Saturday, February 28, 2009

2001 Bears Clinch Playoffs (#8 Moment)

For Bears fans, 2001 was a season to remember. Noffke put the ridiculous OT interceptions by Mike Brown (just cut by Da Bears, coincidentally) at Number 8 on his all-time favorites list. For me, the standout moment of this particular season was the only game I got to attend. On December 16, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers came to Old Soldier Field for the next-to-last Bears game before renovation. The Bears were coming off a 17-7 road loss to the freakin' Packers at Lambeau, and had barely squeaked by the Bucs down in Tampa earlier in the season (this was before realignment).

The Bears stood at 9-3, solidly in the running for a playoff spot. The Bucs were 7-5 and riding a winning streak in what would be their last season under Tony Dungy. I was in high school, and my brother Tim and I got hooked up with our uncle's season tickets for this game. Needless to say, we were pretty excited. We filed into seats midway up the venerable Soldier Field grandstands and near the 10-yard line on the south end.

We were surrounded by men and women that, in all seriousness, looked just like this. It was a clear and sunny, but cool, December day. Any worries that we Bears fans had following the previous weeks' loss to Favre and the Pack quickly evaporated as Chicago, behind the legs of second round pick Anthony Thomas and the arm of old man Jim Miller, went ahead and crushed the living daylights out of Tampa.

Normally, close games have a better chance of becoming historic personal moments. This was not a close game. Though it was tied 3-3 early in the second quarter, a Miller-to-Marty Booker TD toss gave the Bears the lead, and they never looked back. Thomas ended up carrying 31 times for 173 yards and a late touchdown, but the best part of the game was the growing sense of elation as the clock wound down.

The Bears hadn't been in the playoffs since 1994, when muschachioed Dave Wannstedt was the coach. As Warren Sapp watched from under a towel on the sidelines, Da Fans (including us kids) felt the growing sense of inevitability and cheered and cheered as the Bears clinched their playoff spot and celebrated. It seemed as though the Super Bowl was just over the horizon for this unlikely Bears team (Jim Miller? Shane Matthews? Keith Traylor?!).

Well, it wasn't to be. The Bears, after winning the last four games of the season and sending Soldier Field out in style, went ahead and lost to Donovan McNabb and the Eagles 33-19 in their first playoff game. It had been a miraculous and unexpected season, and experiencing a part of it firsthand in one of pro football's classic environments on the shores of Lake Michigan is a memory I'll never forget.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Weekend Watch

To start off, My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of Norm Van Lier and Johnny (Red) Kerr. Even though they weren’t on the court or the bench, these two were a big part of the repeat three-peat for me from their presences as broadcasters.


Bulls at Wizards: CSN+ 7 ET

After a loss in the Bulls family, can the new look Bulls go into the nation’s capital and win? I think so. They have been very up and down since they have gotten the new players. Some of this comes from getting used to playing together. Others might blame it on coaching.

Who I want to Win: Bulls

Who I think will Win: Bulls

Penguins at Blackhawks: Comcast Sports Net (CSN) 8:30 ET

Home sweet home for the Blackhawks. It seems like forever since they’ve played at the United Center. Let alone at least two games in a row. Actually the Hawks will basically be home the rest of the seasons. This game features a bunch of the young stars who are supposed to save the NHL. Apparently Sid the Kid is not going to play because of a strained groin, so I am kind of bummed about that. I was looking forward to Towes pushing around his fellow Canadian for 60 minutes. Oh well.

Who I want to Win: Blackhawks

Who I think will Win: Since it’s in Chicago, Blackhawks in a close one.


College Gameday 11 ET College hoops 12ET - ?

The guys are going to be at U Cal-Berkley this weekend for the UCLA vs. Cal game. Should be an interesting crowd there and a fun game later. I am going to sound like a broken record with my College hoops. 12ET - ? Looking over the hoops schedule no game jumps out as a much watch. I will probably flip around to games I like. Yup basically the same thing I’ve said the past two weekend watches. Flipping between games might be a little more difficult without ESPN.

Accenture WGC Match Play Championship NBC 2 ET

I enjoy watching golf in general. I don’t watch every tournament but I do watch some and I try not to miss the 4 majors, TPC and the tournament formerly know as the Western Open when it’s played at Cog Hill in Chicagoland. However I enjoy events like this that aren’t the traditional stroke play. I find it’s a great change of pace from a pretty routine season. Also if I didn’t watch Accenture will fire me. No not really, actually they are having intercompany march madness like bracket where the winners win some nice prizes. I am currently in 1154 place (No that is not good) with Padraig Harrington winning (He lost in the 1st round).

