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Thursday, December 12

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Bears in Five

Peanut Saves the Day
by Sean Cassidy, Herman Coats & Gabe Dixon of Bearscast.com

One: What Did Lovie Say?
The big story after Sunday's sweet victory over the Packers was the supposedly heated halftime speech delivered by the normally reserved Lovie Smith. Coach Smith's only comment on the matter after the game was, "You see the first half? You can imagine what I said." But what in the world could it actually have been? We here at Bearscast.com have obtained special inside information that Lovie said only one thing: "If you keep playing like that, I swear, I am putting Rex back in at Quarterback." Also, most of the team will be switching cable providers by the next game. Or else.

Two: Peanut Tillman Stands for Prime Time
I think after he's done with football Peanut might have found himself a second career. While Urlacher's third quarter INT may have been the play that sparked the turnaround, none of it would've mattered without the play of Charles Tillman. Tillman took rookie wideout James Jones to task with two first-half strips that stopped a Green Bay offense that looked like a Bears fan's worst nightmare. The difference in play between the second half in Detroit and Green Bay is a testament to just how integral Peanut is to this defense. The Bears may have saved their season Sunday night and Charles "Peanut" Tillman has delivered us. TESTIFY, NUT FANS!

Three: Midwest Coast Rapper Just Makes Plays!
It took the Bears nearly five weeks, a quarterback change, and being on the verge of losing their season, but Ron Turner and Co. finally realized they have two huge mismatches at the tight end position. At 6'5" and 245 lbs, Greg Olsen is every quarterback's dream, and also apparently my girlfriend's. But more importantly he has a size advantage over every defensive back in the NFL. Additionally, because he's a genetic freak he's also faster than most of them. All of this leads to the obvious question of why it took so long to start throwing him the ball, but I'd rather look to the future. Hopefully Olsen's acrobatic catches and Desmond Clark streaking into the end zone are signs of things to come. And hopefully they won't cost me my girlfriend...

Four: The Streak Comes To an End
The Bears pulled out a stunning fourth quarter victory this Sunday so maybe I am nitpicking, but this Sunday marked the first time this season the Bears went without blocking a kick. Although Brian Urlacher came tantalizingly close on one occasion with a delayed rush up the middle, it was not to be. And thus ends one of the more impressive streaks in the NFL. Many teams can go the entire season without blocking a kick and the Bears got four and a pat in the first four weeks of the season. Maybe Brendon Ayanbadejo has started a new streak of special teams forcing turnovers with his great strip of Charles Wooden late in the 3rd quarter. Either way the Bears special teams play has been outstanding again this year and deserves some special recognition.

Five: What's Wrong With the Bens?
Well lost in the euphoria of a much needed Bears win was the completely lackluster performance of Cedric Benson. For the fourth time in five weeks he failed to gain over 70 yards or average more than 3.5 yards per carry. For every tough 5-10 yard carry he has, there are three or four carries where he is stuffed in the backfield. The Bears have long been a running team, always "getting off the plane running" as Lovie loves to say, but so far they have shown that in only one game all year. If the Bears are going to finish the climb back to the top that they started on Sunday night they need to do something at the running back position. It could mean handing the job to Adrian Peterson and/or Garrett Wolfe or bringing in someone like Corey Dillon or Ricky Williams. If the Bears leave the ball in Cedric Benson's hands for the rest of the year they are in trouble.

Pucks in Five

Changes Afoot
by Jeremy Piniak

As the weather hopefully begins to cool and the baseball season fades to nothing more than a heartbreaking memory, Chicago hockey returns with a team worth watching. In this week's Pucks in Five, we focus on the electric home opener against Detroit, a surprising front office shakeup, and touch on the Wolves opening a new season.

