Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Gabe Carimi Gets Ready for 2012 Season

The Bears had hoped for great things from Gabe Carimi as the 2011 season began. According to Mike Tice, “... I felt when he got hurt in New Orleans, he was playing as good of football as anyone we had.” Carimi recently had surgery on the connective tissue around his patella (kneecap) and medial collateral ligament. This type of surgery is likely to tighten up the kneecap to help avoid further dislocation. Earlier this season, he underwent arthroscopic surgery after his initial injury in the second game of the year against New Orleans.

One of the problems with a dislocated knee, is the possibility of the injury recurring. There are certain measures that are prescribed to help stabilize the knee depending upon the individual situation. Carimi's second surgery does not necessarily indicate any further injury, it is likely an added step to give him a better chance for a longer more productive career.

Lineman, especially tackles like Carimi, are expected to move quickly to block some of the quickest most skilled defensive players. As the defensive ends become bigger, faster and more allusive, the tackle position comes under greater stress. Several teams are running short of healthy offensive linemen this season.

Bear fans look forward to watching a healthy Carimi bolster the offensive line for a healthy Cutler, Forte and others in 2012.
Copyright 2011 Sporting Chance Press, Inc. Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout by Patrick McCaskey and other fine sports books.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Doug Atkins: A Great Grizzly of a Bear

As we close out another Chicago Bears football season, we want to look back at another historic Bear who was a true "Monster of the Midway," Doug Atkins. Atkins is one of the greatest Chicago Bears in the long franchise history. In today's parlance, Atkins would be called a "freak"--his extreme physical size was coupled with superb athletic skills that are rarely associated with someone of his physical type. Atkins went to the University of Tennessee to play basketball, but he was so strong and so superb an athlete that he was recruited for football. Even at 6-8, he was limber enough to be a high jumper.

Atkins size and athletic skills served him well on the Tennessee football field and he was named All-America in 1952. The Tennessee Volunteers went 29-3-1 and were crowned national champions in 1951 with Atkins at defensive end.


After wreaking havoc on Tennessee opponents, Atkins went on to play professionally. Doug Atkins played in the NFL for 17 seasons. He is one of those athletes from the 50s-60s era who at 6-8, 257+ lbs. could play defensive end today. His play combined allusiveness, power, speed, and determination.

Atkins was drafted by the Cleveland Browns and played two season (1953-1954) under the legendary Coach Paul Brown who was known as a disciplinarian. During Atkins stay with the Browns, they won the division title in 1953 and the NFL Championship in 1954.

Atkins who was not easily disciplined, was traded to the Bears where George Halas managed to positively direct him. Atkins was a larger than life character who was rebellious of authority and ornery to opposing players. Playing for the Bears from 1955-1966, Atkins developed into what many believe was the finest defensive end to ever play the game. He could rush the passer with the strength of an Olympic weightlifter, jump over would-be blockers like a hurdler, and swat down passes like an NBA center. Opposing lineman called him mean and superhuman. He was known to have a few different gears and was said to use a low-speed one at practice that could annoy his coaches. When he was angered he played with a menacing intense style that was so punishing that opponents found themselves trying to calibrate their own game so that the big Number 81 never got too annoyed. Atkins himself would down play his dominance.

We live in an age of sports hyperbole, but one fact about Atkins cries out from football history in interviews of opposing players: No one who ever lined up against Atkins took him lightly. He was a presence in each and every game. When he was consistently double teamed, he found he would just knock one player out of the way and then the other to get to the quarterback.

Halas and Atkins

Perhaps more than any other coach, Halas, was a good foil for Doug Atkins. Halas had played against men who were bigger and stronger than himself for a decade. He had coached scores of men of all different stripes before Atkins. Halas had done it all in football. According to Halas's autobiography, Halas on Halas, late one night during a Bears training camp, the coach followed a tip that Atkins was whooping it up in a tavern. When the coach entered the establishment and approached the monstrous Atkins, the two men had a no-holds barred verbal altercation in the most colorful of language. George "Papa Bear" Halas who was known as an artisan of such debates, won. According to Halas, "Doug became a powerful Bear. We became good friends." Halas who was not liberal with his praise, called Atkins, "the greatest defensive end I ever saw."

Atkins's 12 seasons with the Bears included the league championship in 1963 that featured one of the most powerful of Bears defenses. A few years later, Atkins who was often at odds with Halas over salary, expressed an interest in moving on to another team and was traded to the Saints in 1967. Atkins continued to perform at a high level until his retirement from football.

Sacks by individual defensive players (as opposed to team records) were not kept until 1982 so it is difficult to evaluate historic defensive players objectively. Atkins is rated as the Number 9 pass rusher in NFL History by Highlight film on Atkins.

Atkins was elected and enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1982. He is another colorful Bears great that fans should know and appreciate.

 Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout, Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships, The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life), Maddie Takes the Ice, and Public Bonehead-Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle. Update: Sporting Chance Press's Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships by Patrick McCaskey now available--March 2014!  Order your copies here  for immediate shipment.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Christmas Glow from St. Peter's Church in the Chicago Loop

Thousands of commuters and shoppers will walk right past St. Peter's in downtown Chicago on these last few days before Christmas. For many there is a little more cheer in the air as they anticipate Christmas. For commuters who will cut the week short with vacation, the cheer may be palpable!

