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Sunday, July 21

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Bears in Five

Chief Against the Run
by Sean Cassidy, Herman Coats & Gabe Dixon

One: 2 Out of 3 Ain't Bad
One of the old football adages is that you have to win the battle in two of the three phases of the game to get a victory. Returning home eager to get that first win, the Bears calmly dominated on defense; they held Larry Johnson to 55 yards and sacked Kansas City QBs four times (including Urlachers' first since 2005). And unlike a week ago, the Bears also dominated on special teams, with Hester taking a punt back 73 yards, their second blocked field goal in as many weeks, and Robbie Gould's usual reliability. This is the recipe the Bears used to win all last year, but eventually the offense has to come around and take some pressure of these two outstanding units. If they don't, the lovely humans in charge of making the snazzy offense and defense promos for Sunday and Monday night games may start drawing their own conclusions about who the Bears starting offense consists of.

Two: Superman Returns from Spinning the World on Its Axis
Well it didn't take Devin Hester long to prove that last year was no fluke. A week after looking tentative and resigned to fair catching the ball, Hester fed off the energy of the home crowd waiting for something amazing to happen — and he didn't disappoint. A little over 20 minutes into the game Hester fielded a punt at his own 27 and then put on a show, zigzagging down the sidelines behind some ferocious blocking and into the end zone. Even though his 95 yard return was called back for a questionable (yeah, we're homers) holding penalty, Hester reminded us all why he is amongst the most exciting players in the NFL. Thanks Superman, it's good to have you back.

Three: Tipping the Scales
CBS really enjoyed showing the Homemade "Good Rex/Bad Rex" scale put up by some fans in the end zone. And I have to admit I was enjoying it too, watching Rex complete 12 of his first 17 passes, throw his first touchdown, and build on his performance in San Diego where he got better as the game went on. But, like the cruel temptress that he is, Rex promptly threw two second half INTs, including one on a screen pass to Garrett Wolfe that was overthrown by nearly five yards. It seemed once again like all the progress that he made vanished before our eyes as he finished the game an unimpressive 20/34 for 160 yards. To his credit Rex has kept from completely falling apart so far, like he was prone to last year, but while he may not be getting any worse it's time for Rex to start getting better.

Four: The Unsung (and Occasionally Sung) Heroes
The Bears victory over the Chiefs was all about the unexpected heroes. Who would've guessed the Bears' first touchdown would be scored by John St. Clair? Isn't he referenced in an old song that John Lennon used to cover? Anyway, St. Clair made a gorgeous catch on a tackle-eligible play that made Kansas City just look silly. And what about Israel Idonije? He continues to make the Bears look like geniuses for matching the Buffalo Bills' offer for him two years ago, with a huge blocked field goal and bone-rattling blocking and tackling on special teams. And not to be forgotten was Dirk Johnson, who recovered from dropping his first snap to get off four solid punts in place of Brad Maynard. In a game where anyone can win any given Sunday, it's the contributions from the unknowns and underappreciated that keep the Bears winning football games.

Five: "I Don't Know If You Guys Noticed, but Our Defense is Pretty Good."
Paraphrasing Darwin Walker from a week ago, we now know the Bears week 1 performance, particularly against the run, was no fluke. The Bears have now shut down the two premier runningbacks in the NFL in consecutive weeks, sacked the quarterback seven times on the season, and shown no ill effects of the Dusty Dvoracek or Mike Brown injuries. As long as they are not left on the field too long by an inconsistent offense (converted only three of 13 3rd downs, three turnovers) and aren't hit too hard by more injuries (Alex Brown limped off the field at one point), this unit looks to be the best the Bears have fielded since the mid 2000s and could be up for carrying the Bears back to the Super Bowl.

Cubs in Five

Five Links to Click Repetitively For the Next Week
by Jeff Webber

We here at Cubs in Five are frothing at the mouth over the increasingly decent odds of watching the Cubs play in the postseason this year. And with little to do but wait and worry, we present to you these five links for your compulsive clicking pleasure.

One: Well, the Standings Obviously standings. The most religiously updated. They also tell you great stuff like "X W-L," a team's "expected win-loss record" (the Cubs really should have won around 80 games by now) and their home/away records. Did you know the Brewers are 15 games below .500 on the road?

Two: The Odds
Baseball Prospectus' projected odds. These aren't gambling odds — betting on baseball is a dangerous, fickle thing — just the calculated probability of each team's remaining playoff chances. Changes maddeningly with every Cubs or Brewers win or loss.

Three: The Magic Number
The Magic Number. One number that represents the total number of games that the Cubs must win and/or the Brewers must lose for Chicago to make the playoffs. This morning, it's 12.

Four: The Official Cubs Site
The Official Cubs Site. This one's mostly useful for the video highlights of the previous day's game.

Five: Who's Pitching
USA Today Probable Pitchers. The best, most frequently updated list of who the Cubs (and whoever else) are sending to throw on a given day.

