So, I read today that former Cubs backup catcher Paul Bako is now the current Cubs backup catcher after signing a new contract on Friday. A video tribute, if I may:
January 2009 Archives
Five former University of Illinois football players have a chance to win a Super Bowl ring on Sunday. Three are with the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers, while two play for the Arizona Cardinals.
Kicker Neil Rackers (left) never seemed like he was that good at Illinois. Surprisingly, he's carved out a nine-year career in the NFL. You never know. The Super Bowl championship could come down to whether Rackers can make a big kick.
The Cardinals long snapper, Nathan Hodel, is also an Illinois grad. He's been with Arizona basically forever. Long snapper is a nice gig in the NFL, if you can get it.
Former Illini star and Steelers rookie Rashard Mendenhall played only four games this year before tearing up his shoulder and being placed on injured reserve.
Carey Davis was a member of the 2001 Big Ten championship team at Illinois. He now starts at fullback for the Steelers.
Long-time Illini fans might vaguely remember Pittsburgh running backs coach Kirby Wilson , who played at Illinois in 1980-81. Wilson has been an assistant coach in the NFL for 11 seasons with five different teams.
I always like to link to blogs that mock Dick Vitale's man crush on all things Duke.
No. 4 Wake Forest knocked off top-rated Duke 70-68 last night with Vitale and Mike Patrick at the mic.
It's always kind of amusing to watch Duke's guards go down the toilet in a big game. Jon Scheyer shot 2-for-10 from the field last night. ESPN favorite Greg Paulus shot 2-for-6 and was a total non-factor.
At least Patrick has backed off his assertions that Paulus is "among the best in the country." If Paulus were, in fact, among the best in the country, you would think he would be starting during his senior year.
Now that Paulus is coming off the bench, Patrick has downshifted to praising Paulus' "great attitude." It's good to know Paulus has accepted his reduced role so well. Thanks for that, Mikey.
Steve Rosenbloom from the Chicago Tribune had the same idea I have for a blog today. Not to be redundant, but I still want to make a few remarks about Blackhawks goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin.
It's no secret I've never been a big fan of Khabibulin. Looking at his numbers, he's never lived up to his paycheck during his four-year tenure with the Blackhawks. Until now.
Rosenbloom is right -- Khabibulin stole two points for the Blackhawks by making 36 saves during last night's 3-2 victory in Anaheim.
I wasn't surpised that Khabibulin played well. He always seems to be on top of his game when he's well-rested, and he had a week off before last evening's game in Anaheim.
Khabibulin is sharing the position with Cristobal Huet this year. The two have been alternating games throughout much of the season. For that reason, Khabibulin has remained fresh and sharp, and that is reflected in his .924 save percentage and 2.35 goals against average. Both those figures are his best since his Stanley Cup winning season in Tampa Bay (2003-04).
At age 36, Khabibulin is no longer equipped to play 60-70 games in a season. He's only appeared in 25 of the Hawks' 46 games this year. That's a little more his speed. And he's playing for a contract, so he has motivation.
Will the Blackhawks trade him midseason and give the job to Huet? I hope not. Even as a long-time Habby basher, I know he has outplayed Huet this season.
Rosenbloom points out he'd rather have Khabibulin in the nets than Huet this Saturday night when the Hawks take on the league-best Sharks in San Jose. I concur.
And I hope Khabibulin is still with the Hawks and in the net when playoff time rolls around in April.
In the past, I have been reluctant to give my endorsement to Josh Fields as the White Sox third baseman of the future.
The reason? His defense stinks. At left, you can see him tripping over his own feet after missing a ball against the Royals. But apparently, we're all in for a big shock when spring training opens in a few weeks.
If Fields has, in fact, improved his defense, that takes away one major hole in the Sox infield. We know Fields can provide some pop at the bottom of a batting order, as evidenced by his 23 home runs in 2007. But he needs to catch all the ground balls that Mark Buehrle throws in order to be an everyday player.
Right now, here is the Sox infield:
1B: Paul Konerko
SS: Alexei Ramirez
If Fields is the answer to those question marks next to 3B, Sox fans can feel better about their team's chances in 2009.
For a good article about the turnaround for Illinois basketball, click here.