If you are not tuned into the spiritual aura of St. Peter's, you might walk by it a thousand times without hardly noticing it. The street front that most people see is composed of solid stone and three imposing doors that are set back. If you are walking on the sidewalk right in front of the church, you are too close to see the stone Crucifix above the doors and the recessed stained glass windows behind it. But if you happen to be on the south side of the street across from St. Peter's at just the right time in the evening, the stained glass glows. The colored images provide a warm radiant light that beckons--reflecting the faith of the church, its visitors, and the Franciscans who serve there with a special kindness.

For many Catholics in Chicago, St. Peter's holds a special place in their family history--a quiet place where they stopped to pray with parents or grandparents. A place for a weekday mass or a quiet confession. For some, St. Peter's serves as their parish church--a church they know like an old friend. Others of a different faith may simply see St. Peter's as a proof that even in the busiest, noisiest of places, people can tune out the world and tune into a higher power.

A few months ago, St. Peter's hosted a presentation by Patrick McCaskey who wrote Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout, a book that we published at Sporting Chance Press. Patrick talked about his grandfather, George "Papa Bear" Halas, and the faith that was handed down to the heirs of the Bears Football Club. That faith is more important than the financial rights and responsibilities of an NFL franchise.

When Patrick speaks, people love to hear how someone as successful as him, can be so devout in his faith. In today's world it's unexpected, like that stained glass window that shines from the inside of St. Peter's and casts a warm glow out onto the street.

At Sporting Chance Press, we hope you have a chance to visit your "St. Peter's," whatever it is called and wherever it might be this holiday season. Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

The Legendary John "Bonesetter" Reese

John D. "Bonesetter" Reese was one of the most fascinating figures in sports, although he was really not a sportsman. He was one of the most fascinating figures in medicine, although he was not a physician. Reese fixed aches and injuries with his hands.

Many sources define a Bonesetter as “someone who sets bones.” This definition is not accurate and is perhaps misleading. Going back to a source contemporary to John Reese, Norman D. Mattison, M.D., shed some light on the practice when he wrote “Bone Setting and Its Modern Revival,” published in the 1916 New York Medical Journal, Volume 104. Mattison quoted another authority, W. P. Hood, who said that bone setting “is the art of overcoming by the sudden flexion or extension any impediments to the free motion of joints that may be left behind after the subsistence of the early symptoms of disease or injury.”

According to Mattison’s review of the literature at the time, a bone setter named James Sweet came to America from Wales and settled in Rhode Island in 1650 to set up shop. Generations of Sweet’s followed suit. It was the same coal mining and iron and steel producer, Wales, that Bonesetter Reese would have his origins. Reese arrived with his set of skills in 1887 to find work in Youngstown. Reese was a young orphan boy who grew to become an ironworker and learned the medical trade of "Bonesetter" from a fellow worker. His skills would be in great demand in Youngstown, an industrial powerhouse that was part of a region that was called "Steel Valley."

John Reese was good at his work and quit mill work in Youngstown to focus on his growing bonesetter practice. Despite friction from authorities and medical doctors, Reese had a flourishing practice—people lined up to see him. Eventually, the official civic community would recognize his work. Reese’s legend lives on today as a man who miraculously helped heal a number of prominent baseball players. His patients included Honus Wagner, Cy Young, Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, and Grover Cleveland Alexander. Baseball history books are loaded with references to Reese, but his focus was helping the millworkers in Youngstown where he set up his practice.

At Sporting Chance Press, we came across Bonesetter Reese and one of his patients in Mike Cameron's Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle. Cameron introduces readers to baseball pitcher Jack Pfiester of the Chicago Cubs who was known as "Jack the Giant Killer" because of his superb record against the NY Giants. According to Cameron, Pfiester pitched for the Cubs in the famous Merkle game of September 23, 1908 while suffering from a dislocated tendon in his throwing arm. Pfiester held the Giants to one run going into the ninth inning although he was in unimaginable pain during the gutsy performance.

According to Cameron, Pfiester sought Reese out for treatment immediately following the September 23rd game. Reese reportedly snapped back Pfiester's dislocated tendon in a short office visit. Cameron writes that it is was the kind of injury that would have been treated by surgery today. In Pfiester's case, he still had pitching problems for the rest of the season including the World Series. Perhaps he would have had better results had he seen Reese prior to his pitching performance on the 23rd. However, he came back the following year with a strong 17-6 record and a 2.43 ERA.

There is a Reese connection with another the author of a Sporting Chance Press book called Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout. The author, Patrick McCaskey, is the grandson of George Halas, the founder of the Chicago Bears and legendary NFL pioneer. Patrick's grandfather used the services of Bonesetter Reese on three different occasions. Twice while he was a student at the University of Illinois and again when Halas had injured his hip sliding into second base for the New York Yankees.

David Anderson of the Society for American Baseball Research wrote an informative biographical essay on Reese. Additionally, Reese’s grandson, David Strickler, published a book on his grandfather called Child of Moriah: A Biography of John D. Bonesetter Reese in 1989.

Image from

Copyright 2011 Sporting Chance Press, Inc.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout, Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships, The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life), Maddie Takes the Ice, and Public Bonehead-Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle.  

