Thursday, December 30, 2010

2010 Chicago Sports Memories Awards

Play of the Year: Patrick Kane, Blackhawks, April 24
     With their first-round playoff series against the Nashville Predators tied at two games apiece, the Hawks are trailing 4-3 in the third period of Game 5 at the United Center and facing the prospect of returning to Nashville for a potential elimination game. The situation goes from bad to worse when Marian Hossa is sent off for boarding with only one minute and three seconds left.     
     As the clock ticks down, Nashville’s Martin Erat gains possession of the puck behind his own net and attempts to clear it along the boards, hoping to spring one of his teammates for a shot at Chicago’s empty net. Patrick Sharp intercepts the puck, pushes it over to Brent Seabrook in the corner, who slides it to Jonathan Toews in the slot. Toews flips a wrist shot that Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne stops with his pads but allows to bounce toward Patrick Kane, who’s camped just to the left of the goal mouth.
     Before you know it, Kane shovels the biscuit into the basket, and the game is tied with 13.6 seconds remaining. It is the first game-tying, shorthanded goal inside the final minute of a playoff game in the long history of the NHL, and it saves the Hawks’ season. The Hawks win 5-4 when Hossa tallies four minutes into overtime, and they advance to the second round by defeating the Predators 5-3 in Game 6 at Nashville.

Game of the Year: Blackhawks vs. Philadelphia Flyers, June 9
     The home team had won each of the first five games of the Stanley Cup Finals when the Blackhawks and Flyers took the ice for Game 6 in Philadelphia. Patrick Kane assisted on the Hawks’ first goal, by Dustin Byfuglien, and their third, by Andrew Ladd, as Chicago took a 3-2 lead into the third period.
     But the Flyers’ Scott Hartnell scored his second goal of the game with 3:59 remaining in the third period, and neither team scored again in regulation. The Hawks had the better of it all night, peppering Philadelphia goalie Michael Leighton with 41 shots in all, while Antti Niemi faced only 24, but nonetheless the Flyers held on to force overtime.
     Four minutes into the extra period, Kane received the puck from Brian Campbell near the left circle. He fired from an apparently impossible angle between Leighton's pads and deep into the far side of the net. The Hawks were Stanley Cup champions, but for an awkward stretch of time no one other than Kane knew it—because only Kane was certain that the puck was in the net (actually it had become lodged under the net). "I knew it was in right away," Kane said. "It was crazy. At that moment, it's just like 'We won the Stanley Cup.'"
     Kane single-handedly began the celebration, skating the length of the ice, yelling "It's in and the game's over!" as he passed the Hawks' bench, and jumping into the arms of Niemi, while the Flyers and their fans looked on in stupefied silence. Almost a minute elapsed before the officials finally confirmed that Kane indeed had scored and that the Hawks’ 49-year Stanley Cup drought was over. 

Player of the Year: Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks

     Wearing the "C" that signifies a team captain is an honor and status symbol for hockey players that is unlike any in other sports. In order to wear it effectively, one must be among the best players on the team, must have the respect of his coach and teammates, and must be able to act as the team's leader both vocally and by example.
    Jonathan Toews was named captain of the Blackhawks in the summer of 2008 after only one season in the NHL and just three months after his 20th birthday. His dedication to the job has earned him the nickname "Captain Serious." In 2010, Captain Serious led the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup championship and received the Conn Smythe Award as the most valuable player of the playoffs.
     "He is a special player," head coach Joel Quenneville said of Toews during the Hawks' playoff run. "Exactly the same approach over the course of the year to the end of the year. He rises to the occasion. But his consistency is what we like. I think Johnny represents exactly the type of leadership any team would love to have."

Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order):
Patrick Kane, Blackhawks; Duncan Keith, Blackhawks; Paul Konerko, White Sox; Julius Peppers, Bears; Derrick Rose, Bulls. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

In Memoriam, 2010

     We Chicago sports fans lost a few of our favorite performers this year. Heading the list were Bears Hall of Famers Stan Jones and George Blanda, Cubs stars Ron Santo and Phil Cavarretta, and the Blackhawks' Ed Litzenberger, captain of the 1961 Stanley Cup champions.
     Each of the aforementioned gentlemen enjoyed a long and acclaimed career in his sport, lived into his old age, and could look back with satisfaction upon heroic feats of the distant past. Regrettably, the same could not be said of Gaines Adams, the Bears defensive end who was struck down without warning at only 26, while his potential was still unrealized.
     Below is a list of notable Chicago sports personalities who passed away in 2010:

Gaines Adams, 26, Bears defensive end 2009, All-American at Clemson 2006 (January 17).

Johnny Bailey, 43, Bears running back and kick returner 1990-1991, previously starred at Texas A&I University, inducted into College Football Hall of Fame 2000 (August 20).

Black Tie Affair, 24, Chicago-based thoroughbred, won Equipoise Mile 1990, won Hawthorne Gold Cup 1990, won Washington Park Handicap 1991, Horse of the Year 1991 (July 1).

George Blanda, 83, Bears quarterback and placekicker 1949-1958, later starred with Oakland Raiders, inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame 1981 (September 27).

Lorn Brown, 71, Bulls broadcaster 1975-1978, White Sox broadcaster 1976-1979 and 1983-1988 (June 24).

Freddie Burdette, 73, Cubs pitcher 1962-1964 (June 1).

Phil Cavarretta, 94, Cubs first baseman/outfielder 1934-1953, Cubs manager 1951-1953, White Sox first baseman 1954-1955, three-time All-Star, played for Cubs in three World Series, National League batting champion and Most Valuable Player 1945 (December 18).

Ray Coleman, 88, White Sox outfielder 1951-1952 (September 19).

Quintin Dailey, 49, Bulls guard 1982-1986 (November 8).

Joe Gates, 55, White Sox second baseman 1978-1979 (March 28).

Billy Hoeft, 77, Cubs pitcher 1965-1966 (March 16).

Ken Holcombe, 91, White Sox pitcher 1950-1952 (March 15).

Lou Jankowski, 78, Blackhawks forward 1953-1955 (March 21).

Stan Jones, 78, Bears offensive guard and defensive tackle 1954-1965, three-time All-Pro, seven-time Pro Bowler, introduced systematic practice of weight training to NFL, member of Bears world champions 1963, inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame 1991 (May 21).

Ed Litzenberger, 78, Blackhawks right wing 1954-1961 and captain 1958-1961, won Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year 1955, captain of Stanley Cup champions 1961 (November 1).

Dick Loepfe, 88, Chicago Cardinals offensive tackle 1948-1949 (October 31).

Bob Probert, 45, Blackhawks left wing 1995-2002 (July 5).

Robin Roberts, 83, Cubs pitcher 1966, better known for his previous tenure with Philadelphia Phillies, inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame 1976 (May 6).

Ron Santo, 70, Cubs third baseman 1960-1973, White Sox second baseman 1974, nine-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glove award winner, Cubs broadcaster 1990-2010 (December 3).

Johnny Sellers, 72, jockey 1955-1977, won Washington Park Handicap 1958 and 1960, won Arlington Classic 1960, won American Derby 1960, won Stars & Stripes Handicap 1961, inducted into National Racing Hall of Fame 2007 (July 2).

Bob Shaw, 77, White Sox pitcher 1958-1961, Cubs pitcher 1967, went 18-6 in Sox’ pennant winning-season of 1959, went 1-1 in World Series of same year (September 23).

Solly Sherman, 92, Bears quarterback 1939-1940, passed to Joe Maniaci for one of the Bears’ 73 points (on an extra-point attempt) in legendary 1940 NFL title game victory over Washington Redskins (October 10).

Bobby Thomson, 86, Cubs outfielder 1958-1959, better known for his dramatic pennant-winning home run for New York Giants in 1951 (August 16).

