Monday, January 31, 2011

Happy Birthday, Mr. Cub

      Only one man has ever played more than 2,500 games in a Cub uniform, and only one man has been granted the title "Mr. Cub." The man who fits both descriptions is the one and only Ernie Banks, who turns 80 years old today.
     Banks arrived in Chicago as a lean, wiry, and bashful 22-year-old shortstop from the Negro Leagues. On September 17, 1953, he became the first African American to appear in a game for the Cubs. Infielder Eddie Miksis obligingly lent Banks his glove (Ernie having misplaced his own), and one of the coaches well-meaningly handed Banks a book called How to Play Baseball, which was intended for Little Leaguers. "You’ll never believe this," teammate Ralph Kiner said, "but at the time Ernie never said one thing. When he joined the Cubs, he was a really quiet guy and obviously he had a lot of talent but was very raw."
     Banks was polite and deferential to a fault, and he would not speak unless spoken to. "After he hits a homer," manager Stan Hack said, "he comes back to the dugout as if he has done something wrong."
     Second baseman Gene Baker, also an African-American, joined the Cubs at the same time as Banks (the theory in those days was that if a team had one black player, it would need another to be his roommate on the road), and played alongside him for several years.
     Banks finished second in Rookie of the Year voting in 1954 and was third in Most Valuable Player voting in 1955, when both he and Baker were All-Stars. In 1958 and 1959, Banks became the first National Leaguer ever to win back-to-back MVP awards, despite the Cubs' also-ran status. Former White Sox skipper Jimmie Dykes quipped, "Without Ernie Banks, the Cubs would finish in Albuquerque."

     Thanks to the march of time, fans who actually saw Banks play (especially in his prime), are now in the minority--but his place in Cubs history is obvious enough for anyone to grasp. In addition to the two MVPs, Banks won a Gold Glove and was an 11-time All-Star. He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer. He ranks first in Cubs annals in games played, at-bats, and total bases; second in hits, home runs, and runs batted in; third in doubles, and fifth in runs scored.
     As indelibly as Banks looms in the Cubs record books, what has made him more memorable--even beloved--is his almost mystical role as the perpetually sunny optimist who genuinely enjoyed coming to work each day, no matter how dismal the team was or how empty the ballpark was.
     Ernie's glass was always half full. Once he'd overcome his previous shyness, he produced a steady stream of upbeat quotes and slogans. "It's a beautiful day for baseball," he often said, regardless of the weather. "Let's play two." He made a sort of forecast, in rhyme, before each season. "The Cubs will be great in '68." "The Cubs will shine in '69." "The Cubs will be heavenly in 1970."
     He also insisted that he was both lucky and grateful to play for the Cubs, who (of course) never won anything during his long career. "How the players on those other clubs envy us!" he declared.
     Teammates and opponents couldn't help but admire Banks's constant cheerfulness even while wondering whether he was putting them on. "We'd think, what's wrong with this nut?" pitcher Moe Drabowsky said. "Let's see, Ernie Banks might have been making $80,000 a year [in the late 1950s]. I was making $6,000 a year, so if the situation were reversed, I might think the same."
     Will Rogers said he never met a man he didn't like. Banks admitted that he didn't like everyone, but he also said that anyone he disliked would never know it. "I'll kill him with kindness," he said.
     Banks was true to his word. After Leo Durocher took over as manager of the Cubs in the late 1960s, he tried every year at spring training to give away Banks's job but failed to find a suitable taker. He also rarely missed a chance to disparage Mr. Cub both privately and to reporters. Ernie went right on being Ernie. "Leo Durocher," he announced, "is the greatest manager I've ever seen."

