Sunday, December 23, 2007

Official Stance Concerning Rex Grossman

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Official Stance Concerning Rex Grossman

I thought Rex Grossman would be better than he's been this year. That said, he's still the least of the Bears' problems.

Rex Grossman had a solid season in 2006. He was a world beater in the first month, and was in the early season MVP talks. I'm not exactly sure when the Good-Rex-Bad-Rex talk came into play, but it was in full effect by the time the two-week Super Bowl frenzy rolled around.

I can remember two bad games for Grossman last season. (OK, three...but the New Year's Eve scrimmage against the Packers doesn't count.) He was awful against the Cardinals on Monday Night Football. The Bears won that game. He was bad in the Super Bowl. The Bears lost that game.

But he was great in the playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl. He was clutch against Seattle, and made enough big plays to blow out the New Orleans Saints. Beyond that, l can think of a couple games he single-handedly won with his arm last year as well. He wasn't just a game manager. The Bears' weren't always just winning IN SPITE of their quarterback. But the media created such a monster that almost everyone started to buy into it by the time the preseason rolled around this year. Including Rex.

Rex dropped three fumbles in a preseason game against the Colts this year. All of a sudden, "he's awful!" It was preseason! I truly feel like those three fumbles doomed him though. Remember...when he was benched this season he was only 1-2!!! The Bears' had the Lions next, and I truly believe with all my heart that Chicago would have beaten the Lions and the season would have been a completely different story if they had just let Rex ride it out.

Instead, they jacked with him...benched him, put Griese in, Griese got hurt, put Rex back in, Rex got hurt, and now you STILL don't know what you have in Rex Grossman. If you were going to have a losing season anyway, at least find out what you have in your would-be franchise quarterback.

After Griese's initial debacle at Detroit, he actually looked solid for a couple games. People got excited. They wondered why the Bears didn't make the switch earlier! They thought it justified their Rex hatred.

It didn't. Aside from changing quarterbacks, the Bears changed a lot of other things. First of all, they got a couple of the key defensive players back. Then, they started playing Adrian Peterson a little more. Peterson offered a pass-catching threat out of the backfield that Cedric Benson did not. That was a new wrinkle. So was Greg Olsen--the first tight end taken in the 2007 draft. He was a new weapon. Then they started playing Devin Hester on offense. That opened things up and Griese had a lot of fun with that. They completely changed the offensive game plan and put in a lot of safe passes for Griese. He found moderate success.

Rex wasn't so lucky when he was in there. I can look at a couple key point this season that turned it upside down. One was Ryan Longwell hitting that kick at the gun to beat the Bears after their frenzied comeback. One was the inability to pick up one little first down late against the Giants. Oh there were others. But the single play that stands out in my mind was the deep ball in the first game against San Diego when Bernard Berrian ran the wrong route.

This was supposed to be the year that Bernard Berrian emerged as a true number one receiver. Muhsin Muhammed is getting older. Berrian had a terrific run in the playoffs last year, and he and Rex established an exciting longball threat last year. But he got off to an awful start when he ran that bad route against the Chargers. Rex had been flawless up to that point, and the Bears were driving. At this point in the season, no one's confidence had been shattered yet. No one knew Rex would eventually get benched. No one knew Berrian would have a horribly inconsistent season. All we knew is that the Bears were the defending NFC champs, and that the CHI/SD game was a "possible Super Bowl" preview.
It had been a huge defensive struggle, so the Bears called a TD in the left corner of the end zone. Rex threw a TD ball, but Berrian did not run a TD route. It was picked off. Troy Aikman immediately pointed out that it wasn't Rex's fault. It was Grossman's only pick of the day, but it sent everything in a downward spiral. Not only for the game, but for the season, Rex's confidence, and unfortunately Grossman's career likely.

In fact, the Bear receivers were awful all year long. Especially when Rex was in there. They made the occasional bail-out spectacular catch, but didn't convert the easy chances consistently. Simply put, they didn't help out Grossman at all. Key drops repeatedly when he was starting to find his niche. It killed him over and over and over. You can hide a maybe-mediocre quarterback if you have reliable receivers. The Bears did not.

You can also hide a mediocre quarterback with a good offensive line. The Bears were not good on the O-line. At all. Nor was their running game much of an option.

And let's not forget the Bears traded their best offensive player by a long shot. Thomas Jones was actually the Bears' leading receiver two years ago. Rex had grown to really depend on him in the passing game. At the time I was in favor of the Jones trade in order to go with the much younger Cedric Benson. Then I saw how unreliable Benson was in the passing game.

I don't blame Benson for the Bears' lack of running game. I do, however, think his absolute incompetency in the passing game destroyed Rex and the Bears' offense.
I think it speaks volumes that the three times the Bears' offense looked good this year, they had thrown away their game plan. The final drive to beat Philly when Brian Griese's headset wasn't working. The hurry-up mode in the comeback against Denver where Rex called his own shots and engineered three clutch drives. And the beginning of the Giants game this year when they went no-huddle and Rex was extremely efficient.

That tells me something about the offensive coordinating and the overall game plan. It also tells me Rex is at his best when you turn him loose.

Unfortunately, I'm afraid another team is going to find that out before the Bears do.

MIKE BROWN -- BEARS’ STARTING STRONG SAFETY

Friday, December 21, 2007

MIKE BROWN -- BEARS’ STARTING STRONG SAFETY

I like Bob Sanders OK, I guess. But I actually liked him better the first time around when he was known as Mike Brown.

It's starting to seem like people don't realize that Mike Brown was Bob Sanders before Demond Sanders was Bob Sanders. Needless to say--living and working in the Indy market, I have just about ODed on one Sanders talk this Fall. On the show I produce, they often do a bit called "Sanders' Snaps," where the hosts speak in hyperbole about Demond Sanders as if he were freaking Bill Brasky (of SNL fame). Trust me, it's absolutely hilarious.

One of them is "Seventy-one percent of the Earth is covered by water...the rest is covered by Bob Sanders." See I told you. They're really terrific. Just fantastic stuff.

But it got me thinking about how different the Colts' defense looked toward the end of the regular season last year. They were the worst. Then Demond Sanders comes back and they win the Super Bowl.

Then it got me thinking about what a difference Mike Brown makes in the Bears' defense. And how no one talks about it. The Bears' defense was flat out dominant in the season opener at San Diego. They absolutely shut down LaDanian Tomlinson, and overcame a pathetic offensive performance to even keep it close. But Mike Brown got hurt in that game.

The next day I was listening to Colin Cowherd before the news came down that Brown was out for the season. Despite the Bear loss, Cowherd was going on and on about how awestruck he was by the Bears' defense. "If the Bears' defense stays healthy," he crowed, "you can pen them in the NFC championship game. Write it down."

Then Brown was out for the year. Then the Bears lost 34-10 to the Cowboys (their only blowout of the year, by the way). All of a sudden, "Man, the Bears' defense sucks!!!"

I asked Brian Peterson right around that time, "How come it is when Demond Sanders is hurt and the Colts' defense sucks it's 'because Bob Sanders is hurt,' but when Mike Brown is hurt and the Bear defense struggles it's simply 'the Bears' defense sucks'?"

He had no answer, but the fact of the matter is...Brian Urlacher is the superstar of the Bear defense. Mike Brown is the leader, best player, catalyst, and biggest run stopper. Sound like someone else you know?

When Mike Brown is out, the Bear defense becomes normal. (As an aside, when you also take Nathan Vasher, Lance Briggs, Dusty Dvoracek, Charles Tillman, Adam Archuleta and Tommie Harris away from the Bears' defense and they become downright pathetic).

But no one ever mentions it. Nor do many experts remember that Brown didn't play in the Super Bowl last year. However, I have had had more than one level-headed Colts' homer tell me that "the Super Bowl would have been a completely different story if 'you guys' [sic] had Tommie Harris and Mike Brown healthy."

For some inexplicable reason, people think that Demond Sanders ushered the era of the little hard-hitting strong safety into the NFL. "He changed the way the position is played." That's not true. I don't know who did, but Mike Brown was doing what Demond Sanders does as far back as 2000. Demond came into the league in 2004.

The only real difference between Mike and Demond is that Brown has big play capability. He absolutely made a name for himself with a lot of late-game exploits in 2001. Other than that, they're both run-stopping, hard-hitting, undersized, oft-injured strong safeties. Let me show you what I mean from the pro-football reference site.

Mike Brown is a 1-time Pro Bowler & 2-time All-Pro.

Demond Sanders is a 1-time Pro Bowler & 1-time All-Pro
(forgive me, I wrote this a few weeks ago before the 2007 announcements came down...)


Mike Brown was drafted by the Chicago Bears in the 2nd round of the 2000 draft.

Demond Sanders was drafted by the Indianapolis Colts in the 2nd round of the 2004 draft.


Mike Brown is 5'10, 212

Demond Sanders is 5'8, 200.


Mike Brown has missed major portions of three of the past four seasons.

Demond Sanders has missed major portions of two of the past three seasons.


They're both energetic, over-achieving players with good speed and good field awareness. Both have variations of braided hair, and are both good for an interesting quote or three in the postgame.


Now the differences...

Mike Brown has 14 career interceptions. Demond has 4. Brown has 4 sacks. Demond has none. Brown has 7 TDs. Demond has 1. And Brown single-handedly won multiple games with clutch play in 2001.

I'm not saying that Mike Brown is as good of an NFL football player as Bob. I'm saying that he's no less important to his team. And that Sanders did not re-invent the safety position.

Does Mike Brown hit as hard as Demond Sanders? Hey maybe not. But the point is, they both transform the run defense for their teams. And neither of them can come close to staying healthy, so maybe it's actually a moot point.

There has been talk that the Colts do not wish to re-sign Sanders when his contract is up, and that the Bears plan on pursuing him. My thought? Maybe...but I'd rather see what you can do with your own healthy "Bob Sanders" before pursuing a duplicate. Especially one who is only three years younger.

Sunday, September 30, 2007

September 29, 2007 - Saturday

’84 ’89 ’98 ’03 ’07

This was the year the Cubs were supposed to go for broke. They spent all that money in the offseason, hired the "perfect" manager, and turned him loose. The 100 year mark is approaching, and so the panic button was pushed.

The dynamics of this season have been unreal. A bad division, a bad start, injuries, team fights, suspensions, game postponements due to opposing players' death, and a very up and down record.

I am the first to say that sports should never have anything to do with real life. Sport is simply a diversion...a momentary distraction from things that matter. Sports should never matter. However, I do happen to take Cub baseball and Bradley basketball fairly seriously in the heat of the moment. And 2007 will likely be remembered (by me at least) as the year the Cubs were able to kind of shift my focus in the middle of a crappy-to-fairly-crappy summer.