Who I want to win: Luke Donald (FROM……….Northwestern! That’s for you Fodor)

Who I think will win: Padraig Harrington uggh I mean, Geoff Olgivy


Now here’s some College Basketball Games!

#10 Marquette at #6 Louisville 12 ET CBS

Should be a good Big East showdown between two team that really aren’t that far East. Pitino and Louisville is tough to beat at home. Especially when Pitino joins in a white out by wearing his southern plantation owner suit; you tell me what’s more intimidating?

Who I want to Win: Louisville

Who I think will Win: Louisville

#8 Missouri at #15 Kansas 2 ET CBS

Kansas is still riding high after beating Oklahoma. Even I, the man who put Kansas in his Final Four in every bracket he’s done since the Paul Pierce era, am surprised at the season is having after losing most of their championship team. Fog Allen is still one of the toughest place to win too. However Missouri’s 40 minutes of hell strategy is to say the least AWESOME and a ton of fun to watch. These are two of my top 5 favorite schools to watch so you know I’ll be tuning in.

Who I Want to Win: Kansas

Who I think will Win: Kansas

#9 Michigan State at # 20 Illinois TBA CBS

A good Big Ten Matchup here with Illionis still having an outside shot at winning the Big Ten title. Illinois has played pretty solid all year with a few hiccups here and there though (ok more then a hiccup against PSU). The Orange Crush will be going nuts with MSU coming to town so the question is can Izzo keep his team composed in a hostile enviorment.

Who I Want to Win: Michigan State

Who I Think will Win: Michigan State

Accenture WGC Match Play Championship NBC 2 ET

This day is a little slower because it is longer (36 hole match play) and there are only two groups on the course. It’s still worth the watch, most year there is high drama, and getting towards the end every shot counts. I know I didn’t pick Phil to win, but I think the best thing that could have happened to Phil was seeing him outlast Tiger. Now he might have the confidence to win it all.

Who I want to win: Luke Donald

Who I think will win: Geoff Olgivy

Kings at Blackhawks 3ET

It’s going to be a busy weekend for the United Center staff; Ice for Friday night, Basketball court for Saturday Night, Ice for Sunday afternoon. This should be a good afternoon game between these two teams that have had some good games so far this season.

Who I want to Win: Blackhawks

Who I think will Win: Blackhawks

Getting To Know Wake's Aaron Curry

As the NFL Draft approaches, possible top picks are falling like dominoes. Alabama's Andre Smith did a thorough job of shooting himself in the foot at the Indianapolis Combine. The monster tackle, who looked like a stone-cold lock for the #1 selection only a few months ago, first raised questions with his suspension prior to his team's Sugar Bowl appearance, and further encouraged character questions by refusing to participate at the Combine or answer questions in a straightforward manner.

Meanwhile, QBs Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez, both of whom have the measurables and experience in a pro-style offense that NFL teams covet these days, have to be taken with a grain of salt because of their decisions to come out as underclassmen. Fair or not, many of the quarterbacks who have jumped to the NFL as juniors or below have flopped, while those who play a full college career seem to enjoy greater success.

So the competition for the dubious honor of being selected first overall this April by the woebegone Detroit Lions has a new leader. Wake Forest strongside linebacker Aaron Curry appears, more and more, to be the safest pick in the Draft. Granted, Curry has not enjoyed the hype of a superstar QB for a powerhouse program like Georgia (Stafford) or USC (Sanchez), or the expectations of a giant like 'Bama's Smith. He is in many ways an unknown quantity compared to these guys.

I thought that I would take this opportunity to learn something about the guy who is now unofficially the clubhouse leader for the first overall pick, having ascended to that status in SI's Mock Draft (written by Don Banks), among others.

Breaking it down into categories;

College Career: Curry won the Butkus Award last year as the nation's top linebacker. Although he could have jumped to the draft early, he returned to Wake Forest for his senior season and put up absolutely sick numbers. Though there were other future pros on his Wake defense, including corner Alphonso Smith, Curry was the guy that scared the bejezus out of opponents. You can see some examples of his sterling play here and here. He has demonstrated the ability to play the pass and also to rush the passer and beat offensive linemen off the snap. In short, his Wake game tapes show a guy that is extremely versatile and has the speed and toughness to excel at the next level.

