Saturday, December 31, 2005

A Matter of Perspective



It was roughly 65 degrees and not a cloud in the sunny El Paso sky yesterday for the Sun Bowl. It was roughly the same in Los Angeles. In Chicago it was in the 30's and considered a welcome warmup.

Northwestern sat on the shady side of the stadium and brought fans to cool its players.

Across the field, UCLA sat in the sun upon heated benches it brought specifically to deal with weather it feared would be decidedly non-Californian.

Hilarious. The same country and worlds apart.

I'll give Northwestern credit for one thing. The 'Cats know how to keep things interesting and fresh. You're bound to see something you've never seen before. Blowing a 22-point lead by MIDWAY THROUGH THE SECOND QUARTER is never an easy task. Neither is scoring 38 points and losing, nor having two onside kicks returned for touchdowns, especially when the second was almost a carbon copy of the first.

Brett Basnanez played his last game for Northwestern and threw 70 passes and then his arm fell off. He took an awful beating yesterday. Note to Randy Walker: Improve the offensive line and occasionally run the ball. I wonder what the ratio is when comparing wins-losses to an escalating number of pass attempts. I think anything over 60 would almost always mean a loss.

As a general rule, when your defense scores two touchdowns eleven minutes into the game, you should never, ever lose.

Northwestern has now provided the two worst kicking performances the Unknown Column has seen. Let's review Joe Howell's day against UCLA...

- two missed extra points
- a blocked field goal (and it was a line drive)
- two onside kicks returned for touchdowns.

That's positively Ray Finkle-esque.

The other horrendous kicking day was the 2004 season opener when Brian Huffman missed five field goals (two in overtime) in 48-45 double OT loss to TCU.

Oh, and the Unknown Column would like to make amends and say that Northwestern has won a bowl game, the 1949 Rose Bowl. Just like yesterday, right?

Friday, December 30, 2005

Finish Strong



There is a mumbling belief that the Bears visit to Minnesota this week is meaningless. Some say there is no reason to win. The Bears have already wrapped up the division and are locked into the second seed. So what's the point, right?

This is all a terrible misconception.

The Bears should beat the Vikings if for no other reason than the Vikings suck and so does their rollerdome and their Thor horn blaring. Always has. Yeah, that's right. Bubblegum toss-worthy. All of them. So there. Don't tell me the Bears don't have a motivating factor.

I don't know why I dislike the Vikings. I mean, I feel less malice towards the Packers and you're made to sign an "I Hate the Packers" contract when becoming a Bears fan. I guess it's because - oh, I don't know - the Vikings are the most consistently annoying franchise in the NFL, the equivalent of a fly hanging around a horse's ass, or pop-country music. They're pests. And they wear purple. But mostly it's the pest thing. The Vikes are one of those franchises that always sort of stay good - never great, but never really bad - and they just hang around a lot and act like they should be taken seriously when they probably shouldn't be. This is why Mike Tice, who somehow enjoys moderate success despite himself, is the perfect face of the franchise, at least until he gets canned. An idiot savante. They're all idiot savantes up there, floating around on 10,000 lakes playing with dildos and doing just enough to beat the Lions and Packers, but who doesn't?

This goes back to the '80s when the Bears routinely pummelled the old NFC Central, all except for the Vikings, who occasionally gave the Bears a game. Tommy Kramer cleaned himself up in AA, Keith Millard did his best Dan Hampton imitation, and Jerry Burns was raised from the dead on Sundays and somehow the Vikings were just good enough to make the Bears sweat, but only a little. The Vikes also employed Sean Salisbury to carry a clipboard at this time. Enough said.

And the Vikings are exactly the same today, stuck in the '80s, a time when domes and astroturf were still trendy. They're a forty five-year old guy who still sports a mullet, wears his collar up, and listens to the Outfield. They're still the perfect wildcard-at-best pretender.

They just bug me.

But I digress.

The Bears should beat the Vikings for no other reason than because after much mathematical wizardry 12-4 is always better than 11-5, and a win heading into the playoffs would set the tone for two weeks of the funnest vibes imaginable in Chitown heading up to the playoff opener. Bears talk! Bears talk nonstop, sports radio hosts yanking it to X's and O's and everyone walking the streets and dreaming about heading to...(Wait. Detroit? In Febuary? With the Motown NPR listeners rioting in the streets? Detroit? Who's idea was this?)

Yes, Detroit! (Fuck the Pistons.)

As as aside, beating the Vikes would bear an uncanny resemblance to the way the White Sox ended their regular season this past year. Listen, the Sox raced out to a huge lead midway through the season, got a scare from a hot Cleveland team near the end, and wrapped up the division in their second-to-last series. They then finished the schedule by waltzing into Cleveland and sweeping the Indians even though the games were meaningless. Fuck yeah.

Fuck. Yeah.

Conversely, the Bears had a seemingly insurmountable lead about a month ago before the Vikings inexplicably got hot and came within a game of a stake in the division lead. Now the Bears, having clinched the division in their second-to-last game, head to Minnesota for a contest that, technically, doesn't matter.

The similarities are there.

Now, completing a sweet sweep of the division would be great and all, but staying injury free is the most important thing. (i.e., REX GROSSMAN IS NOT TO BE TOUCHED!) The defense would like to hold onto its overall No. 1 ranking, which is an honorable goal, as well as give up less total points that the 1985 Bears, which would be amazing.

So maybe former first-round pick Michael Haynes can come off the bench and help make that happen. Maybe Cedric Benson can get a few carries to test out his knee. And maybe Kyle Orton throws like a mofo in a backup role.

Oh, and Mike Brown and Chris Harris should be pampered. At all costs! No, I'm not being gay. I'm being serious. PAMPERED! The news has been positive for both on the injury front, so let's keep it that way. We all saw what the two starting safeties mean when they missed the dreadful Steelers game. They mean a lot. So let's keep them unhobbled.

The pick? Bears 17 Vikings 10

**********

Speaking of Minnesota, I thought this was funny: ESPN ran a poll on what people thought of the White Sox signing Jon Garland to an extension and looking at this map, it appears Minnesota is the only state in the nation that thinks it was a bad idea.

Twins fans. Figures. Next thing you'll tell me is that they voted Jesse Ventura in as governor.

**********



Look, I don't know how you feel on the over/under of 74.5 for the Sun Bowl today, but bet the house on the over. Northwestern and UCLA both love to run and gun and both look at defense as that other thing that goes on while the offense gets a breather.

Randy Walker has done a highly underrated job keeping the Wildcats relevant after Gary Barnett's miracle job raising them from the dead in 1995. The only thing Walker doesn't have, nor the Wildcats program ever, is a bowl win. Maybe that changes today in El Paso. It would be cool.

Brett Basanez is probably the best quarterback you've never heard of.

Northwestern was clobbered by another Pac 10 team in Arizona State, but Arizona State barely beat Rutgers, which lost to Ron Zook and Illinois, which in the grand scheme of things means that this is a winnable game for the Wildcats.

