Archive for September, 2007

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Well, it looks as if though Rex Grossman is heading into the overflowing dustbin of Bears quarterback history alongside a long list of illustrious names such as Moses Moreno, Cade McNown, Peter Tom Willis, Jonathan Quinn… oh man, just shoot me now.  Let’s face it: this isn’t looking to be a very good season for the Bears and it’s not just about the QB position.  Cedric Benson has gone back to sucking.  The defense is decimated with injuries.  Devin Hester followed up a brilliant performance against the Chiefs to dropping pretty much every ball kicked to him by the Cowboys.  Maybe we can still get into the playoffs since the weakness of the NFC North can never be underestimated, but with the way the so-far undefeated Packers (ugh) have spurred the latest round of the media fellating Brett Favre, the Lions have finally put their 25 first-round draft pick wide receivers to use with some gaudy offensive numbers, and the Vikings having who I believe will be one of the next major stars of the NFL in Adrian Peterson (can we switch ours for theirs?), this certainly will not be a guarantee.  As for the QB situation specifically, I’ve long tried to at least provide a counterpoint to the constant calls for the Bears to bench Rex, but at this point, he’s become the football equivalent of Steve Sax.  A year ago at this time, Rex Grossman was in the driver’s seat to being the NFL MVP and we were contemplating the possibility of the Bears going undefeated since there was finally an explosive offense to go along with a stifling defense.  Now, we’ve got slews of calls to Chicago sports radio shows arguing that Kyle Orton, much less Brian Griese needs to be put in at quarterback as opposed to being the team sideline keg master.  Oh, how things change on a dime in the NFL.

Anyway, here are some links:

(1) The Sex Cannon is Dead; Long Live the Sex Cannon (Kissing Suzy Kolber)  - I’m not sure what the KSK guys are going to do with Rex not playing.  With Brian Griese now at the helm, the Bears officially have the two most blogged about backup quarterbacks in the history of the interweb in Rextasy and Orton.

(2) The Dissenter (New York Times) - A fascinating in-depth interview with Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens (also a Chicago native).

(3) In China, a Moon Cake Makeover (Washington Post) - It’s the Chinese Mid-Autumn Festival (also known as the Moon Festival) and the traditional moon cakes are getting some new types of fillings.

(4) Fixing ‘Nowhere’ (Chicago Tribune) - Prior to Mayor Daley’s ridiculous playing of the race card in the fight over the plans to move the Chicago Children’s Museum to the northeast end of Grant Park (and I’m actually someone that has usually supported Hizzoner, despite his occasional tantrums or tearing up of airfields in the middle of the night without telling anyone), Tribune architecture critic Blair Kamin put together a nice piece on what the Children’s Museum would need to do in order to be deserving of what would be a high profile location, while also essentially acknowledging that something needs to be done with what is now Daley Bicentennial Plaza.  I’ve always that that this part of Grant Park is one of the most embarrassing parts of downtown Chicago with a leaky Cold War-era fieldhouse and an oversupply of old cracked unused tennis courts.  This might suffice for a so-called neighborhood park, but when this is the space that people get to the end of Frank Gehry’s winding bridge from the magnificent Millennium Park, it’s time for some action.  Kamin is right to make sure that the city shouldn’t put a building in that space just because “something is better than nothing”, but I truly hope a solid plan is put into place quickly.  (The other embarrassing place in a high profile location, which thankfully is finally getting fixed: the Roosevelt Road Metra station.  The bridge is from the Temple of Doom and the station itself is a shack straight out of Deliverance.  I’m not exaggerating.  You would have thought the city would have pushed Metra to put something up a little bit nicer much sooner for the gateway to the Museum Campus and Soldier Field.)

On a related note, I have absolutely no sympathy for the residents in that area complaining about the potential additional traffic that the museum might bring nearby.  The residents have seen their property values skyrocket as a result of the opening of Millennium Park and, for Pete’s sake, they live in DOWNTOWN CHICAGO, the most high traffic area in the United States outside of Manhattan.  Museum or no museum, what the hell do these people expect when they choose to live in DOWNTOWN CHICAGO???  This is like people that live in Wrigleyville complaining about the crowds as if they didn’t realize a 40,000-seat ballpark that sells out all of the time is right down the block.  If you don’t want to deal with traffic and crowds, then it would be wise to not live in a place that, you know, has a lot of traffic and crowds.

And finally…

(5) Bear Down: There’s Only One Answer To The Bears’ QB Problem (Deadspin) - I think that you could probably guess who Deadspin is voting for to replace Rex – let’s just say that it involves a uncontrollable neckbeard and a bottle of Jack.

I’m off to Champaign this weekend to watch Rashard Mendenhall run over JoePa and company.  Until then, Go Illini and Go Bears (and if you’re the type of person that likes the Cubs, don’t choke).