As I mentioned, the season started roughly for the Cubs. Some friends of mine and I had tickets for the Sunday, June 3rd game...but as that date drew nigh, it almost seemed like it would already be an irrelevant game. They started off 7-13, battled back to 20-21, but then had lost six games in a row (and 10 of 12) but the time I made it to Wrigley on June 3rd. What's more...two days earlier Carlos Zambrano and Michael Barrett had engaged in a public fight in the dugout during the game. This was very bad. And the previous day Lou Piniella had kicked dirt on the third base umpire after Angel Pagan was called out on a boneheaded baserunning decision. He was supsended. The team was a complete mess. They were a season-worst NINE games under .500, and had fallen seven and a half games back of first place.

But that Sunday afternoon at Wrigley things turned around. The Cubs became a good baseball team in one day. Mark DeRosa hit a first inning grand slam, and the Cubs beat the Braves 10-1. The next day I moved to Indiana and started listening to almost every game on Gold 95.9 FM. It was suddenly a different season. And it couldn't have come at a better time for me personally. The Cubs provided a three hour hiatus from reality every night, and they were playing good baseball to boot.

Since I saw them that day in early June, they have gone 62-45. Immediately they ran off nine of 13 (and 17 of 25). That included a seven game winning streak at the end of June. They began to win most series, and their longest losing streak the rest of the way would be four. In my mind, the season is broken up very succinctly into pre-Wrigley Field visit, and post-Wrigley visit.

Eighty six. That's the number I've targeted for a while. Certainly 84. The Cardinals won the division with 83 wins last year. And I made a lot of fun of them. I thought that was weak and undeserving. So when the Cubs started to make their push, it was apparent that the division-winning team would not have a very impressive record. I wanted 84 wins at the very least, and 86 for good measure. Remember, the Cubs only won 88 games in 2003 when they last won the division (they actually won more the following year when they missed out on the playoffs). There is an asterisk in my mind next to the 2006 Cardinals' world championship. I don't want that to be the case should the Cubs do something special this year.

I've always made a big deal about teams not backing into championships. I was so pleased that the Bears and Colts both made it to the Super Bowl last season because they were the best team from each conference. I've often said that when the Cubs ever do win the World Series, I hope it's not a cheap back-in job where they sneak in the Wild Card and draw some weak opponents in the playoffs. I want to be able to look back at that season and remember that the Cubs were dominant. The Cubs haven't been dominant this year, but it's been an extremely memorable and thrilling season, and one that would certainly serve as a nice backdrop for a championship.

Last week, the Cubs reached 10 games over .500 for the first time all year. They had won 10 of their 12 to go 83-73 for the year. It was almost beginning to look like a first place record. And so for the first time in a while, I wasn't ashamed of the Central Division as a whole. But then the Cubs got swept at Florida this week. Oh well...it still might be enough.

I remember 2003 so well. I had just moved to Texas, but was immediately consumed by the midwest baseball team I had always loved. Right off the bat I had made two new good friends--both liked the Cubs every bit as much as I did. I didn't really have a job job. I was working for Baylor Dining Services and as a research assistant at Baylor. But I had all my evenings free. And we had those guys over to watch the game. Every game. It was what we did that October.

The first playoff game at Atlanta, Dr. Carbonara opened up the lecture hall to show the game on the big screen. It felt so epic. Much larger than the baseball playoffs had ever felt before. And the Cubs played like a different team. All of a sudden all the frustrations of the regular season seemed so far away. These were the playoff Cubs.

And so it was. Clutch. Randall Simon. Doug Glanville. Mark Prior. Kerry Wood. Kenny Lofton. All these guys seemed to become larger than life in the playoffs. My life got put on hold. Later people asked me if I was OK recently. I realized no one had heard from me. I was in my first semester of grad school, but studying seemed to be a non-issue for about a month. I was listening to Extended Post Game on WGN radio with David Kaplan last night. He implored the listeners, "Enjoy the ride. No matter what happens, you're going to enjoy it. You're going to enjoy not getting a lot of sleep. You're going to enjoy not returning many phone calls." And immediately I was transported back to 2003. He was right. Time stood still while the Cubs were in the playoffs.

This time? I'm much too busy for all that. I'm just hoping I get to see and/or listen to most of the Cubs' playoff games. Then again, there may be only three. I'm prepared for that. The Cubs already did their job for me personally this year. They got me through the summer. Now I want to see them win it. But I don't need it. I handled the Steve Bartman game alrightly, I think I'll be fine no matter what happens here.

SONGS OF SUMMER

September 18, 2007 - Tuesday


SONGS OF SUMMER


There will always be songs linked to different experiences and different eras. I can specifically recall exact songs from specific seasons of the calendar over the last half decade or so. Here are ten songs that will forever remind me of the Summer of 2007 (for better or worse)...
1. Hey There Delilah - Plain White Tees
2. Home - Daughtry
3. Umbrella - Rihanna
4. Broken - Lifehouse
5. Breath - Breaking Benjamin
6. What If - Coldplay
7. Palm of Your Hand - Satellite Soul
8. Who We Are - Lifehouse
9. If You Let Me Love You - Smalltown Poets
10. Forever - Papa Roach

(I didn't say I was proud of all the songs...)

Priorities and Stuff

August 16, 2007 - Thursday

Priorities and Stuff

Nathan LaGrange once told me, "If I don't have God as number one in my life, it's not like that first slot is empty. Something always moves in to take His place." It's scary how you can get a little carried away—even with the right things. You can do good things with pure intentions with correct motives and still find yourself drifting from center just slightly.

Think about what jealousy can do in a human relationship. It will drive us to the unthinkable. I'm sure we've all been there. How much more when the Maker of the universe sees a heart He created replace Him with something altogether empty and carnal? James 4:5: "Or do you suppose that it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, 'The Spirit which He has caused to dwell in our hearts yearns jealously over us'?" What have I yearned for over the years? As a human I have limited and crude resources with which to act on a jealous feeling. But He has all of creation at His disposal to wake us up. And sometimes that doesn't feel much good at all. But it works.

Larry Crabb said in "Shattered Dreams": "All of us are trapped by addiction to a desire for something less than God." I know it well. Of course it doesn't seem like "something less than God" at the time. Maybe just something in addition to… Certainly not something to replace. But it's dangerous nonetheless. Tom told me (of that quote): "There's a book of commentary that could go along with that, I'll leave it at that for now."

In the book "Sacred Romance," John Eldredge writes: "If we believe that this life is our best shot at happiness, if this is as good as it gets, we will live desperate demanding and eventually despairing men and women. We will place on this world a burden it was never mean to bear."

I think we'd all like to think we're at least a little bit in control. That we can control our own level of happiness at least in part. The above quote is both reassuring and excruciatingly crippling at the same time. If you take all that power away from me, that messes with my mind. But the truth of it can be very comforting if used correctly.

I had been on the verge of many kinds of fears as of late. Fear of a miss-step. Fear of failure. Fear of falling on my face. Fear of destroying my life. Fear of pain. Fear of repeat pain. Fear of still hating my job tomorrow. Fear of hating my life tomorrow. Fear of getting taken advantage of. Fear of getting walked all over. Again. Fear of looking like a fool. Fear of looking naïve. Fear of looking unwise and ignorant.

Pastor Ron at church was talking from the Psalms this summer. One particular Sunday about a month ago was probably the most poignant message I've ever heard at a specific time in my life. It was unbelievable how relevant and timely the entire deal was.

He spoke of fear "evaporating." I liked the imagery that accompanied that. All the points were good, but the first—Fear Evaporates From Regular Intimacy with God (Psalm 91:1)—got to me particularly. Simply put…it works. We may not like it. It may not be how we would choose for it to work. But that's how it goes. However, that's a real discipline. And hard work. Another one was "Fear evaporates from faith declarations." And the final one (not altogether different from the first) was "Fear evaporates when we love God deeply." Easier said than done, but necessary nonetheless.

As I said, the sermon couldn't have been any more timely. Oh I'm still afraid maybe, say…a couple thousand times a day. But there's a certain peace that comes from actually putting some of this stuff into practice.

Whales and gales and plans that fail. It's amazing how we reframe our life until it's so off base it's not even funny. I had this verse from Proverbs 16 in my caption for awhile: "People make plans in their minds, but only the Lord can make them come true. Depend on the Lord in whatever you do, and your plans will succeed." Not too radical of a thought, I don't suppose. But it sure does take some of the pressure off. Another translation: "The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord. All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits. Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established."

It's been said that "Life is a tragedy for those who feel, and a comedy for those who think." These days the thinking and the feeling seem to be running together an awful lot for me. And I certainly haven't found a lot very humorous in recent times.

It's amazing what a mind game life does become. I visited with a friend in the Midwest for a weekend this summer. He gave me a couple "ouch" verses:
"But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit." Jude 1:20. Nobody's going to do our heavy lifting for us. Corporate gatherings and group Bible study serve their respective purposes. But if the groundwork is not being laid on a personal level, the others will lack footing. And that will show up, believe me.

"And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit." 2 Corinthians 3:18.

And then one of my favorite verses (and one that haunts me all the time): "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is, pleasing and perfect will." Romans 12:2. That's about as simple as the Bible ever gets. There's a formula right there. It's not a mystery.

Now…if I could only remember that on a daily basis and maybe apply some of it here and there. Maybe that's a process. I don't know. I'm sure there are certain levels of realization here and there. But it's amazing when real life kicks in how it will make you step back and evaluate some of this stuff.

Monday, August 6, 2007

HALF A YEAR

Saturday, June 30, 2007

It's nearly impossible for me to believe that today marked the halfway point of 2007. I so very vividly remember New Year's Eve. This year looks like it will be divided pretty neatly in half for me: 1). A whirlwind of planning / packing /connecting / traveling / searching / wrapping things up / and moving for the first six months. 2). Trying to find my niche in a new locale and discovering satisfaction in the little things (it seems) for the second six months.

How clearly I remember where I was on New Year's Eve. There was a small and intimate gathering and a miniature worship/prayer service just after midnight. I can still remember specific requests, pleadings, and phrases that were uttered around the room that night (as well as my own unspoken sentiments). It seems cruel that life would only give you so little time to get all this accomplished. It's half way through 2007. I have no idea if I'm a better or worse person than January 1st. Who's to say?