The pick? Northwestern 76 UCLA 72

**********



Brady Quinn announced that he will return for his senior year at Notre Dame and I'd like to think this a new trend. Whether it's college football or basketball, the Unknown Column likes to see the kids choosing the classroom and getting an edumacation and shit.

And I get bored with all the yahoos who cry about how you only have to be 18 to vote or join the army or have sex so why can't athletes turn pro? Wah, wah, wah. Shut up.

The bottom line is that the more players stay in school for longer periods of time, the better it is for both the college game as well as the professional leagues. (NBA, NFL.) And the professional leagues can do whatever they want. And there's nothing wrong with some learning. End of story.

That's not to say that every college athlete who sticks around for a while will score Alyssa Milano and appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated's "Best of 2005" issue a la Matt Leinart, but as long as they're not Colorado Buffaloes, in which case a clubbing might be required, I bet most are doing just fine at the dating game.

A.J. Hawk is. Just ask Brady Quinn.

**********

I found this blog and it is quality, especially if you like college football and rap music. The dude is solid and his takes on anything else are humorous as well. You can check him out now for his college bowl previews. Good stuff.

**********

The Unknown Column thinks you should listen to the Distillers. I recently heard that she is marrying the dude from Queens of the Stone Age and it was a sad, sad day.



Speaking of which, has Bush been fired yet? Impeached? I thought the spies like us thing was the NEXT BIG THING to gather the dogs and hunt him down. Was it just another ruse to infuriate anyone with common sense?

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Hilarious

HILARIOUS, PART 1



HILARIOUS, PART 2



Click on the Clinton Portis interview. Portis is officially one of my all-time favorite players. His weekly characters are so much better than any touchdown celebration I have seen.

"...dropping down to planet earth anyday now."

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Jon Garland Signs



The White Sox feel good story continues, and the Unknown Column doesn't want it to end. He could definitely get used to this, this whole doing-it-right thing.

The Sox continued to follow up their World Series title with an agressive offseason on Wednesday by inking Jon Garland to a three-year, $29 million contract extension. This now means that Jose Contreras is the only Sox starter not signed past this upcoming season. And this, of course, means options.

As everyone knows, pitching wins. Period. And the Pale Hose now have six legit starters in Garland, Contreras, Mark Buehrle, Freddy Garcia, Javier Vasquez, and the Kid, Brandon McCarthy. I love it.

Of course, there is talk that Contreras could be used as trade bait, possibly to acquire the Orioles Miguel Tejada, a prospect that surely has many Sox fans creaming their pants. I'd be a little worried about a guy who left a solid organization (the A's) for more money with a doormat (the Orioles) and then complained about the losing (Duh!), but then again, if I played for an organization that gave paychecks to Sammy Sosa and Rafael Palmeiro at the same time I'd probably have some issues with the situation as well.

Personally, I have no problem with continuing talks with Contreras and heading to spring training with six starters. Juan Uribe is an underrate shortstop, and starting pitching is the Holy Grail. You can never, ever have too much starting pitching. McCarthy would assumedly be the odd man out of the rotation, but he's only 22 and still skinnier than Nicole Richie on an all-cocaine diet. He has plenty of time to develop his game as well as add some muscle, and maybe even grow some facial hair. Maybe he could get some work in relief, and if his starts down the stretch of last season were any indication, he would be a more than solid addition to the bullpen. He'd also be handy for some spot starts, if necessary. Besides, I like the idea of McCarthy simmering to a boil, just chomping at the bit to get his chance. And when it comes, he'll be ready. There is no need to rush a young starting pitcher, as Kerry Wood and Mark Prior have taught us here in Chitown.

Meanwhile, Garland echoed the sentiments of Paul Konerko when he resigned. Just as Konerko followed his heart and turned down more money from the Orioles and the prospect of playing near his home with the Angels, Garland did likewise. Oh, Garland is being paid handsomely, but he could have waited until after the 2006 season to become a free agent and possibly earn a major payday and more years. But he says he wasn't interested in that. He says his heart told him he's right where he wants to be, so a few extra mil isn't everything. Class. Pure class. I don't know when or how it happened, but somewhere, somehow the Sox have become a beacon of light in a sports world littered with greed and me, me, me and now, now, now. Suddenly, the Sox are a franchise that does things the right way, which will breed more success, which will breed more success, which will...

Money isn't everything, as the White Sox seem to be learning by actually spending it.

And winning and, more importantly, happiness are invaluable, as Konerko and Garland have taught us.

Loyalty and common sense aren't dead after all, no matter how many carpetbagging, wife-cheating jackholes like Johhny Damon continue to sprout up.

Meanwhile, let's not forget that Garland is only scratching at the door of his prime. He's 26 and coming off his best season with 18 wins. Sure, he spent many a day in the doghouse of Sox fans in his early years, many wondering if he would ever become the real deal, but he was a young guy who spent his early 20's firmly entrenched in the starting rotation, inexperienced and unpolished. He struggled, but what did fans expect? Some of the greatest pitches didn't begin to reach their potential until they approached their 30th birthday. We may have only seen the beginning as far as Garland's career is concerned.

Like I said following the Konerko signing, I love that the White Sox have seemingly figured out how to do things the right way. Gone, hopefully, are the days when Jerry Reinsdorf was a notoriously cheap curmudgeon who once, in the ultimate chicken vs. the egg argument, told Sox fans he couldn't spend money until they packed the Cell and gone, hopefully, are the days when the Sox were essentially a non-player in the endless game that is off-season baseball. Apparently, Reinsdorf, after all these years, has finally realized that you need to spend money to make money and, hey, it can be fun. Meanwhile, Kenny Williams remains a wheeler and dealer, a quality I have always admired in him even before the World Series ring, and even as moves like Billy Koch and David Wells were blowing up. I'd be lying if I said I wasn't critical of Williams at the time - what Sox fan wasn't? - but I can say with all honesty that his reluctance to ever stand pat has always, always earned my highest praise.

I wonder how much of an effect the relentless enthusiasm of Williams, not to mention that of Ozzie Guillen, has had on Reinsdorf. Williams and Ozzie must make him feel young again. Who knows?

All the Unknown Column does know is that slowly but surely the pieces for a run at a repeat are being set in place, and the starting roatation is being attended to.

And it's all about starting pitching.

Seasons Greetings From...

...Mike Tyson.

I'll always love Tyson, no matter how many insane things he does or says.

Sixth Seed or Bust!



OK, last week at this time I was wondering when the Bulls were going to pick it up a notch, shoot up the standings, and claim their rightful place atop the Eastern Conference.

Today, I'm reevaluating.

Today, I'm setting a new goal for the Bulls to shoot for: the sixth seed in the East.

While I may have previously been in denial about how good this year's team could be, the current four-game losing streak heading into tonight's game in Charlotte has shown the Bulls are clearly missing something, namely a strong inside presence and a go-to guy. Tyson Chandler continues to struggle (though he showed glimpses of his former self with his 15-point effort on Monday in Cleveland) and all too often the Bulls rely on an assortment of long jumpers from a variety of players when someone who can take the ball to the basket and get to the free throw line would be preferable.

Never, ever rely on jumpers. Ever. No matter what Rick Pitino says.

