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Wednesday, November 14

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Bears in Five

Bears Grounded in San Diego
by Sean Cassidy, Herman Coats & Gabe Dixon

One: NY Jets to Jerry Angelo: "No Trade-backs!"
Go ahead Rex, exhale: you weren't the most inept player on the Bears' offense this weekend. While it's probably too early to tell if the Bears' running issues were the offensive line, the Chargers defense, or Cedric "Big Mouth, Slippery Hands" Benson, one thing is for sure... Bears' fans around the country want one big do-over. Since joining the Bears as the #4 pick Benson has talked, and talked, and talked, and run a little bit, got hurt, and talked some more, then fumbled, and then talked some more. It's almost to the point where someone should super-glue his mouth piece in, although the glue may be put to better use elsewhere. While it is only one game and Benson flashed some signs on a couple of (slightly) longer runs and some broken tackles, he also consistently failed to push the pile, couldn't convert a 4th and 1, and missed cut-back lanes. And that's completely ignoring the fumble that got him temporarily benched. Lovie Smith has always said the Bears get off the plane running; maybe they should consider saving their legs till they get to the stadium in the future.

Two: The Difference between Fantasy and Reality
In the preseason the reigning MVP, LaDainian Tomlinson, did a controversial Nike commercial that ruffled some of the Bears feathers, most notably Brian Urlacher. Oddly enough, Tomlinson may have gained more yards in that one run than he did all day against the Bears on Sunday. Though he finally did score in the 4th quarter, he was constantly stuffed for little or no gain, posting the second lowest rushing total of his career. A Bear defense whose Achilles heel was supposed to be the run shut down the most dangerous back on the planet, and were it not for the Bears' own costly turnovers they may have managed to shut them out. We all knew coming into this season that the Bears were going to be good, but if Sunday was any measure of their ability over the course of the season then they could be historically good. Especially if they learn to defend the halfback pass...

Three: The Six Million Dollar Manstring
"Tommie Harris, defensive tackle. A hamstring barely attached. Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology. We have the capability to build the world's first bionic football player. Tommie Harris will be that player. Better than he was before. Better, stronger, faster."

We don't know what they did to Tommie Harris during his offseason surgery, but the only explanation we can come up with is that he is now bionic. His incredible speed, coupled with a very "calculated" reading of the snap count saved that day (temporarily) and kept the yellow hankies in the refs' pockets. The Bears may not have notched a win on Sunday, but some huge questions about Harris' health were answered. With Dusty Dvoracek joining Mike Brown on the injured list, Tommie's play will be of paramount importance. And if Sunday was any indication there'll be plenty more dominating performances and wins to come from our paranoid android. (Sorry.)

Four: Dear Lorenzo Neal:
Why does the self-proclaimed best blocking fullback in the NFL need to clothesline a player to block him? That "block" on safety Mike Brown will be put under the microscope because of the result to one of our favorite defenders, but either way it was a cheap move and borderline illegal.

The truly sad thing is Brown, the football version of Kerry Wood over the last three seasons, could very well be done in Chicago if the injury is as bad as some fear, and this game was not a fitting send off. Since bursting on the scene during the magical run in 2001, returning overtime interceptions for game-winning touchdowns, Brown has been a joy to watch. One of the longest-tenured and most-respected Bears, he plays each game with a reckless abandon that is normally reserved for 6-year-old soccer matches. Let's hope he'll be able to take home more than the stitched patch for participating this season... nobody deserves it more.

Five: And Coming Around on the Outside: It's a Blitz!
We're not entirely sure how the Bears missed it in their extensive planning for Week 1. They have known about this game for months, had all that time to focus and prepare to go on the road against an aggressive and fast defense. So why was it that San Diego rushers consistently came free on the outside? Shaun Phillips damn near killed Rex and he wasn't even coming from the blind side. How can you run an offense built on slow developing play-action pass and not have a TE chip block on two of the most feared outside rushers in all of football? Give Rex some credit for getting up, and only managing to fumble once (and not after that huge hit), but after that aforementioned hit it looked like the Bears' offense was down for the count.

Cubs in Five

Gasping to the Finish
by Jeff Webber

One: (Gasp!) Much! (Pant!) Watch! (Wheeze!) Baseball!
Pull out any cliche you like: every game counts now; we're down to the wire; it's nail biting time... Go ahead, they're all true. The NL Central is the only crown in baseball that's still up for grabs and the Cubs and Brewers are apparently trying like hell to keep close to one another while still keeping this the one of the most underwhelming pennant races in history. It'll be hard to top San Diego's 2005 season, in which they made the playoff despite finishing just a single game over .500, with 82 wins.

Two: No Matter How You Spin It, Rotation Seems Off
So you've replaced your talented, reasonably effective young fifth starter with an aging veteran having a shaky season. And this veteran looked terrible in his last outing, getting smacked for six runs in just two innings while the displaced kid has thrown just 22 pitches this week. You want to set up your rotation to have your three top pitchers (Zambrano, Lilly and Hill) pitch the most important games down the stretch. Do you, A) give the kid (Sean Marshall, obviously) a spot start to shuffle things into place, or do you B) ask the shaky veteran (Steve Trachsel) to follow his failure by pitching on short rest? The Cubs chose B. Maybe Marshall will start one of the games in Saturday's double header. Or maybe, Piniella says, rookie Kevin Hart might get a go. Because that's what you want in a pennant race: a no-name rookie with control problems getting the ball in a life or death game while the fifth starter who kept you in the race for four months files his nails in the bullpen.