Friday, December 24, 2010

Many Happy Returns

     The Bears clinched the NFC North Division championship Monday night with an impressive 40-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings. It marks the Bears' tenth division title since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970, and it would not have been accomplished without Devin Hester, who has rebounded from two subpar seasons to re-establish himself as the best kickoff and punt returner in the game today and as the greatest of all time.
     Hester came into the game, the 74th of his career, tied for the most return touchdowns in league history with Brian Mitchell, who had 13 in 223 games. It looked as though he would break the record when he got free on the opening kickoff of the second half. Alas, Hester was brought down at Minnesota's six-yard line after toting the ball 79 yards. So close and yet so far.
     But just minutes later, Hester fielded a punt at his own 36-yard line and took it to the house. It was the 14th return touchdown of his career, confirming him as the most proficient return man in history. Hester needed just 286 attempts to set the record, compared to 1,070 by Mitchell.
     "Right now, [Hester] is a Hall of Famer," said former All-Pro return man Deion Sanders. "I can't think of a returner ever playing the game with the impact he has. There is none."
     Well said, Deion. Hester's impact goes well beyond the touchdowns he scores. It also is felt in the field position he provides by his returns and when opponents sacrifice yardage by trying to kick away from him. His mere presence on the field is enormously disruptive to the Bears' opponents.
     Hester is a respectful, humble man, and after breaking the record he sought to deflect credit away from himself and toward the ten Bears special-teamers who accompany him on his jaunts toward paydirt. "I'm just glad that God put me on this team," he said.
     The official record of 14 return touchdowns does not count Hester's return of a missed field goal in 2006 or his electrifying kickoff return to open the 2007 Super Bowl. Even without those two "asterisks," however, Hester's record will never be broken by anyone but a truly great player. And before he is through, he might put the record at a level where it will never be broken, period.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Phil Cavarretta, 1916 - 2010

     Phil Cavarretta, who passed away Saturday at the age of 94, was not yet 30 when he played in his third World Series for the Cubs. This was in 1945, and Cavarretta had already appeared in the World Series of 1935 and 1938. Neither he nor anyone else could have known that no Cub would appear in another fall classic for a long, long time.
     Cavarretta joined the Cubs shortly after graduating from Lane Tech High School in 1934, moving two miles east on Addison Street to Wrigley Field. He played seven games for the Cubs in 1934 and was an everyday player in 1935, when he was still 18 years old for the first half of the season. Although he had very little power for a first baseman (he averaged less than five homers a year), Cavarretta was an excellent contact hitter who finished his career with a .293 average and more walks than strikeouts. He played 20 seasons for the Cubs and finished up with two for the White Sox.
     Cavarretta earned the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1945 when he hit a league-leading .355 with 94 runs scored and 97 runs batted in. It was no fault of his that the Cubs lost the World Series to the Detroit Tigers in seven games. He homered and scored three runs in the Cubs’ 9-0 rout of American League MVP Hal Newhouser in Game 1, and he ended up batting .423 (highest on either team), with seven runs scored and five RBIs for the Series.
     Cavarretta is the last Cub, so far, to hit a World Series home run. He was also the last in a long line of player-managers for the Cubs—which extended back to Cap Anson in 1879, and included Frank Chance, Rogers Hornsby, Charlie Grimm, and Gabby Hartnett. It was Cavarretta who, in 1953, wrote the name of Ernie Banks on the Cubs’ lineup card for the first time. The next year, he became the first manager ever to be fired in spring training, after he bluntly informed Cubs owner P.K. Wrigley that the club had no chance to contend.
     "Phil hated to lose," Cubs outfielder Ralph Kiner said, "and he was very honest, and that was the reason he got fired." The Cubs finished seventh, 33 games off the pace, but being proven right did not get Cavarretta his job back.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Kid K, No Longer a Kid, Returns to Cubs

     When he left the Cubs after the 2008 season, righthander Kerry Wood made no secret of the fact that he hoped to return someday. Someday turned out to be Friday, when free-agent Wood agreed to rejoin the Cubs for one year at $1.5 million, declining several other offers, including one from the New York Yankees that was said to be for two years at $5 million per. For Wood, it clearly isn't about the money as much as it is about being where he and his family prefer to be.
     Wood is following a number of prominent Cubs pitchers of the past (Fergie Jenkins, Ken Holtzman, Rick Reuschel, Greg Maddux, and Jon Lieber) who also returned after playing elsewhere. None of them was as good the second time around, and none could have been realistically expected to be. The same is true of Wood, who was an occasionally unhittable starting pitcher in his heyday, and is now a 33-year-old seventh- or eighth-inning man out of the bullpen.
     When Wood first came on the scene in 1998, he was a pitching prospect unlike any that Cubs fans had seen in many years. Few could have guessed that hed win only 77 games in the first ten years of his career, while suffering through 12 separate stints on the disabled listbut that is what happened.
     Wood was National League Rookie of the Year in 1998, and his future stretched promisingly before him. The highlight of that season, of course, was his sensational 20-strikeout game on May 6, which is described below.

Kerry Wood
     In 1998, Kerry Wood’s babyface made him look even younger than his 20 years of age, but with a baseball in his hand he was a menacing presence. He was six-foot-five and 225 pounds, and his combination of a 100-m.p.h. fastball, devastating curveball, and wicked slider was unprecedented. So was his effort on a drizzly Wednesday afternoon at Wrigley Field, when in just his fifth major-league start, he pitched one of the greatest games of all time.
     From the day he was drafted out of high school in 1995, Wood had been the most highly touted prospect in the Cubs organization. Every scout who saw him in the minor leagues swore he was the real thing, and every team that talked trade with the Cubs asked about him. When, at the close of spring training in 1998, the Cubs decided to send him out for a little more seasoning, Anaheim Angels manager Terry Collins facetiously said he would put all his money on the Cubs to win the World Series. “If they have five [starting] pitchers better than Kerry Wood,” he said, “they’re going all the way!”
     Recalled after just one start at Iowa, Wood went 2-2 with a 5.89 earned-run average in his first four outings for the Cubs, looking brilliant at times and awful at others. Then, on May 6, he faced a Houston Astros club that had won nine of its last ten games and boasted the National League’s most potent offense. He struck out the first five batters. He fanned one more in the third, two in the fourth, and three in the fifth.
     Wood struck out one man in the sixth and struck out the side in the seventh. When he fanned the first batter in the eighth, the bleacher fans who had brought placards to mark each “K” ran out. They had brought 16. Wood struck out the next two Astros as well, whereupon other fans were recruited to augment the placards by lining up and painting K’s on their chests. Wood’s 18 strikeouts surpassed the franchise record, set in 1906, and tied the major-league record for rookies.
     Wood had worked with a scant one-run lead since the second inning, as Houston’s Shane Reynolds held the Cubs in check. The Cubs got an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth. When Wood took the mound for the ninth, the crowd of 15,758 was going wild. Billy Spiers came up to pinch hit for Reynolds. With the crowd chanting Wood’s first name, Spiers struck out. That gave Wood seven strikeouts in a row and 19 for the day. Nineteen strikeouts in one game had been accomplished five times before, including once by Nolan Ryan—Wood’s fellow Texan and his idol, in whose honor the youngster wore number 34. But even Ryan, baseball’s all-time strikeout leader, had never whiffed 20 in a game. Only another Texan, Roger Clemens, had done that—first in 1986 and again in 1996.
     Craig Biggio, the Astros’ excellent leadoff man, strode to the plate. He tapped a soft grounder to shortstop and was roundly booed for having hit the ball. Now both Wood and the Astros were down to their final out. Derek Bell was the hitter. He flailed in vain at two nasty curveballs. A steady roar now replaced the “Ker-ree!” chants. Bell let the next pitch go to make the count 1-and-2. Catcher Sandy Martinez called for another curveball.
     Bell had no chance. He was strikeout victim number 20. Wood pumped his fist once, rather sheepishly, before he was mobbed by his teammates.
     If it wasn’t the greatest single-game pitching performance in history, it was certainly the most dominant. Only two men reached base: one on a scratch single off the glove of third baseman Kevin Orie (which might easily have been ruled an error) and the other when he was hit by a pitch. Only eight pitches were hit into fair territory, just two out of the infield. Houston’s three-four-five hitters—Jeff Bagwell, Jack Howell, and Moises Alou—came to bat a total of nine times and struck out nine times.
     “It was just one of those days,” said Wood. “It just felt like playing catch out there.”

Thursday, December 16, 2010


The first postseason game in NFL history was also the first indoor game in NFL history. It was played on December 18, 1932, in Chicago Stadium. In that game, the Bears took on the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans, who would soon move to Detroit and become the Lions. The account below is adapted from the recent book Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports.