Update: Sporting Chance Press's Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships by Patrick McCaskey now available--March 2014!  Order your copies here  for immediate shipment.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

In Defense of Barber

It was the best of time; it was the worst of times for Marion Barber on December 11, 2011 when the Chicago Bears lost to the Denver Broncos.

Barber was asked to fill in for Matt Forte as the Bears starting back. Against an improving and punishing defense that focused on him, Barber threw himself against the opposition with his usual abandon and gained 108 yards rushing on the day. While Barber generally gets the call to run up the gut, the Bears have him running on the edge sometimes--presumably to mix things up for a defense that wants to plug the middle. On one such play when Barber was bashing outside toward the end of the game, he found himself being pushed out of bounds stopping the clock when the Bears needed to tick off the seconds. It was oh so clear to those of us watching on TV that the last thing the Bears needed was the ball out of bounds, but it's a little different when you are clawing and scratching for yards--thinking first down. It was then that Barber became a goat in a game in which he had done so much to get the anemic offense points.

Adding insult to injury, in overtime, once again Barber was called upon to be the Bears battering ram as they were moving into field goal range for a win. Just as Barber was accelerating and moving out of reach of defenders on a rush that featured a gaping hole in the Denver defensive line, a single hand thrust out in desperation and caught Barber's arm. There was no one beside Barber. There was no one fronting Barber. The arm was that of linebacker Wesley Woodyard whom Barber was leaving in his dust. In an ugly twist of fate for Barber and a moment of redemption for the Broncos defense, Barber was stripped of the ball. Once again, it was easy to sit there on the couch thinking how could he fumble, but Barber view on the field would be a lot different from the couch. Barber would have seen a blur of 300 pound lineman and 250 pound linebackers and an open field in front of him--one more kick and he was in the endzone--game over.

This week Barber is the goat, but fans know that without him, the Bears would not have scored a touchdown. Fans know also that with Barber they get the kind of effort that win championships. Hopefully, Barber will get plenty of time to test fate next Sunday against Seattle.

On a positive note imagine for a minute Barber and Forte and Cutler--all back together and healthy. Imagine a well-rested Barber put into short yardage situations again with a full complement of starters.

The Denver game was frustrating on so many levels, but as George Halas would say, "who do we play next week?"

Image is 2011 Adrenalyn XL #58 Marion Barber - Chicago Bears--Panini Group Card.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Sports and Faith by Patrick McCaskey and other fine sports books.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bears Tebunked in Denver 13—10, December 11, 2011

The Bears 13—10 defeat in Denver saw the defense put in a months worth of effort in a single game. At the same time, the fans got a year's worth of frustrations. The Bears were Tebunked.

Lovie Smith called the devastating defeat “one of the toughest I’ve had to deal with.” According to famed coach and current sports commentator Tony Dungy, “This was not about Tim Tebow winning the game, this was about the Bears losing the game.” Regardless of Dungy's comments, one can certainly make the argument that the Bears did well in some respects considering the fact that they were missing their two top offensive players. That does not mitigate the sting of the loss of course. With their starting quarterback Jay Cutler out along with their all-purpose running back Matt Forte, they had few surprises for the Denver defense that seems to be getting better each week.

The Game

In the first half, the Bears stuffed the Denver offense and blocked a field goal attempt. "Peanuts" Tillman made an interception that could be used in a wide receivers instructional film—it was perfect. Bear defenders did an excellent job containing Tim Tebow's runs and putting some pressure on him. Briggs and Idonije were called for separate roughing the passer violations on hits that were so soft, the teammates might be lambasted for lack of intensity by their coaches. On the offensive side of the ball, a few key false starts and sacks punctuated a complete offensive dud.

Hanie did not look good, but by the same token he was not making rookie mistakes and throwing interceptions. As inept as the offense appeared to be playing, Hanie's numbers were not those of a quarterback who was self-destructing or killing his team.

Denver was awful on offense. The Briggs and Idonije fouls did not contribute to any Denver scoring. You might argue that they contributed to poorer field position for the Bears' offense when they got the ball back.

Towards the middle of the third quarter, Devin Hester ran back a punt to the Bears' 42 followed by a successful drive that featured five Marion Barber rushes (for 36 total yards) including a 9 yard touchdown run. Barber was able to "front" the drive that led to the first TD. This was no small feat when you consider that Barber was the biggest threat that the Denver defense had to key on.

When Denver got the ball after the Bears' TD, the Bears defense stuffed the Broncos again and the ball was back into Chicago's hands with a little under 4 minutes left in the quarter. Hester returned another punt for 10-yards to the Bears 37. What followed was a couple more Barber runs and a 17-yard completion to Roy Williams to put the Bears in field goal range. Hanie showed some toughness in this possession. A face mask penalty call against Devin Hester and a Hanie sack took the Bears out of field goal range. But the backup quarterback recovered enough yards when he hit Barber on a 16 yard pass to put them right back in field goal range, albeit at the fringes. Gould managed a 57-yarder to put the Bears up 10—0 a few seconds into the 4th quarter.

The Bears offense had been anemic, but they did score 10 points on a tough defense. And, they had not been reckless. The defense had been chasing Tim Tebow all over the field and had managed to keep Denver from scoring in the first three quarters.

