Archive for January, 2007

One week until the Bears dominate the Colts and Peyton Manning’s missing link forehead in the Super Bowl. To tide you over, here are some links:

(1) Levi’s Turns to Suing Its Rivals (New York Times) – For all of you people out there that like to knit and sew, expect a subpoena from Levi’s very shortly.

(2) Illiniwek: Symbol or Mascot? (Chicago Tribune) - You say mascot, I say symbol… let’s call the whole thing off.

(3) Monster Fine for ‘Monster Garage’ (Los Angeles Times) - It looks like Jesse James and the West Coast Choppers crew are churning out smog machines.

(4) NFL’s New Game: Travel Packages (Wall Street Journal) - I was seriously thinking about dropping the cash to head down to the Super Bowl because who knows when the Bears will be back again. Then, I figured out that I could buy plasma screen TVs for every room in my house (as in bedrooms, bathrooms, and crawl spaces) for about the price of one hospitality package. So, I’ll be watching from the comforts of friend’s house instead.

(5) Kind of Looks Like Steve McMichael on a Bender (Deadspin) – The Lyric of Opera of Chicago: They Were Who We Thought They Were.

(6) Ask Chicagoist: “L” or El? (Chicagoist) – Proof positive that the CTA has no idea what it’s talking about.

And finally…

With Peyton Manning’s ubiquitous presence on television commercials throughout the year, let’s not forget this performance from when he was a young boy:

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I’ve been looking forward to Indiana’s visit to the real Assembly Hall for months so that Hoosier coach Satan’s Spawn could receive a few choice words from the Orange Krush. Illinois rose to the occassion by winning a bruising game last night marked by aggressive defense by both teams on the floor. (By the way, have you noticed the Super Bowl symmetry over the last couple of days with a Bulls – Pacers game on Monday followed up by last night’s Illinois – Indiana game? OK, maybe it was just me.) However, for all of the attention paid to the Bruce Weber – Eric Gordon – Satan’s Spawn triangle last night, the more important matter is that the Illini have salvaged some hope to get back into the NCAA Tournament, although we’re still in some dangerous NIT territory.

Not surprisingly, the Big Ten this year has turned into Wisconsin, Ohio State, and then everybody else. There’s a good chance that the Illini won’t be facing another ranked team for the rest of the way (save for possibly the corresponding road game at Indiana on February 10th), so getting a win against the Hoosiers was critical to our NCAA Tournament resume. Even then, an above .500 record in conference play is going to be the bare minimum this season, which means that we need to go 6-3 the rest of the way (Illinois is currently 15-7 overall and 3-4 Big Ten). My gut is telling me that the away game at Purdue this Saturday is dangerous, particularly since it follows such an emotional contest, while future second games against Indiana, Michigan, and Michigan State are all going to be tough matchups regardless of whether Brian Randle and company are healthy. That means the Illini are going to have little margin for error the rest of the way if there’s going to be a reasonable chance to get back to the big dance.

For now, though, Illini Nation can revel in the fact that we were able to vanquish Satan’s Spawn last night. Repeating this again in Bloomington in a couple of weeks would be even sweeter.

(Image from Indianapolis Star)

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My very earliest sports memories were from the 1985 Bears season when I was 7 years old. After witnessing that Bears team demolish the Patriots 46-10 in Super Bowl XX, my naive young self believed that this was something that was supposed to happen every year for the City of Chicago. Little did I know that the primacy of that Super Bowl victory in my life would cause me to have unreasonable expectations for the Bears for the next 2 decades. While I was able to rationally deal with ugly performances of the Bulls (such as the sight of 5 pasty white guys on the court at the same time the year after the second Michael Jordan retirement) and White Sox (the Albert Corky Belle years) when they fielded subpar teams over that period of time, it didn’t matter whether Peter Tom Willis, Cade McNown, Moses Moreno, or anyone else from this awful list was starting at quarterback at Soldier Field – I was angry everytime that the Bears lost a game, which meant that I spent a good amount of time over the past 21 years sulking through entire NFL seasons. The Illini football and basketball teams are the only others that affect me in this way, so it’s a wonder why I’m not the youngest person to ever have to receive an angioplasty.