     Bronko Nagurski grew up in International Falls, Minnesota, a remote outpost along the Canadian border, and from the time he was very young he was regarded as a sort of real-life Paul Bunyan. Clarence “Doc” Spears, his coach at the University of Minnesota, had a colorful account of how he recruited Nagurski. “I saw this young kid pushing a plow,” Spears said. “There was no horse or anything else, just this kid pushing a plow. I asked directions of him and he picked up the plow and pointed with it. I decided then and there he should go to Minnesota.”
     Bronko went on to perform spectacularly at Minnesota, and he joined the Bears in 1930. He weighed about 235 pounds at a time when very few players exceeded 210. A fullback on offense and a tackle on defense, he was easily the best player in the NFL at both positions. He was the heart and soul of the Bears’ powerhouse teams of the early thirties.
     “Bronko Nagurski was probably the greatest player I ever went up against,” said the Green Bay Packers’ Hall of Famer Clarke Hinkle. I thought to myself, ‘You either better start moving and go after him or just get the hell out of the way, because otherwise you are going to get killed.’”

     In the final game of the 1932 regular season, Nagurski’s 56-yard touchdown gallop led the Bears to a 9-0 victory over the Packers amid swirling snows at Wrigley Field. The win moved the Bears into a tie with the Portsmouth Spartans for first place in the NFL, and league president Joe Carr decided to have a playoff game to settle the issue. Because Portsmouth’s stadium seated only 8,000, the first postseason game in pro football history was scheduled for Chicago.
     That the NFL was still in its infancy was demonstrated by the fact that Portsmouth’s star tailback Dutch Clark, the league’s leading scorer, was not available for the game. His contract as basketball coach at Colorado College called for him to report immediately after the Spartans’ season was concluded, and it had no provision for an extra week.
     The weather worsened in the days leading up to the game, with snow continuing intermittently and the temperature plummeting to below zero. Bears coach and owner George Halas recognized that few hardy souls were likely to pay hard-earned Depression dollars to sit out in a blizzard at Wrigley Field, so he got approval from the league to play the game indoors at Chicago Stadium. Inside the Stadium, a field was set up that was 20 yards shorter and 15 feet narrower than the standard.
     A circus had come through the week before, and a six-inch layer of dirt remained on the Stadium’s cement floor. With rolls of sod laid on top of the dirt, the playing surface was passable and certainly safer than the frozen ground at Wrigley Field. One observer reported, however, that the arena “was a little too aromatic, what with the horses and elephants that had traipsed around there a few days before the game.”
     More than 11,000 people showed up, vindicating the decision to play the game indoors. “They were exposed to the violence of professional football,” Richard Whittingham wrote, “in a way that spectators in outdoor stadiums never were. In the enclosed stadium, the sounds of impact when players blocked or tackled each other resounded through the acoustically controlled hall.”
     Both defenses held sway for the first three quarters. There was only one punt returned all day, as most of them flew well into the seats. The Bears’ Red Grange was knocked out cold when he was thrown out of bounds and into the hockey boards after an end run of 15 yards. He was carted off, but soon returned. In the fourth quarter, Dick Nesbitt of the Bears intercepted a pass at the Spartans’ seven-yard line. Nagurski bulled his way down to the two on first down, but then he was stopped for virtually no gain on his next two attempts.
     On fourth down and goal, the Portsmouth defenders massed in the middle of the line, convinced that Nagurski would carry the ball again. Bronko did take the handoff from quarterback Carl Brumbaugh, but instead of charging ahead, he backpedaled and lofted a pass over the scrum at the goal line. Grange was alone in the end zone to gather it in for a touchdown. Portsmouth coach Potsy Clark was apoplectic, arguing that Bronko had been too close to the line of scrimmage when he delivered the ball (at the time, one had to be at least five yards behind the line in order to throw a legal forward pass). Potsy may have been right, but the call stood.
     When Clark finally calmed down and left the field, Tiny Engebretsen kicked the extra point for the Bears. Several minutes later, a Spartan fumble rolled out of the end zone for a safety. The score of 9-0 held up, and the Bears were world champions.
     The postseason playoff game stirred up so much interest that NFL owners quickly agreed to make it an annual event. The league was split into two divisions whose winners would meet after the season for the championship. This model remained in place until the inaugural Super Bowl after the 1966 season.

Adapted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) 2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

"When He Gets There He's Gone"

Forty-five years ago Sunday, the most sensational rookie in NFL history gave a performance that defied description. “I never saw such a thing in my life!” said Bears coach George Halas, who had seen plenty in his long career. At the time, the NFL was half as old as it is now, but Papa Bear’s statement would still stand. No one has seen another game like the one that Gale Sayers had in the slop that day.

     A steady rain turned Wrigley Field into a virtual swamp for the Bears-49ers game of December 12, 1965. Like all of his fellow players, the Bears’ electrifying rookie Gale Sayers was concerned about the conditions. “It was a rainy, muddy day and I actually didn’t like playing in that kind of weather,” he recalled. “So many things can happen; you can slip, pull a muscle, tear a hamstring.”
     It wouldn’t have been surprising if the sloppy footing had neutralized Sayers more than anyone else, for speed and agility were his chief weapons. But Sayers ran wild. First he caught a screen pass from Rudy Bukich and romped 80 yards for a touchdown. Then he ran 21 yards from scrimmage for a second touchdown. He scored again on a seven-yard run from scrimmage.
     Next, Sayers took a handoff and zigged and zagged his way 50 yards for yet another touchdown. It appeared that he alone was playing on a dry field, while 21 other men slipped and slid around him.
     His fifth touchdown came on a straightforward plunge from one yard out.
     Sayers saved his most spectacular play of the day for last. Fielding a San Francisco punt at his own 15-yard line, he made a dazzling move against the grain, leaving his would-be tacklers stupefied. He went 85 yards to the end zone, and was all by himself after passing the midfield stripe.
     With this sixth touchdown, Sayers equaled the single-game record. It was his 21st of the season, also a record at the time. He might have scored once more, but he slipped (finally) making one of his patented cuts on a punt return—after he’d already gone 32 yards. “The way things were going,” Sayers recalled years later, “I probably could have scored eight touchdowns that day. But back then no one cared about records. I didn’t even know I’d tied the six-touchdown record until after the ballgame.”
     The final score was 61-20. The man known as the Kansas Comet amassed 336 total yards for the day—with 113 yards on nine rushes (an average of 12.5 per carry!), 134 yards on punt returns, and 89 yards on two pass receptions. “I wonder how many touchdowns Sayers would have scored,” 49ers assistant coach Y.A. Tittle mused, “if we hadn't set our defense to stop him.”
     San Francisco defensive back George Donnelly offered an apt description of Sayers’s elusiveness in the open field: “He looks no different than any other runner when he’s coming at you, but when he gets there he’s gone.”

Reprinted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) 2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert

Friday, December 10, 2010

Exciting Celebrity Encounters: Ron Santo and Glenn Beckert


     In January 1972, my Dad took me to meet Ron Santo and Glenn Beckert of the Cubs, who were signing autographs at the Nelson Marine store in Des Plaines (the store is still there, at the southwest corner of River Road and Rand Road, virtually unchanged except for its name, which escapes me). As you will deduce from the photos, the appearance of Santo and Beckert was intended to help the store sell snowmobiles.
     I was only ten years old and not in the market for a snowmobile. But I was excited to meet two of my sports heroes, and they did not disappoint. Santo and Beckert couldn't have been nicer. My Dad was glad he brought me, and I think he got as big a kick out of meeting the two All-Stars as I did.
     Santo and Beckert were roommates on Cubs road trips--a quaint notion today when star players get their own suites--and they remained close friends until Santo passed away last week. I never met either of them again, but I've saved their autographs for almost four decades. So they both remained friends to me, too.


Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Monsters of the Midway

Seventy years ago today, on December 8, 1940, the Bears enjoyed the most phenomenal day of their illustrious history. The following account is reprinted from the recent book Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports.