At this point in the game, the entire football watching world was wondering if Tim Tebow was going to work some magic to turn things around. At first, at least, it didn't look that way. Denver went three and out, but the Bears offense returned the favor and followed the Broncos' example. Collectively both possessions used less than four minutes time. After the Bears punt and a Quan Cosby 13 yard return to the Denver 37, the Broncos had the ball with 11:30 to go.

The first play resulted in a holding call against the Broncos, but Tebow followed with three decent passes collecting 37 positive yards to the Bears 36. On the next two plays Tebow was stuffed and then sacked whereupon he coughed up the ball to Israel Idonije of the Bears. It was Bears ball, leading 10—0 with 8:53 left after what should have been a momentum changing turnover. At that point it looked like Tebow and the Broncos would take a loss.

A Bears three and out used up a measly 2 minutes of clock and the Bears punted to the Denver 7 yard line. Tebow took over behind 10—0 with 6:50 remaining. A decent first down pass netted the Broncos a first down and 23 yards, but the Denver offense laid another egg and had to punt the ball back to the Bears.

The Bears began their next drive at their own 17 with 5:41 left. It was beginning to look like it would take a miracle for Denver to come back. The Bears inched their way towards the first yard marker on three rushes that totaled 9 yards—one yard shy. A Podlesh punt to the Denver 31 was returned by Quan Cosby to the Denver 37 for the start of Tebow's next series. There was 4:34 remaining in the game.

Using about 2 1/2 minutes of clock, Tebow finally got a sustained drive going with a series of 7 passes including a 10 yard pass to Demaryius Thomas for a touchdown. After the extra point, the score was Bears 10—Broncos 7.

With time running out, the Broncos attempted an onside kick that was recovered by the Bears Nick Roach. It was Bears ball on their own 49 with 2:05 remaining. The game was solidly in the Bears hands at this point.

After the Bears first rush, the two minute warning was called to stop the clock. On the next play, Marion Barber inexplicably ran the ball out of bounds stopping the clock. After a short rush up the middle and a punt, Denver got the ball on their 20 yard line with 56 seconds remaining. The Bears had managed to use up barely a minute of clock.

After three decent pass plays followed by two failed ones and a Tebow stuff, Denver decided to attempt a 59-yard Matt Prater field goal. It was good and the game was tied 10-10. The half ended after Devon Hester was tackled on the ensuing kick off. The Bears and Broncos went to overtime.

The Bears had first possession and drove the ball down the field on three Hainie completions followed by an incomplete pass and then a short rush by Barber. On the next play, Barber ran through heavy traffic and just as he was moving into the clear for a first down and a lot more, linebacker Wesley Woodyard desperately grabbed at Barber's arm and ripped the ball out if his grasp. Barber was already past Woodyard when the contact was made and he fumbled and Denver recovered on their 33 yard line.

Denver had the ball in good field position and Tebow chipped away at the Bears with four passes that net just over 30 yards and three rushes that net another 7 yards—it was just enough to give Matt Prater another field goal opportunity. After making a 59-yard attempt earlier in the game, it was no surprise to the millions watching to see Prater nail a 51 yard attempt that sealed the Denver victory.

This game and a few previous Bears losses will be fodder for plenty of columns and blogs like this one, but the bottom line is simply this: The Bears are simply not a very good team without Cutler and Forte. Hainie might get much better in time, but they are not very good now. They just don't have the offensive tools to be a good team right now. On defense, they can still play very well, but their performance there is going to slip unless the offense improves. The defense needs at least a glimmer of hope from the offense.

In retrospect, the Denver game was exceptionally painful for several reasons. As frustrating as the Bears were on offense, Denver was far worse for almost the entire game. For fans, watching a game with two ineffective offensives can be painful. Another reason for the frustration was that the game seemingly didn't have to come down to overtime had the Bears been able to burn up a few more seconds. In a way, the Bears did all the hard things—contained Tebow, avoided interceptions and scored 10 points, but not the easy ones.

Some will pin the loss on Barber, but like last week's loss, Lovie Smith and his players have suggested that everyone had a chance to make some plays that would have led to victory rather than defeat. Matt Spaeth pointed out that Bears would not have been in the game had it not been Barber's play.

The 7-6 Bears take on the 6-7 Seahawks next week. They need to right the ship if they have any hopes for a Wild Card shot. The team that they field will not include some of their top skill positions players.
Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Patrick McCaskey's Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout and other fine sports books.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Fate Smiles on Kansas City Chiefs in Bears Game, but Fans Need to be Patient

Fate smiled on the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend when they beat the Chicago Bears in an anemic game in which the Chicago offense was trying to adjust to backup quarterback, Caleb Hainie. The Bears lost their starter Jay Cutler to a thumb injury in a game they won against the San Diego Chargers on November 20. Cutler's subsequent surgery insures that he is out for at least the rest of the regular season. Should the Bears make the playoffs, he may be able to come back then. Hainie was still getting his seas legs in the Chiefs game and it showed.

But it was a Bears' defensive play that sealed Chicago's fate. The turning point in the game came when Brian Urlacher and Chris Conte batted down Chief's quarterback Tyler Palko 38-yard Hail Mary pass in the end zone right into the hands of Chiefs' running back Dexter McCluster for a touchdown. That odd play turned out to be game winner for the Chiefs.