As much as I dislike looking at the standings and seeing the Bulls in last place, I'm remaining positive for three reasons:

1) The Bulls are still incredibly young. It's easy to forget after last year's surprising run to 47 wins. Luol Deng, Ben Gordon, Andres Nocioni, and Chris Duhon are only in their second seasons. Kirk Hinrich and Chandler aren't much more experienced.

2) After hosing Isiah Thomas (who hasn't?) in the Eddy Curry deal, the Bulls now have plenty of cap space to work with, not to mention 71 Knicks draft picks. There is definitely a sense that, provided John Paxson makes smart moves, and his run thus far as GM suggests he will, the Bulls are on the verge. Look, the current team is a team in transition, hovering somewhere between "young group hanging on in playoff picture" and "legitimate contender". Though this year's Bulls may have had to take a step back after Pax was handcuffed by the unique Curry situation, he has managed to work it out so that he has plenty of room to maneuver and plenty of options. The table is being set.

3) As I mentioned earlier, and most importantly, the Bulls should set a modest goal for themselves of earning the sixth seed. I have tempered my hopes of them getting hot and storming up the Central division standings. Assuming the Pistons and Heat claim the top two seeds, which is inevitable, earning the sixth seed would earn the Bulls a first-round playoff matchup opposite the winner of the Eastern division, most likely the Nets or Sixers, either of which, conceivably, could be beaten in a seven-game series. Conceivably.

For starters, however, the Bulls should worry themsleves simply with beating struggling, Emeka Okafor-less Charlotte tonight after beaing embarrassed by the Bobcats at home last week.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Morrison and Memphis



So I eagerly anticipated last night's Gonzaga-Memphis game. I had only previously seen Adam Morrsion in small doses, but now that his mustache is undergoing a world takeover, I was anxious to fully see what the buzz is all about.

And as much as I enjoyed Morrison's mustache - and it was quite the genius move by Morrison - I came away more impressed with Memphis, namely the Tigers' defense.

Morrison was about as good as advertised. For the first thirty minutes of play, he was about as good as it gets, in fact, compiling 34 points by that point. He started the game mildly hot, but after a scuffle roughly midway through the first half, he went nutty. He was on fire and clearly pissed off. I like that. All the great ones, no matter how nice, have that mean streak, that desire to destroy someone and make them look bad in the process. Larry Bird had it. In fact, I'd bet that most every white guy Morrison has been, and will continue to be, inevitably compared to, had it.

It.

Whatever. Morrison can ball.

But that's what made Morrison going scoreless over the final ten minutes so impresssive in regards to the lockdown defense Memphis can play when so moved. The Tigers did the exact same thing to J.J. Redick for the entire second half in the Garden. Shut him down. No questions asked. That'll win you some ballgames.

If Memphis keeps playing defense like that while somehow avoiding scandals/probabtion until the end of the season - and that's a big if - the Tigers could be the real deal.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Guzan All Growns Up



The Unknown Column would like to give a belated congrats to Brad Guzan. Earlier this week Guzan was named to the pool of players invited to the United States camp in January when the team will begin preparing for the World Cup and cutting down the roster.

It's a longshot that Guzan, a local product who went to Providence High School, will make the team. After all, he's only 21 and the goalkeepers ahead of him will be tough to beat out this time around. But it's nice to see that Guzan is earning national team recognition at such a young age. Four years from now, he could be the guy. Who knows?

It was only three years ago that I saw Guzan play a few times in high school. He played in the field, actually, and was always by far the most dominant player in any game. Forward. Midfield. Sweeper. He played wherever needed depending on the situation. He's also huge. The Providence football team is one of the most successful and decorated in the state, and Guzan would have been one of the biggest players on the team had he played with the pigskin instead, and I'm sure he was aked. I'm guessing he would have been a middle linebacker. He's that big and that fast. An incredible physical specimen.

In a state semifinal in his senior year, Guzan scored his team's lone goal in a 1-1 tie and then switched to goalkeeper for the shootout and won the game. He was that kind of good.

This past season in MLS Guzan had a rough go of it while playing for expansion team Chivas. It was a sink or swim situation and he did in his first year what he could for a team that finished with the worst record in the league. Yet apparently, Bruce Arena and the U.S. coaching staff saw enough in the kid to decide to give him a look in January.

It's good to see Guzan representing.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Sad



Tony Dungy's son, James, only 18, has been found dead, an apparent suicide.

WTF?

What an odd situation Tony Dungy is in. Last week at this time he was wondering if the Colts had the stones to go undefeated and reach NFL immortality. Today he mourns the loss of his son. This is arguably the worst emotional pain a person can go through, at least I would imagine.

I don't know what this is about.

From a purely football standpoint - sorry - it's interesting that the Colts first playoff game will likely be against the Patriots. What if Dungy was to lose that game? What if Peyton Manning chokes again? It could be one of the saddest, most abrupt endings to a story ever.

Or perhaps the Colts will be stronger than before.

Here's hoping the Colts earn Dungy an emotional win this weekend. It's Christmastime and he will need it. And I'm not just saying this because the Bears can still mathematically win homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. O.K., I'm lying, but in all seriousness, I will be rooting for a Manning for the first (and only) time.

Gut Check



I don't want to call tonight's Bulls game against the Cavs a must-win situation. There is plenty of season left to play and the fate of neither team will be rocked by the outcome.

However, I would like to say that tonight's game is a checkpoint. Big time.

The Bulls are in the toughest division in the NBA, a division that will likely provide five of the Eastern Conference's eight playoff teams. Thus far, the Bulls have played just two games against division opponents, and got pummelled both times, home and away to the Pistons. As distressing as those losses were, they were understandable. The Pistons are on top of the world right now, and much like with Jordan's Bulls, are a juggernaut that must eventually be toppled.

If the Bulls hope to distance themselves from the .500 mark they have have been hovering around for weeks, they will need to beat Indiana, Cleveland, and Milwaukee, teams they will see several times this season. That starts tonight. An identity within the division needs to be hammered out, and hopefully it won't contine to be as cellar dwellars (albeit with a non-losing record).

The Bulls also need to do a better job of taking care of business at home, where they have a very disappointing 5-6 record. That's unacceptable. It's a genuine mystery why the Bulls seem to play better on the road. I have heard rush hour mentioned as a possibilty. Really? Rush hour? Sounds more like an excuse.

Most importantly, the Bulls need a strong effort following Tuesday's loss at home to Charlotte in what was probably the Bulls poorest effort of the season, full of turnovers, lacksadaisical defense, and a general malaise. One thing the Bulls have been decent at this season is beating the teams they're supposed to beat (i.e., the Bobcats of the world) and that's what made the loss so disappointing. Another thing the Bulls have been good at under Scott Skiles is always playing with the grit and intensity that marked Skiles as a player. That was missing on Tuesday, and this is alarming.

So like I said, it's too early to speak of must-win games, but taking care of business at the UC tonight against the Cavs would go a long way to calm the nerves of Bulls fans who fear the current mediocrity will continue.