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

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I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the Bears home opener in person with none other TK, which meant we got to experience the thrill ride known as Devin Hester live and in-person. A few other thoughts before we get to Hester, though. First, with this being my first visit to the “new” Soldier Field, I must say that as much as it looks as if though they plopped the upper deck at U.S. Cellular Field in the middle of the classic colonnades from the outside, the interior of the stadium has spectacular sightlines even in the higher sections. Second, I had been much more worried over the offseason about the Bears running game in the hands of Cedric Benson as opposed to Good Rex/Bad Rex, which was certainly validated after that pathetic performance in the season opener against the Chargers. His performance against the Chiefs was certainly better by gaining just over 100 yards, but for the life of me I can’t understand why he dances to the outside when he’s a downfield power running back. From what I saw, Benson is being way too indecisive when he gets a hand-off, which is not a good thing since he’s the type of back that needs to hit the open hole immediately as a guy without the breakaway speed of someone like Ladainian Tomlinson. Third, I’m simply at a loss with Rex Grossman. I don’t want to pile on him since his approval rating in Chicago right now is hovering at around O.J. Simpson/Britney Spears levels, but the two interceptions yesterday were completely his fault and he can’t fault a non-existent running game (even if it wasn’t spectacular) for not opening anything up downfield. Let’s face it – the Bears should have been able to score on the Chiefs the way the Illini took down Syracuse on Saturday (you know that I had to weave that in, no matter how pathetic the Orange are this year). Yet, those two interceptions kept a Herm Edwards-led team in the game on the road in a hostile environment until late in the fourth quarter. At the same time, the only offensive touchdown this season has been a trick play to a backup offensive tackle (which TK brilliantly called as soon as John St. Clair reported as an eligible receiver).  I’ve generally been a Rex defender if only because I know that Brian Griese isn’t really that sexy of an alternative – the old Wolverine simply doesn’t have the arm to keep opposing secondaries honest. Meanwhile, Kyle Orton seems to be on a mission to grow more hair than Chewbacca – I swear that I saw him pouring some Jack Daniels into his Gatorade bottle on the sidelines. Anyway, if teams can stack eight in the box like they did against the Bears from two years ago, we’re simply not going to far.

That being said, I’m running out of superlatives for Devin Hester. I was telling Minneapolis Red Sox in an email exchange earlier today that nothing compared to watching Michael Jordan in person in terms of electricity in the building. However, the way the crowd buzzed every time that Hester got in position to return a kick was akin to those moments when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa came up to plate in 1998 (which in hindsight with the steroid scandal seems almost farcical, but those who went to any Cubs or Cardinals games that year know what I’m talking about) – everyone in the crowd stopped and there were several moments of anticipation that we were all about to witness something special. When that special moment actually comes through, like when Devin Hester broke free for a touchdown on Sunday, you’ve got a story to tell your buddies and kids for years on end.

Devin Hester isn’t going to be the greatest Bear in history (with names like Payton, Butkus, Sayers, and Grange out there, there’s no real shame in that), but I feel as though that even if he doesn’t score another touchdown again, his burst into the NFL going to remembered as one of those flashes of sports brilliance that will live on years later, like Dwight Gooden’s rookie season or Bo Jackson’s football career.  Bears fans need to enjoy these moments while they last.

(Image from Chicago Tribune)

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Well, the first college football Saturday of the season turned out to be much more than anyone could have possibly bargained for. The Illini almost completed a huge comeback against Missouri in St. Louis with redshirt freshman quarterback Eddie McGee doing a more than adequate job stepping in for Juice Williams (who got his bell rung at the very beginning of the game). Of course, that means that if Juice starts seeing his pass completion percentage dip toward his 39.5 percent mark from last year, it won’t be long before there’s another legitimate QB controversy on campus. I’m pretty sure that the old adage that the most popular person in town is the backup quarterback had its genesis in Champaign since, with the exceptions of maybe Jack Trudeau and Jeff George, every Illini quarterback since the Red Grange era has had Rex Grossman-like accuracy with Kyle Orton-like arm strength and Brian Griese-like speed – it would be akin to creating a player on EA Sports NCAA Football and giving him the lowest attribute ratings in every possible category. I still think Juice is still the man the build around since he has incredible athleticism, but McGee showed on Saturday that there’s a viable alternative waiting in the wings.