The Illini are surprisingly in second place in the Big Ten -- 17-3 overall and 5-2 in the conference in what is clearly a rebuilding year.
By the 2010-11 season, Illinois should be back in the national championship picture. That's when the current sophomore class (Demetri McCamey, Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, Alex Legion, Jeff Jordan and Richard Semrau) will be seniors. That group will be playing with the two excellent recruiting classes that are coming in the next two years.
Bruce Weber deserves a lot of credit for looking at himself in the mirror and changing his recruiting strategy. Weber and staff are on their way to securing Illinois' borders. With the talent in this state, that alone is enough to put the program back at the top of the Big Ten in the coming years.
So, I took a much-needed 3-day weekend and headed down to Champaign for Saturday's game between the Fighting Illini and the Wisconsin Badgers.
I had a great time, and I enjoyed seeing the Illini beat the Badgers 64-57, behind 25 points and seven assists from sophomore guard Demetri McCamey.
It was the first time I've been to a Big Ten game at the Assembly Hall since I was a student at Illinois (it's been over 10 years), and it was the first time I've been at a game where the building was completely full.
And guess what? It's pretty clear we need a new basketball arena in Champaign.
The Assembly Hall is extremely cramped when full. On the lower level, it's hard to differentiate the concession lines from the restroom lines. Everything is in such close proximity that you can barely move.
And, of course, the lines are slow-moving because there are not enough bathrooms and not enough vendors. My friend wanted to use the ladies room at halftime, but upon seeing a line that stretched literally up the stairs and around the corner, she decided she could wait until later. And God forbid you want to buy something to eat or drink. You'll be standing there for 30 minutes and miss a good chunk of the game.
Of course, none of this is big news. The folks at UIUC know the Assembly Hall is no longer adequate. However, they are not going to build a new arena, instead choosing to renovate the 46-year-old existing structure.
Although I'd prefer to see them start from scratch, I understand the university's logic. The school is responsible for the upkeep of the Assembly Hall, and the building cannot be torn down because of its landmark status.
Thus, if a new arena is built, the university would be responsible for the upkeep of both the new place AND the Assembly Hall. Financially, that doesn't make a lot of sense.
Renovation plans are in place for the Assembly Hall, but they have been placed on hold due to the sagging economy.
UIUC did a pretty nice job on the renovations of Memorial Stadium. Hopefully, at some point the school can pull off something similar for the basketball team.
Aurora native, Marmion Academy graduate and Northern Illinois defensive end Larry English is likely to hear his named called early in this year's NFL Draft.
In Thursday's Chicago Tribune, Larry talked about the possibility of being drafted by the Bears.
If you look through the mock drafts, quite a few of them have English being selected in the second round. There's some thought that he could move up into the first round before all is said and done.
The Bears do need a pass-rushing defensive end, and English is the all-time NIU leader with 31 1/2 career sacks. The Bears have the 18th overall pick in the first round and the 49th overall pick in the second round.
It seems unlikely the Bears would pick English at 18. Will he still be on the board when the 49th pick comes around? Who knows, but it would be interesting to see a kid from Aurora land on the Bears' roster.
There was a shocker in the Big Ten that went final moments ago. Kevin Coble (left) scored 31 points to lead Northwestern to a 70-63 victory over No. 7 Michigan State in East Lansing, Mich.
The Spartans had won 28 straight games at home and had 85 consecutive home wins over unranked opponents. Those impressive streaks are over. It was also the first Big Ten loss for Michigan State, now 5-1 in the conference.
This is a huge break for a host of Big Ten teams. Illinois and Minnesota, both 4-2 in league play, are now only a game back of the conference lead. Purdue (14-4, 3-2) and Wisconsin (12-5, 3-2), currently in action at Iowa, also just got a little bit closer to the top of the conference thanks to the shocker pulled off by the Wildcats (10-6, 2-4).
UPDATE: Wisconsin loses 73-69 in overtime at Iowa. The Badgers blow a golden chance to pull into a second-place tie.
Bulls GM John Paxson emerged from his coma Wednesday and declared what the rest of us already know: His team stinks.
Admitting the problem is the first step toward the cure. A quick check of the standings tells me the Bulls are 18-25. It's a miracle they've won 18.