**********



So I was reading this article by Paul Ayars of the Lincoln Courier, the gist of the article being that this year's Illinois team is better than last year's. My immediate reaction was to jones for whatever Ayars is smoking. He obviously has the good stuff.

And clearly, downstate Illini fans are easily excited. Go figure.

Last year's Illini team rolled into March without a loss, flirted with an undefeated season, and came within five points (and Sean May's fatass) of true immortality. They were a team for the ages, not to mention that Deron Williams and Luther Head have both moved on the the NBA where both have been relatively impressive.

However, Ayars may actually have a point in a roundabout way.

Look, this year's Illini are nothing to sneeze at. After an 82-50 beatdown of normally tough Missouri last night, they're 12-0 and climbing the rankings, currently No.6. They're positioning themselves nicely.

Bottom line is, the Illini are national title contenders. It's not out of the realm of possibilities. No matter how successful or magical last year's team was, this year's Illini can accomplish something last year's didn't. They can win a national title. Yes, they can get back to the title game and win it this time. Hey, why not? They have a senior leader on the perimeter (Dee Brown), a senior leader inside (James Augustine), and a bevy of supporting players eager to play their roles and improve. As Ayars mentions, this year's team has depth, which was probably the achilles heel of last year's team, if there was one.

This is not to say that the Illini are the best team in the nation (they're not), nor is to say that the Big Ten season won't be rough (it will), nor that the Illini should be considered a favorite (they shouldn't).

All I'm saying is that there are some good teams out there, but none that look unbeatable.

Strange things happen.

Provided the Illini continue to improve, play tough defense, and avoid injuries, a return to the title game could happen, and that possibility might not be as unlikely as it would first appear.

**********

UIC lost last night at Syracuse, 75-61. Oh, well. The Flames can take some solace in the fact that they didn't embarrass themselves, trailing only 32-30 at the half. Moral victories and all that.

**********

DePaul is a tough team to figure. After following up last week's impressive win at Wake Forest with a 44-point loss at Old Dominion - yes, 44 points - the Blue Demons rebounded to win at California last night.

Monday, December 19, 2005

A Glimpse



Things just got a whole bunch of interesting.

The Bears beat up on the Falcons, 16-3. It was as cold as a witch's tit. (What does that mean?) The defense was at its, oh, so fun best, hounding Michael Vick back to his coat on the sideline and trying to knock out anyone who looked like they might slightly support the Falcons' cause. Thus, a win over the Packers on Christmas day will wrap up the division for the Bears, and what Christmas gift could be finer?

Oh, and Rex Grossman played.

In case you missed it. Ha!

Yeah, Grossman opened the second half and suddenly everything flashed into fast forward and the Bears had - gasp!- a passing game. It was futuristic and very weird. The spaceship that has supposedly landed on top of the original Soldiers Field's ancient columns started its engines and took off. It was like that. On his first play, Grossman hit Mushin Muhammad for a big gain and every frozen mofo in the joint knew they were seeing what they were supposed to see when this season started. This was the big plan before it blew up and Kyle Orton was suddenly put in charge a running an offense set on auto pilot.

Even Muhammad must have been happy.

After one particularly dreadful three-and-out early in the game, Muhammad got in Orton's face and, uh, expressed his concerns with the offense. It wasn't pretty. Olin Krutez - Mr. FBI Gave Me A Gun! - had to get in the middle. Wide receivers are usually never happy and Muhammad clearly wasn't. At that point, there was no use even pretending anymore that Grossman wasn't hanging out on the sideline just waiting for his chance. Grossman was ready and he had said so. In fact, as he walked off the field after the win he told NBC's Peggy Kuzinski he was motivated by being a "little pissed off", referring to being the backup when he returned from injury. He wasn't holding back. It was complete honesty, and that's good.

The Unknown Column had some reservations with the way Grossman had openly told reporters prior to the game that he thought he should be playing. It seemed a tad presumptous to expect playing time for a team that had compiled a 9-4 record without him.

But the Unkown Column can always handle a little talkin' shit as long as it's backed up.

Grossman backed it up.

We cool.



Grossman was so happy that he did his postgame press conference with his shoulder pads still on. And a huge smile on his face. There was no time to remove either just yet. It can't have been easy for Grossman sitting on the bench and feeling like he only lost the job to injury. Any gunslinger worth his salt (what does that mean?) should feel like he should be the guy. Now, basking in the glow of his rise back to the starter's role, Grossman was wearing the grin of a man who knows he has a nasty defense and a hot, hott, hottt wife.

So now Grossman feels great. We all do. We got a glimpse of what it's like on the other side, that strange, wondrous land where offenses move the ball. No, it's not a myth. If anything, Grossman provides hope. Hope for what? For the Bears someday - preferably NOW! - running an offense that isn't one of the most pathetic in the league. You have to start somewhere.

And with Bernard Berrian proving to be a straight-up player, and Thomas Jones quietly doing his thing, and Muhammad maybe getting thrown to and happy, and Cedric Benson coming back soon, maybe, just maybe, the offense will enter the modern age.

Dare we dream?

Not to be overlooked was the job Brian Urlacher and the crew did. They were told they couldn't stop Vick so they contained him. Very well, I might add. In fact, I would dare say Vick was beat up a bit. Which is cool of course. It was fairly obvious Vick wanted know part of that killer cold, especially after a few of the pops consistently being delivered to him by a Bears defense that could care less about sore ribs. When he walked to the line and called a timeout on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, you couldn't help the feeling that the writing was on the wall. Vick's wounded ribs were probably throbbing, his hands were surely frozen, and he looked out at the Bears defense staring back at him and said, "Fuck this." In so many words.

So now it is onto Green Bay for a Christmas day game against the Packers and a chance for the Bears to wrap up their first division title in four years.

It could be a beautiful Christmas.

**********

Is Nathan Vasher the best cornerback in the game? I'm just asking. He has to be up there.

Alex Brown, like Grossman a Florida alum, also acted like the missing sun and frigid winds were a good time to get something done.

A Pro Bowl without Vasher or Brown would probably be flawed. Lance Briggs, too.

**********

I must say, I'm not a big fan of the Falcons these days. Not the organization in general, but the current team. They're thugs. It started with the pregame fight with the Eagles on the first Monday night game of the season, and I've noticed skirmishes while seeing them play in other games as well. Against the Bears, I lost track of the number of skirmishes between plays. Not to say the Bears are choir boys, but they haven't engaged in such shenanigans all season. The Falcons are always yap, yap, yapping and I won't cry when they end up out, out, out of the playoffs.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Can't Comment



I caught an interview tonight featuring our president and Jim Lehrer, who is an alien, by the way. Where are the whites of his eyes?

And Lehrer asked the dumb son about Robert Novak and Valerie Plame and pretentious people who tell secrets about secrets and lie, when really, we all know it is no big deal what these men bicker about. Ha!

It isn't

The dumb son smirked and coldly mumbled something about not commenting on the case. The prosecutors have advised him not to and he is not going to. No way. Daddy told him it wouldn't be prudent.