Hainie was rusty, but he showed some life at times. On one drive, the Bears were fourth and one at the five yard line when Marion Barber split out and caught an easy touchdown pass. Unfortunately, the pass was called back because Barber was not lined up on the line of scrimmage. The Bears settled for a field goal. On a late fourth-quarter drive in which Hainie looked unbeatable, he tossed what looked like a touchdown pass to Roy Williams that bounced Williams chest and was intercepted. Other receivers dropped passes as well that certainly could have made a difference in the game.

The Chiefs have had their own quarterback problems this year when they lost Matt Cassel to a season ending injury this year. Cassel was having an up and down season before he was injured. Last year Cassel had an excellent year with a quarterback rating of 93 and a Pro Bowl appearance. Cassel has been a backup for much of his career. He was on the Patriots roster in 2008 when he replaced an injured Tom Brady and managed to lead the Patriots to an 11-5 season.

For the Chiefs, progress has been slow under Tyler Palko. The Chiefs will likely be shopping for at least one more quarterback in the draft. They are headed nowhere this year.

But the good news for the Chiefs assuming the fans and ownership remain patient is Scott Pioli whom they hired as General Manager in 2009. Pioli is a guy who knows how to build great teams and worked hand in hand with Bill Belichick in creating the New England Patriots dynasty. He is one of the best in the business. As the Chief web site quotes Pioli:

My job is not to collect talent, it’s to build a team...Individuals make Pro Bowls, teams win championships. That’s our goal here. Win championships, win football games — to build this team with the right kind of people, with the right kind of players, to consistently compete for championships.

The Chiefs also picked up Romeo Crennel who was another big contributor to the Patriots dynasty.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Patrick McCaskey's Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout and other fine sports books.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Chicago Bears Edwin Williams Steps Up

Bears fans know, perhaps more than most NFL fans, the importance of the offensive line. The Bears “franchise quarterback” Jay Cutler began playing for the Bears in 2009, but before the Bear’s offense could come out to play with the big boys, the offensive line had to start clicking.

The Bears have come on strong lately because the offensive line has improved, but they haven’t played with their first round draft pick Gabe Carimi who was injured in the second game of the season against the Saints with a dislocated knee. Carimi looked like he was heading back to action in late October when he returned for limited practice, but he left the practice field and underwent arthroscopic surgery on November 11th after he continued to experience problems. A dislocate knee can be a recurring injury and it seems like everyone involved is trying to give Carimi the best chance for a long productive career with the Bears.

Chris Williams, the Bears left offense guard was quietly performing very well in the new improved offensive line, but he injured his wrist in the Bears-Lions rematch. Emergency surgery was needed. Both Williams and Carimi will miss the rest of the season.

Character Matters

Bears right guard, Lance Louis moved from to right tackle to replace Carimi and has done very well. Louis has stepped up to the plate and performed the tackle position with skill while demonstrating character and determination.

Edwin Williams is filling in for Chris Williams at left guard. Edwin Williams played center at the University of Maryland and was an undrafted free agent who signed with Washington Redskins in 2009. (His coach, Offensive Line Coach Mike Tice was a at the University of Maryland in the late 70's.

Edwin Williams was picked up by the Bears in 2010. Edwin Williams received the 2008 Wilma Rudolph Award, an award that is given to student-athletes who have overcome "great personal, academic and/or emotional odds to achieve academic success while participating in intercollegiate athletics."

Mike Tice and his offensive line have had to remake themselves several times over the last couple years. The coach and his players deserve a lot of credit for what they have accomplished.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout by Patrick McCaskey.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Forte's Pivotal Game Against Eagles

The Bears beat a very good Philadelphia Eagles team last night 30-24. Matt Forte set the tone in the first series touchdown drive that covered 89 yards. Forte had six carries for 52 yards despite the fact that Eagles were well aware of his recent play and prepared for him.

Despite, and perhaps because of Forte's two fumbles in the game, it was a pivotal game for Bears' soft-spoken star running back.

In sports, an athlete's effort is often expressed in hyperbole with that age old slogan "he always gives 110%." But professional athletes--especially those in skill positions like quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers--can overplay or play outside themselves. When a skill position athlete plays outside himself or outside his game, the result isn't always good.

In Forte's case, his extra effort, his 110% was superb to see, but things got away from him and he fumbled twice. Games like last night can help a player set parameters for himself--give him a better idea of how far he can go. Last night Forte was over the limit and back again.

You can be too cautious in football. If it happens, a team becomes predictable besides being boring. A team that stretches out and tries to get to that next level is a better team for it. Forte and the Bears took it to the next level last night.

Whole Team Has Learned Its Lesson

Cutler has learned some lessons about overextending himself. The Bears offensive plan has overextended the Bears talent on occasion this year. The defense has had moments of trying to do too much leaving lanes open that resulted in huge plays. And now Forte has gone way out on a limb and needs to climb back just a bit. These experiences are lessons that are best learned when a team actually makes the mistakes in game situations and pays the price. The Bears payed the price for Forte's errors, but scrambled back and won.

Forte rushed 24 times for a total of 133 yards and a 5.5 yard average. He also had 3 receptions for 17 yards. Earl Bennett had 5 receptions for 95 yards. Roy Williams had 3 receptions for 46 yards.