Considering this personal history, as much as the media wanted to spend the next 2 weeks bombarding us with stories about how the Saints have single-handedly rebuilt all of the broken levees and dilapidated houses in New Orleans (a reporter from the Chicago NBC affiliate thought that the Bears beating the Saints would be as popular outside of the Windy City as “killing Bambi”), I knew deep down in my heart that the Bears couldn’t possibly screw me again. As I noted on Friday, I was confident heading into the game that the Bears had the “disrespect” card going for them and the Saints, while being a solid team, definitely didn’t deserve the disproportionate heapings of praise that they were receiving when they were only able to beat the Eagles by 3 in the Superdome a week ago.

While I was a bit nervous when Drew Brees began leading his offense down the field at the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half, the Bears ended up putting together one of their most complete all-around games of the entire season. Ron Rivera’s defense, after being uncustomarily maligned across town this past week, hammered down on the Saints’ running game and stripped the ball with reckless abandon. Sexy Rexy, even though he had only an average game stats-wise, made a number of key throws and was aided by some outstanding catches by our receivers (particularly Bernard Berrian’s circus catch on his back for a touchdown). Most importantly, the Bears running game was established early and implemented often, with the Thomas Jones – Cedric Benson tandem peaking at the right time.

The upshot is that I get to watch the first Super Bowl in 21 years where I have more than a bunch of money on squares on the line. I sincerely believed that we were destined to have a Super Bowl XX rematch (I was looking forward to footage of Richard Dent’s decapitation of Tony Eason on the field being played continuously over the next 2 weeks) if only because I thought that picking the Colts to actually win a meaningful game against the Patriots would be the equivalent of putting my life savings on black at the roulette wheel or Mark Prior starting more than 5 games next season. Nevertheless, I’m hoping that the endless Peyton Manning media orgy that we’re going to endure up until Super Bowl XLI will stoke the same fire under the Bears as the national fawning over the Saints did for the NFC Championship.

Lovie Smith made it a point over the past few days that his vision was for the George S. Halas Trophy to be handed to Virginia McCaskey, the daughter of that trophy’s namesake, on Sunday. However, Bears fans aren’t going to be satisfied until we get one more trophy this year, even if it’s named after an enemy Packer.

(UPDATE: Here are some more Bears thoughts from orange-clad TK and our resident Packer fan Minneapolis Red Sox.)

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

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I’m sure that you were wondering if I had suffered a heart attack from the Bears’ eventual win in overtime last week since there hasn’t been a post all week. It’s been a little nutty around here, but I have a few moments to put down my picks for the weekend, with the home teams in CAPS (my bonus upset special is Illinois defending the honor of its home court against #2 Wisconsin tomorrow – as long as we avoid making Warren Carter three-pointers the centerpiece of our offense, I feel inexplicably good about the Illini right now):

(1) AFC Championship: New England Patriots (+3) over INDIANPOLIS COLTS – In a twist, the much-maligned Indy defense has looked great over the past couple of weeks while Peyton Manning has been rattled. This gives hope to all of those Colts fans that have suffered through some ugly defensive playoff performances in the past, right? However, we’ve been down the Indy vs. New England playoff path before with the conclusion the Colts are simply cursed against the Pats in the postseason. This means that being actually being able to take 3 points with New England is more than gravy – Tom Brady is pulling off the straight “upset” again.

(2) NFC Championship: CHICAGO BEARS (-2.5) over New Orleans Saints – I was nervous enough in anticipation of the Bears’ game against the Seahawks last week, so the fact that my team is now playing for a spot in the Super Bowl for the first time in 18 years is going to wreck my sleeping habits for the next couple of days. The national media has been obsessed with the Saints all week since they have superstars at the offensive skill positions along with the “comeback from Hurricane Katrina” factor, but the fact remains that they only won by 3 points to an inferior team at home last week just like the Bears.

Am I horrified that the Saints’ speed on offense could tear up a suddenly ordinary Bears defense in the same manner as Steve Smith last year? Absolutely. However, as I’ve said before, there isn’t a better motivational tool in sports than the feeling that you’re being disrespected, and the Bears are definitely feeling it this week on both offense (i.e. Rex Grossman can’t hang with Drew Brees and the Thomas Jones/Cedric Benson tandem isn’t in the same constellation as Deuce McAllister plus Reggie Bush) and defense (i.e. the absence of Tommie Harris means the Saints will run the ball with impunity and the New Orleans speed at wide receiver will cut up an average secondary). If the Saints are as unstoppable as people are making them out to be, then they should have destroyed the Eagles in the Superdome last week, which definitely didn’t happen.