For example, he then added all by himself, just earlier this week he commented on "another case" and he got in trouble. People, apparently, wanted to know if DeLay is going to jail, and why yes he should, of course, the filty twisted cheat, but for how how long? Right? Right.

How many cases can our president not comment on?

He is chased by allegations and charges like every good snake should be. He is chased by Law and History. (The books will not be kind, Mr. President.)

I began laughing and missed a sentence or two but checked back just in time to hear the son who wasn't mention "another case in Texas".

Casually mentioned.

I lost track and wasn't laughing anymore and I meant it.

When dead American soldiers are given five seconds apiece on your highest DEAF TV screens, there can never be volume.

The feed went fuzzy at the end of the Star Spangled banner. The connection ran out. Her voice came from north of here.

His legs were always moving. Everytime his legs could be seen they were moving. Supporting the weight of the smirk. Torture. Touch upon torture. This is what you say. You say we can never know what our boys might so. You say we can't see everything. You say what we can't see can't hurt us. You say it.

One time we fought to overcome and we did. It was the birth of an island. It was cold and would someday be a desert. New birds fought to be the oldest.

It's One Loss - Relax



Look, the Bears weren't going to go the remainder of the season undefeated. It would have been nice if it happened, but it didn't, and I'm not going to complain about the eight straight wins that came before the 21-9 loss to the Steelers last Sunday. But be honest, who was really surprised that they lost in Pittsburgh?

In December.

In a driving snowstorm.

With both starting safeties suddenly missing.

With a typical Bears offense...missing.

I'm not saying the humbling wasn't alarming and depressing, but you could see it coming. Every winning streak ends and a driving snowstorm in Pittsburgh with Jerome Bettis picking up speed and demanding the ball is as likely a scenario as any.

That said, I'm not happy with the way the Bears got beat up in a little bit of snow. It reminded me of the game last year when the Texans came to Soldier Field and it was freezing. The talk all week was how it would be 'Bears Weather' and a team from Texas would be overwhelmed. You know, because the Bears were going to be so tough when that violent wind came in off the lake and started reaching the bone.

The Bears were pummelled that day. (Yes, by the Texans.) It got cold and the Bears didn't show up. They were soft. It was alarming as is the loss to the Steelers. If the Bears can't win just because it's frigid out, there really is no point in them trying to secure a bye in the first round and a home game in the second, is there? Someone tell Lovie Smith and Brian Urlacher that they are no longer playing in Texas or New Mexico, respectively. Getting beat up in the cold and snow is no way to go out.

Kyle Orton is the starting quarterback for another week at least, but the loss to the Steelers has changed things a bit. Now that the winning streak is over it no longer remains a preposterous idea to change the quaterback. Orton actually had a decent game in Pittsburgh, at least by his standards, which aren't very high. Let's not mention that a large portion of his passing total came on long back-to-back completions late in the game when the score was already 21-3. But he threw no interceptions and that's the thing. Maybe he stayed sober the night before the game.

Personlly, I'm tired of hearing of the Orton-vs.Rex Grossman debate and so here's my position and I'm done with it: If whoever is in there plays well, it'll all be good. And he can have the job for as long as he can keep it. See? This isn't difficult.

For the defense, hopefully, getting run over by the Steelers (literally) served as a wake up call that they can be exposed. You tend to forget that when you have been so dominant for so long. Now they get Michael Vick, who though wounded, provides another interesting test. (Saying 'Vick' and 'test' in the same sentence will always make me laugh.)

Elsewhere in the always entertaining NFC North, the Vikings are busy orchestrating one of the more fraudulent six-game winning streaks you'll ever see. They've beaten the Lions, Giants, Packers, Browns and Rams. In the only win listed there against a winning team - the Giants - the Vikings didn't score an offensive touchdown. Even Koren Robinson has been playing well, and he's probably drunk. Right now.

Still, the Vikes are making me nervous. Sure, shots of Mike Tice looking like he's wondering how the refridgerator light goes off always make me feel better, but a Steelers win in the Metrodome would do wonders for the big picture.

Fans of the always comical Lions, meanwhile, will be attending this week's home game in the colors of the visiting Bengals. Organized rebellion, or someting like that. I don't buy it. I can't imagine ever intentionally attending a Bears game in another team's colors. Under no circumstances. Well, unless I was drugged or a really hot chick was involved. Actually, it would take both.

On the other hand, Lions management will certainly get the message, not that it cares probably. However, Ford Field better be all orange. If not, it's just another half-assed Lions debacle.

Word on the street says Darryl Rogers will be the next Lions coach.

Anyway, if Orton shows up to the Falcons game sober I have a good feeling about this week.

The pick? Bears 16 Falcons 13.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Giant Killers?



The Unknown Column has gotta give a shout out to his boys: UIC, the giant killers.

Giant killers? Yeah, maybe that's a stretch, but after winning at Northwestern last night, 71-62, the Flames (THE FLAMES! NOT THE FLAMERS!) have now scored wins this season over teams from the ACC (Georgia Tech), the SEC, (Mississippi) and the Big Ten. (Yes, Northwestern technically counts as a Big Ten team. Stop being a wiseguy.)

On December 21 the Flames will get a shot at Syracuse in the Orange Dome.

Rack 'em up! Here we come! The Flames are the new Gonzaga of college basketball. I can feel it. Hey, why not? Call me crazy, but the Pavilion could be a palace. Someday. I love the parquet floor. I love the two decks. It looks big time. Sort of. I love everything about it.

Now I'd like to see it packed.

Justin Bowen. Josh Mayo. Elliott Poole. Othyus Jeffers.

Remember the names.

Rock On



The booze. The beard. The broad.

The all-important shades.

Kyle Orton knows how to roll and once again the pictures are there to prove it. I bet that's Jack Daniels in that glass. Right on. Runnin' with the devil.

I must admit, the more pictures that pop up of Orton partying, especially if he's wearing sunglass and sporting a chick on his shoulder, the more points I'm giving him in the always crazy Orton-vs.-Grossman debate.

Then again, Grossman has a hot, hott, hottt wife.

It's a dead heat.

**********



Meanwhile, Kirk Hinrich has also been out and about and pulling the "Do you know who I am?" line on the chiquitas. Some might may say this is wrong. Hogwash.

If I'm a celebrity, and I'm in state of emergency (so to speak), I just might pull out the "Do you know I am?" line. Maybe. I'm not saying it would be my first or favorite plan of attack, but I'd consider it. It'd be in my repertoire. Hey, it can get rough out there.

If Hinrich keeps hitting shots in the fourth quarter like he has of late, I think he'll be known by more than plenty of fish in the sea.

**********

Tyson Chandler left last night's win over the Raptors with a sprained knee. Can a guy's season go any worse?

The Bulls need the Chandler from last season. The Chandler who flexed, celebrated, and howled to the heavens. The Chandler who got everyone jazzed up and ready to roll. The heart and the soul.

Remember DePaul?

Why is There No Annual DePaul-Illinois Game?



On Tuesday night DePaul won at Wake Forest, 84-81. It was a huge, huge win for a young, mysterious team and a new coach, Jerry Wainright. The game was televised on ESPN against a perennial power in the 16th-ranked Demon Deacons.