     As the two men left the field after the 1940 National Football League championship game, Bill Osmanski of the Bears tried to console Washington quarterback Sammy Baugh. “Don’t feel bad, Sam,” Osmanski said. “Think what would have happened if Charlie Malone had caught that first long pass.” With the Redskins trailing 7-0 on their first possession, Baugh had fired a perfect strike to Malone, who was wide open at the Bears’ four-yard line, for an apparent game-tying touchdown. Alas, the ball had gone right through Malone’s hands.
     “If Malone had caught that pass,” Baugh replied to Osmanski, “the score would have been 73-7.”
     Indeed, the Bears had annihilated the Redskins 73-0. “The weather was perfect,” wrote Arthur Daley of The New York Times. “So were the Bears.” It remains the most lopsided game in NFL history, and it started the Bears on a run in which they’d win three championships in four years.
     The Redskins were champions of the East at 9-2, the Bears champions of the West at 8-3. The Bears were back in Washington’s Griffith Stadium just three weeks after a hard-fought and disputed loss to the Redskins, in the ninth game of the regular season, which had made the difference in the teams’ records.
     In that game, the Bears trailed 7-3 with time running out when quarterback Sid Luckman found George McAfee deep in Washington territory. After McAfee was brought down at the one-yard line, he feigned injury to stop the clock with 10 seconds left (the Bears were out of timeouts), and was flagged for delay of game. Pushed back to the six-yard line by the penalty, Luckman had time enough to attempt two passes. The first fell incomplete. The second appeared to find Osmanski clear in the end zone. “Frank Filchock grabbed me from behind,” Osmanski later recalled, “and pulled my arms against my sides. The ball hit my chest and flopped to the ground. The gun went off.” The Redskins escaped with the win. The officials escaped into one of the stadium’s baseball dugouts and down the tunnel to the sanctuary of their locker room with Bears coach George Halas in hot pursuit, spewing all the profanities he could think of—and he had a considerable repertoire from which to draw.
     The Bears blamed their defeat on favorable home-field officiating for Washington. This was music to the ears of George Preston Marshall, the Redskins’ colorful owner, who never missed an opportunity to stir the pot where Halas was concerned. “The Bears are a bunch of crybabies,” Marshall pronounced. “They are quitters. They fold up when the going gets tough.”
     When it became clear that the two teams would play again in the championship game, Marshall stepped up his verbal assaults on the Bears. “They are the world’s greatest crybabies,” he repeated. “We have whipped them before and we will whip them again.” Marshall surely realized that he was providing bulletin-board fodder for Halas and the Bears, but there was a method to his madness. Early in the week before the rematch, he sent Halas a telegram. “Congratulations,” he wrote. “Game will be sold out by Tuesday night. We should play for the championship every year.”

     Game day was clear and crisp, with a temperature of 39 degrees. “A perfect day for football!” Marshall exclaimed to reporters and fans from his box behind the Redskins’ bench. The overflow crowd at Griffith Stadium was joined by a nationwide radio audience; this was the first NFL game to be broadcast coast-to-coast.
     The Redskins’ hopes were carried by Sammy Baugh, pro football’s first great passer, who had led the league that year for the second time (he led the league in passing six times all told). Baugh was also the NFL’s finest punter—his career average of 45.1 yards per kick is still the best ever—and an outstanding defensive back who was perennially among the league leaders in interceptions.
     The Bears were led by their second-year quarterback Sid Luckman, who, like Baugh, also played defensive back and was his team’s regular punter. Though not as accomplished a passer as Slingin’ Sammy, Luckman was the ideal man for the Bears’ modified T-formation offense, which put a variety of options at his disposal and required him to mix them up in response to what the defense was doing.
     The game pitted the NFL’s best passing team, the Redskins, against its best running team, the Bears. The Redskins had stopped the Bears in the regular-season game and saw no reason why they wouldn’t do so again. But Halas had spent hour after hour studying films of the 7-3 loss, and he had returned to Washington convinced that if the Redskins came back with their customary 5-3-3 defensive alignment, Luckman and the Bears would have a field day.
     As the Bears left the locker room, Halas gave Luckman three plays he had scripted; each was designed to exploit a specific weakness that Halas had identified in the Redskin defense. The Bears would use these plays on their first possession to test Washington’s responses to their man-in-motion schemes.
     The Bears began from their own 24-yard line after the opening kickoff. The first of the scripted plays was a fake reverse with man-in-motion. Luckman handed off to George McAfee, who gained eight yards. Halas was elated. He now knew that the Redskins were not prepared to make the adjustments necessary to stop his offense.
     On the second play, McAfee went in motion to the right, and Luckman pitched left to Osmanski, who found a hole through the line, stiff-armed a linebacker out of the way, swung to the outside, and raced 68 yards for a touchdown. A flying body block by George Wilson obliterated the last two Redskin defenders about 35 yards from the goal line.
     Luckman didn’t need to call the third of the scripted plays. “I signaled the coach that the Redskins were in the old defense and he could sit back and relax,” he said. Jack Manders kicked the extra point to put the Bears ahead 7-0. The game was less than a minute old. “I was delighted,” Halas wrote in his autobiography. “I knew we could collect enough points to win the championship. Our adjusted plays could go time and again through the weaknesses we had detected in the Washington defense.”
     Max Krause of the Redskins returned the ensuing kickoff to the Bears’ 32, and might have gone all the way but for a fine open-field tackle by Osmanski. A few plays later, from the 19, Baugh went to the air and found Charlie Malone all alone for an apparent touchdown. Malone dropped the ball. Washington then attempted and missed a 32-yard field goal.
     The Redskins were never in the game after Malone’s miscue. The Bears’ next drive took them 80 yards in 18 plays, all on the ground, with Luckman scoring on a quarterback sneak. The kick by Bob Snyder made it 14-0.
     Baugh was unable to move the Redskins on their second possession, and his punt was partially blocked, giving the Bears the ball in Washington territory. The Bears’ subsequent “drive” consisted of one play: a Luckman lateral to Joe Maniaci, who went around left end and scampered 42 yards for a touchdown. Phil Martinovich’s extra point gave the Bears a 21-0 lead.
     Baugh was replaced at quarterback by Frank Filchock, who fared little better. An interception by Ray Nolting set up the Bears’ fourth touchdown, a 30-yard pass from Luckman to Ken Kavanaugh.

     It was 28-0 at halftime. Unbelievably, things only got worse for Washington in the second half. On just the second play of the third quarter, Hampton Pool picked off a pass by Baugh and returned it 15 yards for the Bears’ fifth touchdown. The Bears would go on to score three more touchdowns in the third quarter and another three in the fourth, even with Luckman sitting out the entire time.
     Early in the third quarter, the fans stopped cheering. A little later, the Redskins marching band—George Preston Marshall’s pride and joy—quit playing, and Marshall himself sat in stunned silence. The fans were roused from their torpor only when an announcement came over the public-address system promoting 1941 season tickets. They booed themselves hoarse, then sat back down to watch the disaster play itself out. By the fourth quarter, the stands were largely empty, and the fans still remaining had taken to cheering for the Bears.
     One phrase became so familiar over the course of the afternoon that each time the stadium announcer started to say it, the fans chanted along in unison: “Lee Artoe will kick off for the Bears.”
     Ten different players scored the Bears’ 11 touchdowns, and six Bears were responsible for the seven successful extra points. In all, 15 different Bears scored in the game. After the 10th touchdown, the officials asked Halas not to kick any more extra points, as they were running out of footballs. Accordingly, the Bears passed on the last two extra-point attempts.
     When it was over, the Bears had gained an amazing 382 yards on the ground to Washington’s 22. They had attempted only eight passes and completed six, for 119 yards. The Redskins had passed 51 times, completing just 20 for 223 yards. Baugh, Filchock, and Roy Zimmerman had thrown eight interceptions, with the Bears returning three of them for touchdowns.
     “It was one of those days,” Halas said. “Everything we did, we did right. Everything they did, they did wrong.”