Three: Does St. Louis Still Matter?
Yup, 'fraid so. Despite being three games out of the lead with less than 20 games left in the season, the St. Louis Cardinals still have a definite shot at winning the division. They play the Cubs four times this weekend and Milwaukee three times during the last week of the season. And with the Brewers and Cubs not exactly setting the world on fire, all it would take would be a couple of strong series wins to bring the Cards right back on top. How depressing is that? God, I'm tired of watching the Cards play in the postseason. Thankfully, St. Louis has lost four in a row and six straight road games. Let's see more of that, please.

Four: Did We Overlook the Zambrano's Mouth Story?
So last week, Cubs in Five took Zambrano to task for his awful stretch drive pitching, but spoke nary a word on his idiotic, fan-disparaging comments. Were we giving him a free pass? Nope. just focusing on what mattered: the game. Anyway, we still owe him $90 million, he's still our ace, and we still need him. Oh, yeah, and he apologized.

Five: Dear Cubs, Please Win the World Series for Ron Santo
Speaking of attitudes toward Cub fans, let me just say this: feel free to ignore the drunk people chatting idly in the stands who call themselves Cubs fans, my dear Cubs. Ignore the fans who are already preparing their bandwagons in case you win or the blame game in case you lose. But for the love of all that is good and holy, please win the whole damned thing for Ron Santo.

Sox in Five

by Steve Gozedecki

Writer's block? Apathy? Severe nausea? This week, I've got nuthin' to say about them White Sox.

Fire in Five

The Best Team on the Planet And Two That Aren't So Bad
Steve Gillies

One: A Huge Win
It was never a recipe for jogo bonito: two teams fighting for a playoff spot, a thunderstorm that caused a rare-for-MLS rain delay. But Saturday night's intense 1-0 win might have been a turning point for the Fire. For one thing, thanks to Colorado losing it means if the season ended today, the Fire would be in the playoffs. Paulo Wanchope's cool finish on the goal should improve his confidence and it also shows that the Fire can score goals without Blanco being directly involved. But more than that, the team went into what basically amounted to a must-win game, and got through it together. You could see in the post-game celebration how much the win meant to them, and you just get the feeling that these guys are in it together in a way they weren't at the beginning of the season.

Two: At Least 43,000 People In Chicago Weren't Watching the Bears Game
There was some jogo bonito in town, though, with Brazil rolling up to Soldier Field and showing the rest of the world how soccer was meant to be played. Like I've said, Chicago's gotten completely spoiled this summer and the game wasn't the sellout which Brazil deserves by divine right. Still, a pretty healthy crowd of 43,000 showed up despite a five week sales window, the Bears game kicking off at the exact same time, and the usual slate of youth soccer games going on over the weekend. As expected, a lot of people wore yellow, but there were a healthy number of US fans that certainly knew how to make some noise. I definitely think it's time to get the message out to American fans to wear red to the games. Splitting the colors between the various permutations of national team shirts really makes it look like there's a lot less home support than there really is.

One personal note to the people in my section of the crowd: If something exciting happens and the people in front of you stand up, don't tell them to sit down so you can see it. Stand up yourself. It's a soccer game, not a night at the theatre.

Three: Fond Memories
I could gush all day about seeing players like Kaka, Robinho and Ronaldinho play in person. Their skill level, the speed they could do things at, the almost telepathic understanding they had with one another were totally breathtaking. But the US hung with them. The game was much much closer than the 4-2 scoreline would suggest. And I think when I'm old and grey I'll be looking back on those 15 minutes when we were beating Brazil as a special time in my life.

Four: All Grown Up Now
Back when the Fire still played in Soldier Field there would always be this little 12-year-old kicking the ball around with Fire players while they warmed up. The kid was Fire coach Bob Bradley's son, Mike, and at 20 now he's become one hell of a player. And with Bradley in charge of the national team he's still the coach's son. Anyone chalking up his playing time to nepotism doesn't know much about soccer though, as Bradley was clearly the hardest working, most effective US player on the field during both appearances at Soldier Field this summer. There is one worrying trend though. In the Gold Cup semi-final he picked up a red card for a professional foul against Canada. In this weekend's game he gave up a penalty. The guy's an all-action, tough tackling midfielder and you don't want to take the edge off his game, but he's got to learn to impose himself on games without getting his team into trouble. He might learn that by the time he's 21.

Five: More Fond Memories
The Bradleys weren't the only familiar faces to a Chicago Fire fan circa the year 2000. Joining Bob on the bench was Peter Nowak, who you may remember from his being awesome for the Fire. Fire alumni Josh Wolf, DaMarcus Beasley and captain Carlos Bocanegra all got picked for the starting lineup. You get the feeling that was kind of a special team we had here? I really hope than in four years time I'll be watching Chris Rolfe, Justin Mapp and Dasan Robinson going toe to toe with Brazil, but that was a special team we had back then.

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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.

Jeff Webber spends hours and hours every day taking in every printed, spoken, and broadcast word he can find about the Chicago Cubs, and each week till the end of the season he's boiling them down into five simple crib notes you can use to stay on top of any watercooler or corner bar Cubs discussion. Send comments to cubs@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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