Thursday, January 27, 2011


     When the inexhaustible Dick Klein finally wore down all his opposition and was awarded an NBA expansion franchise for Chicago in 1966, he got to work right away.
     First, Klein needed to find the right nickname for his team, one that would evoke the stockyards and the brawny, big-shoulders character of Chicago. He almost settled on “Matadors,” but he was hesitant because it had more than one syllable. “Chicago had the Bears and the Sox and the Cubs and the Hawks,” he explained, “all single syllables.” When he hit upon “Bulls,” Klein knew instantly that he’d found the right name.
     Next, he wanted to hire a coach with a strong Chicago connection. His first choice was Ray Meyer, whom he could not persuade to leave DePaul University. He then received a petition on behalf of Johnny “Red” Kerr, a Chicago native and former University of Illinois star who was just finishing up his playing career. “They had something like 1,600 names,” Kerr recalled, “but I’m not sure all of them were real. It’s a little like how they used to register people for voting in Cook County.” Genuine or not, the petition worked. Kerr was hired.
     The Bulls drafted two players from each existing club in the 1966 expansion draft. Because Kerr and his intended assistant, Al Bianchi, were technically still active players, both were acquired through the draft. They promptly retired as players and signed on as coaches.
     The following players were the first to become property of the Bulls: Kerr and Jerry Sloan from Baltimore, Ron Bonham and John Thompson from the Boston Celtics, Nate Bowman and Tom Thacker from the Cincinnati Royals, John Barnhill and Don Kojis from the Detroit Pistons, Bob Boozer and Jim King from the Los Angeles Lakers, Len Chappell and Barry Clemens from the New York Knicks, Bianchi and Gerry Ward from the Philadelphia 76ers, Jeff Mullins and Jim Washington from the St. Louis Hawks, and Keith Erickson and McCoy McLemore from the San Francisco Warriors.
     Of all these players, only Sloan and Boozer would make a lasting impression with the Bulls. Thompson retired to go into coaching and later led Georgetown University to the NCAA championship. King and Mullins were traded to the Warriors for point guard Guy Rodgers.

     The 1966-67 Bulls had 179 season ticket holders, each of whom paid four dollars per game for a courtside seat at the International Amphitheatre. Their front office “staff” was general manager Klein, marketing director Jerry Colangelo, public-relations man Ben Bentley, and a receptionist. The Bulls organized a parade down State Street to publicize the season opener. It consisted of two trucks and a car. “The press that came to the parade might have been giggling,” Klein said, “but at least they were talking about us.”
     Klein actually put an ad in the papers calling for players, and about 180 showed up for an open tryout. Kerr was not amused. “I told Al [Bianchi] to line them all up against a wall and have them count off by twos,” he said, “then have the twos go home. We did that, and later on we sent all the ones home, too.”
     The Bulls played their first game on October 15 at St. Louis with a starting lineup of Sloan and Rodgers at guards, Boozer and Kojis at forwards, and Chappell at center. They won 104-97 behind Rodgers’s 37 points. Three nights later they made their home debut against San Francisco. Newspapers estimated that the announced crowd of 4,200 was padded by about 1,000. In any event, the few fans on hand got their money’s worth. The Bulls rallied late to overcome a 13-point deficit and won 119-116. Sloan scored 26 points and Rodgers had 20 assists.
     The Bulls were young and quick, and they played an entertaining style built around the fast break. When they won four of their first five games, Chicagoans sat up and took notice. On October 23, the Bulls had their first sellout. “We could have sold 30,000 seats that night in a 7,000-seat arena,” Klein asserted. “We let 9,000 in and the fire marshal came to me and said, ‘Dick, you gotta close the doors.’”
     “They got people who can’t get into the game,” said Sloan. “It’s sold out. I thought, ‘My goodness, we’re not that good, are we?’ We certainly found out that night. The Knicks waxed us pretty good, and reality started to set in.”
     A nine-game losing streak in November and December dropped the Bulls into last place in the West Division at 8-15. “I remember how cold it was that first winter,” sportswriter Bob Logan said, “and how small the crowds were.” The Great Blizzard of ’67 struck in late January, dumping almost 30 inches of snow on the city. On January 29, the Bulls lost to Los Angeles by 20 points before an announced crowd of 1,077. Klein later admitted that the actual attendance, “including security guards, was something like 72 people.”      Since the Lakers were stranded in Chicago after the game, Klein treated them to a steak dinner.
     By the end of February, the Bulls were 25-44 and still mired in last place, three games behind Detroit for the final playoff berth. On March 1, they traveled to Evansville, Indiana, to take on Philadelphia. (Sloan had played his college ball at Evansville, and the Bulls played five “home” games there to capitalize on his popularity.) The 76ers were en route to a 68-13 record and the world championship, but the Bulls upended them 129-122. The game was a turning point for the Bulls—they won eight of their last 12 to qualify for the playoffs.
     The Amphitheatre’s management did not consider the NBA playoffs as big an event as the boat show it had already scheduled, so the Bulls’ postseason home games were relegated to the decrepit Coliseum. The Bulls were swept by St. Louis in the first round, with the lone home game drawing a mere 3,739.

