has been clutch in the penalty kill, he is quietly putting together a career year for the Hawks, including picking up his first career hat trick in the Red Wings game. Although I made mention of his play in my last column, his play during the circus road trip deserves additional kudos. His presence on the penalty kill is of obvious value to the team, and in five-on-five he is consistently one of the best players on the ice.

Four: Shorthanded on the Bench as Well
The circus trip has provided favorable results on the ice, but the Hawks have been forced to play with a depleted team most of the trip, as key players have missed games due to injury and a nasty flu bug. Most prominent was the loss of Rene Bourque, who, after scoring the Blackhawks' first two goals against Detroit, suffered a broken hand that is expected to shelve him for four to six weeks. Bourque has long been touted as a prospect with the tools to make an impact after a productive rookie season, but various injuries the past few years have slowed his progress just as he seemed to be turning the corner.

Jason Williams missed the last four games with a strained groin and is currently on injured reserve, though the injury is not expected to be serious. Other players missing a game or two were Tuomo Ruutu, Sergei Samsonov and Patrick Sharp as a virus worked its way through the team as they traveled across Western Canada, forcing the Hawks to play defenseman Dustin Byfuglien at forward against Edmonton Saturday to fill out four lines.

In brighter news, winger Martin Havlat is expected to return soon, possibly for tomorrow's Lightning game. Havlat injured his shoulder in the first game of the season, and elected to undergo an extensive rehab plan rather than surgery that would have knocked him out for most of the year. Havlat has had health issues the past few seasons, but if able to stay on the ice, will provide some much-needed scoring depth, as opponents have been using their top defensive units against Patrick Kane and Jonathon Toews.

Five: Wolves Winding Up
With a highly successful November almost in the books, the Wolves have continued their torrid pace to start the season. They finally lost a game in regulation Nov. 18 against San Antonio, and dropped a second against Peoria 7-3 last Friday, but the team still leads the Western Conference and is tied for the overall league lead with 31 points. The Wolves' 15 wins and 31 points are the most through 18 games in franchise history. However, San Antonio is lurking just behind the Wolves with 28 points, so the hot start needs to continue if Chicago wants to keep the top spot. The team is in the midst of a five game homestand, and defeated the Blackhawk affiliate Rockford IceHogs 8-3 Saturday to kick off the stretch at the Allstate Arena. This week sees the Quad City Flames, Peoria Riverman and Iowa Stars come to town, before wrapping with Syracuse next Tuesday.

The Wolves have been winning this year with a healthy mix of offense and defense, as opposed to simply outgunning teams last season. The offensive juggernaut led the team to the Conference Finals, but when the goals dried up, so did the Wolves chances. So far this year, the team has shown they can win tight games too, which could come in handy come springtime.

Bulls in Five

Pretty Much Awful
by Dan & Patrick O'Neil

One: Turkey Week in Review
The Bulls now have the worst record in the Eastern Conference. Their shooting percentage is worst in the league. The week's work: routed by Denver, punked by New York, outjumped by Toronto.

Two: Analysis Paralysis
Twelve games into the season it is time to seriously consider whether this team sucks or not. Something's gone wrong, severely wrong, inside their heads or their hearts. No killer instinct, no desire to destroy. They play a great first quarter, like they did against the Raptors yesterday, and then suddenly lose their guts for an 11-point second quarter on the way to losing by 15. Or they make a bunch of punks like the Knicks look like superstars.

Three: Obscene Voting
Five Bulls made it on the All-Star ballot: Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Kirk Hinrich, Andres Nocioni and Ben Wallace. Vote for them (or not) on this rather unfortunately colorful website.

Four: The Other Guys
When things are awful for your team, one thing you can do to keep sanity is appreciate the performances of the other team. Yesterday in Toronto, (27-year-old) rookie Jamario Moon showed a ton of heart by jumping, diving and playing harder than anyone else. Carmello Anthony of Denver is a real star. And the Knicks... um... well, move along, nothing to see here.

Five: Watching the Beat
Let's take a look at the best of the Bulls columns in the local rags: Mariotti wonders if Coach Skiles deserves his job, Brian Hanley wonders if the haters will be out at the United Center, and Sam Smith looks outward for answers, getting one opposing coach to say, "There's something funky going on there." Indeed there is.

Fire in Five

That Was 2007
by Steve Gillies

It's almost December and we're all about to get inundated with year end reviews. So with the MLS Season a week in the past tense, I thought I'd get a jumpstart with a review of the year for the Fire and MLS, because with the advent of the Designated Player rule it was kind of an important year.

One: Mistakes Were Made
Let's be clear, signing star players like Beckham and Blanco was not a mistake. For the first time in forever, when I told people I was going to a Fire game, they didn't look at me and ask what I was talking about. But with the increased profile and increased stakes, a lot of the league's shortcomings have been exposed along the way. The litany of the mishandling of Beckham's arrival has been well documented, from overemphasizing his salary to raising ticket prices for a player whose appearance nobody could guarantee. With Blanco, the Fire made the mistake of putting all their eggs in one basket, and they didn't actually know when that basket was due to arrive. It says a lot about the charisma and fanbase of both players that the season ended with the two drawing a sellout crowd to Toyota Park, but if MLS wants to continue the momentum they've built, they have to learn from their mistakes. That means recognizing there is, in fact, a whole world of soccer out there that Americans are interested in, so don't hold league games on international dates, or during World Cups. It also means acting like having stars in your league isn't anything new so there isn't any need to exaggerate their importance.