How do you measure progress and regression? Success and failure? Holiness and carnality? How do you know if you've stuck to God's plan for you this year? Being a sentimental guy, I have the tendency to mark days and take things like the halfway point of a year to step back and evaluate. But what is the barometer? Like I alluded to, so far 2007 has been by far the most, um…"full" year of my life. By a long shot. There have been so many varying degrees of emotion and thought and doing and being and living and connecting and trying and failing and succeeding and wallowing and everything else in between. In a way I'm just exhausted. In other ways I'm invigorated and peaceful.

Something funny. Last year Derek and I stopped by Joel Osteen's chuch in Houston. It was early June. For some reason he broke out the whole, "God wants you to know that 2006 is going to be your greatest…year…ever. 2006 is going to be a year of increase. A year of promotion…" bit. He went on and on. I could've sworn it was the first Sunday in January. I don't know if he got confused or pulled up the wrong date on sermonsrus.com or what… I mean, really what does he ever say that's much different than that? But it was funny that he broke out his New Year's message in early June.

Oh yeah…and as I recall, 2006 was not my greatest year yet. It wasn't bad, but it certainly wasn't a year of increase or a year of promotion for me. I wonder what I did wrong.
A random thought…I have no timeframe right now. For so many years it seemed like time was flying by—because it was leading to something. Either school would start back up before long, or I had an impending move, or I had football season for which to prepare at work (which was always a major shift in dynamic there), or I had major travel plans on the horizon, or some sort of life change was on deck. So for years and years it's been, "I can't believe it's only such and such amount of time until…(fill in the blank).

Now? I'm just here. Is this summer flying by? I guess. But what does it all mean? My life is all going to look pretty much the same for a long long time it seems. This is new for me. Even in Nashville—when I didn't know exactly what was next and I had a pretty fixed routine—I still felt temporary overall. This is the first time I haven't felt temporary in a long time. Maybe since early high school. And I don't know what to do with that. It's certainly not a bad thing. It's just been a long time since time was kind of meaningless to me. I'm sure that will change pretty drastically one day though.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Basketball

Basketball
This was supposed to be a blog about March Madness, but I guess it just has to be about basketball in general. The tournament was downright awful this year. And I'm not talking about the fact that there was no "George Mason" in the Final Four. I don't care as much about that stuff. Sure the Missouri Valley only got two teams in and that hurt, but the games just flat out weren't good this year.

College basketball is funny. I'm a huge Chicago Bulls fan, but there's something about college basketball. I'll take it every single time. Maybe it's because I grew up going to Carver Arena in downtown Peoria--listening to the courtside band play the hits during timeouts, but the atmosphere surrounding that sport is unmatched (even by college football in my opinion).

Obviously the skill level is not there. But aside from maybe the Golden State Warriors and some selected NBA arenas in specific situations, when do you ever hear professional basketball fans actually expend energy trying to help their team. In college basketball, being a fan is hard work. There's no hip hop playing during the action, you're not being fed the lines of "Let's Go Mavs," or "DE-fense" by the P.A. announcer. College basketball fans are smart, hard working, and have a lot to do with the atmosphere—and often the outcome.

And the fact that there are only a handful of games—usually two a week, everything is magnified in college basketball. Every play seems to mean everything, and even though the talent is not there, the game is more visually and aesthetically pleasing. To me that is.

That said, when you see an NBA jumpshooter get an open shot, you're surprised when he misses. That's different.

This next point is nothing more than a simple observance. College basketball is a guard's game. It's certainly been that way for awhile now. But about halfway through this year I was thinking about the college basketball scene and I realized that the only "name" players were big men. I don't know if it is the new NBA age limit or what, but coming off of last year's NCAA tournament, you had to figure that a list of ten real reconizeable active college basketball players would include:

Greg Oden
Kevin Durant
Joakim Noah
Glenn "Big Baby" Davis
Josh McRoberts
Tyler Hansbrough
Nick Fazekas
Aaron Gray
Arron Afflalo
Julian Wright

While guys like Chris Lofton, Aaron Brooks and Acie Law pressed themselves into the national awareness as the season wore on; only Afflalo of the aforementioned list is a guard. That's very unusual…to have that much big man talent in the NCAA all at once. This was a very unique season in that regard. I wonder if that had something with this year's downer of a tourney. There wasn't the star guard play across the board that there may have been in years past. Guys like J.J. Redick, Randy Foye, Brandon Roy, Ronnie Brewer, Quincy Douby, Jordan Farmar, Daniel Gibson, Hassan Adams and Dee Brown had all been taken in the 2006 draft. That's a lot of good guard play missing.

I mentioned the NBA earlier. NBA basketball (and particularly regular season games) have become borderline unwatchable these days. However, for someone like me who does like college basketball, the Chicago Bulls are a perfect remedy. Ok, of course they've been my favorite teams since 1986, but this current roster is very well-built for someone who likes the college game.

The fact that the Bulls have no stars will likely be their downfall. If they beat the Heat in round one (they're up two game to zero), they will lose to the Pistons in the second round. But the way they're built makes them extremely compelling, fun to watch, and very easy for whom to root. Their coach coaches them like a college team. The GM John Paxson selects his talent carefully and intentionally as if a college recruiter. Even their biggest name, Ben Wallace, is the epitome of a role player. Their three top offensive players all became famous first as college basketball stars--all playing in the Final Four at least once (Kirk Hinrich - Kansas, Ben Gordon - UConn, and Luol Deng - Duke).

The only substantial player on the roster who didn't attend college is foreign (Andres Nocioni). And even he led Argentina to the Gold Medal in the 2004 Olympic games. There's another player from Duke (Chris Duhon), as well as former collegians from programs including Villanova, Seton Hall, and LSU.

And speaking of Nocioni, people forget what a stud he was in last year's playoffs. His foot injury rendered him a non-factor in this year's postseason. Anyone who doesn't think the Bulls missed his toughness, defense, and scoring is wrong. I don't know if it would have been enough to make the finals, but he makes them a different team. He single-handedly kept the Bulls in the Heat series last year, and people spoke of him as a budding superstar. Instead the injury retarded his 2006-07 season.

The Bulls still haven't really been full strength in the playoffs in recent years. When Nocioni was healthy, Deng was down. Even Eddy Curry missed the playoffs in his final year as a Bull. And now this year, Deng is at full strength But Nocioni is a non-factor.

Just one run through the playoffs with the whole roster available. That's all I ask before they break this group up.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

SUPER BOWL FORTY-ONE: IN HINDSIGHT


Tuesday, March 13, 2007 SUPER BOWL FORTY-ONE: IN HINDSIGHT I had a couple post-mortem Super Bowl thoughts scribbled down here for awhile. I had intended on one last football-related blog whether the Bears won or not. Hard to believe it's been over a month since the 29-17 Bears' loss in the Super Bowl. I figured it was time to assemble these thoughts into a blog. I probably would have procrastinated even further, but I have other blogs that need to go on, so I figured I should post this first.


I had predicted the Hester runback before the game, but the fact that it happened in the very first seconds was magical indeed. In hindsight it reminds me so much of the Kerry Wood 3-run HR to tie game 7 against the Marlins in the 2003 NLCS. That Wood HR was inconceivable, but yet still probably in the back of a Cub fans' minds at the time. However, it would just be too good to be true. After it actually happened, it seemed to have all the makings of a sure momentum-seizing play. But as I said, in hindsight—both would now have to be considered as simply two of the most exciting Chicago sports plays in losing efforts.


Still, if one were to map out a plan for the Bears to win that game, he could probably identify three blatant factors: 1). Hester needs to score against that coverage team. 2). If you get close to the end zone early, let Rex throw for a TD to get that confidence up right away. And 3). See if you can't get Manning to revert back to his choking ways.


Well sure enough, Hester runs the kickoff back, Grossman connects on a first quarter TD pass to Muhammed, and Manning looked awful on the Colts' first drive (should have been picked off twice—eventually was picked off by Chris Harris to end that initial drive). So it was all set up. If the Colts are still going to win after those three things fall in line, my hat's off. The Bears came out and made the Colts look downright silly and still never had a chance. I can live with that.


I feel sorry for people who let their actual moods be affected by sporting events. I've said before how much I enjoy listening to Boers and Bernstein on The Score. I like them because they're sports fans without caring about sports. They know so much about Chicago sports, but they're above the fray. They maintain an aura of being informed without being involved. It's really quite amazing. There's a sense of arrogance that goes along with that, but I also think they lend the most level-headed, common sense, non-ridiculous take on sports day in and day out.


And the Monday after Super Bowl XLI was no exception. They cut bummed-out callers NO slack. And it was hilarious and actually uplifting. They brought such a sense of perspective to the whole situation that was refreshing and much-needed. After several depressed callers, Boers preached: "Sports is just that…it's a diversion. It wasn't created to be your identity. I just don't get it..."


It was the SUPER BOWL. They reiterated this point over and over. They didn't choke in an early round home playoff game. They made the stinking Super Bowl. Once you're there, anything can happen. It's fifty-fifty at best. Bask in the two weeks of glory and go out and play your best. Bernstein also said that once the Bears fell down 16-14, he knew the game was over. And he got over it by 9:05. That night.


The whole thing was terrible though. The pregame was horrible. The omnipresent commercials for Norbitt were unbearable. CBS' presentation of the actual game was brutal. The weather was awful. The commercials were bad. The turnover-fest was embarrassing. The Benson injury was unpleasant at best. Nothing about it felt like a big time broadcast. Or a Super Bowl for that matter. It looked bad aesthetically-speaking. When Dan Bernstein was talking about how quickly he got over the loss, he summed it up this way: "The Super Bowl, it was…it was wet and it was bad and it was hurt and it looked they covered the camera lens with Vaseline…"


Someone asked me after the Bears advanced to the Super Bowl if that day (when the Bears became NFC champions by beating New Orleans handily) was the greatest day of my life. Perhaps said person was speaking in hyperbole, but the question got me thinking nonetheless. Not only have the Bears made the Super Bowl before in my lifetime (and won it by the way…), but that question in and of itself is painfully absurd. I think anyone who's greatest day of their life has anything remotely to do with sports can blame their parents for doing them a giant disservice. You talk about lack of perspective.


Although I think what hit me the most about the Bears losing the Super Bowl is how much more poignant winning is than losing. And believe me; my teams have done a whole lot more losing than winning. But in terms of big games…winning gives you a chance to bask. To be surreal for a little while. Losing gives you a chance to show maturity and see to it that you don't let it affect you. A chance to pull back and realize what's actually important. And certainly to make sure it doesn't affect those around you. And that's the way it should be. The elation of winning is certainly more powerful than the pain of losing a big one.