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

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

1985 Bears Flashback: Men Against Boys

     Twenty-five years ago tomorrow, on January 26, 1986, the Bears won Super Bowl XX in a most convincing fashion, ending the story of their sensational 1985 season with an exclamation point.

     In the days leading up to Super Bowl XX, the AFC champion New England Patriots were almost forgotten in the general hubbub surrounding the Bears. It wasn’t that the Patriots weren’t deserving (they had won 12 of their last 14 games); it was just that they weren’t the Miami Dolphins—with whom the Bears wished to settle accounts for handing them their only defeat of the season. But the Dolphins hadn’t made it to New Orleans, and the Patriots would have to do.
     In a meeting of the Bears’ defensive coaches and players the night before the Super Bowl, defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan all but confirmed the rumors that he was leaving to become head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles after the game. “Whatever happens tomorrow,” he told the players, “I want you to know that you’re my heroes.” He then left the room, overcome with emotion. The group began watching some film of the Patriots. After just a few minutes, Dan Hampton concluded that the session had gone on long enough; he kicked the projector off its stand. Steve McMichael then hurled a chair through the chalkboard on which some plays had been diagrammed. “Let’s get the hell out of here!” said Hampton. Without anyone saying another word, the players all got up and walked out of the room. The meeting was over, and the Bears were ready.
     Once the game started, New England had a brief glimmer of hope. On the second play of the game, Walter Payton fumbled at his own 19-yard line and the Patriots recovered. “Here we go again,” thought all the Chicagoans who’d learned from bitter experience not to trust their teams too much. But New England quarterback Tony Eason misfired on three pass attempts, and the Patriots settled for a field goal.
     Although they were behind 3-0 with the game barely a minute old, it was already perfectly plain by now that the Bears would win. The Patriots had no more idea how to move the ball against them than they’d had four months earlier. Convinced by the September 15 game that his team couldn’t run on the Bears, New England coach Raymond Berry felt he had no choice but to come out throwing. Thus Eason felt the full force of the Bears’ merciless pass rush on almost every play. “We knew that if we got them into a passing situation,” Mike Singletary said, “we’d have things wrapped up.”
     The Bears’ next two possessions resulted in field goals by Kevin Butler. Then Richard Dent stripped the ball from Patriot running back Craig James, and Singletary pounced on it at the New England 13. Two plays later, fullback Matt Suhey carried 11 yards for a touchdown.
     At the end of the first quarter, the Bears led 13-3. New England had run 10 plays for minus 19 yards. “It was like trying to beat back the tide with a broom,” said Patriot guard Ron Wooten. The second quarter saw more of the same. “I tried to scramble,” Eason said, “but there was no place to go.” The Patriots simply could not block the Bear defenders. Eason was 0-for-6 passing and had been sacked three times when he was removed from the game, for his own good, five minutes before halftime.
     It was 23-3 at the intermission. By now even the most pessimistic Chicagoan must have known that nothing could stop the Bears. “It’s the men against the boys out there,” said NBC analyst Pete Axthelm.
     Veteran Steve Grogan replaced the shell-shocked Eason and fared somewhat better, but the Bears continued to pour it on. Bears quarterback Jim McMahon hit Willie Gault for 60 yards on their first play of the second half; he concluded the 96-yard drive eight plays later with a quarterback sneak from one yard out. A 28-yard interception return by Reggie Phillips and a one-yard plunge by William “Refrigerator” Perry gave the Bears their last two touchdowns.
     The score was 44-3 when Ditka called off the dogs and replaced his starters early in the fourth quarter. New England finally scored a touchdown on an eight-yard pass from Grogan to Irving Fryar after a 12-play drive against the Bears’ second-team defense. Later, an obscure defensive end named Henry Waechter ended the day’s scoring when he sacked Grogan in the end zone for a safety.
     Bears head coach Mike Ditka was roundly chastised for not trying harder to get the immortal Payton a touchdown at some point, particularly in light of the fact that Perry, the coach’s favorite novelty act, got the chance to score from the one-yard line in the third quarter. Ditka admitted that he should have realized before it was too late that Payton hadn’t scored in the game. But it was difficult to see how a token touchdown in a blowout game, even if it was the Super Bowl, would have added much luster to Payton’s nonpareil career. What really mattered was that he and his teammates were world champions. No one had ever been more deserving of that honor.