Combine Performance: Going into Indy, Curry was already the top-rated linebacker prospect. Nevertheless, he exceeded expectations, posting the best LB time in the 40 yard dash, and also putting up top numbers in the jump categories and the 60-yard shuttle. By all accounts, he is impressive in interviews and has strong character, and avoided an Andre Smith-type slip of any type.

Measurables: Curry stands 6'2" and weighs 254 lbs. is comparing him to Tennessee's Keith Bullock. That's pretty flattering for a guy who hasn't yet played a professional snap. If you want to nitpick, he is maybe an inch short and a few pounds light. Neither will affect his stock, nor should they.

Personality: Mike Mayock, draft expert extraordiniare, compares Curry to Atlanta's ROY Matt Ryan in terms of reliability even after a big payday. Curry has a good story - the son of former NFL defensive back Reggie Pinckney, he returned for his senior year of college even though his mother was struggling to make ends meet. He has stayed out of trouble at school and is intelligent and a leader on the field. Reading his journal, it is hard to get a really good feel for how Curry really is–he's not a wild card like, say, Deion Sanders or Chad Ocho Cinco, but is that really a bad thing? He seems like a nice guy. That is definitely not a bad thing for a potential top prospect.

On top of all these, Curry would also fill a need for the Lions. Ernie Sims is a great young linebacker, but Detroit badly needs another guy to pair with him. The Bears have Urlacher and Briggs, the Vikings have EJ Henderson and Chad Greenway, the Pack has Barnett and AJ Hawk. By drafting Aaron Curry, the Lions could finally have the guys at the 'backer spots to make a case for top billing in the tough-as-nails NFC North.

In my book, this is the way to go with the #1 pick. Curry is no workout warrior, nor is he a college star whose skills don't translate to the big leagues. He is well rounded and a safe bet in the best possible sense of the term.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

UAB v. Memphis

Well, this is a walk down memory lane! UAB, led by former Indiana University coach Mike Davis (who just got T'd up) and former IU starter Robert Vaden, is battling Memphis on ESPN2. They're a bubble team right now, trailing Calipari's Tigers in the C-USA.

UAB's style of play looks strangely familiar. A lot of three-point shooting and one on one possessions. Good athleticism, decent defense and rebounding. Reminiscent of an NBA game. This is definitely a Mike Davis squad.

I gotta say, I always liked Robert Vaden a lot better than fellow Davis protege Bracey "I Can Miss From Anywhere On the Court!" Wright. I am one of those few IU fans that feel that although Coach Davis has some serious flaws, he was given a bad deal in Bloomington having to follow the legendary Bobby Knight. After suffering through the Sampson Train Wreck, the Davis era really doesn't seem that bad in retrospect.

Tie game, 28-28 at the half. Vaden hasn't scored yet and is struggling against Memphis' athletic defenders. UAB needs this win to move themselves solidly into the field of 64. Update will follow postgame. Also tonight - my #8 Top Memory. A clue - it's from one of the great Bears seasons in recent memory!

UPDATE: Oho! This game just got real exciting! Vaden is warming the bench and has shot 0-12 on the day, but UAB is getting some serious play from PG Aaron Johnson (from? Chicago!) and senior forward Lawrence Kinnard. All knotted up at 44-all. First good game I can remember from Conference USA in a while.

UPDATE 2: Donnell Mack just hit a dagger from the corner to make it 63-55 with two and a half left. Robert Vaden is something like 0-16 for the game. He really, really needs to do something here or this one is basically over. UAB needs a stop...

Antonio Anderson. Off glass, for three. Game over. I still think the Blazers sneak into the tourney as an at-large selection.

Side Note: Enjoying this Pat Forde article on Kentucky high-school basketball, where a podunk team is getting ready to reprise 'Hoosiers' for the modern day.

Northwestern Ends Assembly Hall Streak, Hoosiers Fall Again

It was a beautiful day in Bloomington, Indiana, with temperatures in the fifties and a springtime feel in the air. The Northwestern Wildcats arrived at Assembly Hall carrying a heavy load on their collective backs - no 'Cats team had won at IU's current gym, ever. Their losing streak in Bloomington stretched back to before the Hall was even built!

Tipoff was at 6:30, and for the second time this season I took advantage of the fantastic five dollar upper-level ticket offer to go see the Baby Hoosiers play. The last time I went, IU hung on to defeat Iowa 68-61. This time, I was hoping for a different result.

You see, I grew up in Evanston, and Northwestern is my first love. But I've lived in Bloomington for seven years now, and have followed Indiana through thick and thin. These are two athletic programs that have really struggled throughout the years, but each has had bright moments that keep hope alive.