     This is how the Bears scored:
     First quarter. Osmanski, 68-yard run (Manders kick). Luckman, one-yard run (Snyder kick). Maniaci, 42-yard run (Martinovich kick). 21-0.
     Second quarter. Kavanaugh, 30-yard pass from Luckman (Snyder kick). 28-0.
     Third quarter. Pool, 15-yard interception return (Dick Plasman kick). Nolting, 23-yard run (Plasman’s kick missed). McAfee, 34-yard interception return (Joe Stydahar kick). Bulldog Turner, 21-yard interception return (Maniaci’s kick blocked). 54-0.
     Fourth quarter. Harry Clark, 44-yard run (Gary Famiglietti’s kick missed). Famiglietti, one-yard run (Maniaci, pass from Solly Sherman). Clark, one-yard run (Sherman’s pass to Maniaci failed). 73-0.
     “From the moment Bill Osmanski broke away for 68 yards and a touchdown on the third play of the game,” George Strickler wrote in the Tribune, “until little Harry Clark popped through a hole as wide as a bleacher exit for his second and the Bears’ last touchdown late in the fourth period, there was no question in the minds of the 36,034 jammed into Griffith Stadium that the colossus from the west, this day at least, was a superteam.”
     After he and Redskin coach Ray Flaherty visited the Bears’ locker room to congratulate Halas, George Preston Marshall gave his own assessment of the game. “We had the greatest crowd in Washington history, and we played our poorest game,” he told reporters. “It looked as if some of our lads had their fountain pens in their pockets trying to figure out who was going to get what share of the playoff money.”
     The victory party in Halas’s suite at the Mayflower Hotel attracted a good many senators, congressmen, and other celebrities, including Marshall himself. When he arrived late in the evening, Marshall had evidently made several previous stops on his way from the stadium. By this time, he had an easy answer for all questions about the game: “I don’t remember a thing.”
Reprinted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) 2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert

Monday, December 6, 2010

Ron Santo, 1940 - 2010

     Ron Santo, who passed away early Friday morning at the age of 70, was unique in Chicago sports history. No other person was so prominent as a player and so beloved as a broadcaster for such a long time.
     Santo the player was easily the best National League third baseman of his day and one of the best of all time. He was a nine-time All-Star, five-time Gold Glover, and four times finished in the top ten in MVP balloting.
     For the period of 1964 through 1969, Santo had the highest WAR (wins above replacement player) in the major leagues—better than Willie Mays, Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente, Frank Robinson, or anyone else. His figure of 45.7 means that the Cubs won that many more games with Santo in the lineup than they would have won with an average player in his place. By that measure, Santo was the most valuable player in the major leagues over the six-year period.
     Unfortunately, the Cubs never won any championships during Santo's career, and (as has been well documented) his considerable accomplishments did not land him in the Hall of Fame—at least during his lifetime. That was a bitter pill, but Santo swallowed it with the same forebearance that carried him through his long and harrowing struggle with diabetes.

     Santo the broadcaster is better known than Santo the player, at least to fans under the age of 45 or 50. He spent two decades in the Cubs' radio booth, teamed first with Thom Brennaman and Bob Brenly, and then, for the past 15 years, with Pat Hughes.
     As a broadcaster, Santo was a mirror for the feelings of his listeners in good times and bad. No one was more delighted than Santo when the Cubs won, and no one was more disappointed when they lost. Few fans will forget Santo's anguished cry of "Oh, nooooooooo!" when left fielder Brant Brown dropped a fly ball in 1998 that cost the Cubs a late-season game and almost cost them the wild-card playoff berth they eventually won.
     It was easy to criticize Santo for being too much of a cheerleader, for not doing his homework, etc., but most of his listeners didn't care. They knew that he was genuinely invested, as they were, in the fortunes of the Cubs. And Hughes was a very generous partner. He cleverly found a way to make their broadcasts work not in spite of Santo's limitations, but because of them. One of my favorite exchanges between the two went something like this:
     Hughes: "Ruben Quevedo now coming on to pitch for the Brewers."
     Santo: "Who is it?"
     Hughes: "Ruben Quevedo."
     Santo: "He hasn’t missed too many meals."
     Hughes: "You could say that, Ronnie."
     Santo: "He reminds me of someone we had not too long ago."
     Hughes: "Who might that be, Ron?"
     Santo: "Hmmm."
     Hughes: "Should I give you a hint?"
     Santo: "It's on the tip of my tongue, Patrick."
     Hughes: "Might it be Ruben Quevedo?"
     Santo: "Oh gosh, I’m not sure."

Friday, December 3, 2010

1985 Bears Flashback: The Super Bowl Shuffle

     Twenty-five years ago today, on December 3, 1985, the “Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew” entered a studio to record “The Super Bowl Shuffle,” the audacious rap song that would be heard almost incessantly over the next two months and has endured, somewhat surprisingly, as a landmark of sorts in the subsequent quarter century.
     Despite having sustained their first defeat of the season (after 12 consecutive victories) the very night before, the Bears remained quite sure that they were headed to the Super Bowl, and the “Shuffle” was a bold statement to that effect. The project was the brainchild of Dick Meyer, a lifelong Bears fan who enlisted Willie Gault, the elegant wide receiver and aspiring actor/singer, to be his point person with the players. “A substantial portion” of the proceeds was to be donated to charity.
     Meyer and Melvin Owens wrote the lyrics, which were tailored to each of the ten featured “singers”: Walter Payton, Gault, Mike Singletary, Jim McMahon, Otis Wilson, Steve Fuller, Mike Richardson, Richard Dent, Gary Fencik, and William Perry. Bobby Daniels and Lloyd Barry wrote the music, and Meyer acted as producer and choreographer.
     In addition to the ten front men, 14 other Bears also participated in supporting roles. All are listed below. The players might have done the project as a lark, but “The Super Bowl Shuffle” was a genuine phenomenon. It sold more than half a millon copies as a 45-RPM record, ascended to No. 41 on the pop music chart, and was nominated for a Grammy. At the end of the day, some $300,000 was donated to the Chicago Community Trust to provide food, shelter, and clothing for needy families.

Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew (featured singers, in order of appearance)
34 - Walter Payton, running back
83 - Willie Gault, wide receiver
50 - Mike Singletary, linebacker
  9 - Jim McMahon, quarterback
55 - Otis Wilson, linebacker
  4 - Steve Fuller, quarterback
27 - Mike Richardson, cornerback
95 - Richard Dent, defensive end
45 - Gary Fencik, safety
72 - William Perry, defensive tackle/fullback

Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew Band (in alphabetical order)
  8 - Maury Buford, punter (cowbell)
29 - Dennis Gentry, running back (bass)
98 - Tyrone Keys, defensive end (keyboard)
33 - Calvin Thomas, running back (saxophone)
18 - Mike Tomczak, quarterback (guitar)

Chicago Bears Shufflin’ Crew Chorus (in alphabetical order)
21 - Leslie Frazier, cornerback
23 - Shaun Gayle, safety
75 - Stefan Humphries, guard
51 - Jim Morrissey, linebacker
89 - Keith Ortego, wide receiver/punt returner
48 - Reggie Phillips, cornerback
53 - Dan Rains, linebacker
20 - Thomas Sanders, running back
31 - Ken Taylor, cornerback/punt returner

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

No. 1 Overall

     Before the current season began, Derrick Rose of the Bulls asked, "Why can't I be the MVP?" Judging by his sensational performance so far, the answer would have to be "No particular reason."
     If Rose ever does win the Most Valuable Player award, he would become the first Chicago athlete to do so after also being selected with the first overall pick in his league's annual draft. Two such players have made it to the Hall of Fame, and both were drafted by teams that no longer exist--Charley Trippi by the NFL's Chicago Cardinals and Walt Bellamy by the NBA's Chicago Packers.
     The draft is an inexact science in every sport, and as often as not the first overall pick fails to justify the expectations placed upon him. Below is the list of players in whom Chicago teams have invested the hopes, not to mention dollars, that go with the first overall draft choice. Some panned out, and some did not.