And so…while the Bears may not have put up the best fight, I'm still glad the Colts had to earn the ring by playing the best. There's something always a little rewarding when the clear cut top teams from each conference actually make it to the Super Bowl. That's what you want ultimately for your championship in any sport. It's good for history to be able to look back at that game and/or series as the most accurate representation of that specific season. When the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, it all seemed fake and insignificant because it came against the stinking AstrosThis year the Bears were clearly the best NFC team from start to finish, and the same could be said for the most part for the Colts. While the Bears may not have looked the part, if I were a Colts' fan celebrating my first living championship, there would be a certain degree of satisfaction knowing that I had to beat the Bears to get it.


Needless to say I've taken a lot of heat from Colts' fans in the last couple months. But believe it or not, I didn't lose all respect for all Colts' fans (like the kind who actually started wearing their Colts' gear BEFORE January. And like I've said before, being a lifelong fan of the Bulls (and of the 2003 Cubs for that matter), I know all about that.


In the end I think the saddest part is that the Bears never made the Colts beat them. The Colts probably could have beaten them, but we didn't even bother to find out. I was appalled at the way the media fell all over themselves trying to default the Super Bowl trophy to Manning. The main different between Manning's performance and Grossman's were key conversions by Manning on third down. And don't get me wrong, those were huge and probably the difference in the game, but Manning was in no way the Colts' most valuable player on February 5th.


I bought a couple Colts/Bears Super Bowl shirts to commemorate my dream Super Bowl coming true. The result was pathetic, but I'm sure I'll look back on that day someday with fondness. In the meantime, the following images are how I choose to remember Super Bowl XLI:

















Monday, February 12, 2007

Last Minute Super Bowl Knowings

Friday, February 02, 2007

Last Minute Super Bowl Knowings


THOUGHTS
I haven't listened to music for two weeks now. For once I don't think the media hype surrounding one game is too much. Funny how that works. I can't get enough of the over-the-top NFL Live shows or whatever talking heads may be spouting nonsense on the Boo-yah channel at any given time.

Beyond that, I have tried to stream Chicago sportstalk radio as much as humanly possible. I don't want to be underprepared, underexposed, or underhyped for this game. Ok, so that's probably not a problem.




One thing about 670 The Score out of Chicago streaming online now is...they actually talk football. They don't just do the celebrity interviews even though they are broadcasting all their shows live from Miami. They are talking Xs and Os and ins and outs and this and that. It's filling my head with enough info to be able to absorb the game as it happen and watch what's happening and why. Maybe. A few of the guys on that station know what they're talking about.




A couple people have asked me my thoughts on the Bears being in the Super Bowl. Nothing really. I guess I just want to take it all in, yes. But I realized earlier this week I'm just flat out excited about watching another Bears football game on TV. It's been two weeks! I just want to see them again. Forget the hype, the commercials, the halftime show. I like watching the Bears play. I like to observe them play football. I like watching Rex throw to Berrian and Davis and Muhammad. I like watching the defense take the ball away from the other team and I like watching the other team running after Devin Hester. I'm just pumped to be able to watch one more Chicago Bear football game this year.




I know it's probably the biggest single sporting event of my life to date. The Bulls never got to a game seven in any of their six championship runs. And while the Cubs had a game seven against Florida in the 2003 NLCS, that wasn't for a World Championship. I was only six when the Bears last had a Super Bowl to win. So this is about as monumental as it's ever gotten for me. For one game.

That said, it's hard to take myself too seriously. I was taught to enjoy sports, but that they were never important enough to stress over, to riot over, to cry over, to lose sleep over, to pray over, son on and so forth. That's why my team can lose a big game and it doesn't ruin my day. Or that's why my team can win a big game and I don't make a fool of myself (it also helps that I don't hate the team they're playing. At all).






AGONIZING DEFEAT?
But I don't know what's worse...a team getting there after years of futility and not knowing if you'll ever get back, or a team that is in the picture every single year and finally has a chance at the big one.





TEAM SPIRIT
You know there are people in every corner of Indy and Chicago who had to go dig to find their Colts or Bears shirt just for these last two weeks. I know some people think it's juvenille or a sign of immaturity for adults to wear clothes supporting sports teams. But it's times like these that I'm glad I have never been afraid to wear my Bears gear year-round (or decade-round for that matter). That way there's no question. There are no front-running accusations. Gameday, offseason, win big, lose big, that's who I've been. That way people know in advance. (In case something ever does go right).

And you know it happens to fans of both teams. People love a winner. I just don't understand why people wait until monunmental wins to show their team pride. That's why I value the few true Colts fans I know that are actually authentic. I'll be glad for them if the Colts win. All these others? Well...(anyone who was alive during the Bulls' dynasty knows what I am talking about).




SMACK
There are people who I didn't even know that they knew what sport the Colts played that are all talking trash now (not to me necessarily, just things I've observed and heard). Again, I know it happens with every winning team, but I've still been taken back by it all.

Before the Kansas Bradley basketball game in the NCAA tournament last March, a bunch of KU fans came over to bradleyfans.com and started talking an unreasonable amount of trash. At the time I found that curious because Kansas was favored in the game! It was a 4/13 matchup! What does the 4 have to gain by trash talking the 13?! If they win, well…they should have. It was a 4 against a 13. And if they lose?! Well…how do you ever live that one down?

Now the Colts aren't as heavily favored as the Jayhawks were, but it's similar. That's why I find all the relentless trash talk somewhat amusing. And surprisingly little of it is backed up by anything even resembling football knowledge. Just a lot of "We're going to stomp 'em." Or sentiments indicating that the game is already over. Riveting. About four weeks ago you couldn't have found a fan base more down and out than that of the Colts. Now it's as if the ring has been theirs along.




FIRST SUPER BOWL
I don't think there's any question that the Bears aren't ready for this. But then, no one is. If the Bears or Colts ever make it back to the Super Bowl, it's a given that--to a man they will say, "Yeah the first time I made it I was a little wide-eyed and got caught up in all the hype. This time it's a business trip and I want to be able to just focus on getting the job done." I just wish the Bears could skip to that step this year. But I don't think it could happen.



WHY ARE THE COLTS FAVORED?
As far as whom the better team is? I don't know. I think it's clear the Bears are a better football team but the Colts have better football players. If that makes any sense. I'm pretty sure that if Manning, Harrison, and Wayne are firing on all cylinders, the Bears have very little chance.

But from a technical standpoint? It's a decent matchup for the Bears. You have the Colts' best unit (world-famous offense) against the Bears' best (sturdy defense). Then you have a sometimes flashy, sometimes inconsistent Bear offense against a statistically weak Colts defense (which is playing better these days). And Adam Vinatieri aside, I think it's been established that the Bears have the edge on special teams.




QUARTERBACKS
The numbers don't lie. One of them has thrown six playoff interceptions in 2006. One has thrown one (in one fewer game, admittedly). Peyton has had one stellar half. But that was the most recent half so that's what people remeber. He destroyed New England in the second half of the AFC Championship. Who's to say what kind of player he will be on Sunday? I really have no idea what to expect out of the guy.

Rex has zero pressure. He's not the one who "can't win the big one." I think he took the pressure off himself by winning the St. Louis game in the regular season, and then again by making the right plays down the stretch in the first two playoff rounds. He made every play he needed to. I'd rather be the guy who used to stink but now may be just good enough, than the best player in the history of the world who better win the big one or else…





BOB SANDERS...
...can't play the pass and the run every play. I think the Nick Harper injury is huge. Even if he does play, he'll need some help from time to time. If they bring Bob up to stop the run, why not pick on Harper? If they keep Bob back to help, what will become of the run defense? I think we've seen that story...




INJURIES ARE PART OF THE GAME,
but I wish Tommie Harris and Mike Brown were healthy. If the Bears had Tommie Harris and Mike Brown (two Pro Bowlers by the way), I really don't think the Colts would have a chance. It affects every aspect of the once mighty Bears defense. What are their two concerns defensively right now? 1) Getting pressure with their front four, and 2) suspect safeties. Enough said. Also, Mike Brown is to the Bears' run defense what Bob Sanders is to the Colts' run defense. Only with more leadership and experience.



DOMINATION OF THE SAINTS
That said, the Bear defense looked as good as ever last time they were on the field. They held the mighty Saints to two scores and forced turnovers like they did in the earlier part of the season. I'm not saying they're going to shut down the Colts, because they won't. But I'd rather be coming off an intimidating and dominating performance like that in the NFC Championship game than the alternative.



KEY PLAYER
Forget Bob Sanders, Peyton Manning, Brian Urlacher, or Devin Hester. Here's my key to the game. Muhsin Muhammad. If he can be a number one receiver just one more time in his career, the Bears will win. If he can bail Rex out and provide something opposite Berrian, the Bears will win. I would love to see that guy step up and play some ball on Sunday. If he plays well, the Bears have a chance.




ANDY DOLAN...
...wrote this yesterday: "Sports Guy ended today's column with this line, 'I haven't run into one person who thinks the Bears can win on Sunday. Not one.' I wasn't aware the Super Bowl winner was decided via caucus."



The funny thing is, I've seen a lot of people picking the Bears. Just not the big names, I guess. I don't believe it's quite as lopsided as people think. I will say this...the people I've heard/read who have picked the Bears (not even counting Chicago people) have delivered articulate, well thought-out corroborations of their arguments. While those picking the Colts have by and large simply spewed the tired AFC-over-the-NFC factor, that Peyton is better than Rex, or the ever-popular "gut feeling."




PREDICTION
I'm still fine-tuning the details, but I might as well get to the prediction. Let me get one thing straight. The Bears can win and probably will win. However, I picked against them last game and it worked. So I'll type the prediction from my head, not the one from my heart. (The one from my head is something like...if the Colts don't get the ball first and march down and score and then Rex throws a pick-six on the very first play from scrimmage making it 0-14, the Bears should win...)

Here goes. I think Hester will go ahead and get his return TD out of the way in the first half, while the Bears defense will hold the Colts to field goals on two out of three promising drives in the first half. The Bears will be up 17-13 at halftime, but the Colts will get the ball to start the second half. When they score on their first possession to take a 20-17 lead, the Bears will be faced with the biggest possession of their lives. If they don't get points out of that drive it will be a tough trail from then on. A three and out would give the Colts the edge they need. Two more TDs and you're looking at a 34-20 final in Super Bowl XLI.

On The Score this week they've been talking about how this matchup is the best the Bears could have hoped for out of the AFC elite teams. And I think I know what they're talking about. I would have taken the Ravens maybe. But with the Colts' suspect run D and shotty special teams coverage, I see what they mean.