     When the game was over, both Ditka and Ryan were carried off the field in triumph. The Bears had been splendid on both sides of the ball, and the final score of 46-10 made it the most lopsided Super Bowl up to that time. Practically any one of a dozen Bears could have taken MVP honors, which ended up going to Richard Dent. McMahon, for example, passed to six different receivers for 256 yards and ran for two touchdowns, while Gault caught four balls for 129 yards. Ryan’s defenders disrupted everything that New England tried to do, limiting the Patriots to a mere 123 yards on offense—seven on the ground.
     “It will be many years,” Paul Zimmerman wrote in Sports Illustrated, “before we see anything approaching the vision of hell that Chicago inflicted on the poor New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX. It was near perfect, an exquisite mesh of talent and system, defensive football carried to its highest degree. It was a great roaring wave that swept through the playoffs, gathering force and momentum until it finally crashed home in New Orleans’s Superdome in pro football’s showcase game.”
     After exceeding even the wildest dreams of their fans all season, the Bears outdid themselves when it mattered most. In three postseason games, they scored 91 points and yielded only 10. Their opponents averaged fewer than 145 yards per game and converted three third downs out of 36.
     The 1985 Bears showed football fans a level of excellence that had seldom been attained. They talked big, played bigger, and shuffled into a place in history.

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

Friday, January 21, 2011

Bears-Packers Playoff History

     In case you haven't heard, the Bears will take on the Green Bay Packers in the NFC title game Sunday afternoon at Soldier Field. It will be the first championship contest and only the second postseason encounter ever between the two ancient rivals.
     Since the NFL created divisions in 1933, the Bears and Packers have always been in the same division, and that is not likely to change before hell freezes over. Until the inclusion of wild-card teams (non-division winners) in the playoffs began 40 years ago, the only way that the two teams could have faced each other in a postseason game would be if they tied for first place in their division and needed an extra contest to settle the issue.
     That is precisely what happened in 1941. The Bears won the season opener 25-17 at Green Bay on September 28, but lost to the Packers 16-14 in the season's sixth game on November 2 at Wrigley Field. Both teams ran the table thereafter to finish with identical records of 10-1. A special playoff game was therefore necessary to determine which team would represent the Western Division in the NFL title game against the Eastern-champion New York Giants.
     The game was played at Wrigley Field on December 14, one week after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. The Packers struck first. After Bears rookie Hugh Gallarneau fumbled the opening kickoff, Green Bay fullback and future Hall of Famer Clarke Hinkle tallied on a one-yard plunge. Another future Hall of Famer, left end Don Hutson, kicked the extra point. "I just about died," Gallarneau said later, "because [George] Halas was somewhat unforgiving if you made a mistake like that in a Bear-Packer game." (Amazingly, Hinkle's one-yard touchdown carry exceeded the Packers' average for the game, in which their 36 rushing attempts produced only 33 yards.)
     Late in the first quarter, Gallarneau redeemed himself with an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown. The extra point was no good, but the Bears more than made up for that by tacking on 24 points in the second quarter. The 30 unanswered points before halftime put the game away, and the Bears coasted to a 33-14 win.
     The Bears routed the Giants 37-9 a week later, also at Wrigley Field, to wrap up their second consecutive world championship.