Despite popular opinion, “Bear” weather isn’t going to be a factor on Sunday (in the 1988 NFC Championship Game, the surfer crowd from San Francisco came into Soldier Field and blew out the Bears with sub-zero wind chills) and, in the end, this is about as evenly matched of a game as you can get. Yet, I do believe that the Bears have a more balanced attack on both sides of the ball and when it comes down to it, I still trust the Chicago defense to make the key stops that are integral to winning in the postseason than the New Orleans defensive unit. So, we could be looking at a Bears vs. Patriots Super Bowl – doesn’t that sound familiar?

Go Bears, Go Illini, and have a great weekend!

(Image from Deadspin)

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Some quick picks against the spread for the weekend, with home teams in CAPS:

(1) BALTIMORE RAVENS (-4) over Indianapolis Colts – I’m sure some people will be lulled into picking the Colts in the wake of another Wild Card round destruction of the Chiefs by Peyton Manning.  As for me, though, I never fell for that one before and certainly won’t be doing it here.  The Colts have never been able to beat upper tier defenses in the playoffs.  Well, the Ravens have the top-ranked defense in the NFL.  This is a no-brainer.

(2) Philadelphia Eagles (+5) over NEW ORLEANS SAINTS – There’s going to be the inevitable deluge of stories about how the Saints are bringing some light back to the city of New Orleans, not to mention the “genius” label applied to Sean Payton, who is the latest Bill Parcells protege to make good.  As for actual game play, it’s really the Saints’ ability to stretch the field on offense against the Eagles’ stronger running game and defense.  I hate having to ask Jeff Garcia to do very much here, but being able to run and defend are the keys to success in the postseason, so I’ve got the Eagles at least beating the spread, if not pulling an outright upset.

(3) CHICAGO BEARS (-8.5) over Seattle Seahawks – Obviously, I’m extremely biased here, yet I believe that the Bears genuinely have the “disrespect” card in the their collective pockets right now.  Everyone keeps bringing up Rex Grossman’s problems, the way the Bears blew the playoff game at home against Carolina last year, and the defense’s letdown over the last month of the season.  As a result, the Bears are ridiculously hungry for a team that went 13-3 during the regular season.  More importantly, if the Bears can’t back their way into the Super Bowl facing a group of NFC teams that came straight from the short bus, the personal disappointment will rank with the Frank Williams-led Illinois teams only maxing out at the Elite Eight and the Frank Thomas-led White Sox teams from the 1990s only making the playoffs once.  This Frank’s pick: Bears 412, Seattle -7

(4) New England Patriots (+5) over SAN DIEGO CHARGERS – I’ll take 5 points with a Bill Belichick team in the playoffs anyday, particularly against Marty Schottenheimer.  Plus, I’m getting an extremely bad vibe in the wake of the Chargers restricting ticket purchases to the game to only those with Southern California addresses in order to prevent Pats fans from buying up seats.  That means that the home field advantage for the Chargers is going to be minimal.  Granted, LDT can carry a team on his back as well as anyone in the NFL, but the Tom Brady vs. Philip Rivers QB matchup should be pause to anyone putting too much money on San Diego.

Go Bears, Go Illini (but curses to CBS for scheduling the Illinois-Michigan State game to conflict with the Bears game on Sunday), and have a great weekend!

(Image from Bookweb)

This is the definition of a “classic music video”: it merges a dated and simple song with a dated and simple video, yet the combination is about as memorable as you can get.

I’ve been backed up a bit this week, but here are some links to tide you over until a new Classic Music Video tomorrow and my NFL Divisional Playoff picks on Friday:

(1) Bruce Weber’s Time Is Up (Your School Sux) – I’ve been as disappointed by the Illini’s start to the Big Ten season as anyone (based on the pasting we received on Saturday, our football program arguably has a smaller talent gap with Ohio State than our basketball program, although that might not be saying much after the Buckeyes got womped by Florida in both sports within a three-week span), but the fans need to simmer down just a bit.  If the recruiting situation doesn’t turn around for Bruce this upcoming year (if anyone has some insight on newly committed recruit Quinton Watkins, be sure to chime in), however, the scrutiny is going to be suffocating for him.