It still may not be enough. And if that's the case, it's the best matchup I could have hoped for in terms of grieving a Super Bowl defeat. A loss to the Patriots? Grueling. BUT a loss to the Colts? Well, Manning probably deserves it. Nothing to hate about the Colts. Sure takes some of the sting away. And hopefully that will help me sit back and just enjoy the 60 minute game of American football.

IMAGES OF BEARNESS








Monday, January 29, 2007

IMAGES OF BEARNESS

With the Super Bowl approaching, I felt compelled to compile some of my favorite images from over two decades as a Bears' fan. Admittedly, this list may be recent-heavy, as I had ready access to pictures from the current season.



Three absolute Bear legends. George Halas. Dick Butkus. Gale Sayers. I particularly like the Butkus picture because it is a good image of the Bear Packer rivalry portrayed in an old school fashion.



This uniform set was the gift for my sixth birthday. The box said "Ages 7-12," so I was sad that I had to wait an entire year to start wearing it. Believe me, this was one gift that got every ounce of use imaginable.



I couldn't get enough of the William Perry craze back then.



This was my first Bears' football card ever. I was eating breakfast one Saturday morning in 1987 when Dad told me there was a pack of football cards in the top drawer of his dresser. I didn't finish my Total that particular morning. This card was in that pack.



I just like the colors in this picture. No other major sports team uses the dark dark blue and orange like the Bears do. If you see a Bears' uniform you know it immediately.



And to think that Perry scored but Payton did not in Super Bowl XX.



I couldn't find the picture of Ditka lecturing Harbaugh, but this is a good one as well...



That '85 team seemed so much larger than life in my little brain back then. And I guess they still do to some extent.



I was a young Christian in 1986, but I heard that God answered prayers. So when I went to the store and saw Pete Rose on the cover of Wheaties, I went home and beseeched the Lord that Wheaties might put either Walter Payton or William Perry on the box. I don't remember how much longer it was, but I distinctly remember mom pulling this box out of the grocery bag.



Neal Anderson was my favorite player of the post-85 era. I used to listen every Monday night on WBBM as he and Dave Eanet would host a live radio show. I liked that.



Who didn't love Jim Harbaugh? He beat the Lions at the last second to open the 1992 season and made SI.



My brothers gave me a Cade McNown jersey for my birthday one year.



I like this picture because it encapsulates the magical 2001 season. This is Mike Brown at the end of just one of his unbelievable interception returns. The Bears didn't advance past their first playoff game that year, but 2001 was one of my favorite seasons. The Bears found just about every way imaginable to win that year.



Even though the Bears lost their first round playoff game again in 2005, it was another outstanding season. And even though Devin Hester would match this play with a 108-yarder of his own in 2006, this Nathan Vasher run back against the 49ers last year is still very memorable.



When Lovie Smith took the job he said one of his two main goals was to beat the Packers. Well, in 2005 it happened. Twice. Brett Favre was a mess of a man in his two matchups with Chicago last year. This picture provides a glimpse.



I like the cover of the 2006 media guide because it reminds me of when I first saw it during training camp. The Bears were talking about the Super Bowl like crazy at that time. To be able to look back and see how it all unfolded is good stuff.



The Arizona game was unreal, but this was the key play. Urlacher deciding he needed to strip Edgerrin, and then doing it.



My favorite scene from the regular season: Urlacher shaking his finger at Pennington and the fullback he just leveled during the Jets game.



Likely the most lasting image from 2006: People chasing Devin Hester. The two TD returns in the St. Louis game were unbelievable.



Gould beats the Seahawks.



This catch didn't get nearly the pub it deserved. It was among the best you'll ever see. Key play in the win over New Orleans.



Lovie looking so smooth.



Sic 'em.



She's old!



It happened.




The City has never looked better...




...and here's hoping I'll have to come in and edit in some more celebratory pictures on Sunday night.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

The Super Bowl is two weeks, not one game

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Super Bowl is two weeks, not one game

I remember when the Fighting Illini were in the NCAA Tournament Championship game against the UNC a couple years ago. After they lost that game, the next day Andy Dolan remarked how he was surprisingly not that bummed out about the loss. After some thought, he figured out why. That was going to be Illinois' last game anyway. They weren't eliminated. They just lost.

And so it is with the Super Bowl. The Bears won't be eliminated from anything if they lose the upcoming Super Bowl. There will be a winner and a loser, but nobody is advancing to anything. It's not "win or go home" anymore. It's "win and/or lose and go home."

And just like that Illini team was so incredibly fun to watch that it would have been a shame for them not to play the absolute maximum, I just kept wanting to see this Bears team play one more time.

And so now they will. One more time.


Do you ever wonder why no one ever talks about winning the Super Bowl? (Sure they mention that Dan Marino never won the big one, Peyton needs a ring, etc.) But by and large you never hear people speak much of "winning the Super Bowl." You hear "get to the Super Bowl" all the time. Because that's the pinnacle. That's the grand stage. That gives you a shot.

I realize the ultimate of any sport is putting on that ring or hoisting the trophy at long last. But it seems that in football more than any other sport…getting there is the goal. The Bears' preseason goal being verbalized over and over and over and over in training camp? Get to the Super Bowl. ("We have a good enough team to get to the Super Bowl." "We expect to be in Miami in early February." "I know that Rex is the guy to get us to the Super Bowl." "Anything short of the Super Bowl would be an extreme disappointment.")

This right here is the ultimate. These two weeks. Think about it. You get the podium and confetti and a huge trophy and big on-field presentation for just getting to the Super Bowl. And then you get two weeks of unadulterated glory.

Sure winning the ring puts you in a very elite group. But really…this is the fun part. If you win the Super Bowl, there is one night of post-game fame. Then what do you have…maybe a parade and then the next week you send a couple guys to the Pro Bowl just like most other teams.

The pressure is in getting there. The pressure is in avoiding the elimination. Now that they're there, I am considerably more relaxed. I don't feel on edge or the sense of desperation for a win (while all the while wanting and expecting one).

OK, so I'm not actually satisfied. When kickoff comes on February 4th, I'm quite sure that I'll be rooting insanely for the Bears to win that stupid thing. But more because it's a Chicago Bear football game on TV than anything else. That's who I am. In regards to it being the Super Bowl, it's almost that I want them not to lose more than I want them to win. I don't want to be the guy whose team lost the Super Bowl. I don't want them to have to live with that demon into next year. And yes, I want them to be the World Champs. Of course I do.


I discussed the following with a friend the other day. Are the Colts or the Bears a better football team? Obviously the Colts' program has had more long term success in recent years, but it's hard to know who has been better this season. The Colts won their games by an uncharacteristically close margin for the most part. But the Bears had an easier schedule. The Colts lost four of six down the stretch, but the Bears were in an unspeakably wretched division. The Colts were 12-4. The Bears 13-3. The Colts scored 427 points this season. The Bears scored 427 points this season (both tied for second in the NFL). The Colts allowed 360 points (23rd in the league). The Bears allowed 255 (third). But that still doesn't tell us much.

The ESPN weekly power rankings are little more than three or four so-called experts submitting a list and then averaging the outcome. Still, it can't be that much less reliable than the NCAA basketball polls that are so crucial to some folks. So I decided to average out the season's worth of power rankings for each of the teams (starting after week one action).

The Colts had the best mark in the NFL on the year with an average weekly ranking of 2.4 (including five weeks in the number one slot). The Bears were a close second with a 3.2 mean (also with five weeks at the top). See what I mean about a sense of satisfaction that the year's two best teams made it to the biggest stage?!?! (See my previous blog). It just feels a lot better this way. No one backed in. No one made a late run. No Wild Card teams. Just the NFL's best reaching the pinnacle.

Now these numbers serve only to provide a glimpse at the average perception of these two teams this year. But it does speak to consistency and national respect, I suppose. For what it's worth, the other solid teams this year came in this way: Chargers (4.2), Ravens (5.4), Patriots (5.9), and Saints (at a whopping 10.0). Furthermore, the Bears and Colts spent six different weeks in some combination of number one and two.

And they will finish one and two. Literally.


After the Bears suffered their first loss to the Dolphins, the luster of a would-be undefeated season was gone and the national talking heads seemed to lose interest. In fact, they were absolutely desperate for a different NFC powerhouse to emerge. They were so anxious for this to happen, in fact, that they began fabricating new teams to be the class of the conference.

First it was the Cowboys. Then the Cowboys fell miserably flat on their face. Then it was the Saints. But the Saints limped into the playoffs having lost two of three. So it had to be the Eagles, right? The Eagles couldn't even get out of the first round! And who's left standing? So much for all the wishings of the Sean Salisburys and Mark Schlereths. The Bears were the dominant team wire to wire. Like it or not.

It has been a magical season for the Chicago Bears. Like I mentioned, it started with (literally) everyone in the organization talking Super Bowl in August in Bourbonnais. Then they won at Green Bay 26-0 on opening day. After that, the 13 wins seemed to pile up somewhat effortlessly. They never truly relinquished their stranglehold on the conference. They said to expect a Super Bowl, and then they went out and exhibited consistency. Maybe that's why I was neither surprised nor overly elated when they blew out the Saints on Sunday (even though I picked the Saints to win…go figure.)

And speaking of which…what better way to get to the Super Bowl than a blowout? Sure the Saints were within two points in the third quarter. But 39-14??? Really?? That wasn't possible. Not only did the experts say the Bears couldn't win the game, they said they wouldn't be able to stop the Saints offense. They held them to 14 points (New Orleans had only scored 14 or fewer once all year long). Furthermore, they wouldn't be able to stop the fun. Deuce McAllister churned out a whopping 18 yards on the ground, while Reggie Bush dwarfed that with his 19.

And then to put up 39 on that defense? Even though the Bears got some takeaways, their defense only actually scored the two points on the safety. The Bear offense did the rest. New Orleans hadn't given up that many points all season long! On the other hand, that makes eight 30-plus point games for the Bears this year.

Something I heard on the radio today really intrigued me. What about the Bears' regular season made anybody think they couldn't hang in with the league's elite (NFC or AFC for that matter)? If anyone put any stock in that week 17 Packer loss, that was entirely foolish. I think the telling point was the three game road trip (Giants, Jets, Patriots) in November.

That stretch was supposed to show us what the Bears were made of to begin with. They started by blowing out the Giants. Then in one of my favorite games of the year, they gutted out a 10-0 road win over the Jets. The Jets proved to be one of the finer AFC teams in the long run. That game was indicative of a team who just knows how to win.