One: Ruminations on Opening Night
The good: The Blackhawks showed heart battling back from a 3-1 deficit for a 4-3 shootout win over the rival Red Wings Saturday. Number one draft pick Patrick Kane's impressive debut. Tuomo Ruutu looking healthy and strong. James Wisniewski's scrap with Dallas Drake and short-handed goal. Nicolai Khabibulin's play in net. The roar during the anthem evoking the old Stadium and the crackle of intensity throughout the UC the entire game. Detroit sucks!

The bad: The powerplay looking only slightly improved from last year. Unnecessary penalties and questionable calls. Defensemen Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook having an uneven game, which needs to be a rarity this season.

The ugly: The small number of people who felt the need to boo and catcall GM Dale Tallon during the pregame ceremony and moment of silence honoring Bill Wirtz. Regardless of anyone's opinion of his ownership of the team, he was a human being with a family and friends and loved the team. Those who can't respect that are tacky and classless.

Two: Welcome to Chicago
The hero of Saturday night was none other than number one draft pick Patrick Kane. The 18-year-old picked up his first NHL assist on the Hawks' first goal of the season. Then, after the Blackhawks rallied to send the game into a shootout, Kane stepped out as the first Hawk shooter, lining up against future Hall of Famer Dominic Hasek, one of Kane's favorite players growing up in Buffalo. Kane made a fantastic move, dekeing Hasek right before lifting a backhand into the net for what ended up being the only goal in the shootout, earning Chicago the victory. Kane earned the first star of the game and the adulation of the 18,600 plus in attendance of his first home game. While there was a question entering the season whether Kane's small stature would adapt to the NHL, he's shown in his first two games that he has the talent to be a star. While the youngster is bound to go through some growing pains in his rookie year, the future is here. Mr. Kane, this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Three: Fragile. Handle with Care.
Injuries derailed the Hawks' season early last year, prompting the team to make multiple signings to shore up their offensive depth. Those signings will be tested earlier than the team hoped this season, as star winger Martin Havlat injured his shoulder in a third-period scrum during the team's opener in Minnesota. Havlat skated off the ice and headed straight for the locker room, before dropping to all fours in the tunnel in obvious pain. Havlat's dislocated shoulder was the same one he's had two surgeries on already, and while the strain does not appear that serious after an MRI, there is no timetable set for his return, pending a second examination of the shoulder this week. While the Blackhawks have more weapons at their disposal, Havlat is still a key cog of the offensive machine. More troubling is Havlat's injury history. The last thing the Hawks want to see is Havlat become the Mark Prior of the West Side.

Four: Rocky Takes the Reins
After last week's passing of long-time Blackhawk owner Bill Wirtz, many fans were wondering what changes were in store for the franchise. One question was answered, while a hundred more new ones were asked, as Rocky Wirtz assumed the role of Chairman for the team. Shockingly, Peter Wirtz resigned as vice president of the team the same day, after 20 years of working for the team. Many assumed given his experience that Peter would be the Wirtz son taking over the franchise as opposed to Rocky, who's spent his time working in the family's liquor business. What this means for the team's future remains unclear, though a Wirtz spokesman said in last Friday's Tribune that Rocky will do a thorough assessment of the team from top to bottom "to see what needs to be done to make this a championship team."

One change many fans are clamoring for is allowing home games to be broadcast on TV, which would bring greater visibility and increased revenue for the team. While I expect this to change next season, fans will just have to wait and see if other changes are afoot or if Rocky is a chip off the old block.

Five: Wolves Welcome New Rival to League
In other Chicago hockey news, the AHL Wolves opened their season last Saturday as well, defeating the Houston Aeros 4-2 on the road. The team opens their home season this Saturday against their division rival Milwaukee Admirals at the Allstate Arena. Pucks in Five will have a more in-depth preview of the team in next week's column as the Wolves look to make a Calder Cup run with a number of new players, along with some old faces from their Western Conference final loss of a year ago. One other big change of note in the AHL is the appearance of the Rockford IceHogs in the West Division. The IceHogs are the new affiliate for the Blackhawks, giving fans in Chicago a chance to see the team's young prospects, and many expect a potent rivalry to develop between the two franchises this season in the battles between Chicago's NHL future and AHL present.