Incredibly, they were only two games out of the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot at the start of play Wednesday night.
But forget about that. A playoff berth this season would be a complete waste of time. This team would be pounded four straight by either Cleveland or Boston. Come to think of it, the rest of the regular season is a complete waste of time. I tried to watch Monday's game against the Knicks. I really tried. I got bored by the middle of the second quarter.
Who is still going to Bulls games? Attendance at the United Center is inexplicably pretty decent for this unwatchable product.
As for Paxson, at least he stopped using "youth" as an excuse for the Bulls. Kirk Hinrich is in his sixth year. Luol Deng, Ben Gordon and Andres Nocioni are all in their fifth years. Drew Gooden is in his seventh year. Hell, this is the third year in the league for Tyrus Thomas. This team isn't young.
The only player on this team who is "young" is Derrick Rose, and he's the only man on the roster worth a damn.
So, what is the problem, Pax?
"It's a lot of little things," the GM said. "Turnovers we had throwing the ball away in the backcourt. It's just concentration and focus. I'm not going to say I'm pleased we've been competing better because we want to win. I don't like where we're at. I don't think anybody does."
Give Paxson some credit. In Wednesday's press conference, he put the blame right where it belongs: He blamed himself.
The Bulls can't scapegoat the coach anymore. Paxson has already hired and fired two coaches. He canned Scott Skiles last year. He hired the inexperienced Vinny Del Negro this year, and there have been growing pains from that. The Bulls look disorganized on offense at times and lackluster on defense. During critical moments in games, they make key mistakes.
But this group of players has had three different coaches now (Skiles, former interim coach Jim Boylan, Del Negro). They have failed under each. There's not much point in firing yet another head coach. How about firing these players? They are the ones who keep on losing.
Put everybody on the trading block except for Rose. Gut this team. It's time to rebuild. Again.
When people talk about the top closers in the American League, they don't often mention Bobby Jenks. They probably should.
Check out his numbers.
Jenks, seen at left celebrating the White Sox 2008 AL Central Division title, is the first reliever in franchise history to record 30 or more saves in three consecutive seasons. He's a two-time All-Star who recorded the final out in the 2005 World Series. He's converted 117 of his 133 career save opportunities, a rate of 87.9 percent.
Broadcaster Steve Stone always says any reliever who converts 85 percent or better should be considered elite. Stone knows as much about pitching as anyone out there, so I'll take his word for it.
But should Jenks be given a multiyear contract? The right-hander avoided arbitration Monday by agreeing to a one-year deal with the Sox worth $5.6 million. Jenks didn't comment in any of the Chicago papers this morning, so one can't help but wonder whether he would have preferred to get a two- or three-year deal.
Nevertheless, I think this is a fair deal for both sides. Jenks made only $550,000 last year. That means he'll make 10 times as much in 2009. That's a nice raise for Jenks, and he's worth every penny. It's a good deal for the Sox, too, because some of the free-agent closers (K-Rod, Kerry Wood) got eight-figure deals on the open market.
Would you rather have Wood for a little over $10 million or Jenks for $5.6 million? I'll take Jenks.
It's also good for the Sox because it's only a one-year commitment. Jenks is one of my favorite players, but there's no denying he's an injury risk. He already has two screws in his arm. He had a stint on the DL last year, although the injury had nothing to do with his pitching arm. No one is really sure whether Jenks will be a guy with the staying power to close games for the next five years.
Still, it's good that Jenks is still on the Sox. I was a little worried that he'd get traded this offseason. We all saw how the Sox bullpen struggled last July while Jenks was on the DL. He's the rock the relief corps is built upon.
On paper, you had to figure the 212th meeting between West Aurora and East Aurora would go East's way.
After all, the Tomcats (12-3) had won 12 straight games coming in. They had the homecourt advantage and the superior individual talent.
Sometimes, all that means nothing.
In a classic game, the Blackhawks came away with a 66-64 win in double overtime on Saturday.
For West (11-5) to win, I figured it would need someone to step up and play at a level higher than what you might expect. That player turned out to be senior Bryson Hughes, shown at left blocking a shot attempt by East's Jamar Shepard.
Hughes averages around 6.0 points per game, but he came up with an 18-point effort against the Tomcats. This performance gave the Blackhawks the offensive punch they needed to stay with East and eventually get over the top.