And so it was back east one more time the following week. The dreaded trip to Gillette. And yes the Bears lost, but again—what about that game told us they couldn't hang with the AFC's elite??? It took a Tom Brady fluke juke on a running play late in the game to keep the Bears from a legitimate shot at victory. In the end theylost by four, but that was a real football game. Two great teams battling it out. Two good defenses making plays and forcing turnovers. As Jimmy Johnson said in the postgame, "When you have two defenses like that, those aren't turnovers, those are takeaways." And I think he had a good point for once. That was one of three losses this season, but I kind of look at that as the Bears' statement game in a way.

So the fact that they handled the NFC's 11-5 Saints with relative ease down the stretch on Sunday shouldn't have been that big of a surprise I guess. Still, it sure seems like a good way to be headed to the Super Bowl—firing on all cylinders. At least that's what it looked like.


I know the Bears wanted another shot at the Patriots. At least some of them (Lovie certainly wasn't rooting for that to be sure). And it would have been interesting to get a rematch of 1986. History would have been on our side if nothing else. But a Bear/Colt Super Bowl is the best matchup in years. Hopefully that will translate into good ratings. And it would be nice if it could go down as one of the most memorable Super Bowls ever somehow.

While listening to The Score today, I heard Terry Boers discuss the upcoming showdown. He talked about how it would be a lot easier to develop and nurture hatred if it was the Patriots. It wouldn't take long to summon up some grandiose dislike for Bill Belichek. But the Colts? What's to hate? Said Boers, "I absolutely adore Tony Dungy..." Kind of weird. Then he said something that put into words what I truly feel deep down" "If the worst thing that happens is you go to Miami and lose the championship to Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning, I think that would almost be OK."

And that brings me to my original point. Peyton will likely need that ring someday to validate his career (according to some). And he may never get this close again. But I'm not hoping he gets it this time, that's for sure.

But what the heck… This is what it's all about. Two weeks of marinating in Super Bowl glory. The coverage. The outrageously-priced merchandise. The media day. The attention on the late night talk shows. The fluff pieces. The stories behind the stories. All the stuff you hate if your team's not involved. The winner? They get one night to bask. (And oh yeah, a place in history). But this is the last game either way. It's just a good old football game with my favorite team. No pressure. Go out, play well, and either win or lose. But enjoy the stage for everything it's worth. I know I will.

Monday, January 22, 2007

THE BEARS ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE

Sunday, January 21, 2007


THE BEARS ARE WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE


26-0
34-7
37-6
40-7
41-10
38-20
42-27
39-14

Those are scores from eight different Bears' wins from this season. Eight out of the now 15! The Bears have won 15 games this year. And lost three. And they'll probably be viewed as underdogs in February 4th's Super Bowl. And I'm fine with that. They've certainly handled the doubting well so far.

The Bears have had one dominant season. They jumped out to the fast start, and so the initial national media talk was about their chances of an undefeated season. Really? No, that wasn't going to happen. But it gives them something to talk about. Then the Bears were the first to clinch a playoff spot, first to win their division, first to clinch home field...so on and so forth. But somewhere along the line the Bears went from being regarded as the league powerhouse to everyone's favorite team to rip on.

I've heard different people refer to the "lull" that the Bears ran into there for awhile. When was that?! Seriously. They dominated their schedule from week one. So when was the rough patch? Was it when the Dolphins caught the Bears sleepwalking through their week 9 game to interrupt their would-be perfect season? Was it three weeks later when the Bears were finishing a grueling three game east coast road stretch at New England? And they had a chance to steal that win deep into the fourth quarter? Was that the mis-step? Or was it the completely meaningless New Year's Eve game against Green Bay that the Packers had won by halftime so the Bears rested their starters?

See there were no losing streaks this year. Not even in preseason (they lost one, won one, lost one, and won one in that order). Sure they benefited from a little luck in the regular season Arizona win, but still they have rebounded from every single loss with a win. And usually another.

A rough patch would be like when the Patriots lost two crucial games in a row in November (Colts and Jets), or when the Colts lost four of six (including two in a row in the division), or like the Saints finishing the season by losing two of three. But the Bears? Not really. The Bears were just going through their schedule and clinching milestones along the way.

So to recap, they started quickly, lost a couple three times, had some crucial injuries, won a couple lucky games, won some more games, made the playoffs, clinched home field advantage, and now...made the Super Bowl. Good defense. Good special teams. Two good running backs. And a complimentary (sometimes flashy) passing game. Wire to wire. The best team in the NFC and one of the top teams in the NFL. Start to finish. The Bears are who we thought they were.

Rex Grossman's biggest problem was not Rex Grossman. It was Phillip Rivers and Tony Romo. If those two hadn't been overachieving as first time starters, people would have likely cut Rex a lot more slack. But because Rivers and Romo were playing unreasonably well, Rex suddenly was stripped of the excuse of being young. This was Rex' first full year as a starter. That's all you need to know. He played well, poorly and in between. And won. Because the Bears surrounded him with the right people.

And that reminds me, he did have some games were he was "just OK." (See Sunday's game v. New Orleans.) How many times did you hear the ESPNers say, "HAHAHAHA...all the Bears needs is some mediocrity from Rex Grossman!!!! He's either really good or really bad!!! There's just no in between!!!" Then they would spout off the stat of seven games with a QB rating of over 100, and then the five of below 37. "There's just no in between!!!" they would again proclaim. Let's see...seven plus five equals twelve. Last I checked the Bears have played 18 games, no? So needless to say, Rex has been "good enough" several times as well. I don't know what more you could ask out of the guy lately. If you throw out the weightless Green Bay game, he has only thrown one interception since week 13 (and that was the one that Muhammad dropped last week). That's outstanding work under pressure. And those seven games with a rating of over 100? That's second in the NFL this year.

Tommie Harris and Mike Brown. Sure there are other injuries, but those two guys were so huge on defense back when the Bears were dominant on that side of the ball early this season. And now they're gone. So you just replace them??? Well, the Bears have done well enough, I suppose. It would be frightening to see how well they'd be playing if they had Harris' pass rush and Brown at safety to help with the run defense and deep pass coverage. See there is a reason why certain guys start. Because they're better. And they provide identity to a particular unit. Just like Bob Sanders. It's no coincidence that the Colts can all of a sudden stop the run.

The funny thing to me is...when Mike Brown got hurt in the Arizona game, I heard someone on TV say, "well that's a big loss to the Bear defense, blah blah blah...a couple years ago when Brown went down it became a lot easier to run the ball on the Bears, blah blah blah..." And I thought, "You know, he's exactly right. I remember the defense looked average after that." Mike Brown is a huge part of this defensive identity. Not only is he the veteran leader, but he's the most versatile guy in the secondary. So slowly but surely the Bears' defense became more leaky. And shockingly all of the pundits seemed beside themselves as to the reason why. Duh. But inexplicably you didn't hear much if anything about the loss of Mike Brown.

And Tommie Harris. Lovie Smith said that the loss of Tommie Harris made the Bear defense go from special to normal ("just like everybody else"). Turns out, the Bears couldn't generate any kind of consistent pass rush without him. And they became much more vulnerable up the middle. But you play on.

And you keep winning. And you still blow a couple more people out. And you're still the underdogs. But now you made the Super Bowl.

I feel better about it going down this way. Every year after the Bears are out of it I root for the two best representatives from each conference to make it to the Super Bowl. I want history to be able to look back on a given year and remember what a good year the two Super Bowl teams had in that particular campaign. That's why I hate it when a team like the 2005 Steelers absolutely backs their way into the Super Bowl by stringing together some wins at the end of the year.

So the fact that the Bears were--talking Super Bowl from day one of Training Camp, began the year on fire, blew people out, won the NFC in the regular season, and now are rewarded with a trip to Miami... it just feels right that way. Nothing cheap about it. Easy division? Sure? Easy schedule? No question. But the Bears dominated their schedule. And they beat the Saints by 25 points. It's been a superb year any way you cut it.

Now we get to see them play for the big ring to put a lid on a dream season two weeks from today. And so win or lose, the Bears are indeed who we thought they were.

Colt Bear Ramblings

Monday, January 15, 2007


Colt Bear Ramblings


Tom Brady is tired. That's not a good story any more. Peyton Manning is always a good story. The NFL has been ready for him to get a ring for a long time now. I mean the NFL community as a whole. Maybe not the league officials. But I would think even they would want their unofficial spokesman to be known as a winner at some point. I think it's time for the Colts to win the Super Bowl. Or at least get there.

I have never been a conspiracy theorist. I like sport for sport sake and I want to believe everyone else does too. But I'm not dumb. I realize that people can't get enough of the New Orleans Saints story. I think "they" would be more than happy to be force-fed that piece all this week...and then eat it up for two more before the Super Bowl as well. Throw on top of that the Peyton/Archie Manning-New Orleans connection, and you have a storyline worth its weight in gold. The Colts are at home. They will beat the Patriots. The Bears are also at home. But I think they're supposed to lose to the Saints. I feel that's the way the script has been written.

And besides, I have been absolutely dreading a Colts/Bears Super Bowl--as intriguing as it would be. It's always been kind of one of those pipe dreams I guess. My two favorite teams. But now that it's two collective wins away from happening, I am apprehensive. I have too many Colts fans too close (sister, Dad, Megan, roommate, etc) to be at all comfortable with two weeks of buildup and then a football game featuring those two. But I can't root against the Colts at this point. Especially versus the Patriots.

But if it does come down to a Colts/Bears Super Bowl, I need to watch it by myself. Or with another Bears fan. Somewhere. I have to get away. I should.

I guess it seems lightly unfair for Indianapolis fans--they're almost-success of the past few years. The Colts deserve a Super Bowl win somewhere along the way. I was only six when the Bears last won, but at least I remember it. Fairly well, actually. But I also lived in Indy long enough to gain respect for Manning and go to a few games and cheer and whatnot. So some part of me realizes a Super Bowl win would be nice for the Colts. But the Bears are the Bears. I've been a fan ever since I got that Hutch full uniform complete with shoulder pads and chin strap.

I don't know who's window of opportunity is smaller. Manning is still in his prime, and the Colts have seemed to lose a couple pieces here and there and still keep their identity. A few years ago you could have bet that a Colt Super Bowl would have included Edgerrin and Marcus Pollard. Not the case. On the other hand, the Bear defense is still relatively young, and their quarterback is essentially a rookie. But they could go either way so quickly. I feel that...even though the Bears have only recently joined the party of elite teams, their window may be smaller. Lance Briggs may be on his way out. Muhsin is getting old to be sure. Mike Brown is about to break. For good. And Urlacher can't be that dominant forever. I think the Colts' system has more staying power.