Bears postseason games vs. Green Bay:
1941 - W, 33-14 at Wrigley Field

Bears in NFL championship games:
1933 - W, 23-21 vs. New York Giants
1934 - L, 13-30 at New York Giants
1937 - L, 21-28 at Washington Redskins
1940 - W, 73-0 at Washington Redskins
1941 - W, 37-9 vs. New York Giants
1942 - L, 6-14 at Washington Redskins
1943 - W, 41-21 vs. Washington Redskins
1946 - W, 24-14 at New York Giants
1956 - L, 7-47 at New York Giants
1963 - W, 14-10 vs. New York Giants

Bears in NFC championship games:
1984 - L, 0-23 at San Francisco 49ers
1985 - W, 24-0 vs. Los Angeles Rams
1988 - L, 3-28 vs. San Francisco 49ers
2006 - W, 39-14 vs. New Orleans Saints

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Superman, Batman, and Rodman

This month marks the 15th anniversary of the first perfect month in Bulls history (14 games, 14 wins). The Bulls were winning at an unprecedented rate, and newly acquired Dennis Rodman, former arch-enemy as a member of the Detroit Pistons’ infamous “Bad Boys,” was winning over his previously skeptical teammates.
     Dennis Rodman was just beginning to adapt to the Bulls, and they to him, when a calf injury sidelined him three games into the 1995-96 season. Even without him, the Bulls won six of seven on a road trip through the West, while exhibiting the ferocious defense that would be their trademark all year.
     When Rodman returned after a month on the shelf, the Bulls' record stood at 13-2. In his first four games back, he showed why general manager Jerry Krause had taken a chance on him despite his checkered history. Rodman pulled down 20, 21, 21, and 19 rebounds, respectively, as the Bulls defeated New York, San Antonio, Milwaukee, and Orlando.
     The winning streak reached 13. “From the media’s standpoint, it looks like we’re toying with people,” Michael Jordan said. “But for us it’s just a matter of making adjustments. We may take teams for granted a little bit early in games, but then we figure them out and apply our defense where necessary in the second half.” Indeed, most games were decided shortly after intermission by a Bulls blitzkrieg that rendered the fourth quarter moot.
     The combination of Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Rodman—now nicknamed “Superman, Batman, and Rodman”—was proving unstoppable. Rodman flourished under Phil Jackson’s laid-back coaching style and won over Chicago fans by flinging his jersey into the crowd after each home game. His on-court antics occasionally got him ejected, fined, and/or suspended, and his off-court publicity stunts grew increasingly bizarre. But he showed up on time for practice, played hard in games, and generally got along with his teammates—none of which he’d done consistently in the past.
     While the Bulls’ lesser lights didn’t attract nearly as much attention, they too made key contributions. Guard Ron Harper became the perfect complement to Jordan (whom he’d been asked to replace during Michael's brief baseball career); his stellar defensive work created myriad fast-break opportunities for Jordan. Center Luc Longley used his height and heft to disrupt opponents’ drives down the lane. Toni Kukoc and Bill Wennington provided scoring punch off the bench. Steve Kerr was a devastating long-range bomber. Randy Brown was a fleet-footed defender who could stick with the league’s quickest point guards. Jud Buechler supplied Jackson’s favorite ingredient, “good energy.” The Bulls were hitting on all cylinders.

     The Bulls lost at Indiana the day after Christmas. Three days later, they avenged the loss with a 120-93 rout of the Pacers in Chicago. Five weeks would go by before they tasted defeat again.
     On January 3, the Bulls held the defending world champion Houston Rockets to one-of-15 shooting in the second quarter and cruised to an easy 100-86 win behind Jordan’s 38 points. A week later, in a game with postseason implications, the Bulls humiliated the Seattle SuperSonics 113-87 as Jordan grabbed 14 rebounds to go with his 35 points. On January 13, the Bulls visited the Philadelphia 76ers, whose rookie guard Jerry Stackhouse had recently announced, “Nobody can stop me in this league—not even Michael Jordan.” Jordan scored 48 points and held Stackhouse to nine as the Bulls won 120-93. At New York on January 23, the Bulls bombed the Knicks 99-79. And so it went.
     The month ended as it had begun, with a victory over the Rockets, this time in Houston (it was the Bulls’ first win there in eight years). Pippen, who had emerged as a legitimate MVP candidate, topped the Bulls with 28 points, 12 rebounds, and five assists. “He’s the leader of this team,” Jordan said, exaggerating less than many people supposed.
     January 1996 was the first perfect month in Bulls’ history—14 games, 14 wins. By the time the winning streak reached 18 in early February, the Bulls had won 31 of their last 32. Their record stood at a stupendous 41-3. It was clear that they were taking aim at the single-season record of 69 wins in 82 games, set by the Los Angeles Lakers in 1971-72.