In addition, veteran West High coach Gordie Kerkman proved once again that he has 660 career wins for a reason. Kerkman switched to a 3-2 zone in the fourth quarter. This was a wise move because it limited East's athletic advantage and took away some one-on-one driving opportunities for the Tomcats.
As a lifelong West Sider, I was pleased to see the Blackhawks come out on top. Players on both teams deserve congratulations for putting on a great show. It was an excellent night of high school basketball here in Aurora.
The last time we saw White Sox right-hander Jose Contreras he wasn't doing so well. As seen at left, Contreras tore his left Achilles tendon on Aug. 9 at U.S. Cellular Field.
The injury usually takes a minimum of nine months to recover from. I've written on this blog that I don't expect to see Contreras until at least the All-Star break.
Well, guess what. He's throwing off a mound already. And he's lost 25 pounds. Scroll down to the bottom of Ken Rosenthal's report, and you'll see it.
Of course, there's a big leap from being able to throw off a mound to being able to get big-league hitters out consistently. But it's nice to know Contreras is ahead of schedule, especially since the Sox have a lot of unproven pitchers that will be competing for roster spots this spring.
I still don't expect a whole heckuva lot from Contreras in 2009, but any contributions the Sox could get from him would be huge.
The Chicago Tribune's Teddy Greenstein reports that Northwestern is trying to talk Illinois into playing a football game at Wrigley Field.
Here's my question: Why?
You are talking about two mediocre (at best) football programs. The two teams didn't come close to selling out their game in Evanston on Nov. 22 this past season, which Northwestern won 27-10. Is anyone really that interested in this so-called rivalry?
I'm an Illinois alum, and I can assure you our biggest rival is not Northwestern.
Sorry, but the novelty of playing at urine-smelling, rat-infested Wrigley Field is not going to bring me out to an Illinois-Northwestern football game. Not gonna happen, who you crappin'?
I don't even bother going to the game when the two schools play in Evanston, and I'm sure ticket prices will be jacked up significantly for a game at "beautiful Wrigley Field."
Some have suggested the two schools play at Soldier Field, an excellent venue for football. This is also a dumb idea -- because people are not excited about Illinois or Northwestern football. Thus, many of the 60,000 seats at the stadium on the lakefront would remain empty.
Just play the games on campus. That's where they belong.
Someone asked this question on the Fighting Illini Scout board just the other day. Illini fans all remember Warren Carter, the lovable numbskull who was famous for driving his car backwards down the one-way streets of Champaign.
The other night I was watching a replay of the March 26, 2005, Elite Eight game between Illinois and Arizona on the Big Ten Network. Carter, then a sophomore, actually made a brief cameo in that game. He played three minutes, long enough to draw a foul and sink two free throws. At that time, Carter had far less hair than he has in the picture at left.
Carter wasn't much of a player until his senior year at Illinois (2006-07), when he averaged 13.7 points and 6.1 rebounds per game for a mediocre Illini club that finished 23-12.
So, where in the world is Warren Carter? Well, he spent the 2007-08 season playing in Turkey, where he averaged 18 points per game playing for some team called Mutlu Aku Selcuk University.
He started this season playing for Spanish ACB league's club CB Sevilla. Unfortunately, Warren was recently released, or as the Europeans say, fired.
So, actually I don't have any idea where in the hell Warren Carter is today.
Sure, I take a couple days off and what happens? Sox GM Kenny Williams finally makes a move.
The South Siders have welcomed right-hander Bartolo Colon back into the fold. I like to refer to Colon as "Fatolo" because, frankly, he is very fat.
But when healthy, Colon can pitch. He had a previous stint with the Sox in 2003, when he went 15-13 with a 3.87 ERA and tossed 242 innings. Colon's best year came in 2005 with the Los Angeles Angels, when he went 21-8 and won the American League Cy Young Award.
He hasn't been healthy much since, so this move is a risk for the Sox. Nevertheless, it's a low-risk move. Colon's deal is only for one year, and he is guaranteed only $1 million. He could earn an additional $2 million if he reaches certain incentives based on innings pitched.
