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Archive for September, 2009

Chicago’s Olympic Hopes Dashed — What’s Next?

Posted by sportsmaven on September 29, 2009

Stunned silence……that’s all that remained in the wonderful, grand, beautiful city of Chicago this morning.  Another first round exit, Chicagoans and non-Chicagoans comparing the swift elimination to the Chicago Cubs post-season performances for the past two seasons.  October 2, 2009 will be a maelstrom in the history of Chicago sports.  Pundits will use it as fodder for endless metaphors to authors penning excruciating, unimaginative fairy tales of how Chicago will always be the “Second City”.  But this time, it wasn’t even second today, at least in the eyes of the voting International Olympic Committee members.

Chicagoans stand stunned after first round elimination....

Chicagoans stand stunned after first round elimination....

The eyes of the world were on four cities today, all bidding for the chance to host the 2016 Olympics.

Chicago.

Madrid.

Rio de Janeiro.

Tokyo.

Heavy hitters were brought out by each city’s bid team.  Heads of states, kings, queens and prime ministers converged on the somewhat sleepy little Danish haven called Copenhagen.  Chicago came out swinging with high profile Chicago natives President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Oprah Winfrey.  The final presentations were made, the last remaining pleas for votes from the IOC members were conducted, the votes were cast.

Chicago didn’t survive the first round, not even surpassing the dark horse Tokyo bid, long considered the longest of long shots.

The day started unseasonably cold, rainy and gloomy, but a burst of sunshine broke through an hour before the vote began.  Was it a sign that it was going to be Chicago’s day?  It was a sign that reminded me about one of the final scenes of the movie “A Perfect Storm”.  In the movie, George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg, and crew risked everything, including their lives, to make it through a convergence of tropical storms and hurricanes to bring their catch to market and cash in on their swollen stash of fish.  They fought dramatically high sea swells, flooding, voracious winds, their little fishing boat being tossed like a children’s toy.

At the point of their greatest exasperation, they crossed into the eye of the storm and for a moment, the sun appeared and the seas became calm.  For a moment, the expressions on their faces led them to believe that through all their trials and tribulations, they had a chance……only Clooney knew better.  He said the sea would not let them escape.  Once again, the seas, winds, waves picked up with violent fury until one final giant wave sent their boat capsizing to the bottom of the ocean with all hands aboard.  This is the summation of Chicago 2016 — A Candidate City.

The defining scene for that tragic movie is what immediately came to mind upon hearing the results of the first-round vote….the sun went away, the dark ran clouds reappeared and rain began falling.  A steady, miserable, cold rain.  Video from Copenhagen was broadcast mightily across all local news stations as the next round of voting continued.  Down to Rio de Janeiro and Madrid, everyone in Chicago knew where it was going.  Did anybody in Chicago care anymore?

The announcement was finally made and it was triumphant:  Rio De Janeiro will be the 2016 Olympic host nation.

The sun was shining over 100,000 Brazilians who were partying like it was Carnival when the announcement was made.  Chicagoans were forced to retreat to a Chicago Cubs-Arizona Diamondbacks game as the stunned local news stations brought in nearly everyone with any knowledge of failed Olympic bids past speculated on what went wrong for Chicago.

As the rain falls, the futile, wait until next year Cubs gave up 3 runs in the first inning and 4 more a few innings later.  The game is now 8-0 Diamondbacks in the 6th inning of a meaningless season ending series.  The soaked fans at Wrigley Field have yet another event in which to cry in their soggy cup of Old Style beer.  Baseball can’t end soon enough for either side of town.  The Cubs have second place sewed up, why keep playing now?  The Chicago White Sox want to stick it to Detroit and will use Jake Peavy to do it.   It doesn’t matter anymore where they end up in the standings, they know it’s not in first.

What’s next for Chicago?  Chicago is a city that knows how to handle disappointment.  The people of Chicago, especially sports fans, are resilient.  Much more resilient than any sports city in the United States.  The people of Chicago are passionate about their sports, win or lose.  And they are loyal to a fault.  The disappointment of not winning the bid to host the XXXI Games of the Olympiad will pass, just like the disappointments of other Chicago sports teams.  What remains is the heart, soul, passion, and eternal optimism of each individual who lives, breathes, and understands the landscape of Chicago sports.

The lessons of deep seeded appreciation, endless passion and undying loyalty aren’t earned by winning everything that comes our way.  It’s earned by extending our deep seeded pride to those that choose to compete on behalf of our beloved city, by always giving our very best effort, by enduring, by not taking for granted that our destiny is to always come out on top.

Being a Chicagoan is like being Notre Dame’s walk-on football player Daniel “Rudy” Ruettiger, or the exhausted, injured marathon runner whose father helped him cross the finish line.  It’s like the autistic high school basketball player that scored 20 points in 3 minutes of a basketball game that had little meaning except for those who really understood the significance of the event.  Or it’s like the girl who tries out and makes the freshmen boys football team as the team’s place kicker, facing constant ridicule and teasing from her peers, and yet does it because of her unbridled love of competition.