Cubs in Five

by Jeff Webber

...is taking a week off to cry into his Old Style, but will be back next week with a season postmortem.

Fire in Five

Almost There
by Steve Gillies

One: A Win!
The Fire put a series of frustrating draws behind them with a 2-1 victory over the New England Revolution. The win involved the Fire managing to do quite a few things they've been having trouble with all season. First of all, they managed to beat a team in the top half of the MLS standings. Secondly, they did it by coming from behind. But most importantly, they managed to hold onto a one goal lead. I'm not going to lie. The second that clock hit 80 minutes I started getting nervous. Now that they've finally gotten over that hump, the Fire's looking like a team that none of the top seeds are going to want to go up against in the playoffs. If the Fire makes the playoffs.

Two: In The Driver's Seat
Will they make the playoffs? Columbus lost this week, which puts them all but out of the playoff picture. Colorado and LA, however, both kept pace with the Fire with victories over Toronto and Houston respectively. LA in particular are worrying. They've suddenly come back from the dead and are on a real tear. And we have to play them in the last game of the season. As fun as that game would be for fans, it's not something the Fire wants considering how much MLS league officials would love to see Beckham and Donovan in the playoffs. Seriously, I wouldn't put it past them to assign Brian Hall to ref the game. A win against DC United coupled with anything other than maximum points from LA and the Fire can clinch a spot before it comes down to that.

Three: Another Pointless "International Friendly"
So you'd think the Fire would want to spend their next week training, focusing on what they need to do against DC United. Instead, they'll be playing Mexican side Cruz Azul in a meaningless friendly at Toyota Park on Wednesday. The contract stipulates that Fire stars like Blanco, who coach Juan Osorio has said needs a rest, will have to play. It will probably be a lot like last year's Club America game, with little more than cameo appearances from Blanco and most of the starters. It would be the right move from Osorio, but it begs the question, why would Fire fans want to pay full price for it? Any way you look at it, it's an ill-timed, money-grabbing game that doesn't have the best interest of the team or its fans at heart.

Four: I Say More Mean Things About Chad Barrett, Then Something Nice About Him
Chad Barrett notched a goal and an assist this weekend. To me, it just shows you how deceptive statistics could be, because I thought he was one of the worst players on the field. For large portions of the game, thanks to a lot of poor decision-making, he was where Fire attacks went to die. The "assist" was a prime example, as Barrett was free on the left and somehow managed to end up going backwards when Chris Rolfe stepped in to bail him out with a 20 yard rocket. And it says something about my confidence in his finishing that I half-expected him to blast his five yard tap in over the bar.

But still, something should be said. More than any other position in soccer, playing striker is about confidence. Barrett's a young player who had far too much asked of him early in the season and it clearly shook his confidence. But at no time in the season has he ever hidden. He's always working to get himself into good positions no matter how badly he messed up the play before. You can tell he wants it. Really, really badly. Compare that with yet another anemic display from the disappointing Paulo Wanchope. As frustrating as I find Barrett, once the midfield gets healthier and Rolfe returns to the front line, I think Barrett should keep the starting spot next to him.

Five: The Crowds
The Fire's crowds have been impressive lately. Not just in size, but in passion. Finally, sections other than Section 8 are getting into the games. This weekend the sections furthest away from Section 8 were armed with thundersticks and made a ton of noise with them. Note to MLS league officials: thundersticks > air horns. Another note on the crowd — seems the sales office branched out from the usual youth soccer teams and hit up a Tae Kwon Do organization. It led to the most surreal sight of the year as at halftime we were treated to the site of a soccer match between two teams dressed in identical karate gear. It was hard to keep track of the score, but I'm pretty sure one of the teams wearing white robes won.

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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.

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, when possible, the minor-league Wolves and Hounds). Send comments to pucks@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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