The less intelligent Sox fans of the world are screaming bloody murder about this move. I'm not sure why. In the worst-case scenario, Colon gets hurt again and the Sox are out of $1 million. Big deal. In the best-case scenario, Fatolo earns the No. 4 spot in the rotation and makes 30 starts.
Colon is worth the chance, IMO. You can never have enough pitching. Even last year when Fatolo made only seven starts with the Red Sox, he won four of them and posted a respectable 3.92 ERA.
Fatolo might be fat, but he's a tough competitor. He's proven that for years, ever since his days with the Cleveland Indians. If Colon is healthy, and that's a big if, this could turn out to be a real nice pickup for the Sox.
With a 150-97 career record, we know this guy knows how to pitch.
If you're a White Sox fan, you know things have been a little quiet lately. Perhaps a little too quiet.
Our Sox have some holes, but general manager Kenny Williams hasn't been active at all in the last month. Sure, he dumped some salary and some dead weight early this offseason by unloading outfielder Nick Swisher to the Yankees and pitcher Javier Vazquez to the Braves for packages of prospects.
Since then, though, there hasn't been much happening. In the absence of information comes wild speculation. The rumors continue to swirl around veteran outfielder Jermaine Dye. Earlier this week, I heard he might be going to Texas for shortstop Michael Young. The latest Joe Cowley rambling has Dye possibly headed to the Angels for infielder/outfielder Chone Figgins (left).
Personally, I would not trade Dye unless I was getting a pitcher in return. Let's review the Sox starting rotation:
1. Mark Buehrle
2. Gavin Floyd
3. John Danks
I don't mind letting youngsters like Clayton Richard, Lance Broadway, Jeff Marquez and Aaron Poreda compete for the fifth and final spot in the rotation. But I'd like one more proven arm to fill that No. 4 spot.
I also feel the Sox could use another outfielder. Dye and Quentin are the only two proven commodities the Sox have. Deal Dye, and you're left with just Quentin.
I really doubt Williams is done dealing this offseason. There are still dozens of free agents still out there. You can read the complete list here. It's a buyers' market right now. Williams might be biding his time, waiting for the price to come down on some of these guys.
There are still a few useful pitchers left on that list: Ben Sheets, Jon Garland, Randy Wolf and Oliver Perez. The outfield crop isn't quite as good, mostly aging DH-types like Garret Anderson and Cliff Floyd.
We'll see if anyone out there catches Williams' eye. Although, the guess here is there will be another trade or two coming. I just hope another pitcher will be joining the Sox one way or another.
Amidst all the NFL playoff talk Sunday, there was a pretty good college basketball game played in Winston-Salem, N.C.
In a matchup of two highly-ranked teams, No. 4 Wake Forest improved to 14-0 with a 92-89 victory over No. 3 North Carolina.
Maybe, just maybe, this will signal the end of all the hyperbole about North Carolina being the best college basketball team this decade - or the best college basketball team of the last 25 years.
Believe it or not, I've heard both those arguments made by assorted commentators on ESPN in recent weeks.
Let's give the Tar Heels due credit: They are 14-2. They have quality wins over Kentucky, Oregon, Notre Dame and Michigan State. They certainly are one of the teams with a legitimate shot at winning the national championship this season.
But they are also 0-2 in the ACC.
So, here's to hoping ESPN can get its collective head back on straight and put this Carolina team in the proper context. Best team this decade? I'm not sure the current Tar Heels could beat the 2005 North Carolina championship team that beat Illinois in the national title game. Heck, I'm pretty sure that group of Illini could take this year's Tar Heels. And let's not forget about the actual best college basketball team this decade: the 2007 Florida Gators.
If this Carolina team truly is as great as some commentators think, it should be able to win the ACC, right? Wake Forest, Duke and Clemson just might have other ideas.
No matter what happens the rest of the season, let's at least wait until we see who makes the Final Four and who wins the national championship before we starting comparing current teams to the all-time best.
The title of this blog is the infamous quote itself. Scroll all the way down to the bottom of this article, and you'll find it.
Bruce Weber said it last June: "The league should be wide open and we can be right in the middle of it. I do know one thing, though. I think Indiana will suck. Don't put that on the Internet."