For Northwestern, it's a neverending battle just to stay afloat in the cutthroat Big Ten. IU, on the other hand, is a traditional powerhouse (the nine banners hanging in Assembly Hall testify to Hoosier dominance under Bob Knight and others), but one that has gone through an insane amount of turmoil over recent years. Mike Davis gave way to Kelvin Sampson and his Darth Maul-like protege Eric Gordon. Sampson left town in the wake of his self-generated recruiting scandal, and now Tom Crean has arrived to pick up the pieces.

The Wildcats were 14-11 (5-9) going into tonight. The Hoosiers were 6-20, with a lone Big Ten win. Mismatch? On paper, definitely. But between the Assembly Hall hex and the two teams' first game of the season, a 79-77 nailbiter at Welsh-Ryan in Evanston, there was ample reason to believe that this could be a good one.

Indiana jumped out to an early lead behind senior forward Kyle Taber, the longtime hustle guy for the Hoosiers and one of just two holdovers from the Sampson years. The young IU squad actually held a lead until the seven minute mark of the first half, when Northwestern began to settle down and run their signature Princeton offense and 1-3-1 defense effectively.

One of the best moments of the game is pictured above. Midway through the first, NU popped the ball loose from Verdell Jones III (who finished with seven turnovers to six assists). In the ensuing scrum, the rock bounced from Hoosier to Wildcat, and back, and forth, for a solid five seconds before finally rattling out of bounds as the Assembly Hall faithful, who are known for their love of hustle plays, cheered wildly and bodies hit the hardwood. I guess you had to be there. The ovation died down as the refs called it Northwestern ball out of bounds.

At the half, the Wildcats had established a 30-25 lead behind veteran guards Craig Moore and Michael Thompson. Thompson, who has had some rough moments this season, was really impressive tonight, finishing with sixteen points and five assists.

As the second period began, IU hung tough, staying neck and neck with the more experienced 'Cats. Nick Williams was impressive during this run, as was Taber, who was the Hoosiers' leading scorer with 12 points. Side note: This is the first time I can ever remember seeing Number 44 at the top of the box score! It was good to see him play well, even in a losing effort.

But Northwestern was just too much for the inexperienced Hoosiers. After a sweet backdoor cut from walk-on Daniel Moore brought the score to within two at 41-39, the seasoned Wildcats methodically pulled away.

Defensive ace Jeremy Nash buried a trey to start the rout, and Craig Moore finished the job. He ended up hitting up 5-of-7 from beyond the arc and racked up 17 points in a very impressive performance. Verdell Jones is (I thought) a good defender, but Moore made him and the rest of the IU freshmen look bad as he knocked down long ball after long ball.

In the end, it wasn't even close. Northwestern got its first win at their former House of Horrors by a wide 75-53 margin. Afterward, Tom Crean spoke about his young team's struggles, and Bill Carmody tried to tell the media that he hadn't even known about his team's past frustration in Bloomington.

Even though Indiana is young and inexperienced, this was a good win for the Wildcats. Any victory on the road in the rough-and-tumble Big Ten is one to be celebrated. NU now has 15 wins on the season, with a home game against cellar-dwelling Iowa (4-11 in conference) next on the schedule.

Although the 'Cats lost in Iowa City, I expect home-court advantage to come into play here. Iowa doesn't have the graduate base in Chicago that so many other Big Ten teams enjoy. Against an Illinois or Wisconsin, the stands at Welsh-Ryan are evenly divided between fans of the home and away squads, leading to more of a neutral court feel. Hopefully the Northwestern kids will show up in force for this game. The Wildcats need the win to solidify their NIT 'lock' status and keep their Big Dance dream alive.

As for the Hoosiers, all I can say is that Tom Crean is a good coach, and this team will not quit. Indiana activated one of their student managers for this game (Mike Santa, step on up!) and Crean says he wants to add another of his practice-squad guys to the roster soon. IU's young talent will continue to develop and hopefully play hard. I wonder what the Vegas odds are on Indiana shocking the world and winning the Big Ten Tourney in Indy! Hey, I can dream, right?

Go Wildcats, go Hoosiers. Thanks for a well-played game.

(AP photo from, link provided)

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Doing the Unthinkable

All right maybe not unthinkable.

As you all know I am an avid sports nut. I wake up, turn on ESPN2 and watch Mike and Mike in the morning while I get ready to go to work. I tune in to watch lots of Sportscenter, Gameday and even Pool on ESPN. I even have an ESPN chip in my brain.