And now, I'm going back to clicking obsessively. Thank you.

Sox in Five

Sometimes, There Actually Is an "I" in Team
by Steve Gozdecki

Well, there certainly hasn't been much by way of team accomplishments from your 2007 Chicago White Sox. But as the team struggles to keep ahead of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in the race for the worst record in baseball, let's take some time to review a few individual highlights from this long season.

One: Jim Thome, Sultan of Swat
How is it that a quiet, unassuming guy like Jim Thome managed to hit his 500th career home run in such dramatic fashion? Tied with the Angels at seven apiece in the ninth inning on Sunday — and on the day that the first 20,000 fans received a Jim Thome bobblehead doll — the big feller from Peoria took one deep to the bleachers in left-center field to send the team home a 9-7 winner. Thome, the 23rd hitter in major league baseball history to reach 500 homers, joins Frank Thomas and Alex Rodriguez in reaching this milestone in 2007. While Thome is expected to play at least one more season, the debate is already on as to whether he'll be voted into the Hall of Fame, with the opposition citing the facts that he doesn't even have 2,000 hits in his career, has only been an All Star five times in 17 seasons and is third all-time in strikeouts. Supporters note that Thome reached the home run mark in fewer at bats than all but three other players in MLB history and is a helluva great guy. This scribe notes that Thome burns brightest here in this season of the individual on the South Side of Chicago!

Two: Maximum Effort, Minimal Results
Darin. Erstad. So long a legendary figure around these parts, the former Nebraska punter who brings a football player's intensity and competitiveness to the baseball diamond, finally joined the White Sox this season after Kenny spent years trying to acquire him. Of course, the fact that all it took to get him was $750k suggested that the other 29 major league teams knew something that Kenny didn't, but with visions of a Jermaine Dye-esque return on their investment dancing in their heads, Kenny and Ozzie gleefully penciled him in as their starting center fielder. Sadly, Erstad also showed that he is best suited to a football player's one-game-a-week schedule, as a combination of bad hitting and chronic ankle ouchies found his starting days over after a mere two months. While the .653 OPS was entirely lacking in entertainment value, some mildly morbid humor was to be found in the fact that Erstad followed a three-week June stint on the disabled list with a single at-bat before the grindiest man in baseball went back onto the DL for another five weeks. For being such a singular talent, Erstad makes our list based on just how little he accomplished.

Three: Mark Buehrle
Remember that no-hitter that Mark Buehrle pitched against the Texas Rangers back on April 19? I commented back then that it would be one of the few memorable moments of this season. Damn me for not realizing just how bright a light it would ultimately prove to be in the midst of such a dark season. Fine individual accomplishment, Mr. Buehrle — and one that the other eight fellows on the field playing defense with you can share.

Four: Venezuelans Need No Term Limits
For persuading team ownership to extend his contract through 2012 despite his team's losing record over the past season and a half, Ozzie Guillen is clearly an individual accomplisher.

Five: Bobby Jenks Goes Streaking
The more you think about it, the more impressive it is that third-year major leaguer and White Sox closer Bobby Jenks managed to retire 41 straight hitters this season, setting a new American League record and tying the major league record. First off, Jenks pitches in the AL, where the pitcher doesn't hit and most designated hitters are far superior to the utility guys who come up to pinch hit for the pitcher late in National League games. Secondly, Jenks did it all pitching in the eighth and ninth innings with the game on the line — something the man who shares the record, Jim Barr, rarely did back in 1972. Thirdly, none of the many highly revered relief pitchers of the past quarter century — Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, Trevor Hoffman, Mariano Rivera, etc. — managed to put up such a streak. Bobby Jenks, your team may not have given you all that many leads to protect this season, but you did your job damn well.

Fire in Five

A Great Game and a Fun Game
by Steve Gillies

One: That Was An Interesting Lineup
Injuries to Chris Armas and Ivan Guerrero, and the tragic death of Bakary Soumare's brother left the Fire short on midfielders for the game against the Red Bulls. So we saw the Fire start with Dasan Robinson at right back, CJ Brown and Gonzalo Segares in the middle, and new guy Wilman Conde on the left. You'd think Gonzalo would have played his somewhat familiar left back role with Conde in the middle, but that wasn't the strangest thing about the lineup. The midfield had Diego Gutierrez on the left, Logan ...Pause as the defensive midfielder, Blanco as the attacking mid, and (wait for it) Chris Rolfe out of position on the right side of midfield. Paulo Wanchope played striker alongside Chad Barrett, who was out of position being in the starting lineup.

The Fire played well the first half but went down to a fluky early goal. At halftime Osorio made adjustments moving Diego into the middle to help ...Pause defensively, giving Blanco and Rolfe the chance to play further forward. Outside backs Wilman Conde and Dasan Robinson pushed up and the formation at times looked like a 2-4-4. This attacking posture led to the Fire dominating the Red Bulls for long stretches, New York getting a few chances on breakaways and set plays, three more goals between the teams for a 2-2 scoreline, and easily the most entertaining game played at Toyota Park this season.