What’s next for Chicago, you might ask?  What’s next is what’s always next for Chicago.  It will pick itself back up on its feet, brush itself off, and try yet again.  Because that’s how we roll in Chicago…..

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Chicago Bears Bring Out The Best And Worst In Opposing Coaches

Posted by sportsmaven on September 28, 2009

The similarities with the Chicago Bears two victories this season are eerily striking in its very nature.  The Pittsburgh Steelers and Seattle Seahawks are two entirely different football teams, but the Bears approach to each game seemed to be virtually the same.  The Bears began each game very lethargically on both sides of the ball, stayed in the game while being steamrolled for most of the first half, picked up the intensity in the second half, scored on late drives engineered by Bears QB Jay Cutler and capitalized on two missed field goals by the opposing kicker to scratch out hard fought victories in each game.

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Where the similarities end for the two victories are in the post-game press conferences from the opposing coaches.   Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is fresh off a Super Bowl winning season in 2008.  Seahawks head coach Jim Mora, Jr. was just anointed heir apparent to former Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren.  The common denominator: each coaches team lost to the Chicago Bears with their kickers missing 2 field goals that ultimately proved to be the margin of loss.  But this is where the similarities end for Tomlin and Mora.

In yesterday’s loss to the Bears, Mora was asked about his reaction to his kicker, Olindo Mare missing two field goals:

“No excuses for those,” Mora said. “If you’re a kicker in the National Football League, you should make those kicks, bottom line, end of story, period. No excuses, no wind, it doesn’t matter. You’ve got to make those kicks, especially in a game like this where you’re kicking, scratching and fighting, playing your tail off and you miss those kicks, not acceptable. Not acceptable. Absolutely not acceptable.”

So, coach Mora, can you tell us how you really feel about the kicking situation? Mora was asked if the team will consider a change at that position.

“We’ll look at changes everywhere,” Mora said. “We’re not going to fight our [behind] and have a field-goal kicker miss two field goals. It’s not going to happen.”

In contrast, when Tomlin was asked by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about K Jeff Reed’s two misses his response was more muted:

“I haven’t talked to Jeff yet about why he missed two kicks. Of course, this is uncharacteristic of him. He just kicked the game winner in overtime last week, and that’s what we’re used to. We aren’t used to what happened with him today.”

The comparison of reactions between Tomlin and Mora couldn’t be any more divergent in nature.  In addition to Tomlin, several Steeler teammates came to the defense of Reed, each stating their contribution to the loss.  The same for the Seahawk players, who each accepted their responsibility in yesterday’s loss.

Rarely is a loss attributed to one person, especially in the NFL.  Each player has a role in victory and defeat and virtually every coach worth his salt recognizes this and states so appropriately in his post-game press conferences.  Mike Tomlin displayed the class and professionalism of a true champion in his post-game press conference.  In contrast, Jim Mora, Jr’s lack of class and professionalism in his post-game press conference is highly symbolic of a coach who still doesn’t get it .

Attitude and tone are extremely important elements in the dynamics of successful teams.   Head coaches are directly responsible for setting the attitude and tone to foster a winning environment.  Tomlin’s approach has led his team to the pinnacle, a Super Bowl championship, in only two years.  As for Mora’s approach — he is most likely looking for his next fall guy on the waiver wire .

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The Chicago Blackhawks Are Now Scotty Bowman’s Team

Posted by sportsmaven on September 16, 2009

At the beginning of the week, the Chicago Blackhawks opened their fall training camp with some new faces in key places.  The most prominent new face is that of newly installed General Manager Stan Bowman.  Behind the scenes, lurking in the shadows is the true architect and face of the organization, the stature of William Scott Bowman, or “Scotty” as he’s affectionately known.  The senior Bowman was hired in July, 2008 as Senior Advisor of Hockey Operations for the Chicago Blackhawks.  Since that day, owner Rocky Wirtz and team president John McDonough have wisely, but not always smoothly, turned the reins of the hockey operations over to the 9-time Stanley Cup champion coach.

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America

Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images North America

The first big move was a somewhat awkward firing of then-Coach Denis Savard and subsequential hiring of current Coach Joel Quenneville just four games into the 2008-2009 season.  It was a move that had to be made, but it certainly wasn’t made with grace nor good timing.  The last move?  The “re-assignment” of former GM Dale Tallon coupled with the promotion of  Stan to General Manager on July 14th, another move that was a correct move to make, but another  plagued with awkwardness and questionable timing.  Bowman has molded this young Blackhawks team much in the same mold as his Stanley Cup winning teams in Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Montreal.  In his brief tenure in Chicago, the elder Bowman has displayed his biggest asset — being able to adapt to the needs of the game today and fit personnel and coaching to those needs.

With his replacement of Tallon with his son, Stan, Bowman has again brought in new wave thinking to an organization that is desperately trying to escape it’s tractor beam-like grip of the glory days of it’s past.  The younger Bowman ushers in a new, modern era in Blackhawks lore, a man whose off-ice managmement, negotiating, and analytic skills more than make up for lack of hockey playing experience. Tallon’s apparent administrative miscues were the final nails in his coffin, closing his tenure as Blackhawks GM.