So what am I giving up for Lent?

That’s right, I’m giving up ESPN TV. That means the mother ship ESPN and all of its sister stations. ESPN2, ESPNU, ESPNEWS and I even to be ESPN TV. I won’t even turn on ESPN for a Hoosiers or Blackhawks game

Will it be difficult? I would say yes and no. There will probably be a bunch of good College basketball games that I’ll want to watch but won’t be able to. But honestly, it’s only 40 days. It is a very very small sacrifice to make. The only way I see myself not succeeding is if I accidentally turn on a game while flipping through the channels. I will do my best to avoid this.

There is one situation that I will allow myself to watch ESPN and this is if I am in a bar. Bars everywhere always have sports on and it’d be kind of dumb to just look away the whole time. I am sure with my attention span I would glance up countless times with out thinking about it. Now with saying I can watch ESPN in a bar does not mean I will allow myself to go to a bar to watch something I want to watch on ESPN.

Wish me luck. I am not worried

Have a good Ash Wednesday and Lent. Good luck with your own Lenten Sacrifices.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Andre Smith, What are You Thinking?

Andre Smith had a phenomenal year at Alabama last season. I loved watching him play as he always completely dominated the D-lineman across from him throughout the game.

Heck, when I asked SI writer Stewart Mandel which non-QB, RB or WR should win the Heisman Trophy, guess who he picked?(Scroll to the bottom, and yes that is actually me in that question. You should read Stewart’s book. It’s a fantastic read, and also explains why I worded my question the way I did.)

So the best player on many experts’ draft boards and potential first overall pick Andre Smith has had a heck of a 2009. First, he got himself suspended from the Sugar Bowl because of illegal contact with a sports agent. He then watched his Alabama team, which was ranked #1 most the year, get taken to the woodshed by non-BCS team Utah.

Now he has shown up to the combine in Indianapolis out of shape and weighing a supposed 340 lbs. He is not going to do any work at all at the combine.

This could potentially cost him millions of dollars. Jake Long was the first pick last year and was also an offensive tackle. He signed a contract that included 30 million dollars guaranteed. Smith was looking like a top five pick, one who could get similar amounts of money. Now there are talks he could fall to the late teens or early 20s. He went into the most important week of his life basically unprepared. This show lack of motivation and drive, and NFL teams will frown on his approach. He better have a spectacular pro day or he could be in trouble.

Saying all that, would I want the Bears to draft him if he fell to them? You bet I would. Getting a top 5 talent and essentially bookending their line with him and Chris Williams for the next decade looks great. (I want the Bears to take a tackle 1st round anyways, for this reason.) Get him under the wing of some of our more savvy veterans like Olin and Roberto Garza and he might be able to find his way. The Bears have taken risks before and it has worked out great. Just look at Alex Brown (Fourth round pick out of Florida, a guy with first round talent but character issues out of college, now a team leader). I know 1st round and 4th round are worlds away from each other, but each player was a risk.

I hope for Andre’s sake he turns around his 2009, because I loved watching him play at 'Bama. There is nothing I’d rather see then solid O-line play and he was the best in college football last year. I would love to see him fall in the Bears lap, but I doubt it will happen. Maybe I should hold out hope for Crabtree, like some other people!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Combine Live Online

Boy, it sure was nice to have the NFL Network for free last year! This year, they took it away on Comcast down here. Fortunately for draft geeks like myself, is streaming their combine coverage live online at no cost. I'm following it here.

It's so great that some websites offer combine coverage for free, unlike ESPN which forces you to get Insider if you want Kiper and McShay's opinions on what is going on. Screw that! I kind of hope this hurts ESPN in the long run. To be fair, they are running their blog for free, with a wealth of information on the combine.

A few links to good draft coverage elsewhere-

T.R. Taylor's "Draft Talk: The Great Offensive Tackle Debate" at Bleacher Report: Breaks down this year's interesting offensive tackle class, where Jason Smith of Baylor, Andre Smith of Alabama, Eugene Monroe of Virginia, and Michael Oher of Ole Miss are battling for the top spot.

Live combine blog at

(Pictured: UNC's Hakeem Nicks, one of my favorite wideouts this year along with Crabtree and Percy Harvin, who is really more of a WR/RB prospect)

RANDOM ADD: This is why Jim Calhoun is one of the best coaches in college basketball. You tell 'em, Jim!