(2) Little Asia on the Hill (New York Times) - As your resident Caucasian/Asian halfbreed, this article makes it seem as though Berkeley needs an Affirmative Action program to bring back the hippies.  (Quote: “There are now mostly small protests, against the new chain stores invading Telegraph Avenue, just outside the campus entrance, and to save the old oak trees scheduled for removal so the football stadium can be renovated. The biggest buzz on Telegraph one week was the grand opening of a chain restaurant — the new Chipotle’s, which drew a crowd of students eager to get in. The scent of patchouli oil and reefer is long gone; the street is posted as a drug-free zone.”  The tone of the article makes this appear to be a bad thing.)  It’s extremely disheartening that there’s still an assumption that an influx of Asians must mean that a campus will turn into a science and engineering sweatshop without “well-rounded” students.  Sure, Asians make up a disproportionate share of certain hard science professions such as engineering, yet to somehow translate this fact into a statement that an entire racial group must not care about the arts is ridiculous, particularly when one only has to take a quick look at the number of Asian prodigies in music to recognize that it’s the farthest thing from the truth.

(3) Rachel Nichols, I’ll Let You Inside My Brain If You Let Me Inside Your Hanes Her Ways (Kissing Suzy Kolber) - On another note, this is how Rex Grossman is, uh, decompressing for Sunday’s game.

(4) Game Thread #34: Bulls vs. Detroit Pistons (Blog-a-Bull) – The most beautiful sound that I heard at the United Center on Saturday night: the return of the “DE-TROIT SUCKS” chant.

And finally…

(5) So You Think You Can Be Crazier Right Now? (Chicagoist) – I was born for this job.

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A huge sports weekend is on tap with Greg Oden visiting Champaign and yours truly checking out Ben Wallace facing the Pistons for the first time this season in person. There’s also the matter of sorting out the NFL playoffs and determining who will end up facing the wrath of Hurricane Ditka at Soldier Field in Round 2. Here are my picks against the spread (home teams in CAPS):

(1) INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (-7) over Kansas City Chiefs – I’ve been betting against Indy for the last several years when they were the darlings of the NFL, but now that they’ve been almost relegated to yesterday’s news with the offensive explosiveness of the Chargers this season, I think there’s going to be a bit of fire here with Peyton Manning’s squad. Getting Kansas City was the best matchup possible for Indianapolis in the wild card round since the Colts can always hang with an opponent that tries to outscore them as opposed to utilizing a strong defense.

(2) SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (-2.5) over Dallas Cowboys – Despite rumblings to the contrary, I have no personal vendetta against either Notre Dame or the Dallas Cowboys. What I do have a problem with, however, is the general public salivating over overrated teams that clearly don’t deserve the accolades, which has been the case with the Irish and Cowboys this year. The comparisons between the two teams are uncanny: the media has gone overboard on stories on the resuscitation of their “marquee” statuses, their starting quarterbacks have been canonized even though their gaudy stats have come against subpar opponents (why the Fox Sports crew that worked the Sugar Bowl kept insisting that the Raiders would take Brady Quinn with the first pick in the NFL Draft after just witnessing Jamarcus Russell, who is taller, bigger, faster, and has better arm strength and accuracy shred the Irish head to head is beyond me while, with apologies to the Eastern Illinois fans out there, Tony Romo has absolutely no business being in the Pro Bowl) , their flashy offensive players have masked the fact that their defenses are awful, and add on top of that the fact that Charlie Weis inherited the supposed “genius” label from his mentor Bill Parcells (IMHO, Lawrence Taylor and Tom Brady could make anyone look like football geniuses). All of this comes down to the conclusion that the Cowboys are the very definition of an overrated team. Therefore, the Seahawks will win by default.

(3) New York Giants (+7) over PHILADELPHIA EAGLES – The Eagles are going to win this game with a whole lot of Brian Westbrook, but I really don’t like the prospect of having to give a touchdown when Jeff Garcia is at the helm. By the way, is it just me or does Garcia look like the Mayor of Munchkinland in an Eagles uniform? I don’t remember him appearing so waifish with his previous teams, so maybe it’s just the contrast between him and the bigger-boned Donovan McNabb.