In the process, the Illini coach solidified himself as The Great Satan for everyone who resides in the state to the East of here. Weber was already hated and despised by Hoosier Nation for calling out former Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson for shady recruiting tactics.
Eventually, Weber was proven right about Sampson, thus making Indiana fans hate him even more.
The Sampson recruiting scandal has left new IU coach Tom Crean with one of the weaker teams in recent Big Ten history, provoking Weber to author his "Indiana will suck" comment last summer.
Now, we have the proof that Indiana sucks this year. The Illini drilled Indiana 76-45 Saturday in Champaign, led by Trent Meacham (left) and his 21 points. By the seven-minute mark of this game, Illinois had established a 21-2 lead. It was 45-20 at halftime. You get the idea.
I don't want to gloat too much because, frankly, Illinois should be blowing out Indiana this year. The Illini have superior talent and far more experience than this year's Hoosier team. But I still watched every minute of Saturday's game, even delaying my departure for work by 15 minutes. I wanted to savor every last second of the latest humiliation for IU and its fans.
The Indiana fans have given me so much grief through the years that I want to enjoy their darkest hour to the fullest. Eventually, Crean will restore credibility and competitiveness over in Bloomington, but for now, Indiana sucks and I love it.
Hey, IU fans! Got Gordon?
Ah, yes. Here we go again. Another drawn out drama where Brett Favre takes weeks to decide whether he wants to retire or not.
I really don't care what Favre does. I'm just tired of this same saga playing out over and over again, year after year.
Forty years from now, I can see myself sitting on my couch, old and gray with my cane and walker by my side. I'll have the TV on, and I'll be listening to an ESPN report on how 79-year-old Brett Favre is considering whether to retire - or spend one more year throwing "the football" into triple coverage in the NFL.
Herb Gould of the Sun-Times says Illinois football coach Ron Zook is considering bringing on Penn State defensive line coach Larry Johnson as defensive coordinator.
Gould thinks Johnson would be a great addition, and I agree. I'm tired of the "two-headed monster" of Curt Mallory and Dan Disch serving as co-defensive coordinators. I think the Illini defensive players would benefit from hearing one voice. In addition, the defensive calls were far too conservative last season, IMO. Change would be welcome from my perspective.
Former TCU offensive coordinator Mike Schultz has joined the Illini program in the same capacity, replacing Mike Locksley, who took the head coaching job at New Mexico.
Zook is also in the market for a new offensive line coach, after Eric Wolford left to take the same position at South Carolina. There will also be a new defensive line coach at Illinois next year, as Zook has relieved Tom Sims of his duties.
The NHL announced the complete roster for the Western Conference All-Star team on Wednesday. Quite a few Blackhawks fans are perturbed because defenseman Duncan Keith (left) was not named to the squad.
The frustration is understandable. After all, Keith made the All-Star team last year, and he is having a better season now than he was a year ago.
Keith has five goals and 18 assists in 37 games, and he leads the Blackhawks with a plus-minus rating of +24.
But forget about those numbers. Here's the thing that stands out about Keith: He plays 26 minutes a night on average. That's nearly half the game, and that's a lot of ice time in hockey. He and defense partner Brent Seabrook are ALWAYS out there against the other team's top players.
Keith is one of my favorite Blackhawks, and frankly, I think he's the team MVP this year.
I attended last Sunday's game at the United Center, and Keith was the best player on the ice in the Blackhawks' 5-2 victory over a very good Calgary team. Keith had two assists and was a plus-3 in that contest, and as always, he played against the top forwards from the Flames.
Calgary All-Star forward Jarome Iginla was a minus-4 playing against Keith and Seabrook.
Clearly, Keith deserves to be in the All-Star game, but I do understand why he was omitted. First off, look at the other defensemen who were chosen. Detroit's Niklas Lidstrom, Edmonton's Sheldon Souray, San Jose's Dan Boyle and Nashville's Shea Weber are all outstanding players.
Secondly, three Blackhawks players got voted into the All-Star game in the fan balloting. Forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews and defenseman Brian Campbell will all start for the Western Conference.
Kane is a great player and deserving of every honor he gets. But if I were not a Blackhawks fan, I would not have voted for Toews or Campbell to start. As a matter of fact, I think Keith should be starting alongside Detroit's Lidstrom.