Last night was a great night for the Bears and Matt Forte. The Bears are improving and maturing as a team.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Thoughts on Matt Forte Salary Issue

Second Round Money on First Contract

Matt Forte was a second round pick, selected as the 44th pick in the 2008 draft. His contract reflects the fact that there were five first round picks at running back selected before the Bears called Forte's number. In large part this was due to several college juniors coming out for the 2008 draft. Some of these young players have taken a while to develop, while Forte was excellent right out of the gate. His current contract numbers should not be surprising to fans and the media because he was in fact a second round pick. His performance has been that of a first round back.

Some suggest that the Bears should have paid Forte more money. They suggest that he got the shaft. But the facts remain, the Bears and Forte agreed on a fair contract that was in keeping with a running back who was a second round pick. That's pretty much the way it works.

Benson Was First Round Pick

Cedric Benson was the number 4 pick in the first round of the 2005 draft. The Bears gave him first round money, a 5-year $35 Million dollar contract with $17 Million in guaranteed money. After peaking at 674 yards rushing in 2007, Benson was released by the Bears. The Bengals picked him up and offered a one year bargain basement deal for $525,000--he started to come around. Benson was only worth $525,000 for a one-year deal because he had not performed. He improved his game and he's made millions each year since then. Benson is still a young man and might have many years remaining to play excellent football. Although it's hard to see someone fail in the Bears camp, we hope he continues to do well elsewhere and live up to his potential.

The Bears have been criticized for paying Benson when Benson was not working out. Now the Bears are criticized for not paying Forte more while he is still under a contract that was negotiated based on his status at the time.

Forte an Excellent Draft Choice

The media should be congratulating the Bears for picking Forte--they made an excellent choice. Forte is following in some pretty big footsteps. Bears fans expect an excellent running back to be part of their team as much as they expect a hard-nosed defense.

Forte's Three Seasons

Soft-spoken Matt Forte has three complete seasons with the Bears. In his first year 2008, he had 316 rushes for 1,238 yards and a 3.9 yard average. Any time a running back gains over a thousand yards, it gets fans' attention like a baseball player who hits over .300. That same year, 2008, Forte had 63 receptions for 477 yards and a 7.6 yard average. Those numbers are very impressive as well. Forte's total yards gained equaled 1,715. He also scored 12 TDs for the Bears. On an offense that has struggled to get the right mix of receivers, Forte's value as a pass catcher should not be overlooked. However, if the Bears have improvements in the receiver corp, Forte may be called on less as a receiver.

In 2009, Forte's second year, he had 258 rushes for 929 yards and a 3.6 average. He had 57 receptions for 471 yards and an 8.3 average. His total yards for the season were 1,400. He scored 4 TDs. In 2008, many thought Forte was going to be something special in the future. After 2009, many thought Forte was going to be serviceable, but not spectacular. Even with 1400 yards, the sub-1000 yard rushing sounded some alarms in a town where running backs have been so much a part of the offense. In 2009, he averaged just 2.1 yard per carry against San Francisco, just 2.2 yards per carry against Green Bay and Pittsburgh, and 2.4 against Philadelphia. Forte was "stuffed" too often in 2009. Of course, it was also Jay Cutler's first year with the Bears and the offense was struggling mightily to find its identity.

In 2010, Forte rushed 237 times for 1,069 yards netting a 4.5 yard average. His 51 receptions gave him 547 yards and a 10.7 average. His total yardage for the year was a hefty 1,616. He scored 6 TDs. It was a yeoman's labor for the year and fans were grateful to see Forte's numbers rise again. The season was not without its disappointments. Against Seattle, Forte rushed for a 1.4 yard average and thus was only asked to carry the ball 8 times. Against the Giants, he averaged just 2.2 on 12 carries.

Post Season Play

In the Bears playoff win against Seattle, Matt Forte's numbers improved over the Bears-Seahawks regular season match up. He ran for 80 yards on 25 carries for a 3.2 yard average. Not exactly a blistering day, but better.

In the NFC Championship against the Packers, he ran 17 times for 70 yards, averaging 4.1 a carry. Unfortunately Forte could not save the day against the Packers. Cutler did not play well against the Packers that day. The Bears just couldn't put the ball in the end zone in the first half. After Cutler was injured, and backup Todd Collins was ineffective/injured, the Bears ended up throwing Caleb Haney into the game on a wing and prayer. It almost worked. But if it had worked, it would have been Caleb Haney's victory not Matt Forte's.

Forte's Totals and His Place in Bear History

In Forte's first three years, he has 811 rushes for 3236 yards at an average of 4 yards per carry. He has 171 receptions for 1495 yards and an 8.74 yard average. His total yards for the three year period are 4731 and he has 22 touchdowns.

If Forte didn't play another game for the Bears his performance would stand out as an excellent one in the annals of Bears football. But because the Bears have not won a championship with him, he would probably become a footnote in franchise history.

Forte's game makes the Bears become a much better team. When Forte is a threat, it creates more opportunities for the passing game. With Cutler and Forte at their best, they might be able to take the Bears to a championship, but any kind of legacy is ahead of them.

Payton Factor

Bears fans measure all running backs against Walter Payton. Payton had a 4.4 yard average after 13 years. He had 3838 carries for 16726 total rushing yards and 110 rushing touchdowns. Payton had 492 receptions for 4538 yards. He had 15 receiving touchdowns--giving him a total of 125 touchdowns in all. In terms of rushing numbers, at Forte's rate, he will need to play for 16 seasons to surpass Payton's rushing numbers. Matt Forte would pass Walter Payton's receiving yards total in his 10th season at his current rate. Bear fans love their running backs when they do well, but they have high expectations.

