Wednesday, December 28, 2011

2011 Chicago Sports Memories Awards

Play of the Year: Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks, April 27

     After spotting the Vancouver Canucks the first three games of their first-round playoff series, the Hawks roared back to take the next three contests, forcing a Game 7 on April 27.
     In that game, the Hawks trailed 1-0 as the clock wound down to the two-minute mark in the third period. Blackhawks center Jonathan Toews took possession of the puck off an errant Vanvouver pass at center ice, circled, then moved in on the left wing. As he was being dragged down by two Canucks defenders, Toews slid the puck across to Marian Hossa, whose backhanded attempt was stoppped by goalie Roberto Luongo.
     Unfortunately for Luongo, the rebound landed in front of Toews, who poked it into the net as he himself skidded face-first along the ice. There was 1:56 remaining in regulation, and it looked as if the Hawks might pull off a miracle and capture the series after all. They ended up losing in overtime, but they demonstrated the heart and resilience that will contimue to be their trademark for years to come with Toews as their captain and Joel Quenneville as head coach.

Game of the Year: Bears vs. Green Bay Packers, January 23

     For the first 90 years of their existence, the Bears met their ancient rivals from up north only once in posteason play, in 1941 when the two teams tied for the Western Division title and needed a special playoff game to decide which would go to the NFL championship game.
     The Bears and Packers met for the second time in postseason play this past January, again with a trip to the NFL championship game (now known as the Super Bowl) riding on the outcome.
     In the NFC title game at Soldier Field on January 23, a knee injury forced Bears quarterback Jay Cutler out of the game early in the third quarter with the Bears trailing 14-0. Afterwards, Cutler had to endure ridiculous questions about why he hadn't been able to continue with a torn MCL (medial collateral ligament)!
     The Bears got to within 14-7 early in the fourth quarter, but finally went down to defeat 21-14. The biggest Chicago game of the year and of the past several years ended in frustration and recrimination. Meanwhile, the Packers went on to win the Super Bowl.       

Player of the Year: Derrick Rose, Bulls

     The third-year point guard carried the Bulls to the NBA's best regular-season record at 62-20 and in so doing became the youngest winner of the league's Most Valuable Player award at only 22. The Bulls made the conference finals, and they have justifiably high hopes again as they enter the truncated 2011-12 season.
     Rose's play on the court is truly jaw-dropping, but what makes him so much more impressive is his maturity, dignity, and humility. You might lump it all together under one word: class. Fame and fortune have not changed Rose at all. If anything, they have made him even more respectful and accountable to his teammates, to the game of basketball, and to those less fortunate than himself.
     Is it all too good to be true? We'll have plenty of time to find out, because Rose will be with the Bulls for a long time. For now, we'll close with a quote from Bulls chairman Jerry Reinsdorf: "If you don't see something special in Derrick Rose, then you're blind."

Honorable Mention (in alphabetical order):
Marian Hossa, Blackhawks; Patrick Kane, Blackhawks; Paul Konerko, White Sox; Jonathan Toews, Blackhawks; Brian Urlacher, Bears.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

In Memoriam, 2011

     We Chicago sports fans lost some noteworthy performers this year. Heading the list were Chicago Cardinals Hall of Famer Ollie Matson, former Bears safety Dave Duerson, former White Sox skipper Chuck Tanner, former Northwestern and Bears receiver Jim Keane, and former Cubs pitcher Bob Rush.
     Blackhawks alumni Alexander Karpovtsev and Igor Korolev were among 44 people who perished when a plane carrying the Lokomotiv Yaroslavl hockey team, of which the two were members, crashed upon takeoff near Yaroslavl, Russia, on September 7.

Below is a list of notable Chicago sports personalities who passed away in 2011:

Ricky Bell, 36, Bears defensive back 1997-1998 (February 17).

Dave Cole, 81, Cubs pitcher 1954 (October 26).

Wes Covington, 79, White Sox outfielder 1961, Cubs outfielder 1966 (July 4).

Dave Duerson, 50, Bears safety 1983-1989, four-time Pro Bowler, member of Super Bowl XX championship team (February 17).

Woodie Fryman, 70, Cubs pitcher 1978 (February 4).

Joe Gentile, 87, Chicagoland car dealer, alumnus of and donor to Loyola University, whose basketball arena is named for him (October 10).

Jesse Jefferson, 62, White Sox pitcher 1975-1976 (September 8).

Alexander Karpovtsev, 41, Blackhawks defenseman 2000-2004 (September 7).

Jim Keane, 87, Bears end 1946-1951, led NFL in pass receptions with 60 in 1947, played college ball at Northwestern (March 8).

Igor Korolev, 41, Blackhawks center 2001-2004 (September 7).

Ed Manning, 67, Bulls forward 1969-1970 (March 4).

Ollie Matson, 80, Chicago Cardinals kick returner and halfback 1952-1958, traded to Los Angeles Rams in 1959 for nine players, six-time Pro Bowler, inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame 1972, previous to his football career won two medals at 1952 Summer Olympic Games (February 19).

Charlie Metro, 91, one of Cubs rotating managers in so-called “College of Coaches” era 1962 (March 18).

Tim McCaskey, 66, Bears vice president, second oldest of Ed and Virginia McCaskey’s 11 children (January 30).

Scotty Robertson, 81, Bulls head coach 1979 (August 18).

Bob Rush, 85, Cubs pitcher 1948-1957, White Sox pitcher 1960, two-time All-Star (March 19).

Johnny Schmitz, 90, Cubs pitcher 1941-1942 and 1946-1951, two-time All-Star, missed 1943-1945 seasons while serving in World War II (October 1).

Roy Smalley, 85, Cubs shortstop 1948-1953 (October 22).

Chuck Tanner, 81, Cubs outfielder 1957-1958; White Sox manager 1970-1975 (February 11).

Bob Will, 80, Cubs outfielder 1957-1958, 1960-1963 (August 11).

Gus Zernial, 87, White Sox outfielder 1949-1951, led American League in homers and RBIs in 1951 after being traded to Philadelphia Athletics early in the season (January 20).

Monday, December 5, 2011

Santo's Second Fondest Wish Comes True

     Today's announcement that Ron Santo has finally been elected to the Hall of Fame was more bitter than sweet, coming as it did a year after Santo passed away. Many observers have cited Santo as the most deserving player not yet in the Hall, a wrong that will be righted come induction day next summer. Alas, the honor will be too late for Santo himself to enjoy it.
     Santo 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.
     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 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.
     His election to the Hall of Fame makes Santo's second fondest wish come true. His fondest wish was to see the Cubs win the World Series.