The elder Bowman has filled in the hockey part of the equation, engineering the signing of  RW Marian Hossa to a 12-year free agent deal, as well as the signings of C Tomas Kopecky from the Detroit Red Wings and C John Madden from the New Jersey Devils.  Bowman has worked to install his winning philosophy of big, skilled two-way players that can stretch the ice and play his aggressive, pounding style of play and infusing the talent base with Stanley Cup winning players to round out the up and coming Blackhawks team.

As the Blackhawks finish day 3 of training camp, the team carries the stamp and personal marks of Scotty Bowman, from top to bottom.  Wirtz, McDonough and Bowman have shown that throughout the awkwardness of their moves, they are indeed dedicated and focused on bringing a Stanley Cup Championship to Chicago as soon as humanly possible.  By hiring a 9-time Stanley Cup winning coach to architect that championship, the Blackhawks mean business.  If Bowman is half as good an architect as he is a coach, the Chicago Blackhawks are in for a Stanley Cup type treat.

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Chicago Bears Beat Themselves, Green Bay Packers Are Beneficiaries

Posted by sportsmaven on September 14, 2009

Chicago Bears fans, welcome to the Jay Cutler era.  Don’t you wish you had QB Kyle Orton today?  It is incredibly easy to put all the blame on the horrific play of QB Jay Cutler, but he had plenty of help from his teammates and the coaching staff tonight in a 21-15 loss to the Green Bay Packers.  This truly was a total team effort.  The Bears made key mistakes on offense, defense, and special teams.  There was bad playcalling, missed blocking, tackling and coverage assignments, dropped balls, receivers quitting on routes.  The expectation is that no team in the NFL plays an entirely perfect game, but the totality, timing, and magnitude of the mistakes is startling and alarming.

(AP Photo/Jim Prisching)

(AP Photo/Jim Prisching)

The Bears dominated the Packers statistically tonight, but overcoming the many mistakes that were made tonight proved to be beyond the realm of the Bears performance tonight.  Glaring mistakes include:

  1. Cutler’s 4 interceptions — pick one, they were all devastating
  2. CB Nathan Vasher’s blown coverage on Packers WR Greg Jennings 50-yard touchdown, inexcusable
  3. Upsnap from long snapper Patrick Mannelly — the boneheaded play of the game, giving the Packers an easy FG with the Bears leading by 2 points
  4. WR Johnny Knox and TE Desmond Clark quitting on routes — dumbfounding
  5. Game management, especially in the 2nd half, burning timeouts including one on a ill-fated challenge on the failed upsnap play.
  6. TE Greg Olsen — where were you?

I don’t want to take anything away from the Packers, they had to capitalize on the errors the Bears were making.  They didn’t capitalize on every mistake, but the Bears kept them in the game, giving the Packers opportunities time and time again to convert, and I don’t think any Bears fan was comfortable when the Bears kicked the last field goal to take the lead 15-13 with 2:36 left in the game.

So what did the Bears do right?  I liked a number of things:

  1. Receivers played better than expected.  WR’s Devin Hester and Earl Bennett had nice games.  Knox had a good game minus the bailout on the slant pattern
  2. The Bears have a pass rush!  Defensive Line coach Rod Marinelli gets a game ball for getting this group of lineman to constantly pressure Packers QB Aaron Rodgers into an average night (until the last, late TD pass)
  3. Tackles Orlando Pace and Chris Williams were blowing people off the ball with their strong play
  4. SS Al Afalava had a strong game, with 4 tackles and a sack.  Afalava has a nose for the ball and plays big, something the Bears defense needs
  5. P Brad Maynard punted out of his mind tonight, pinning the Packers with bad field position, with 4 punts for 49.5 yard average with 2 punts inside the 20.  Maynard is definitely a weapon for the Bears.

So what do you think the Bears (we hope) learned tonight?  Hopefully plenty:

  1. Jay Cutler can’t win games all by himself.  He needs help and didn’t get much from his receivers (especially the TE’s), early play-calling, and early blocking from a OL that came out of the gate creaky.  Cutler’s bad decisions led to disaster tonight.
  2. Nathan Vasher is not nearly the same player that he was in his 2005 Pro Bowl season.  He is back-up material at best.  Get CB Zackary Bowman in there, early and often.  The Bears secondary leaves Green Bay with the same questions it had going in to Green Bay.
  3. Receivers can’t quit on routes and need to get on the same page with Cutler pronto.  There play wasn’t good enough tonight, especially Olson and Clark.  Clark quitting on that pass in the end zone in the first half was absolutely inexcusable.  He keeps running, easy TD.
  4. Even coaches need to work on fundamentals.  Bad offensive play calling through most of the first half, the ill-advised challenge in the second half on the upsnap play marked and the general look of unpreparedness that seemed to hover around the team, especially the offense.

The Bears play their home opener next Sunday against the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers and may have to play without the heart and soul of their defense, LB Brian Urlacher, strong side LB Pisa Tinoisamoa, and backup CB Trumaine McBride.  The offense needs to step it up three notches and the defense another notch to compete with the Steelers.  Only time will tell if that is realistic, or if the Bears move through the toughest part of their league’s easiest schedule with more blemishes.

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