Excerpted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) 2009 by Chiristopher Tabbert

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Greatest Blackhawks of All Time

     The Hockey News recently revealed its updated lists of the 100 greatest NHL players of all time and the ten greatest players of each franchise. The four greatest Blackhawks, according to The Hockey News list, were Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Pierre Pilote, and Glenn Hall.
     All of the above were teammates on the 1960-61 team that won the Stanley Cup and was honored at the United Center last week in recognition of the 50th anniversary of the championship. In conjunction with the ceremony, the Hawks' management announced that Hull and Mikita would each be honored with his own statue outside the arena. "I absolutely don't know how to explain the euphoria," Mikita said. "Now I know how Michael [Jordan] feels out there. It will take 100 years just to get the smile off my face."
     "This is likely the greatest tribute I'll ever have paid to me," said Hull.
     Maybe so, but his former teammate Glenn Hall—"Mr. Goalie" to players and fans of those days—came close when he recalled Hull's legendary slap shot. "Please don't tell me how lucky I was I didn't have to look at [Hull] in games," Hall remarked, "because I faced him ten times a week in practice. It wasn't much fun with Bobby."
     In naming Hull as the greatest Blackhawk of them all, The Hockey News ranked him as the greatest left wing in league history to boot. The publication also noted, very aptly, that Mikita should probably be listed as number 1A rather than number 2 among those who have worn the Indian-head sweater.

The Hockey News Ten Greatest Blackhawks:

1. Bobby Hull, left wing, 1957-1972

2. Stan Mikita, center, 1959-1980

3. Pierre Pilote, defenseman, 1955-1968

4. Glenn Hall, goalie, 1957-1967

5. Denis Savard, center, 1980-1990, 1995-1997

6. Tony Esposito, goalie, 1969-1984

7. Earl Seibert, defenseman, 1936-1945

8. Chris Chelios, defenseman, 1990-1999

9. Ed Belfour, goalie, 1988-1997

10. Max Bentley, center, 1940-1947

Thursday, January 13, 2011

1985 Bears Flashback: "It Didn't Matter What We Scored"

Twenty-five years ago yesterday, the 1985 Bears punched their ticket to Super Bowl XX in New Orleans with a resounding 24-0 victory in the NFC championship game. That game is described below in an excerpt from the recent book Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports.

     The Bears hosted the Los Angeles Rams in the NFC championship game on January 12, 1986. It was a suitably cold and windy day in Chicago, and the Rams looked as if they longed for the temperate climes of southern California. Bears defensive end Dan Hampton said he could see defeat in their eyes even at the opening coin toss. When the Rams won the flip and elected to receive, the crowd of 63,522 cheered, figuring the Bear defenders would push them backward.
     From the start, Los Angeles quarterback Dieter Brock (10-for-31 passing) and running back Eric Dickerson (17 carries for 46 yards) were wholly ineffective. Dickerson, supposed to be the man who would eventually break Walter Payton’s lifetime rushing mark, had gained a playoff-record 234 yards against Dallas the week before. The Bears held him to less than three yards per attempt and forced him to fumble twice. “If they would have run him more,” said defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan, who had predicted three fumbles by Dickerson, “he would have had three.”
     In the third quarter, Dickerson and Bears middle linebacker Mike Singletary—Southwest Conference rivals at S.M.U. and Baylor, respectively—renewed their acquaintance in the Rams’ backfield. Dickerson had just taken a handoff when he blasted into Singletary filling the gap and stopped dead in his tracks; he moved not one inch forward after meeting up with the Bears’ middle linebacker. “I like this kind of party!” Singletary shouted to the Rams. “I’m going to be here all day.”
     Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, meanwhile, was brilliant. Despite the weather, he hit on 16 of 25 passes for 164 yards. On the Bears’ first series, he ran 16 yards for a touchdown on a play that was called as a pass. Later he passed for a touchdown on a play called as a run. “The coach sent in a play I didn’t agree with,” McMahon said, “so I called my own.” His 22-yard strike to Willie Gault put the Bears ahead 17-0, and the outcome was decided. The Bears would be NFC champions.
     The fans began to chant: “Super Bowl, Super Bowl.” Late in the fourth quarter, the hapless Brock dropped back to pass and was flung to the turf by Richard Dent. The ball popped loose. Linebacker Wilber Marshall picked it up at midfield and headed into Rams territory with Otis Wilson escorting him. Just then, it started to snow.
     Marshall and Wilson romped 52 yards to the Los Angeles end zone all alone, while the crowd cheered both them and the snow. As the final minutes ticked away, the Bears briefly abandoned the business-as-usual demeanor that had characterized them all year. The embraced one another on the sideline, and head coach Mike Ditka congratulated each man individually. Safety Dave Duerson asserted that Ditka even became choked up. The final score was 24-0.
“The way we were playing defense,” said Ditka, “it didn’t matter what we scored.”
The Bears became the first team ever to post back-to-back playoff shutouts.
     The Bears were headed to New Orleans for the first Super Bowl in franchise history and their first championship game since 1963. They would make the trip worthwhile.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Cubs Honor Roll