However, Keith's name was not on the ballot. And since three Blackhawk players were selected, the powers that be decided that the Chicago contingent was big enough as it is.
I've watched nearly every Blackhawks game this season, and if I had to pick three, I'd send Keith, Kane and Patrick Sharp (20 goals, 14 assists) to the All-Star game.
But as is the case with all All-Star games, there are always a couple deserving guys left off the roster. And there are always a couple guys named who probably should be left at home.
During his end-of-the-season press conference, Bears general manager Jerry Angelo stated that he is "fixated" on stabilizing the team's quarterback situation.
Better yet: How about sticking with Kyle Orton and giving him a better supporting cast? Angelo says he's not 100 percent sold on Orton, and neither am I. However, I've seen enough positives to give him another shot at leading the team next year.
This past year, Orton completed 58.5 percent of his passes and threw for 2,972 yards and 18 touchdowns despite having nothing but a pile of mediocrity (at best) at wide receiver. Are those great numbers? Nope, but they aren't terrible either, especially by the Bears' low quarterback standards.
The Bears underachieved at so many positions in 2008. I can't understand why quarterback is the top priority.
Look at the defense: There is no consistent pass rush coming off the edge. Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye had only 11 sacks COMBINED this season. Not good enough. Brian Urlacher had 30 less tackles and five fewer sacks in 2008 than he had in 2007. As a matter of fact, he had no sacks this year. Is it time to move Urlacher to outside linebacker? Maybe or maybe not, but the decline in Urlacher's production has to be a concern.
Then, there's the secondary. Charles Tillman, Mike Brown, Nathan Vasher, all injured this year. These guys just saw their position coach get canned. Think the secondary might be an area of need? I do.
I haven't even started talking about the offense yet, and do I really need to? This is a team with a wide receiving corps of Devin Hester, Marty Booker, Rashied Davis and Brandon Lloyd. Yuck. They are near the top of the league in drops, and that's about it.
How about the offensive line? Left tackle John St. Clair is a free agent. Right tackle John Tait is aging. So is center Olin Kreutz. Last year's first-round draft pick, Chris Williams, is coming off an injury. Might the Bears need some help for this unit? I believe so.
A lot of your more successful offenses these days have two quality tailbacks. How about a little help for Matt Forte?
See, there are so many problems with this Bears team. Yet Angelo is "fixated" on the quarterback. Go ahead, Jerry. Bring in Warner or Vick, or try to make the pipe dream trade for Donovan McNabb.
With this lame defense and the lack of weapons on the outside on offense, this is a mediocre team no matter who the quarterback is. I thought Kyle Orton was fortunate to lead this sorry lot to a 9-7 record. Why is he the one getting called out in the press?
EDIT: This just in - the Bears canned their linebacker coach Tuesday. I guess the position coaches and Orton are the designated scapegoats.
Before the week is over, it appears the Cubs will sign Milton Bradley to a three-year contract.
The talented but enigmatic outfielder has a long history of temper tantrums, such as the one shown at left. Here, we see Bradley chucking a bag of baseballs at an umpire while he was a member of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Bradley made news last year by bounding up four flights of stairs to confront a Kansas City announcer who had criticized his play.
Without a doubt, the Cubs and Bradley are an interesting mix. There are few teams in baseball that are under a greater microscope than the Cubs. That clubhouse is filled with media all the time. Bradley doesn't seem like the kind of guy who likes to be questioned. Playing in Chicago, he will be questioned.
That begs this question: Which Chicago media personality will Bradley kill first? The debate is already raging among editors here at the Fox Valley Publications office.
DJ Wanberg, our niche publication sports editor, has selected Paul Sullivan of the Tribune. Brad Nolan, our central sports editor, thinks Bradley will kill Carol Slezak of the Sun-Times. I can see Bradley going after Sun-Times columnist Greg Couch. Chris Magee, assistant news editor at the Naperville Sun, sees a potential confrontation brewing between Bradley and TV color analyst Bob Brenly.
None of it seems far-fetched.
One also wonders what will happen the first time Bradley makes an error with Carlos Zambrano on the mound. Who would win a fight between Zambrano and Bradley? I think Zambrano is a little bit bigger than Bradley, so I'll take Big Z in the bout.