Contract Considerations

NFL contracts are complicated. It is likely that the only people who can definitively know the true value of a players contract and understand its terms are the player's agent and the NFL Team's negotiator. NFL contracts often include signing bonuses, performance bonuses and even workout bonuses. Adrian Peterson had a sweetener in one of his contacts that would give him an extra $1 Million if he scored 20 touchdowns.

Contracts can also include other incentives that either come to play or don't. Guaranteed money can make a huge difference in an industry where career ending injuries can happen in a heart beat. Contracts can be front-loaded (where most of the pay is in the early years) or back-loaded (where the pay is in the later years) and everything in between. On a front-loaded contract, the players and their agents can gripe about poor pay in the final years of the contract. Don't shed any tears for these guys until you know what they got up front. Looking at an annual average salary for the contract term is one way to try to see through some of the smoke.

In this post, we use numbers from Spotrac to help give our discussion some objective measure, but not knowing all the ins and outs of specific contracts, any discussion here is more of the hand-grenade variety than anything scientific.

Some are using Forte's 2011 salary figure of $555,000 to measure against what other running backs are making. That can be misleading. Forte received a $1.533 Million signing bonus so according to Spotrac, Forte made on average $945,250 a year on his 4-year contract. That sounds a lot better than $555,000 although it is not a huge amount by any means in NFL contracts.

2008 First Round Running Back Contracts

First round running backs coming into the NFL in 2008 got 5 and 6 year contracts. The top selected running back in the 2008 draft was Darren McFadden of the Raiders. McFadden did not get nearly as many carries and receptions with the Raiders in his first two years as Forte got in his first 2 years with the Bears. Thus it's easy enough to say that McFadden was not as valuable as Forte. His total yards for the three year period come to 3050 and he has 15 touchdowns. However, last year his total yards were 1664, surpassing Forte. McFadden signed a 6 year $60 million contract with Oakland--giving him an annual salary average of $10 Million with $26 Million guaranteed. His base salary actually peaks this year, the fourth year of his contract at $7.055 Million.

The second running back selected in the 2008 draft was Jonathan Stewart of the Carolina Panthers. His total yards for the three-year period are 3028 and he has 24 touchdowns. Stewart signed a 5 year $14 million contract with Carolina that included $10.795 million guaranteed. His salary averages $2.8 Million. Stewart shares running back duties at Carolina with DeAngelo Williams and so his numbers would likely be much higher if he played for a team that featured a single back.

The third running back selected was Felix Jones of he Dallas Cowboys. Jones has 2330 total yards for the three period and 24 touchdowns. Jones signed a 5 year $10.53 million contract with Dallas that includes $7.665 Million guaranteed. His contact provides for an average salary of $2.105 Million. Coming on strong this year in Dallas is rookie DeMarco Murray who already has rushed for 400 yards so far this year. In 2008 and 2009, Marion Barber accounted for roughly 225 rushes for 900 yards each season. Thus even before Murray arrived, Jones was sharing carries with another back. Like Stewart in Carolina, Jones will be sharing rushing duties with another back for Dallas--the Cowboys seem to prefer two strong running backs. His numbers may never be close to Forte's because of his team's approach.

The fourth running back selected was Rashard Mendenhall of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Mendenhall has 2884 total yards and 21 touchdowns in his first three years--not brilliant numbers, but Mendenhall does show flashes of brilliance. Mendenhall signed a 5 year $9.855 million contract with Pittsburgh that includes $7.125 Million guaranteed and averages $1.971 Million per year. Jonathan Dwyer in his second year at Pittsburgh has excited some fans while he was backing up Mendenhall. Whether due to injuries or tough competition, or an offensive strategy in some games that calls for more passes, Mendenhall is not likely to achieve Forte numbers.

Thus, the first four running backs in the 2008 draft have not achieved second-round Matt Forte's performance.

The fifth running back signed is a different story. That back is Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans. Johnson has monster numbers. He has 5605 total yards and 40 touchdowns. Johnson originally signed a 5-year $12 Million contract, but in September 2011, he and the Titans penned a new 6-year for $55.26 million with $30 Million guaranteed. Johnson is averaging $9.21 Million under his new contract.

Only one running back selected in the first round of the 2008, Chris Johnson,has surpassed Forte. Forte's total yards come in at about 85% of Johnson's.

Forte in the Division

How good is Forte in the NFC North Division? For Bears fans, one player who sticks out in division play is Adrian Peterson of the Vikings. Like Chris Johnson, Peterson has put up monster numbers and has a monster contract. Peterson began his career in 2007 a year prior to the other players mentioned in this post although it seems like he's been around forever. Taking his numbers for the last three years, Peterson has 5343 total yards and 41 touchdowns. Peterson and the Vikings penned a 7-year $96 Million contract extension. Peterson's deal averages $13,714,286 and $36 Million is guaranteed.

Forte's total yards come in at about 88% of Peterson's for the three-year period.

Other Comparable Backs

Perhaps a comparable performing running back to Matt Forte is Michael Turner. Turner has 4102 total yards for the Falcons in the last three year period. He is paid an average of $5.75 Million per year in his 6-year deal with Atlanta. Turner is 29 years old.