Two: Quality of Play
One of the biggest exaggerations the league made about the Designated Player Rule was that it would increase the quality of play in the league. With Blanco the only one making it as far as the semifinals, the designated players couldn't have had that much impact in terms of raising their team's standards. Instead, the teams that were most successful opted not to sign designated players at all, but instead focused on having deep squads strong in every position. It also says something for continuity that the same teams that played in the final last year, New England and Houston, faced off again. Stars bring fans, and they create great moments, like Blanco's newly crowned Goal of the Season against Real Salt Lake. But they don't win games alone, and winning games is what's going to keep fans (look at the 30,000 Houston drew for their last home playoff game). The Fire should learn from this and keep the same core that played so well in the last two months together, with only a few additions — a striker and a defensive midfielder come to mind.

Three: Making Your Own Stars
One of the things this season brought home was the league's inability, so far, to make its own stars. Blanco became a star at Club America and then for the Mexican National Team, Beckham at Manchester United. So far, I can't think of anybody that's become a star at an MLS team. Landon Donovan became a star in the 2002 World Cup. Eddie Johnson wasn't a marquee player until he scored that hat trick against Panama. If MLS performances alone could make someone a star, then Dwayne DeRosario would be the poster boy for the league. He's scored the best goals in the league two years in a row. He was the best player on the field when the MLS All Stars played Chelsea. And he's been the key guy on for the league champions for the past two seasons. Plus he's photogenic. So why isn't he a bigger deal? Probably because he's Canadian, so the only time Americans see him is during MLS games, and not enough people care about the games yet. A less confusing league table and playoff scheme would help on that front. So, too, does the arrival of the designated players. Because if you put a guy like DeRosario or Chris Rolfe next to a Beckham or a Blanco and they don't suffer in comparison, people will start seeing them in the same light.

Four: The Future
Another way to create stars is to actually take responsibility for the development of young talent, rather than leaving it up to the NCAA and travel clubs. The league has made strides in this direction by providing teams the incentive to develop real youth programs by letting them keep the rights to any youth players that make it through to the pros. It's a good first step, and something that's being under-reported, but the Fire's youth team did start playing this fall. It will be interesting to see how many make it to the full pro squad in a couple of year's time. Ideally the backgrounds of the players will end up more diverse as the financially restrictive club soccer system gets replaced by a more professional model that can find a way to pay for talent. But a lot of time and resources will have to go into this before the league sees any benefits from it, and who knows if the guys making the investments have that kind of patience.

Five: The Fire's Future
As for the Fire, at the end of the season it looked pretty bright. Despite losing Chris Armas, the team had a solid core of players to build around, and a coach capable of rebuilding the club. Things just need to go in the direction that they've been going in. In the two weeks since the season ended, however, there are a few worrying signs. Coach Juan Carlos Osorio has been linked to several different jobs, including the newly vacant Red Bulls spot (and his wife is said to prefer New York to Chicago). The team made their first blunder of the offseason by letting San Jose snap up its most consistent player, Ivan Guerrero. The team can ill afford an offseason as bad as the one that left them without Nate Jaqua (who just won a championship), Andy Herron and Tony Sanneh.

Either way, it's going to be a long cold winter with no games to go see. If you need me, I'll be hibernating at the soccer bar watching on TV as teams in Europe with five times the payroll of the entire league lose valiantly to teams with 50 times the payroll of MLS.

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Comments

Bearscast / November 27, 2007 11:01 AM

Just to add on to #5.. may Sean Taylor rest in peace. What happened was a tragedy and it scary to watch such a young man struck down. Bearscast if hoping for the best for his family and loved ones.

 

About the Author(s)

Sean Cassidy, Herman Coats and Gabe Dixon are the hosts of Bearscast.com, the best and brightest Bears podcast, part of the Chicago Sportscast Network. Now with perfect pronunciation of "Adewale Ogunleye"...by one of the hosts anyway. Go listen. Send comments to hosts@bearscast.com.

Jeremy Piniak grew up watching hockey on all levels and is a lifelong Blackhawks fan who, inexplicably, still has hope that Bill Wirtz will once again provide Chicago with a championship hockey team and broadcast home games on TV, though he still mourns the destruction of Chicago Stadium. Every week he'll bring you five talking points on the state of hockey in Chicago (including, whenever possible, the minor-league Wolves.) Send comments to pucks@gapersblock.com

Patrick O'Neil is a Chicago designer and software developer. His second Bull's championship celebration was marred by a cordon of riot police at North, Milwaukee and Damen. Daniel X. O'Neil is Chicago writer and old skool Bulls fan. See more of him here. Send comments to bulls@gapersblock.com.

Steve Gillies has been a Fire fan since he stood in a torrential downpour while the Fire beat New England 6-0 and he realized watching American soccer games in person was a lot better than watching European football matches on television. Each week he'll give you five things to talk about if you happen to get cornered by one of those soccer people at a party. Send comments to fire@gapersblock.com.

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