For awhile I was hoping that the Colts would hurry up and win their Super Bowl before the Bears got good again (same with the Pacers and Bulls, actually). Neither happened. The Bears are good again, and I feel somewhat badly that the Colts didn't get it yet. But that doesn't change my level of Bear-rooting come gameday, that's for sure.

But as I mentioned before, I don't believe the Bears will get to the Super Bowl. And it may be because Grossman throws three picks and loses two fumbles. It may be because McCallister runs for 137 yards and Bush for another 74. That's all possible. But I wouldn't be surprised to see the Saints somehow make it to the Super Bowl to complete the Colts/Saints/Peyton/Archie/Katrina magical puzzle. I'm not saying, I'm just saying... That would be a couple darn good story line to milk for two weeks.

And so my predictions...

Colts 24 Patriots 23 (AV at the horn)

Saints 28 Bears 17

And if that's the case, I'll be rooting for the Colts with abandon come February 4th. No doubt about that.

WHERE DID THE YEARS GO, WACO?

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

WHERE DID THE YEARS GO, WACO?

As the door begins to slowly but profoundly close on my Texas tenure, I'm primarily left with thoughts of inquiry. And that's not how I drew it up in the beginning. I decided for a long time that I was able to finally know why I moved to Texas... But alas now I only hope it will be clear some time on down the road.

It hasn't all been good, hasn't all been bad. Here are some things I found during my stay in Waco. (Some not having directly to do with Texas.)

I love Baylor baseball, Blue Bell Cantaloupe and Cream, free gameplay in the video game lab. I have great dislike for Casablanca's laundry room, dirty hat, belt buckle, and my research assistantship. I like First Alert 25 pre-spoken word era, hate First Alert 25 post-spoken word era. I love the early Texas Spring. Hate the non-arriving Texas Autumn. I love Bush's sweet tea, cheap rent, and the a sunset at the Baylor tennis center. I don't care for the Whataburger in the fast food jungle, the ne'er do wells on 11th St, or the service at the post office. I love driving to Dallas in the middle of the night with the windows down and the music on. I detest the stretch of I-35 between Ardmore and Oklahoma City.

And it got worse every time I drove it.

I hated going four years with no drums or ping-pong at my disposal. The two talents I had, have been on rot for too long. I love going to get some Brunswick Stew on a would-be chili Fall evening. I liked going to Kohls and buying nothing after a random Baylor volleyball game. I enjoyed thinking I was starting to make some semblance of sense out of my life. Hated getting the entire rug pulled out from underneath me.

I hate the tile on the walls of the Castelaw building. I love the walk from the parking garage to the Castelaw building though.

I hated working for Baylor Dining Services, but loved getting paid for driving around campus on a gator.

My Waco days were easily the best and worst of my life. I lived the hardest and hurt the worst. I went for the home run for the first time in my life only to end up being called out on strikes. I called a long pass play and ended up getting sacked for a loss. And lost the ball on downs. And got cut from the team. I loved more than I ever had, and hated for the first time in my life. I drove way too many miles in the Texas summers in my car with no air conditioner.

I thought "Live Like You Were Dying" was the most hokey song I've ever heard. I thought "Live Like You Were Dying" was extremely profound. I got way better at guitar, way worse at drums (as previously mentioned). I'll miss calling Derek "John" once per broadcast on the China Spring games.

In my first months as a Waco resident, I wrote a sarcastic song called "Wish I Was In Waco." At the time, NOT being in Waco seemed so far away. I don't know if I'll ever wish I was in Waco again or not.

Hope to see you down the road.

Major League Baseball All Star Voting

Friday, June 23, 2006


Major League Baseball All Star Voting


I did extensive research, and it seems the following are the most deserving at each position:

AMERICAN LEAGUE
C Joe Mauer
1B Jim Thome
2B Jose Lopez
SS Miguel Tejada
3B Alex Rodriguez
OF Nick Swisher
OF Jermaine Dye
OF Vernon Wells

And some pitchers...
Jose Contreras
Johan Santana
Kenny Rogers
Roy Halladay
Francisco Liriano
Scott Kazmir
Jonathon Papelbon
Bobby Jenks
B.J. Ryan


NATIONAL LEAGUE:
C Michael Barrett
1B Albert Pujols
2B Dan Uggla
SS Bill Hall
3B David Wright
OF Alfonso Soriano
OF Carlos Lee
OF Lance Berkman

And some pitchers...
Brandon Webb
Pedro Martinez
Bronson Arroyo
Carlos Zambrano
Tom Glavine
Tom Gordon
Jason Isringhausen
Derrick Turnbow
Trevor Hoffman




Apologies to many folks such as Paul Konerko, Felipe Lopez, and Ichiro, but these position players truly appear like 16 worthy of starting.
I'll add some thoughts on pitchers soon...

THE BREAKUP

Saturday, June 03, 2006


THE BREAKUP


I knew I would like this movie if for no other reason than the fact that the city of Chicago was cast as a primary character.


And I liked it because of the cameos by such Cubs as Sergio Mitre, Todd Hollandsworth, and repeat appearances by Len Kasper. Awesome.


But this movie makes you think. A lot. Sometimes you live your life in fragments...your day to day issues surely aren't as monumental as Vince Vaughn's. But this movie makes you think. This stuff is it. This is all. This is life. Better make it count.

Ongoing entry

Saturday, May 20, 2006


Ongoing entry


Here I will post things that I want to. No real theme on this one. I'll just add to it when I feel like it. No, this isn't for you...it's for me.

My five favorite musical artists of all time are:
1. Satellite Soul
2. PFR
3. Jars of Clay
4. The Normals
5. Switchfoot

I hate to include Jars of Clay and Switchfoot, but these are two bands I have followed extremely closely for a decade now. I am still loving the stuff Switchfoot is making--in spite of their mass popularity now. Yeah I liked it better when they were a three-piece, but oh well. As far as Jars of Clay, I don't think Dan is a good singer..but his voice is unbelievably pleasing to me. And I have very little shame in saying that. I think it's terrific. And the band has taken an artistically mature turn in the last five years or so. Also, being a collector, it is a nice challenge to try and acquire every different compilation that includes Jars of Clay. They get around. Honorable mention on this list would include U2, Rick Altizer, Vigilantes of Love, Smalltown Poets, Sarah Masen, Brian Barrett, Lifehouse, and The Elms. What do you think about that?


- - - selah - - -


Here's something. I have never ever in my life used a drive through teller thing at the bank. In my mind as a kid that was something that grownups do. And I have never done it. I do all my withdrawls and deposits at the drive through ATM, and any other business (coin counting, etc...) I do in the lobby.


- - - selah - - -

TACO BELL BLOG - STORE 2485

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


TACO BELL BLOG - STORE 2485


I am normally not one to laud the accomplishments of a local fast food establishment, but this one I can not ignore no longer. Yes, I am devoting my latest blog entry to the local Waco Taco Bell.

The "fast food jungle" (as Derek calls it) right across I-35 from the Baylor campus is not necessarily a collection of the who's who of restaurant franchisees. In fact, the Taco Cabana is easily the worst in the chain. I've never had a good experience at the Whataburger there (easily the slowest drive through I've ever come across). The Wendy's might be alright, but nothing special. The Long John Silvers makes you pull ahead to park and wait for your food even if you're the only customer there. The McDonalds is...McDonalds. And the Sonic takes the cake. It is hardly ever worth your time to go to that Sonic. I came from living by one of the quickest Sonic branches (in Nashville). But this one in the fast food jungle in Waco is unbearably slow. And not necessarily delicious either.

But even if the above weren't all stinkers, the Taco Bell would still stand head and shoulders above them all. I'm sure it doesn't hurt that I actually like most items on the Taco Bell menu. But I have lived here almost three years now, and I am still in awe of the well-oiled machine that is the Taco Bell on 500 Cleveland in Waco, Texas.

I had been there before, but I discovered the magic of the Taco Bell drive- through in the summer of 2004. Now I realize this was the greatest period in my existence so far and things were very exciting in other aspects of my life, so I naturally associate good memories with all that went with it. This was a period where many days I would order a Seven Layer Burrito and a water at 11:45 in the morning and that would be all I had that day (also called "fasting"). Things were going well and this diet seemed to work wonders for me.

But I soon discovered that this was by far the greatest drive-through experience in my life. Two days in a row...three days in a row. Every single time. Not only were they lightning-quick. But every single time, they all went out of their way to say at least one friendly thing (beyond the norm). This included the people at both windows. And the food was always top notch (considering it is still just a Taco Bell).

At first I thought maybe I was catching them in a good stretch. But it lasted the entire summer. And then once the school year started again, they were much more busy. But I still found the same unbelievable service. I am not one to usually allow myself much time on my way to work. There were many times when I would leave the apartment much later than I had hoped to...starving. And I would buzz by the Taco Bell to see if the line was long. Over and over I would be convinced I was too late--that I couldn't make it in time. But the quickness of the drive-through would bail me out. Time after time. A few times the line was all the way around the building. Still...they got me through. Once or twice I thought it was hopeless. I have NEVER been late to work on a day I went to Taco Bell.

It is guaranteed every time. By the time I finish paying at window one, the car at window two is already gone. Every time. And I never have to put my car in park at window two. In fact, I hardly ever have time to put my change in the ash tray by the time they hand me my food. Sometimes it's borderline annoying. Just give me a second.

They almost always pass the "song test." No matter how many cars are in line when I pull in, they still get me through before the current song on the radio is over (provided it's not at the end when I get there). Seriously...I can't tell you how many times I am back on the road again--listening to the same song I was hearing when I was pulling in.

And it has remained consistent. No matter what time of day or night. No matter what time of year. Like I said, I once associated the process with a very positive time in my life. But it has transcended eras for me and has even seen me through the horrid times. (Strange consolation, I realize.)

Ok so I don't eat there that much anymore (I actually had Bear Bucks to use up that first summer). But it still never fails. They're still friendly. They're still almost maddening quick. They have only screwed my order up twice in two plus years...

I started writing this a long time ago. And every time as I pull out of the drive-through I vow to go ahead and finish it. I finally decided it was time. I haven't been in the dining room too much, but whoever is in charge of their drive-through process should publish curriculum.

It is that good. Maybe you can try it next time you're in Waco. (Watch it be slow as molasses for you...)

Myspace Myspace blog.

Monday, May 15, 2006


Myspace Myspace blog.


I know I won't be the first or the last to blog about myspace on myspace. Expressing awe of how this phenomenon is sweeping the www is not an original of mine, I realize.