National Football League (draft established 1936)

1941 - Tom Harmon, halfback, Michigan
1947 - Bob Fenimore, halfback, Oklahoma State

1939 - Ki Aldrich, center, TCU
1940 - George Cafego, fullback, Tennessee
1945 - Charley Trippi, halfback, Georgia
1958 - King Hill, quarterback, Rice

National Basketball Association (draft established 1947)

1961 - Walt Bellamy, center, Indiana

1962 - Bill McGill, center/forward, Utah

1999 - Elton Brand, forward, Duke
2008 - Derrick Rose, guard, Memphis

National Hockey League (draft established 1963)

2007 - Patrick Kane, London Knights (Ontario Hockey League)

Major League Baseball (draft established 1965)

1982 - Shawon Dunston, shortstop, Jefferson High School, Brooklyn, NY

White Sox:
1971 - Danny Goodwin, catcher, Peoria Central High School, Peoria, IL
1977 - Harold Baines, first baseman, St. Michael High School, Easton, MD

Mildly Interesting Trivia Department: Danny Goodwin was drafted first overall by the White Sox in 1971, but elected not to sign and enrolled at Southern University. In 1975, having completed his college career, Goodwin was drafted first overall again--this time by the California Angels. He is the only athlete in any sport to go No. 1 overall more than once.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Bears vs. Packers, 1963

     The Bears-Packers game of November 17, 1963, was perhaps the most highly anticipated regular-season contest in NFL history up to that time. The archrivals came into the game with identical 8-1 records, and the winner would take a giant step toward the Western Division crown and a berth in the world championship game (which was not yet named the Super Bowl).
     “If we’re going to win this thing,” Bears head coach George Halas had said before the season, “we’re going to have to beat Green Bay twice.” It was a tall order: the Packers had beaten the Bears 49-0 and 38-7 the year before en route to an almost-perfect 14-1 record and a second straight championship. But the Bears had defeated the Packers 10-3 in the season opener at Lambeau Field, and now they had the opportunity to deliver on Halas’s prophecy.
     Over 49,000 fans turned out for the rematch at Wrigley Field—some of whom paid scalpers $100 for the privilege. As was true of all home games in those days, even sellouts, the game was not televised within a 75-mile radius of Chicago, so fans drove to taverns, bowling alleys, and American Legion halls in outlying areas of Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. One group of 400 chartered an entire train, which they christened the Victory Special, for the 180-mile trip to a Galesburg hotel. Well supplied with liquid refreshments, these fans spent six hours on the train there and back for the chance to watch the game on television.
     They were not disappointed.
     The Bears’ J.C. Caroline set the tone on the game’s opening kickoff when he obliterated Herb Adderley after a return of just several steps. Thereafter, as George Strickler wrote in the Tribune, “the underdog Bears relentlessly carried the fight to the foe, on offense as well as defense.” The Packers were never in the game. They didn’t score until late in the fourth quarter, when they were already trailing 26-0. Only one other time, on a pass-interference penalty in the second quarter, did they advance inside the Bears’ 38-yard line. The Bears intercepted five passes and recovered two Packer fumbles. They limited Jim Taylor, the league’s reigning rushing champ, to 23 yards.
     “The Bear defense met every expectation,” Strickler wrote. “The offense exceeded even the wildest hopes of the most rabid Bears followers.” All season, the defense had been disproportionately responsible for the team’s success; when the two groups passed each other going on and off the field, Ed O’Bradovich remembered, he and his defensive mates would say to the offensive unit, “Just hold ’em.” But on this day, the offense more than held its own. With superb blocking up front and a balanced distribution of carries among Willie Galimore, Joe Marconi, Rick Casares, and Ronnie Bull, the Bears churned out 248 yards on the ground. They scored the first three times they had the ball, on two field goals by Roger Leclerc and a spectacular 27-yard gallop by Galimore. Leclerc added a field goal in the third quarter and another in the fourth before Bennie McRae’s 44-yard interception return set up a touchdown run by quarterback Bill Wade from five yards out. The final score of 26-7 could have been even more one-sided, but Leclerc missed four field goals in addition to the four he made.
     The Bears presented the game ball to offensive line coach Phil Handler, whose charges had completely dominated the line of scrimmage. Although the Packers were without Bart Starr, who’d been out three weeks with an injury, Green Bay coach Vince Lombardi offered no excuses. “The Bears were terrific,” he said. “They beat us up front where it counts—and both ways. I’m happy for Papa George [Halas]; he’s a hell of a guy.”
     Halas himself was virtually speechless after the game. “Thank you, fellows,” was all he managed to tell his team before being overcome with emotion.
     “Somebody may still beat the Bears,” Lombardi said wistfully. “I’m making no predictions. But they have four games left to play. So do we.”

Adapted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) 2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Bears on Thanksgiving Day

     All football fans know that the Detroit Lions and Dallas Cowboys each play home games every Thanksgiving Day. The Lions have been doing so since 1934 and the Cowboys since 1968.
     Most fans probably don't know that in the NFL's infancy, a Thanksgiving Day matchup between the Bears and the Chicago Cardinals was customary. Those teams played each other on 12 consecutive turkey days from 1922 through 1933.
     The Bears remained a Thanksgiving Day fixture for five more seasons, serving as the Lions' guests from 1934 through 1938. Since then, the Bears have appeared only occasionally. Their overall record on Thanksgiving Day is 16-14-2.
     In 1925, the legendary Red Grange made his NFL debut as the Bears and Cardinals struggled to a scoreless tie at Wrigley Field.
     In 1929, Cardinals Hall of Famer Ernie Nevers scored six touchdowns and four extra points, accounting for all of the South Siders' scoring in a 40-6 rout of the Bears at Wrigley Field. Nevers still holds the single-game scoring record.
     In 1977, Walter Payton accumulated 137 yards as a runner and 107 as a receiver, scoring a touchdown in each capacity, as the Bears won their third straight game to keep their flickering playoff hopes alive. They ended the season with six in a row to make the postseason for the first time in 14 years.
     In 1980, Bears quarterback Vince Evans tallied on a four-yard run on the last play of regulation, and Bob Thomas's extra point tied the score with no time remaining. The Bears' Dave Williams took the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. This remains the shortest overtime game in NFL history.
     In 1997, the Bears led 10-0 in the first quarter and 20-10 in the second quarter before Detroit's Barry Sanders took over. The rubber-limbed Sanders scored on runs of 40, 25, and 15 yards as the Lions piled up 45 unanswered points.

Bears Thanksgiving Day games:

1920 - W 6-0, Staleys at Chicago Tigers
1921 - L 6-7, Staleys vs. Buffalo All-Americans
1922 - L 0-6, Bears at Cardinals
1923 - W 3-0, vs. Cardinals
1924 - W 21-0, at Cardinals
1925 - T 0-0, vs. Cardinals
1926 - T 0-0, vs. Cardinals
1927 - L 0-3, vs. Cardinals
1928 - W 34-0, vs. Cardinals
1929 - L 6-40, vs. Cardinals
1930 - W 6-0, vs. Cardinals
1931 - W 18-7, vs. Cardinals
1932 - W 24-0, vs. Cardinals
1933 - W 22-6, at Cardinals
1934 - W 19-16, at Detroit
1935 - L 2-14, at Detroit
1936 - L 7-13, at Detroit
1937 - W 13-0, at Detroit
1938 - L 7-14, at Detroit
1947 - W 34-14, at Detroit
1949 - W 28-7, at Detroit
1952 - L 23-27, vs. Dallas Texans at Akron, Ohio
1964 - W 27-24, at Detroit
1977 - W 31-14, at Detroit
1979 - L 0-20, at Detroit
1980 - W 23-17 (OT), at Detroit
1981 - L 9-10, at Dallas
1991 - L 6-16, at Detroit
1993 - W 10-6, at Detroit
1997 - L 20-55, at Detroit
1999 - L 17-21, at Detroit
2004 - L 7-21, at Dallas

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sox in Shorts

     Renegade baseball owner Bill Veeck, Jr., purchased the White Sox from John Allyn in December 1975, heading off the very real possibility that the franchise would move to Seattle. Veeck had earlier been the head man of the Cleveland Indians' world champions of 1948 and the White Sox' pennant winners of 1959, as well as the atrocious St. Louis Browns in the early 1950s.
     In his earlier tenure with the Sox, Veeck had introduced the exploding scoreboard that soon became iconic on the South Side, and has remained so for half a century. When Veeck ran the Browns, a vote among the fans determined pitching changes in one game, and three-foot-seven Eddie Gaedel appeared as a pinch hitter in another game, drawing a walk in his only big-league plate appearance.
     When the Sox took the field in 1976, they did so in unusual navy blue-and-white uniforms (designed by Veeck's wife Mary Frances) that harkened back to the 1890s. They featured prominent collars, untucked shirts, softball-style pants, and socks with no stirrups. Not content to stop there, Veeck also unveiled a variation that featured short pants which supposedly would keep the players cooler on hot days.
     As might have been anticipated, the shorts exposed the White Sox players to all sorts of ridicule from opponents and fans. To say the players hated them would be an understatement. The shorts were embarrassing and also unsafe, players argued, in the event that they had to slide into a base or dive for a ball.
     The Sox donned the shorts in several spring-training games, but in the end they wore them only once in a regular-season game. On August 8, 1976, the Sox beat Kansas City 5-2 in the first game of a doubleheader wearing the shorts, then came out for the second game in their regular pants. The shorts never appeared again.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cubs Gold Glovers

     This year's Cubs did not earn any Gold Glove awards, although center fielder Marlon Byrd performed well enough to at least merit consideration. Who will be the next Gold Glover for the Cubs? It's hard to say, now that perennial contender Derrek Lee has been traded.
     The Cubs have been well represented in past years, with second baseman Ryne Sandberg earning nine Gold Gloves for them, third baseman Ron Santo five, and first baseman Mark Grace four. Pitcher Greg Maddux won "only" six of his Gold Gloves for the Cubs, thanks to the disastrous mismanagement that allowed him to leave via free agency after the 1992 season. Maddux won 12 Gold Gloves elsewhere, mostly in Atlanta, for an astounding career total of 18.
     Below is a list of all Cubs Gold Glovers since the awards were first given in 1957.