(4) NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (-8.5) over New York Jets – I like the Jets overall and would have picked them if they were playing any of the other AFC Wild Card teams. However, there’s no way that Bill Belichick is allowing his team to lose this game to the prodigal son Eric Mangini. Belichick is the one guy of the Parcells Mafia that truly does deserve the genius label.

Have a great weekend and Go Illini and Go Bulls!

(Image from The Wordlink)

The high-top fade haircut may or may not ever come back, but I’ve been on a personal mission to keep “The Running Man” dance move alive for the past 15 years. There’s no better way to honor the memory of the patriarchs of the East Coast Family.

(This and a ton of other clips are on the Frank the Tank Channel on YouTube.)

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2007 has picked up right where 2006 left off with me going 0 for 3 so far with my BCS bowl picks. The Rose Bowl, which I thought would be the most interesting game with the involvement of Michigan and USC, ended up with only one memorable image while Wake Forest screwed me after looking good for 3 1/2 quarters in last night’s Orange Bowl. Still, I’ve got to hand it to Boise State for taking it straight to Oklahoma’s juggular in the Fiesta Bowl. For all of the attention paid to the hook-and-lateral and Statue of Liberty plays at the end of that game, what impressed me the most was that the Broncos beat up on the Sooners for the first 58 minutes without a hint of trickery – Boise State simply ran the ball with impunity and played great defense. I apologize for doubting the Smurfs (TK, to his credit, was a believer). On to today’s links:

(1) Illini Not Meeting Weber’s Standard (Chicago Tribune) – The Big Ten basketball season for Illinois gets underway tonight with a meeting in Ann Arbor against Muck Fichigan. Here’s to hoping that Rich McBride wakes up from his two-month long nap and Brian Randle finally gets healthy.

(2) Can 2007 be a Repeat of 2005? (Big Ten Wonk) - Speaking of the Big Ten conference season, John Gasaway has posted a generally upbeat assessment of the league. By the way, while toggling between the Bulls-Suns and Indiana-Ohio State games last night, there’s no clearer statement of Greg Oden’s mad baller skills than when he sinks 9 out of 10 free throws using his non-shooting left hand (since he has ligament damage on his right hand). I think it’s time for Ben Wallace to try shooting free throws left handed.

(3) This Ben Gordon Thing is Starting to Irk Me (Blog-a-Bull) - As we segue into a Bulls discussion, I was just mentioning to my wife last night something along the lines of what Blog-a-Bull is referring to here, where it’s perplexing that Ben Gordon puts up All-Star scoring numbers when he comes off of the bench (including a career-high 41 points last night against the Suns) yet goes into a funk everytime that he’s in the starting lineup. What is Scott Skiles supposed to do when Gordon has overwhelming numbers that would point to an obvious starting role but time and time again has underachieved in that position? On a side note, I will have the privilege of being able to witness Ben Wallace’s first game against his old Pistons squad at the United Center on Saturday night, so I’m ready for a resuscitation of the bad blood between Chicago and Detroit.

(4) Goodbye 2006! Hello 2007! (Fleece the Pig, Flog the Pony) – A rundown of the top moments in Chicago sports over the past year.

(5) Kenny Williams: A Beane or a Krause? – Part 1 (Chi-Sox Blog) - Great analysis by Jeeves on whether the White Sox GM is heading down the path of Jerry Krause (one of the most loathed figures in Chicago sports history whether it’s fair or not) or Billy Beane (ironic in the sense that Williams came off as being not-so-bright in “Moneyball”).

(6) Where Have You Gone, Thomas Edison? (Slate) - Just in case you aren’t able to waste enough time on blogs, YouTube, MySpace, and Wikipedia, the Google Patent Search should be able to take up the rest of the day.

(7) Lock the Library! Rowdy Students Are Taking Over (New York Times) – I’m telling you, when I worked in the Homewood Public Library in high school, it was always a non-stop party.

And finally…

(8) Playoff Bound, But Questions Remain (Windy City Gridiron) – Spending New Years Eve with the Bears should have made for a wonderful evening. Instead, all we have are questions about our quarterback situation with Sexy Rexy and whether Brett Favre is going to retire and whether Sunday was his last game and whether he wants to go out on a high note and when he’s going to make an announcement about next season and REDRUM REDRUM REDRUM.

(Image from broncosports.com)