What does everyone else think?
The night of the East-West game is basically Basketball Christmas here in Aurora each year. This season's matchup is now just two weeks away as the two teams will collide Jan. 17 at East Aurora.
Coming into this season, I thought this would be a down year for hoops in Aurora, but it has been a little bit better than I expected. When we sat down as a staff to begin planning the season preview tab, my comment was, "East Aurora should be the best team in the area, but they'll probably find a way to screw it up."
Well, so far the Tomcats are the best team in the area. And they haven't screwed it up. This East Aurora team has a ton of talent. Sophomore point guard Ryan Boatright (left), who made national headlines when he made his college choice (USC) before announcing which high school he was going to play for, has been playing like a Division I player lately.
Boatright and talented 6-4 senior forward Will Brown led East to the championship of its own holiday tournament this past week. The Tomcats (10-2) are riding a 10-game winning streak.
We've chronicled the off-court struggles of Brown in our newspaper previously. Past East Aurora seasons have been derailed because of classroom issues and discipline problems. But if the Tomcats can put all those things behind them this season, conference and sectional championships are certainly within their grasp.
Brown, Jamar Shepard, Jamario Taylor, Tramell Weathersby, these are all names familiar to prep basketball observers in Aurora. Boatright is surrounded by upperclassmen. This is the Tomcats year, if they seize the opportunity.
The boys on the West Side aren't too bad either. As a West Aurora alum, I've been out to see the Blackhawks play a couple times already this season. I saw them beat Naperville North 53-41 and I saw them top Lake Park 49-32.
West (8-4) appears to be a little short on offensive firepower, but as usual, this is a solid defensive team. Senior point guard Markus Cocroft is one of my all-time favorite players to watch at the high school level. He's a 5-foot-8 ball of speed, a little guy with a big heart who doesn't take possessions off on defense.
The Blackhawks, who have won six out of seven after a slow start, also have two promising young frontcourt players in 6-3 freshman Juwan Starks and 6-7 sophomore Kyle Pilmer.
Starks showed poise beyond his years at the Pontiac Tournament, where West lost its opener to state-power Simeon before winning three straight on its way to the consolation bracket title.
As per usual, the East-West game is looking like a showdown between two of the best teams in the area. I'd install the Tomcats as the favorite, but you can rest assured the Blackhawks will be ready.
Bob Verdi's perspective on the Winter Classic was pretty good, I thought.
The Detroit Red Wings, who beat the Blackhawks 6-4 Thursday afternoon at Wrigley Field, are the defending Stanley Cup champions. They still look like the best team in hockey to me, which is a hard sentence for any Hawks fan to type. The Wings are what the Hawks hope to become.
There's no doubt in my mind the Blackhawks are eventually going to break into the league's upper echelon. They've come a long way in the last year, but there is still work to be done. Mainly, the Blackhawks need to learn to play a complete game against the top teams.
Look at the matchups with the Wings this year. The Hawks had a 4-2 lead going into the third period on Oct. 25. The result? Detroit rallies for a 6-5 shootout win.
The Hawks had a 4-2 lead going into the third period on Dec. 6. The result? Detroit once again rallies to tie and wins 5-4 in a shootout.
On Thursday, the Blackhawks established control early and gained a 3-1 advantage after Ben Eager (left) scored late in the first period. However, Detroit controlled the play from the start of the second period through the conclusion of the game, resulting in another Wings' victory.
In the second period, the Hawks got away from what made them successful in the early going. They tried to make plays that were not there. They turned the puck over. They weren't getting pucks deep into the Detroit zone. They failed to establish an effective forecheck. They weren't playing physical in their own end. The Red Wings regularly take advantage of lapses like that, and Thursday was no exception.
"It takes a perfect game to beat those guys," Blackhawks defenseman Brian Campbell said after the game.
Not quite. You don't have to play a perfect game, but you do have to play a complete game. The Hawks have been playing one or two good periods in each of their games with Detroit this season. To win, three good periods are required.
Earlier this week, my colleague Jim Owczarski (left) and I dug up some of the best quotes of the year from the sporting world. Most of them have either a local or Chicago flavor to them. You can check out our list here. Let us know which ones you like best and least.
Happy New Year everybody!