Cubs Gold Glove Award Winners

1990 - Greg Maddux
1991 - Greg Maddux
1992 - Greg Maddux
2004 - Greg Maddux
2005 - Greg Maddux
2006 - Greg Maddux

1986 - Jody Davis

First Baseman
1992 - Mark Grace
1993 - Mark Grace
1995 - Mark Grace
1996 - Mark Grace
2005 - Derrek Lee
2007 - Derrek Lee

Second Baseman
1962 - Ken Hubbs
1968 - Glenn Beckert
1983 - Ryne Sandberg
1984 - Ryne Sandberg
1985 - Ryne Sandberg
1986 - Ryne Sandberg
1987 - Ryne Sandberg
1988 - Ryne Sandberg
1989 - Ryne Sandberg
1990 - Ryne Sandberg
1991 - Ryne Sandberg

1960 - Ernie Banks
1969 - Don Kessinger
1970 - Don Kessinger

Third Baseman
1964 - Ron Santo
1965 - Ron Santo
1966 - Ron Santo
1967 - Ron Santo
1968 - Ron Santo

1984 - Bob Dernier
1987 - Andre Dawson
1988 - Andre Dawson

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

1985 Bears Flashback: 44-0!

     November 17, 1985. One for the books. The Bears annihilate Dallas 44-0 for the worst defeat in Cowboys history. The game “was just as close as the score indicated,” Don Pierson writes in the Tribune.
     Even Bears head coach Mike Ditka is amazed. “Our defense, what can you say?” he asks. Richard Dent, Dan Hampton, Wilber Marshall, and Otis Wilson are everywhere—the Bears come in waves that make it look as if they are playing with more than the requisite 11 men. Their frenzied pass rush accounts for six sacks, causes three interceptions (two are returned for touchdowns), and twice knocks Dallas quarterback Danny White out cold. “I put the wood on him,” Wilson remarks.
     “It was just a matter of playing the kind of defense we’re capable of playing,” says middle linebacker Mike Singletary. “We’re still getting better.”
     Defensive tackle and part-time fullback William Perry provides some comic relief when he picks up ball-carrier Walter Payton at Dallas’s two-yard line and throws him into the end zone; he is flagged for illegal use of hands. “I didn’t know you weren’t allowed to do that,” he says. Even without Perry’s help, Payton gains 132 yards to put him over 1,000 for the ninth time in his career, a record. Ditka awards a game ball to every man on the roster and promises a gold-plated one for backup quarterback Steve Fuller, who gives another solid performance in place of Jim McMahon, who is banged-up.
     One of the game’s story lines is the meeting between Ditka and the man who coached him as a player and gave him his first job as an assistant coach, the Cowboys’ Tom Landry. “[Ditka] downplayed it,” said safety Dave Duerson, “but it was written on his face.” As the game unfolds, Ditka seems a little sheepish to be giving his mentor such an awful beating. He calls off the dogs early in the fourth quarter, replacing most of his starters. Even so, the Bears score two touchdowns with third-string quarterback Mike Tomczak at the controls, on a 17-yard run by one reserve, Calvin Thomas, and a 16-yard run by another reserve, Dennis Gentry.
     At 11-0, the Bears have equaled the best start to a season in franchise history (the 1942 Bears went 11-0 for the regular season but lost the championship game). The Bears have also clinched the NFC Central Division title; it’s the first time in league history that a team has clinched with as many as five games remaining.

Monday, November 15, 2010

White Sox Gold Glovers

     White Sox lefty Mark Buerhle received his second straight Gold Glove award last week as the American League's best fielding pitcher. He might have clinched this year's award on Opening Day with an incredible no-look, between-the-legs flip with his glove hand to retire a runner at first base. Teammates and opponents both agreed it was the best play they had ever seen. "He just has a knack for doing great things," said Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski.
     Buerhle is having a stellar career indeed for the White Sox, but he has a long way to go if he is to catch shortstop Luis Aparicio in the Gold Gloves race. Aparicio won seven Gold Gloves for the Sox and nine overall en route to the Hall of Fame. Outfielder Jim Landis and third baseman Robin Ventura each won five of the trophies for the South Siders.
     Shortstop Alexei Ramirez, who should have won a Gold Glove this year, will no doubt get his due before too much longer. His name will then be added to the list below, which includes all White Sox Gold Glovers since the awards were first given in 1957.

White Sox Gold Glove Award Winners

1974 - Jim Kaat
1975 - Jim Kaat
2009 - Mark Buerhle
2010 - Mark Buerhle

1957 - Sherm Lollar
1958 - Sherm Lollar
1959 - Sherm Lollar

First Baseman
1977 - Jim Spencer
1981 - Mike Squires

Second Baseman
1957 - Nellie Fox
1959 - Nellie Fox
1960 - Nellie Fox

1958 - Luis Aparicio
1959 - Luis Aparicio
1960 - Luis Aparicio
1961 - Luis Aparicio
1962 - Luis Aparicio
1968 - Luis Aparicio
1970 - Luis Aparicio
1990 - Ozzie Guillen

Third Baseman
1991 - Robin Ventura
1992 - Robin Ventura
1993 - Robin Ventura
1996 - Robin Ventura
1998 - Robin Ventura

1957 - Minnie Minoso
1960 - Minnie Minoso
1960 - Jim Landis
1961 - Jim Landis
1962 - Jim Landis
1963 - Jim Landis
1964 - Jim Landis
1966 - Tommie Agee
1970 - Ken Berry

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Quintin Dailey, 1961 - 2010

     Quintin Dailey’s story is a cautionary tale, reminding us that those who are blessed with exceptional athletic ability are not necessarily blessed when it comes to managing their actual lives. Dailey was a magnet for trouble of all kinds, a classic case of potential unrealized and opportunity wasted. His difficult journey ended Monday, when he passed away at the age of 49.
     Dailey followed in the footsteps of Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, and Bill Cartwright when he achieved All-American honors for the University of San Francisco. But in other ways he followed his own path. None of Dailey’s predecessors was convicted of sexual assault while playing for the Dons, or was paid $1,000 a month for a job that didn’t exist, or caused the university president to become so ashamed of the basketball program that he found it necessary to kill it off for three years.
     Just three days after his conviction for drunkenly assaulting a female student in her dorm room at USF, Dailey became the Bulls’ first pick (seventh overall) in the 1982 NBA draft. Dailey told reporters that he had pleaded guilty only to stay out of jail, that he felt no remorse, and that he had already forgotten the incident.
     "I was there when Quintin came in as a rookie,” teammate Dave Corzine recalled, “and unfortunately he had some issues that really made it more challenging for him than most.” Eventually, Dailey coughed up $100,000 and an apology to the woman he’d assaulted, and he played well enough to make the NBA’s All-Rookie team. Unfortunately, his self-induced problems continued.
     Dailey frequently showed up late for practices or missed them altogether. He once failed to show up for a game, only to be found hiding in a closet in his townhouse. He added 30 pounds to his six-foot-three, 180-pound frame, twice violated the league’s substance-abuse policy, and even attempted suicide. “I had to learn life by trial and error as I went along,” Dailey later said. “I erred a lot.”
     When Michael Jordan made his NBA debut on October 26, 1984, it was Dailey, not Jordan, who carried the Bulls to victory with 25 points (including 12 in the fourth quarter). But before long, Jordan proved that he would be the Bulls’ go-to guy from then on. It was a bitter pill for Dailey, who was used to having the ball in his hands when the game was on the line. He publicly complained that the Bulls’ coaches and organization were “favoring” Jordan. “I’m a player who likes to shine a bit myself,” he explained.
     Dailey left the Bulls after the 1985-86 season and played six more years without much success. He was just 31 years old when his career ended. “He had so much talent and was such a great basketball player,” Corzine said. “Unfortunately for him, he had issues off the floor. He never reached his full potential. A lot of his personal issues kept getting in the way of his basketball success.”