So it was quite a statement by the Blue Demons.

In fact, at one point late in the game Rick Majerus said, "Wake Forest is in a world of hurt right now." And it was true. It was practically a whooping as the Demons led virtually the entire second half, including by as many as 11 with less than three minutes left.

Whooping.

And it was the first time I saw them play this season.

That's a shame. I don't know if all Demons games are even televised anymore. Granted, my cable provider dropped the local FOX sports station when it picked up the local Comcast sports station, so maybe I missed some games on FOX. I don't know. All I do know is that the win over Wake Forest was the first time I've seen them this season.

There used to be a time when the Blue Demons played on WGN, their games reaching points all across the nation a la White Sox and especially Cubs games today. The Allstate Arena (or Rosemont Horizon as it used to be called) would routinely sell out and be raucous. And anyone who says the Allstate Arena is an old, decrepid arena is flat wrong. It may not be the nicest joint in the world anymore, but when that place is filled to the rafters, it rocks.

More importantly, the Demons used to be good. Real good. Nationally-renowned good. They used to be a major story here in Chicago. They were exciting and fresh. Big time.

Today? Not so much.

How quiet have the Demons become? Well, in the dying seconds of last night's win, Rick Majerus, who knows a thing or two about college basketball in the midwest, chuckled and mentioned that neither the Sun-Times nor the Trib sent a writer to cover the game. He sounded flabbergasted and shocked. He remembers the old days when the Demons were a big deal in Chitown. Now, aside from the fact that it's apalling that neither paper was smart enough to send a writer to cover a primetime game on ESPN, Majerus was referring to how much things have changed.

The Demons are no longer the show they used to be, or could be again. And they could be.

Meanwhile, every Illinois game is televised and the Illini are given the red carpet treatment by the local media. Which is fine. Illinois has earned it by becoming one of the most successful programs in the nation, year in, year out. I'm not taking anything away from the Illini. But I'd like to see DePaul reclaim its spot back in the pantheon.

Actually, what I'd love to see is an annual game between DePaul and Illinois. It could take place around this time of year - Christmas time - in the United Center. It could be beautiful, half of the UC packed with orange, the other half with blue and red. (Actually, the orange-clad Illini fans would probably be more abundant. Those mofos travel. Did you see that large orange section in the crowd when the Illini played Oregon in Portland last week? Impressive.)

Maybe some sort of charity could become attached to the game. (Work with me here, people.)

An annual DePaul-Illinois showdown is a no-brainer. It could become a game that stirs up emotion and excitement and gets the United Center shaking. So why hasn't it happend?

I don't know. I suppose one side or the other (or both) doesn't want to risk losing area bragging rights, and thus possibly recruits as well. And if that's the case, that's pure chickenshit.

So let's make it happen.

As for the game last night, the Demons may be better than most people expected. They have some nice players, namely Sammy Mejia, who was a contributor as a freshman on the 2004 team that reached the second round of the NCAA tournament. Now Mejia is a junior and team leader, and possibly a budding star.

Draelon Burns is cool as ice.

Wesley Green is big, real big. And wide. He's like Eddy Curry, but with a more pizzazz. (Did I actually just use the word pizzazz?)

The Demons have now won three in a row over UAB, at Dayton, and at Wake Forest. All credible wins. Perhaps Wainright will have them ready to surprise some folks in their innaugural Big East season. Who knows? They're athletic and fairly big and they play hard-nosed defense. Not a bad formula.

Maybe the Demons will do something to make Chicago (the nation?) stand up and take notice. It could happen. It's happened before.

And maybe here in Chicago we'll get more DePaul games on the telly. That would be a start.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Gonna Be Rough







I guess you could look at it this way: It could be worse.

The groups were drawn on Friday for the World Cup, and the United States wasn't given any favors. We've been drawn into arguably the toughest group with Italy, the Czech Republic, and Ghana. For those keeping track at home, that's two upper tier teams from Europe and one of those unknown African nations that often cause so much noise.

I hope to have a more comprehensive rundown soon, but here's my immediate thoughts on our first round opponents...

Italy: The Italians are always going to be among the favorites. Always. Always a threat to go all the way to the final. If they've had a weakness in the past, it's been slow starts in the group stage. They've barely scraped through to the knockout stages on more than one occasion. Perhaps they can be caught napping, or held to a tie.

Czech Republic: Back in 1990 when the United States played in the World Cup for the first time since the prehistoric ages, our first opponent was Czechoslovakia (as it was known then). American soccer fans were all giddy about finally reaching the promised land. We were there. We were in the show. At long last. Then we promptly got pummelled by the Czechs, 5-1. It was quite a welcome back and a kick in the face. So it's interesting that 16 years later we can see the progress made. Then we were like peasants being tossed to the lions, and there was nothing John Harkes' mullet was going to do about it. Now? Now this is a winnable game. Pavel Nedved may be past his prime, and if so, the Czechs might not be the same team that was so fun to watch at EURO 2004.

Ghana: Don't let the fact that this is Ghana's first appearance in a World Cup fool you. The Black Stars have been one of Africa's better teams for a long time now and have enjoyed success in the African Nations Cup and the Olympics, as well as at the youth World Cups. For whatever reason, they've always stumbled in World Cup qualifying, though. Until now. And with players like Michael Essien and and Steven Appiah, Ghana could be a nice sleeper pick. Think Senegal in '02. (Whatver happened to Abedi Pele?)

Get Off Orton's Back



Can Kyle Orton please catch a break?

All the guy has done is go 9-3 as a starter and what does he get? Not only are the Chicago media members doing their best to pour as much gasoline as possible all over the Orton vs. Rex Grossman fire, but even his own teammates are getting chippy.

Why is Grossman saying he could have passed for more than 60 yards last Sunday against the Packers?

Why is Mushin Muhammade saying he watched the film and feels he played a great game even though he didn't catch a pass?

Thisworries the Unknown Column.

Whatever happened to the theory that you never, ever throw a teammate under the bus, especially when things are going well?

Meanwhile, fans are clamoring for Grossman. Of course they are.

Look, Orton has struggled in the passing game. No doubt. And, sure, Bears fans must get sick of hearing "Yeah, but he manages games well" when yards through the air are virtually nonexistent.

But now is not the time to jump down the throat of the starting quarterback when the team is 9-3. Sure, there may be a time in the future when a change must be made, and maybe that time is soon.

But that time is not when the Bears are on an eight-game winning streak.

I feel sorry for Orton, seeing him standing at the podium during press conferences after his teammates and coaches question his ability with thinly-veiled comments and him having to answer question after question on the same topic, most of which are something to the effect of, "Kyle, you're awful. What do you have to say about that?"

Leave the guy alone.

I'm guessing Orton has his best passing game of the season in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Just a hunch.

The pick? Bears 20, Steelers 10

Thursday, December 08, 2005

So Long, Frank



I have watched a lot of sports in my life. Too much sports. If I could have all the hours back that I've spent watching sports...

Well, there's no use in talking about that. That might get embarrassing.