My friend Jessica recently blogged: "Myspace really is so cool, just connecting people all over the world. I have this theory that Myspace is doing so well because we are ultimately very lonely people. A big fat lonely human race. We do everything alone... We live alone, we drive alone, we shop alone, we listen to our ipods alone... we are on our way to just completely isolating ourselves to where we hardly have any contact with other people ever... or at least, only when we have to. I believe that God made us for each other, that we as a people need people. This is why, I love Myspace... why people love myspace, why it's sweeping so quickly across society."

So God is using myspace? Who knew... (I wonder if He digs the ads for "True" when He logs off.)

But I am amazed at how the site is a). so embarrasingly much better than any of its counterparts, and b). has the ability to integrate so many phases of life. I actually thought I was jumping on the bandwagon a little late. But when I got on, I spent the better part of three nights searching for someone...anyone I knew. I only found two or three people. And believe me, I racked my brain to recall people from every sector of my life--all four states in which I have lived...all five jobs...all six churches...so on and so forth. I did hundreds of searches. And I struck out repeatedly. I even submitted many an invite--with no results. I couldn't find anyone to add as a friend. (Luckily Bucy joined like three or four weeks later.)

But the amazing thing is how short of a time it took to take off (speaking strictly among the people I have known in my life). I don't try to add every person I find, but all of a sudden I now have come across hundreds of people over the past year that I knew/know. Some of them I haven't heard from in two decades. Some of them I would never have dreamed would give in to something like myspace. Some of them I am quite sure don't remember me.

Myspace is the new email address--what with some people owning two, three, four different profiles. Not being on myspace is like still using a facsimile machine or something. You can get people to myspace you back in two minutes who wouldn't reply to your email in two years. Myspace has pretty much eliminated the need for the mass update email. Put your pics, thoughts, and now videos up and let the world come to view. Scary.

Myspace is seemingly as much a part of culture as cable TV right now. Comics don't even bother to include an explanation disclaimer when referring to the site in a joke now. Some bands have even completely forsaken the old fashioned "doubleyou doubleyou doubleyou dot band name dot com" in favor of simply a myspace page. I have heard entire segments devoted to the site on mainstream talk radio.

This is neither an indictment of, nor an endorsment for myspace. Believe me, (working at a family Christian talk radio station) I am well aware of all the dangers and all that. The fact of the matter is, how is it that much more potentially risky than other forms of media/entertainment/communication? There is good and evil in everything. And I don't doubt for a minute that God can use the technology to advance some sort of good.

Aaron N. James S. Joe B. Stacey G. All good people. I never intended for these people to slip entirely out of my life. What a thrill to find out that my best friend from Tremont, Illinois has four boys and a set of twins!!! What the heck... He found me somehow. And you can't log onto hotmail and run a search for specific people's email addresses, that's for sure.

Maybe it's not for everyone. But I have been astounded at some of the people who have signed up in recent months. It blows my mind. And if I ever really get that scared about that bad guys, I'll delete my account.

YEAH BRADLEY'S DOING PRETTY GOOD...

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

YEAH BRADLEY'S DOING PRETTY GOOD...

Most people who know me know that the Chicago Cubs are my favorite sports team of all time. But a lot of people have also heard me mention "Bradley basketball" at some point or another along the way. No one ever knew what Bradley was. And those who did know, certainly didn't care in the least. I had moved from the Peoria, Illinois area to Indiana when I was 13. And the fact that I could still get the Bradley games on the radio in Indy was enough to ensure my fanship for the rest of my life.

My brothers, dad, and I have attended the Missouri Valley Conference tournament in St. Louis for ten straight years now. Bradley has had some mild success during our decade of observing the weekend-long tourneys. But ten times we have gone, and ten times we have watched a school not named Bradley celebrate the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. To make matters worse, Bradley has been one and done for several years now--in their own tournament.

So you adapt. You get to know the other teams and find other guys for whom to root after Bradley has long since been bussed back to Central Illinois. But watching celebrations from afar can get old after awhile. The last time Bradley won a meaningful Valley tournament game (meaning not in the opening night play-in round for the league's bottom feeders) was in 2001. That year they advanced to the championship game and lost to Indiana State on ESPN. In fact, every Valley championship game would air live on ESPN. Living in Indy, then Tennessee and Texas..watching Bradley on television has just not been conceivable for me for years on end now. But every year I would throw a tape in the VCR for championship night--just hoping to capture some magic.

It wouldn't look right to see Bradley on TV. I've watched so many hundreds of basketball games in recent years, and the jerseys on the teams never say "Bradley." I know the Bradley players so well, but watching them on the screen playing basketball would be such a novelty. The same would go for the word "Bradley" being mentioned on Pardon the Interruption or Cold Pizza. It just doesn't sound right. It's like my family has taken such ownership of Bradley basketball, that it sounds like someone is talking about my family member when I turn on the TV and hear them discussing Bradley. It's weird. And I doubt I'll ever grow accustomed to it. I would even go crazy if I heard the Bradley score on the Chicago all-sports radio station. It just hit too close to home. And to think that BU would ever make it on the cover of Sports Illustrated... Never would happen.

Bradley basketball is the one primary link to my childhood. That and Cubs' baseball is what Dad and I loved to do. Dad would take me down to Carver Arena in downtown Peoria to see Hersey Hawkins and the Braves play such Valley foes as Tulsa and Illinois State. One time Hersey had a putback at the buzzer to beat lowly Drake. I was there. There has been plenty in my life to remove me from my childhood, but things like that are still tangible to me. And being interested in radio, the fact Dave Snell is still the radio voice of the Braves (and has been for long than I've been alive) is a huge deal for me. I can't say that for any of my other favorite teams. Snell has recently helped me out in several different ways, and I have been able to sit down and chat with him when I see him in St. Louis. He's been great to me. Like I told him, the fact that Bradley on the radio still sound the very same today as it did the first time I listened is huge.

But I was always the one that was talking about Bradley's NIT games when everyone else was talking about their NCAA brackets. And no one cared about them. And I was annoying. I hardly actually know any other Bradley fans other than my immediate family. But it was such a likeable team. Such a likeable school.

Well, you can imagine the outpouring of messages and emails I've gotten in the last five days or so. People know now. They know the Braves are in the Sweet Sixteen. They might even know that Bradley is in Peoria. And most of all they know I stuck with it through thick and thin.

But even as loyal as I've been...this year worked out so that I have been able to track the team much more thoroughly. First of all, they returned 95.7f their scoring from last year's team. So it's a veteran roster--one that didn't take long to know and love. Second, I was able to attend my first home game in ten years when I visited Peoria over Christmas break. Bradley beat top 25 Northern Iowa in double overtime that night. I was able to listen to the majority of this year's games on the internet. So by the time I made it to the tourney in St. Louis, I was more than primed for a nice long BU run.

But they drew Creighton in the first round. That's tough. Bradley was the fifth seed in a tough league. This year was the coming out party for the Missouri Valley, and Bradley was NOT one of the four or five teams usually discussed nationally. It would be a tall task to go far--even in the conference tournament. But I was so ready. It had been too long. Dad and I had on our new Bradley t-shirts (numbers 14 and 5, respectively). Suddenly, that first day as Bradley took a slim second-half lead over the powerhouse Bluejays, I was seven years old again. With Dad right by my side--matching me yell for yell--I hate to admit how much the whole spectacle meant to me in that instant. Dad gets so busy these days and doesn't always have time to really and truly care about sports. And that's alright. But the Valley tournament is our weekend. And to see how much he loved the little bit of success at last meant so much more than just a game to me.

And the next day Bradley took care of the number one seed Wichita St. And it was more of the same. Finally we were getting our money's worth. We always buy all-session passes for the tournament, but to think we would get to see THREE Bradley games? It was almost too much. What a difference.

Furthermore, the Sunday afternoon championship game was to be shown on CBS. No more cable. The Valley had moved up. We got there a couple hours early and went down on the floor and got pictures. Dad chatted up Patrick O'Bryant. People didn't know Patrick O'Bryant back then (two weeks ago). Now they do. "O'B" had 13 points right off the bat, and Bradley was making me proud in front of the nationwide audience. They led rival Southern Illinois at halftime, but came out and laid an absolute egg in the second half. I was ashamed. All in all the weekend was a monumental success. But Bradley wore down in the second half, and did not impress many of the experts with their 46-point performance.

But their 20 wins were enough to get them into the Big Dance as a 13 seed. It was all coming together. It had already been a magical season for me--even though they were 3-5 in their own conference at one point. The NIT would have been nice, but with as many seniors as they have--it would have been a shame for a roster with that much talent to miss out on a chance for the NCAA tournament. It had been a full ten years since I've seen Bradley on a bracket.

In 1987-88, Hersey Hawkins was a senior. He led the nation in scoring, and Bradley was nationally ranked. I didn't know any better. All I knew is that Hersey was almost supernatural, that he was going to the NBA, and that the Braves would have a long run in the NCAA tournament. That's what Dad said. I can remember hearing a pep rally on the radio before the first round that year. Hawkins spoke. Snell spoke. Head Coach Stan Albeck spoke. They all whipped the crowd into a frenzy. But Bradley lost to Auburn in the first round. I felt gypped... It was over. I didn't know that things wouldn't always be that way. Hersey ended up being the number six overall pick in the NBA draft that year, but Bradley wouldn't make the Big Dance again until 1996. And then 2006 after that.

But they hadn't won a game in the tournament since before I was following them. Until Friday night. They beat Kansas. And then they did it again. They beat Pittsburgh. And I got to watch the game on TV on Sunday. Every play. It looked weird. And to see them playing well? It was all too much to take in. These were my Braves. They were little more than a little family project. Seeing them on CBS--the only game playing at the time--it didn't look right. I knew that if they advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, it would be madness.

And it has been. The last BU team to make it this far was 1954. That's a long time ago. It was literally too much for me to take on Sunday. I was overcome. Hearing the emotion in Snell's description on the radio (internet) as he witnessed the scene, hearing dad's voice on the other end of the phone--so full of excitement, looking again at the TV screen and seeing that--yes it actually did say that "Brad" had more points than "Pitt." And knowing that I'm not a bandwagon fan in the least bit.

And for the next five decades, people will likely refer to the "2006 Sweet Sixteen team." That is unless they make a habit of this for awhile now. Or better yet, that is unless they advance to the Elite Eight. Or the Final Four. I know it's all nonsense. But so was a team that started out 8-6 and 3-5 in their conference--ending up making this kind of national noise.

I can't even read all the articles. I can't keep up with all the fluff pieces on Bradley airing on National TV. It may never happen again. But I'm finally getting that run I was promised in 1988. Two decades later.

And believe me, I appreciate it MUCH more now than I would have then.