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Bears in World War II


     Soldier Field, the home of the Bears, was created as a monument to those who served in World War I. It was dedicated on November 27, 1926, with Army and Navy struggling to a 21-21 tie.
     George Halas, the Bears' founder, coach, and owner, served in the Navy during World War I and World War II. Halas left active duty in 1946, retiring as a captain in the Naval Reserve and later received the Distinguished Citizens Award, the highest honor the Navy can bestow on a civilian.
     Ed McCaskey, Halas's son-in-law, served in the Army during the war and earned a Bronze Star and a Combat Infantry Badge.
     More than 40 members of the Bears' organization served, including Hall of Famers Danny Fortmann, Sid Luckman, George McAfee, and Joe Stydahar. Luckman was originally posted stateside and permitted to travel on weekends to play in games, but he was later assigned to a tanker carrying gasoline to Europe. During the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1944, Luckman was on a transport ferrying troops from Britain to France.
     One Bear did not return from his service overseas. He was Young Bussey, a Texas native who was drafted by the Bears out of L.S.U. in 1941. The five-foot-nine, 184-pound rookie backed up the great Luckman at quarterback, completing 13 of 40 pass attempts for 353 yards and five touchdowns. He also played some at safety and returned one punt, for 40 yards. Bussey joined the Navy shortly after the season ended with Bears winning their second consecutive world championship. He served until January 7, 1945, when he was killed in action during the Battle of Lingayen Gulf in the Phillippines.
     Young Bussey was one of an estimated 416,800 American service men and women who lost their lives in World War II.
     Today is Veterans Day, so hug a vet.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Ed Litzenberger, 1932 - 2010

     Ed Litzenberger is one of eight Blackhawks to have won the Calder Trophy as NHL rookie of the year, and he is one of four players to have captained the Hawks to the Stanley Cup championship. He is the only one to have done both. Litzenberger passed away Monday at the age of 78.
     Litzenberger broke in with Montreal, appearing in two games in 1952-53 and three games in 1953-54 while waiting his turn to crack the Canadiens’ talent-rich lineup. He became a regular in 1954-55, then was sold to Chicago in midseason as part of the NHL’s “Help the Hawks Plan,” a deliberate attempt by the league to prop up the floundering franchise.
     “I cried real tears,” Litzenberger said of the trade to Chicago—which he didn’t realize would turn his career around. He scored 40 points in 44 games to earn the Calder Trophy, and remained a prolific scorer for the next several years. Litzenberger was also Bobby Hull’s first center when the Golden Jet joined the Hawks in 1957.
     In 1959, the Litzenbergers’ car struck a viaduct on an icy Chicago road. Litzenberger suffered cracked ribs, a contusion of the liver, and a severe concussion; his wife was killed. Litzenberger was not the same player after the accident. He never again was much of a scoring threat, but he remained a workmanlike role player who could work all forward positions and kill penalties.
     Litzenberger served as captain of the Blackhawks club that won the 1961 Stanley Cup. He was traded to Detroit in the off-season, then dispatched to Toronto in time to win three more Stanley Cups in 1962, 1963, and 1964. He is the only player in NHL annals to win four consecutive titles while playing with different teams.
     “Success followed Eddie around like a hungry pup,” said Pierre Pilote, the Hall of Fame defenseman who succeeded Litzenberger as Hawks’ captain. “In his own quiet way, he was a top-notch leader, on the ice and off. He knew the total game, always thinking of defense as much as scoring goals. Off the ice, few players ever were better dressers or conducted themselves as gentlemanly. He was just one great guy.”

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

1985 Bears Flashback: The Payton and Perry Show

     November 3, 1985. The Bears visit Lambeau Field in Green Bay, and the greatest rivalry in the NFL reaches a new low. In the first quarter, Packers cornerback Mark Lee runs Bears running back Walter Payton out of bounds and all the way over the bench; Lee is ejected. Several plays later, Matt Suhey is standing around the pile when Green Bay safety Ken Stills levels him long after the whistle. “I don’t mind that,” Packers coach Forrest Gregg claims. “That’s aggressive football.”
     “Tempers flare,” says Bears coach Mike Ditka. “You don’t like to see it, especially when they cheap-shot a guy like Payton, who has given more to the game than anyone.”
     The two teams jog to their locker rooms at halftime having combined for six unsportsmanlike-conduct penalties (four by the Packers). “There was something going on every play,” Bears safety Dave Duerson says. “Let’s face it, it wasn’t clean on either side.”
     It is left to the immortal Payton to raise the Bears up from the mire. His 27-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter gives them a 16-10 win. Payton gains 192 yards on 28 carries all told. Ditka calls Payton’s effort “maybe as good as I’ve seen a guy with a football under his arm play.” It is Walter’s 13th 100-yard game in 20 career outings against the Packers.
     The tremendous performance by perhaps the greatest player of all time is nearly overshadowed by the continuing saga of rookie William “Refrigerator” Perry, who scores the Bears’ first touchdown. Ditka has turned the jolly 310-pound defensive tackle into a part-time offensive player, just for fun. Perry first lined up at fullback on October 16 at San Francisco and carried twice for four yards. On October 21, he scored his first rushing touchdown against Green Bay at Soldier Field. This time, Perry lines up at tight end, goes in motion, and catches a four-yard TD pass from quarterback Jim McMahon. “I had to keep a straight face when I got to the line,” he remarks with a chuckle.
     “They [the Packers] saw him coming and they got out of the way,” Payton says. The Payton and Perry Show makes the Bears a perfect 9-0 for the season.

Adapted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c)2009, 2010 by Christopher Tabbert

Friday, October 29, 2010

Bulls Honor Roll

Bulls retired numbers:
  4 - Jerry Sloan
10 - Bob Love
23 - Michael Jordan
33 - Scottie Pippen

World champion head coaches:
1991 - Phil Jackson
1992 - Phil Jackson
1993 - Phil Jackson
1996 - Phil Jackson
1997 - Phil Jackson
1998 - Phil Jackson

NBA Most Valuable Player:
1988 - Michael Jordan
1991 - Michael Jordan
1992 - Michael Jordan
1996 - Michael Jordan
1998 - Michael Jordan

Most Valuable Player of NBA Finals:
1991 - Michael Jordan
1992 - Michael Jordan
1993 - Michael Jordan
1996 - Michael Jordan
1997 - Michael Jordan
1998 - Michael Jordan

Rookie of the Year:
1985 - Michael Jordan
2000 - Elton Brand
2009 - Derrick Rose

Defensive Player of the Year:
1988 - Michael Jordan

Sixth Man Award:
1996 - Toni Kukoc
2005 - Ben Gordon

League leader in scoring:
1987 - Michael Jordan
1988 - Michael Jordan
1989 - Michael Jordan
1990 - Michael Jordan
1991 - Michael Jordan
1992 - Michael Jordan
1993 - Michael Jordan
1996 - Michael Jordan
1997 - Michael Jordan
1998 - Michael Jordan

League leader in rebounds:
1988 - Charles Oakley
1989 - Charles Oakley
1998 - Dennis Rodman

League leader in assists:
1967 - Guy Rodgers

League leader in steals:
1988 - Michael Jordan
1990 - Michael Jordan
1993 - Michael Jordan
1995 - Scottie Pippen

League leader in field-goal percentage:
1981 - Artis Gilmore
1982 - Artis Gilmore
2003 - Eddy Curry

League leader in free-throw percentage:
1971 - Chet Walker

NBA Coach of the Year:
1967 - Johnny "Red" Kerr
1971 - Dick Motta
1996 - Phil Jackson