Cubs retired numbers:
10 - Ron Santo
14 - Ernie Banks
23 - Ryne Sandberg
26 - Billy Williams
31 - Fergie Jenkins
31 - Greg Maddux

World championship managers:
1876 - Al Spalding
1880 - Cap Anson
1881 - Cap Anson
1882 - Cap Anson
1885 - Cap Anson
1886 - Cap Anson
1907 - Frank Chance
1908 - Frank Chance

National League Most Valuable Player:
1911 - Frank "Wildfire" Schulte
1929 - Rogers Hornsby
1935 - Gabby Hartnett
1945 - Phil Cavarretta
1952 - Hank Sauer
1958 - Ernie Banks
1959 - Ernie Banks
1984 - Ryne Sandberg
1987 - Andre Dawson
1998 - Sammy Sosa

National League Cy Young Award:
1971 - Fergie Jenkins
1979 - Bruce Sutter
1984 - Rick Sutcliffe
1992 - Greg Maddux

National League Rookie of the Year:
1961 - Billy Williams
1962 - Ken Hubbs
1989 - Jerome Walton
1998 - Kerry Wood
2008 - Geovany Soto

Batting champions:
1876 - Ross Barnes
1880 - George Gore
1881 - Cap Anson
1884 - Mike "King" Kelly
1886 - Mike "King" Kelly
1888 - Cap Anson
1912 - Heinie Zimmerman
1945 - Phil Cavarretta
1972 - Billy Williams
1975 - Bill Madlock
1976 - Bill Madlock
1980 - Bill Buckner
2005 - Derrek Lee

Home Run leaders:
1884 - Ned Williamson
1885 - Abner Dalrymple
1888 - Jimmy Ryan
1890 - Walt Wilmot
1910 - Frank "Wildfire" Schulte
1911 - Frank "Wildfire" Schulte
1912 - Heinie Zimmerman
1916 - Cy Williams
1926 - Hack Wilson
1927 - Hack Wilson
1930 - Hack Wilson
1943 - Bill Nicholson
1944 - Bill Nicholson
1952 - Hank Sauer
1958 - Ernie Banks
1960 - Ernie Banks
1979 - Dave Kingman
1987 - Andre Dawson
1990 - Ryne Sandberg
2000 - Sammy Sosa
2002 - Sammy Sosa

Runs Batted In leaders:
1876 - Deacon White
1880 - Cap Anson
1881 - Cap Anson
1882 - Cap Anson
1884 - Cap Anson
1885 - Cap Anson
1886 - Cap Anson
1888 - Cap Anson
1891 - Cap Anson
1906 - Harry Steinfeldt
1911 - Frank "Wildfire" Schulte
1929 - Hack Wilson
1930 - Hack Wilson
1943 - Bill Nicholson
1944 - Bill Nicholson
1952 - Hank Sauer
1958 - Ernie Banks
1959 - Ernie Banks
1987 - Andre Dawson
1998 - Sammy Sosa
2001 - Sammy Sosa

Leaders in victories:
1876 - Al Spalding
1881 - Larry Corcoran
1885 - John Clarkson
1890 - Bill Hutchinson
1891 - Bill Hutchinson
1892 - Bill Hutchinson
1909 - Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown
1912 - Larry Cheney
1918 - Hippo Vaughn
1920 - Grover Alexander
1927 - Charlie Root
1929 - Pat Malone
1930 - Pat Malone
1932 - Lon Warneke
1938 - Bill Lee
1964 - Larry Jackson
1971 - Fergie Jenkins
1987 - Rick Sutcliffe
1992 - Greg Maddux
2006 - Carlos Zambrano