And in all that television viewing, and in all those games attended in person, there is only one athlete who I can recall seeing for the very first time: Frank Thomas.

The Big Hurt.

It was in Cal's, a South Side greasy fast food joint that isn't there anymore. It had great gyros, a flat Ms. Pac Man and a TV in the corner. 1990. The White Sox were on the telly. Thomas had just debuted in a Sox uniform a few days before and the buzz was hard to miss. People were talking. They were excited. "Have you seen this Thomas kid? Holy bejeezus!" This was it. This was the superstar the South Side had been waiting for. Thomas was the real deal and everyone knew it, or at least they were hoping, daring to think it. I hadn't seen him yet, but I already knew all about the big kid who couldn't miss.

Then I saw Thomas on that telly and he was...a baseball god. OK, maybe that's a stretch, but he was impressive and original. He was massive, menacing. I stared wide-eyed with an open mouth of unchewed food. I was in awe. The announcers said something about him playing tight end at Auburn and I thought, "Tight end? He's too big to be a tight end!" He glared toward the pitcher like he had been in that batter's box a thousand times before. He appeared pissed off and not to be messed with. His sheer size was a precursor to all the roided-up clowns who would dirty baseball later in the decade. He was the blueprint, the model. Other players saw the Big Hurt and asked, "How can I look like that?" He made hitting a baseball look like swinging a skateboard to hit a golf ball.

I don't even recall what Thomas did in that first at-bat I witnessed while sitting at Cal's, but it didn't matter. I had seen the future and he was huge and downright scary and, best of all, he was in a Sox uniform. He was ours.

I cannot remember the very first time I saw any other athlete.

Now, after seventeen years with the club, Thomas is officially no longer a member of the Sox, who have declined to offer arbitration, which is a not-so-complicated way of saying, "Thanks for the memories. Adios." So the Frank Thomas era is over. Era. It's not often you can say that about a player, especially when talking in terms of all-time bests. Who was a better White Sox player? And how many players have their own eras? Few stars, especially in this day and age of endless offseason traffic, ever get to singlehandedly define an era of a franchise, for better or worse, the way Thomas did. Few ever will again.

Thomas first arrived on the scene in the late summer of 1990. The following spring - Thomas' true rookie year - the Sox would ditch the red and blue uniforms of the mixed 1980's and first don their current silver and black. They would also move out of the old Comiskey Park and into the Cell. Things were changing in a big way. The future was arriving.

New colors. New stadium.

And Frank Thomas. Back in black.

Let the 1990's begin.

And they did. And it was good. Almost instantly, Thomas was winning MVPs and the Sox, at long last, were serious contenders. In 1993 Thomas and the Sox lost the ALCS in six games to the Toronto Blue Jays, one of the most underrated teams of all time on its way to a second consective title. It was a heartbreak, but lessons were learned for the future, or at least that was the hope.

It was never to be found out.

In 1994 the Sox woulda, shoulda, coulda won the World Series. That was the team, man. The team. They were going to do it. They had the best young hitter in baseball in Thomas and a young pitching staff just reaching its prime. Alas, we all know how that ended. There was to be no World Series won that year, and no World Series at all.

Of course, eleven years later the Thomas era culminated with a White Sox World Series title. This cannot be stated enough.

The Frank Thomas era ended on top of the mountain.

Only thing was, Thomas also had an innate and graceless flair for alienating Sox fans with unfortunate ease. It was practically a gift. Few players could be grumpy and childish and me, me, me quite like the Big Hurt, whose feelings were so easily hurt. Always hurt. To be blunt, he could be a big baby. Nothing was ever good enough, or fair. He had no reason to be happy. Someone was always out to get him. By the turn of the century, seemingly every Sox spring training officially began when Thomas arrived, possibly late, and aired his grievances concerning his contract, his status in the clubhouse, and whatever else he felt like getting off his chest at that moment. It was an entire offseason of brooding being spilled out to the pens of the listening media. He's here. Everyone gather around and listen to what Frank wants to groan about this year. It was Frank time and it was ugly.

And maddening.

It got old.

Sadly, somewhere along the line Thomas crossed a line.

Athletes, especially athletes as dominant as Thomas, are forgiven their indiscretions as easily as anyone in modern society. So maybe the first time Thomas acted like a sullen kid who had his candy taken away, you could write it off. Maybe the second time as well. After all, he was the face of the Sox and those stats. Oh, those stats. And come on, it's Frank!

But somewhere there is a line and Thomas crossed it. For a guy who could have owned the city of Chicago in a way perhaps only names like Jordan, Payton, and Ditka did before him, Thomas was often forgotten. He was the big brute on the South Side who was always upset about something. Leave him be. Forget about him. It's just Frank being Frank. He was one of the best hitters of his time, yet even to his own fans he was often thought of as just another whiny athlete with a big mouth and a bad attitude, or worse, a guy whose time here had run out, a guy who needed to be dealt. After all, before the 2005 season, the Sox, despite having one of the most feared lineups in baseball for several years, routinely finished in second place. A poor team attitude was often cited as the culprit. A cold clubhouse.

And often, Thomas was blamed.

Thomas never became the hero he was made to be.

Unsurprisingly, he has been grumbling this very week about the way it has ended here. He's got a problem with it. Frank being Frank.

And so it is that the Cubs' signing of Juan Pierre has received much bigger billing in the news the last couple of days. And that's sad, really. Thomas' time with the Sox has come to an end with a whimper, not a bang. But that's the exit he created. Not the media. Not the Sox. Not the fans.

Thomas walked the distance that now separates him from true adoration all by himself. Nobody pushed him.

Ironically, Thomas is being replaced by Jim Thome, another aging slugger just hoping to get healthy again. Something seems wrong with that picture, at least at first glance. I mean, if you want an old slugger with possible aches and pains, why not keep Thomas? After all, in his limited action this past season, he was still downright scary at the plate, even if his wobbly wheels barely allowed him to move.

But when you look at the picture again, it makes sense. Quite simply, it was time for the big guy to go. The Thomas era had ended long before the clock struck midnight on Thursday morning and made it official. Everyone knew that another season of wondering where Thomas fit in wouldn't be good for anyone, or much fun. Sometimes a clean break is best. Everything comes to an end.

Bridges weren't burned necessarily, but I'd be careful crossing them.

All in all, I'll say this: Thomas was one of the greatest hitters in the game for a long time, and still may be. As far as we can tell, he's always been clean, a noble accomplishment in and of itself in this filthy era of liars and cheats. Most importantly, the Sox won more than they lost during the Thomas era and the last time he sat in a Pale Hose dugout he witnessed the winning side of a World Series.

We all did.

And all season long, as Thomas watched his team win big without him, he never seemed to complain or ask, "Why me? Why now?" Instead he seemed to have a ready smile and some words of encouragement for his younger teammates who, for the first time in a nearly two decades, didn't need him.

You know it had to be killing him.

It was no longer his show and he had to accept that. What else could he do? So he did. There can be some peace found in this, both for Thomas as well as Sox fans. Maybe a World Series ring heals all scars and bad feelings. Maybe it means we'll look back at Thomas and remember mostly the good times and smile as any ugliness fades from our memories. I think it will.