Two: What You Can Tell About Osorio
Well, for one thing Saturday proved Osorio can quickly make adjustments on the fly without using substitutions. Which is a good thing, considering he only used one of his allotted substitutions, despite the Fire playing short-handed. I get the feeling that while he's made the moves to get a strong starting 11 together for this season, the offseason is going to be all about improving the squad depth. Another thing you can see from the lineup is that he doesn't care much for Bruno Menezes. Playing him at either right back or right midfield would have left the rest of the team with a familiar look. Menezes (who should have opted to go by the single moniker of "Bruno") looked fairly promising to me in his limited playing time, but was signed just before Osorio came in and obviously doesn't fit into his plans. Expect him to go the way of Thiago and Willian Oliveira. Come to think of it, could it be a Columbian vs. Brazilian thing?

Three: Using Marvel Comics to Guide Your Decision Making
Saturday night Chris Armas was out with an ankle sprain. Fire originals CJ Brown and Diego Gutierrez, both guys that have worn the armband in the past, were in the lineup. As was superstar Cuahtemoc Blanco. So who did Osorio choose as captain? Logan ...Pause. Not the obvious choice. He's never been too loud or flashy, he's only scored one goal in his entire career, but he's performed consistently in the myriad of positions he's been asked to fill in over his five year career. He'll never be a superstar, but do you want a captain that's a superstar?

Just to out myself as a complete nerd here, it reminds me of a recent X-Men comic that explained how Professor X chose Cyclops as the leader of the X-men. Jean Grey was the most powerful, Angel was rich and good looking, The Beast was a genius and Iceman was the funny one. Scott Summers was the...well Scott Summers didn't have anything. So Professor X made him the leader. And he turned out to be a great leader. For his part, Logan ...Pause looked like he got a morale boost of wearing the captain's armband, covering a ton of ground and seeming more vocal than usual. It will be interesting to see who gets the armband fulltime next year if Armas does actually retire.

Four: Character
Enough talk about the coach's decisions though, because the players really need their due for the effort they put in Saturday night. They outplayed a team that totally punked them earlier in the season. More than that, though, they came back from giving up a fluky goal. Then after making the comeback, they went down by another goal and lost a man in the process when Wilman Conde got red-carded for a handball in the penalty area. A few months ago, that would have killed the game. But the Fire's response was to come back and tie the game again within minutes. And then with 10 men against 11, they pushed for the winner. It's a shame they didn't get it. Sooner or later the Fire has to beat teams above them in the standings to hold onto their playoff spot. Their final run of games includes matches versus Dallas, DC, New England and Chivas USA, but with the character they're showing right now it's a much less impossible task than it looked two months ago.

Five: I Played On That Field
Just to make everyone jealous, I want to mention that I got to actually play on the pristine Toyota Park field this week at the Fire's media game. Highlights included getting to walk out of the player tunnel (where there's an awesome sign and a piece of the original Section 8 from the old Soldier Field, which I'm told players touch for luck), seeing John Guppy trip over the ball (he also nutmegged at least two people), playing alongside Fire and US National Team legend Frank Klopas, and watching the Tribune's fragile reporter, Luis Arroyave, try to do the "Blanco Bounce" against me. I also made the mistake of trying a cute stepover against Juan Osorio. One more thing I found out about the new coach this week. He'll throw a stiff arm your way if you try a cute stepover move against him — even if it's a totally non-physical, goof-around media game. I like that in a coach.

Bonus Round: My Exclusive Interview With New Fire Owner, Andrew Hauptman
Also playing in the media game was Andrew Hauptman, Chairman/CEO of Andell Holdings, the company that recently purchased of the Fire. Since it was Hauptman's first public appearance as owner, I took the opportunity to grab a quick interview with him. It went something like this:

Andrew Hauptman: "Hi, who are you?"
Steve: "Steve."
AH: "Hi, I'm Andrew."
Steve: "Hauptman?"
AH: "Yeah."
I think to myself, that's weird, he's looks like he's about 25 (he's actually 38).
Steve: "Oh... uh, um, Hey."
Andrew Hauptman probably thinks to himself, "Who's this dork?"
AH: "Who do you work with?"
Steve: "A Chicago website called Gaper's Block. Um...I kind of, uh, bag on the Fire a lot."
AH: "Good. Keep up the good work."
I think to myself, "Seems like a nice guy."

Then someone passes him the ball, he nutmegs me and rockets a shot into the top right corner, all while simultaneously earning 3.4 million dollars in stock dividends. I think to myself, "Well, at least I got that interview."

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Nuke LaLoosh / September 19, 2007 1:27 PM

Where's the statistics link?

Andrew / September 19, 2007 2:26 PM

Fixed, Nuke. Sorry about that.


About the Author(s)

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

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