Leaders in Earned-Run Average:
1883 - Larry Corcoran
1898 - Clark Griffith
1902 - Jack Taylor
1906 - Mordecai "Three-Finger" Brown
1907 - Jack Pfiester
1910 - King Cole
1918 - Hippo Vaughn
1919 - Grover Alexander
1920 - Grover Alexander
1932 - Lon Warneke
1938 - Bill Lee
1945 - Ray Prim

Leaders in strikeouts:
1880 - Larry Corcoan
1885 - John Clarkson
1892 - Bill Hutchinson
1909 - Orval Overall
1918 - Hippo Vaughn
1919 - Hippo Vaughn
1920 - Grover Alexander
1929 - Pat Malone
1938 - Clay Bryant
1946 - Johnny Schmitz
1955 - Sam Jones
1956 - Sam Jones
1969 - Fergie Jenkins
2003 - Kerry Wood

Manager of the Year:
1984 - Jim Frey
1989 - Don Zimmer
2008 - Lou Piniella

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

1985 Bears Flashback: Grabowskis

Twenty-five years ago today, the Bears began the postseason run that would culminate with them hoisting the Vince Lombardi Trophy as Super Bowl champions. In the first playoff game, the Bears hosted the New York Giants at Soldier Field. That game is described below in an excerpt from the recent book Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports.

     Bears head coack Mike Ditka always emphasized the contrast between his team and the defending world-champion San Francisco 49ers. He described the 49ers as a “finesse” team, which was not intended as a compliment. He was equally eager to distinguish his own style from that of San Francisco’s “cerebral” coach Bill Walsh. “There are teams that are fair-haired and there are teams that aren’t,” Ditka said. “There are teams named Smith and teams named Grabowski. We’re Grabowskis.”
     By going 15-1 in the 1985 regular season, the Bears equaled the 49ers’ feat of the year before and ensured that if there were an NFC championship rematch between the two clubs, it would be at Soldier Field. They also earned a week off while other playoff qualifiers fought it out in wild-card games.
     While the Bears were home relaxing, the New York Giants whipped San Francisco—so the Niners wouldn’t be coming to Chicago after all. The Giants appeared at Soldier Field on January 5, 1986.
     On this clear, cold, and blustery day, the wind off Lake Michigan became a 12th player for the Bears when New York’s Sean Landeta went back to punt from his own goal line in the first quarter. A gust blew the ball away from Landeta at the instant his foot was coming through. The ball glanced off the side of his foot and wobbled to the five-yard line, where safety Shaun Gayle scooped it up and sauntered into the end zone. Landeta was credited with a punt of minus seven yards, and Gayle’s touchdown made him the 22nd different Bear to score for the year (the ninth on defense).
     The Giants were not in the game after Landeta’s miscue. They went three-and-out on nine of their first 11 possessions. Pro Bowl running back Joe Morris rushed for 14 yards on his first carry but managed only 18 yards on 11 attempts thereafter. Quarterback Phil Simms was sacked six times. Bears defensive end Richard Dent was all over the field, recording three and a half sacks and corralling Morris from behind several times. “The Giants came into the game with the No. 2 defense in the NFL,” Don Pierson wrote in the Tribune, “and left knowing that Avis is a lot closer to Hertz than the Giants are to the Bears.”
     Quarterback Jim McMahon connected with Dennis McKinnon on two touchdown strikes in the third quarter to put the game out of reach. “When the game is on the line and you’ve got to perform,” said fullback Matt Suhey, “[McMahon] is the kind of guy who turns it on. He has the mentality of a running back or an offensive lineman stuck in a quarterback body.”
     The final score was 21-0. Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan had promised a shutout and his players had delivered. “We believe every thought Buddy shares with us,” safety Dave Duerson explained.
     “We beat a good football team,” said Ditka. He could scarcely conceal his glee when he added, “They manhandled the 49ers.”
     The unstoppable Bears were headed to the NFC championship game.

Excerpted from Heydays: Great Stories in Chicago Sports
(c) by Christopher Tabbert.