And to true Sox fans, he'll never be known as Thomas or even the Big Hurt.

No, to true Sox fans, he'll always be Frank. Just Frank. He was always just Frank. First name only. It was almost like we knew him, and we did. Sort of. Through good times and bad.

So long, Frank. And see you soon.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Favre Abused, Roethlisberger Next?



Eleven.

Eleven straight times Brett Favre had beaten the Bears before this past Sunday. Eleven! Who loses to the same team eleven straight times at home? That's ludicrous.

If there was a single player in the NFL who deserved a giant kick in the ass before a Soldier Field crowd, it was Favre.

Yes, Favre had it coming, and you knew going in that he's looking old and done, and that the streak would have to end eventually, so the chances of exactly that happening were favorable. But that wouldn't have been good enough. No, only a merciless, ruthless beatdown would have satisfied the occasion, perhaps something involving an ambulance.

Consider the Unknown Column satisfied.

Favre was given a beating. He took shots that lesser men - so, basically, all of us - would never get up from. I mean, it was cold out. Real cold. Mike Brown got him from the front with a vintage piledriver that left him limping and wincing for the FOX cameras (great work on the close-up, FOX), while Charles Tillman nearly killed him with what the Unknown Column likes to refer to as a perfect storm. (Yeah, I'm lame) You know the type of sack I'm talking about: QB is standing there, intently looking downfield and completely oblivious to the crushing blow about to be administered to the small of his back by a guy coming at him like a Mack truck. Then he's driven to the ground in the shape of the letter "c", but backwards. I love that. Often the ball pops out. Often the quarterback is left in a lump. Yeah, Tillman hit him like that.

Both sacks caused fumbles. Both sacks were blown up and made large front page shots in opposing Chicago newspapers.

Meanwhile, Tillman ran a Favre pick back 95 yards to end the first half, while Nathan Vasher ran another back for a touchdown to unofficially end the game with a few minutes to play.

Favre was made to look silly.

Props to the old guy for remaining in the game and going down firing - 31 completions on 58 attempts! - but it would have been fun to see what the Bears swarming defense would have done to a confused and frozen Aaron Rodgers. You wouldn't expect Favre to go out any other way, though. But if he was uncertain about coming back next year, he's probably leaning towards retirement now. Nobody with that much gray hair should take a beating like that, except for politicians.

Anyway, retirement must look enticing now for Favre. And if so, it was a marvelous sendoff.

Thanks for the memories, Brett. It was fun while it lasted. Now kiss off.

Meanwhile, Lovie Smith is now 2-1 against the Packers, and the loss was a Chad Hutchinson start, so it doesn't really count. Smith said when hired that beating the Packer would be a priority, and so far he has delivered, which does wonders for one's place in the NFC North standings.

Kyle Orton's productivity isn't exactly approaching Air Coryell-like levels. In fact, his game numbers look like a Dan Fouts drive, but Orton has grown the Fouts beard, so you have to give him credit for at least attempting to get the look down. As long as he doesn't throw picks, the beard looks just right. And the offense looks fine.

Even though it could look a whole lot better.

The Steelers provide another stiff road test this week, though they're wounded. Roethlisberger is gimpy and no longer has Natalie Gulbs to console him. Bill Cowher is being second guessed. Jerome Bettis is suddenly old. Worst of all, Willie Parker is doing nothing for my fantasy team.

The Steelers can be beaten. No matter that it's in Pittsburgh. Whatever. It's just another opportunity to make believers out of those who still doubt. It's another chance to quiet a home crowd, and what better statement can be made than that? It's another chance to deliver a knockout blow to another team with playoff hopes.

And hey, knock out Roethlisberger and you get to Tommy Maddox, and that would be plain, good ole fashion fun for Brian Urlacher and the crew.


**********



Meet, Mr. Smith. Jamar Smith. Illinois freshman guard.

This kid looks like he could be the real deal. On Monday night he went for 23 points (six three pointers) against an Arkansas-Little Rock team that played Michigan State tough over the weekend. He also had a couple of filthy assists. If he can even remotely play the role Luther Head played last year even remotely as well as Head played it, the Illini will reap the benefits. Smith is obviously too young for such a Head-y comparison, but he plays with a confidence, not to mention a jumpshot, that make the comparison at least discussion worthy. Smith also hit three treys in the Dean Dome against North Carolina. The kid looks to have the goods.

Speaking of freshmen Illini guards, hopefully Chester Frazier's thigh injury is nothing too serious. Frazier hasn't been as outwardly impressive as Smith, but I have heard Frazier's name and "good defense" mentioned in the same sentence, and I like that.

***********

The Cubs have acquired Juan Pierre from the Marlins, which begs the question, but what will ever happen to the immortal Corey Patterson?

**********

Big props to Aaron Rowand, who's still showing up for Bears games despite being traded ot the Phillies. Dude said he was a Bears fan and he wasn't kidding. He's diehard.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Breathe Easy, He's Back



Before the ink had even dried on Paul Konerko's new contract, White Sox fans went from what-the-%$@#-is-taking-so-long to enthusiastically talking of a repeat. And why not?

Konerko was at the heart of all the goodness that came the White Sox way in 2005, so pay the man and let's do it again.

Doing anything less than resigning Konerko would have been stupid, to say the least.

You had to figure that Konerko was a good bet to be back the moment Jerry Reinsdorf invited Konerko's father on camera during the post-Game Four World Series celebration and offered him a cigar. Smart move.

Or when Konerko gave Reisndorf the Series-clinching ball on stage at the downtown bash.

Konerko's high school coach even said Paulie wanted to stay.

All the signs were there, but it's still a relief.

The Konerko signing is about more than just securing a big bat and a team leader. It's about doing things right, getting things done and tossing some dough around. For a change. It's about not being cheap and not ruining a good thing. Why resort to the in-house bickering that eventually doomed the '85 Bears and the dynasty Bulls? That would be stupid.

I'd by lying if I said I didn't immediately greet the Jim Thome-Aaron Rowand trade by wondering if Thome was a cheap replacement, a patch job at first base for a soon-to-be-gone Konerko. Come on, admit it, you thought it too.

Alas, Konerko is back and 2006 is already looking promising.

Thome DH's. If he's healthy, the right field bleachers will be fun. Not to mention the bullpen bar just below.

Brian Anderson plays in center. Rowand will be missed, no doubt, but give the kid a chance.

And Paulie is back at first base.

Works for me.

Why not talk of a repeat, indeed?

Meanwhile, the Konerko signing probably means the end of the Frank Thomas era. There isn't enough room for three slugging first basemen. Stranger things have happpened, I guess, than seeing Big Frank in a different uniform, but it would still be disconcerting, and likely imminent. At least Thomas left by earning his first ring. Not a bad way to go out.

Total Garbage

Stat from last night's 109-101 Bulls loss at the Knicks:

Free throws
Knicks 57
Bulls 25

Really? A fourth quater lead lost in a haze of questionable calls. Tell last night's rookie referee not to be intimated by the home crowd. Total garbage.