Despite the 40-34 loss, I was able to enjoy a rare fall Saturday where the Illinois football program looks like a beacon of hope compared to its Midwestern neighbors of Notre Dame and Michigan. The Fighting Irish’s own quarterback controversy in hindsight turned out to be the most ridiculous sports talk show topics in recent memory with the way that they were all pummeled by Georgia Tech in a 33-3 loss (the worst Notre Dame loss in an opener in school history). I’ve been challenging my Irish fan friends over the past couple of years to provide me with concrete evidence that Charlie Weis is any better of a coach than Ty Willingham, since that seems to be the common perception yet the records don’t support that conclusion. So far, I haven’t heard many arguments other than the fuzzy wuzzy “Notre Dame spirit” proclamations from the fact that Weis is an alum, which really doesn’t go into anything as to the quality of his coaching abilities. It will be interesting to see how much the Irish fan base will stay supportive of big Charlie if the team doesn’t make it to any type of bowl this season (when looking at the schedule is more of probability than just a possibility). Something tells me with the way Willingham and Bob Davie were ousted over the past few years, however, it won’t be any prettier this time around.

Of course, it’s impossible not to comment on what I believe is the sports story of the year and what is the biggest upset I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime (I was alive for the “Miracle on Ice” in 1980, but was a bit too young to remember watching it as a 2-year old). Well, I actually didn’t witness it since, even though I am one of the five people in the country that has access to the Big Ten Network as a DirecTV subscriber, the household I was at on Saturday had BTN-less Comcast. Just hearing the scoring updates from the game, though, literally made my heart race. Appalachian State beating #5-ranked Michigan in the Big House is beyond anything that I could have possibly imagined happening. On Friday, I picked the Wolverines to actually make it to the national championship game, yet the very next day that get squashed by a Football Championship Subdivision I-AA Division Conference whatever the hell they call it team. (By the way, what is the NCAA’s problem with just sticking with logical names? The NCAA Tournament was neatly divided into the East, South, Midwest, and West Regions until the association decided to name the regions by their sites every year, leading to such flow-off-the-tongue creations like the “East Rutherford Regional”. At least the 2005 region that the Illini came out of was called the Chicago Region as opposed to the geographically correct Rosemont Region, which would have made the average person on the street believe that they determined one of the Final Four at the United terminal at O’Hare. Fortunately, the NCAA went back to the old region names this year. This logic obviously led them to get antsy and move forward with approving the switch from the perfectly logical Division I-A and I-AA distinctions to the Frankenstein they have now.) While this sort of wounded my pride a little bit as a college football prognosticator along with understanding that this would severely damage the perception of the Big Ten conference for this season, you can’t help but love to see such a monster upset, especially at the expense of Michigan (who for my money, is the “Evil Empire” of college football they way that the Yankees are in baseball and Duke is in college basketball).

I try to stay away from the “instant history” shenanigans that people seem to enjoy playing these days, but the Appalachian State shocker is justified. This is bigger than any type of upset that you could ever see in pro sports since I would argue that the talent gap between the best pro team and the worst pro team in any given sport is much smaller than the divide between a BCS superpower at the level of Michigan versus a lower division school. This is especially true when comparing football, which requires depth and size at a multitude of positions that makes it very tough for true upsets to occur, to basketball, where a team that might be shorter on talent can get hot from the three-point line (this is the typical anatomy of an upset in the NCAA Tournament). The Boise State win over Oklahoma in the Fiesta Bowl was an upset in terms of perception only – the Broncos were an undefeated top-15 team at the time (if the school’s name were Alabama or Florida State, no one would have ever termed it as an upset). Meanwhile, George Mason was ranked in the polls during the 2006 season prior to its run to the Final Four, so that team that supposedly “came out of nowhere” for most of the American public was actually on the radar of a number of people in the sports establishment.

Division III Chaminade over #1-ranked Virginia in 1982 is often considered the greatest upset in college basketball history, but even that game had exigent circumstances, such as Virginia coming off a trip to Japan and basically playing a game in a layover in Hawaii, not to mention Ralph Sampson just having recovered from a bout of pneumonia. For Michigan, though, there was simply no excuse. This was the first game of the season in front of over 110,000 friendly fans at the Big House with a healthy and fresh starting lineup that plenty of people believed could be playing for the national championship. The Wolverines losing to a team in a lower division, much less a non-BCS school, in the friendly confines of the Big House is simply unfathomable. Honestly, the only comparison that I could make would be if a Single-A minor league ballclub came up and swept a three-game series (not just win one game) against the fully-stocked and rested Yankees team at Yankee Stadium. That’s how incredible Appalachian State’s achievement was on Saturday.

Finally, I’d suggest you check out a time capsule of the feelings of the game at this open game thread from Saturday that was on the always entertaining mgoblog. You can see the close to 1000 comments made during the game from mostly Michigan fans, tracking from the first half where they thought they were just going to have a tougher come-from-behind day to that moment where they knew they were the victims of one of the greatest upsets in the history of modern sports. Let’s just hope Illinois doesn’t take their Subdivision Submarine opponent Western Illinois that’s coming to Memorial Stadium on Saturday.

(Image from Detroit Free Press)