Steven Jackson of the Rams has rushed for 3236 yards the past three years and along with his receptions total of 1084 yards gives him 4783 yards in all. He has scored 18 touchdowns. He is paid an average of $7,467,500 per year in his 6-year deal with
the Rams.

At least one media source stated that Jerry Angelo had offered Forte $6 Million a year for a new contract this year. Once the season began, the contract negotiation seems to have ended to be settled after the season. There have been many "pay the man" comments all over the Internet, so one has to assume that many people think Forte is worth more than what Angelo offered. Otherwise, they would be saying, "sign the contract" Matt.

Bottom Line

Angelo may like to get his contracts all lined up in order going into each new season. Thus, I don't think it is necessarily posturing on Angelo's part to put the Forte contract on ice until after the season. Then there is much scuttlebutt about making Forte a franchise player, thus giving him a set one-year contract to "force" him into another year of service.

On the other hand, maybe the Bears were not so anxious to re-sign Forte because they don't want him to be a $7 Million back. Maybe they want him to be a $10 Million dollar back. Peppers, Urlacher, Cutler, and Hester are all $10 Million men for the Bears. The Bears might actually want to pay Forte the big bucks, but to join that club, they want to see him put the offense on his shoulders and win the big game like the Bears-Packers NFC Championship game that was lost last year. They want him to excel even when much of the offense may sputter. Angelo might just be issuing that kind of challenge. Maybe it's his way of saying, a truly great back will figure out a way to get more than 70 yards rushing in a championship game. "Show me your stuff in the big game and we'll show you the money."

Copyright 2011, Sporting Chance Press, Inc. Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout by Patrick McCaskey.

Bear Fans Have Another Bearless Weekend, but Philadelphia Looms Large on Monday

No Game this Weekend

Chicago football fans face another weekend without their favorite team because the Bears travel to Philadelphia for the national Monday night event. If you went through withdrawals last Sunday, prepare for the same this weekend.

Will the Eagles Land?

The weekend should not seem too long because the Bears play the Eagles on Monday. The 3-4 Eagles had been highly touted as the "Dream Team" this year, but their season looked more nightmarish than lofty until the last few weeks. The Eagles had the national spotlight last week when playing in the popular Sunday night game against the Dallas Cowboys. The once hyped-now-hyped-again Eagles soared to dreamy heights as they destroyed the Cowboys 34-7.

Dallas defensive coordinator, Rob Ryan, blamed the loss on his game plan that just flat out didn't work. Dallas was out to stop the run and tie things up for Vick's receivers outside and down field--a strategy that might leave the middle open. With that kind of approach, it was not be surprising to see tight end Brent Celek have 7 catches for 94 yards and a touchdown. But the real damage was done to the Dallas defense all over the field.

Dallas couldn't disrupt Michael Vick's passing game--he completed 21 of 28 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns--and he had 7 carries for 50 yards. Dallas couldn't stop the run. LeSean McCoy had 31 rushes for 185 yards, plus 3 pass receptions for 31 yards giving him a 216 yards total for the day. McCoy scored twice. In addition to other Philly contributors, Jason Avant had 5 catches for 74 yards.

Frankly, it might not have mattered what defensive schemes Rob Ryan had planned. The Eagles were awesome--they looked like a team in top form and no one was going to stop them on Sunday night. When the Eagles play the way they did on Sunday, solid in every phase of the game and faultless--no one could beat them. Thankfully, for the Bears, the Eagles are not likely to play that way again. They will win more games and have some good ones no doubt, but it is unlikely they will have another near-perfect performance, because they are just not that consistent.

The Eagles-Cowboys game had another winner, NBC. Sunday Night Football was the No. 1 broadcast on Sunday night and led NBC to a Sunday night ratings win.

Here We Go

The bye-week rested Bears take on the Eagles on Monday night in Philly. Bear fans are excited to see if their team can take their game up several notches the way they did last year.

1949 Eagles-Bears Program shown.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Patrick McCaskey's Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout and other fine sports books.

Monday, October 31, 2011

10 Commandments of Trick or Treating

Here at Sporting Chance Press we publish The 10 Commandments of Baseball, which is all about a fine list of baseball and life principles. It's our interest in such principles that prompted us to compose and publish our list of Halloween Trick or Treat Maxims today on Halloween. This is not a complete list and it does not include the serious stuff like don't eat any candy that looks weird or is unwrapped or don't go to the strange houses. This list is strictly light-weight, but principle-laden none the less. It's a list for parents and teachers to share with their kids. Here then are our 10 Commandments of Trick or Treating.

1. Nobody becomes a Trick of Treat legend by walking from house to house. You've got to hustle--nothing dangerous or stupid mind you. Make sure your costume does not inhibit your vision or movements--and don't go jumping over any iron fences with pointy things.
2. You will never get a lot of candy unless you put some effort into it. Call out "trick or treat" loudly and proudly. Don't be one of those I'm too good to say "trick or treat" or "thank you" kind of kids. Make the master or mistress of the house want to give you the candy.
3. Don't soap windows and egg houses. If you come to a house where the people don't give candy or they left a bowl of candy on their front doorstep and the earlier kids emptied it out, don't waste any time soaping up the windows or knocking their pumpkins over, etc. What's over is over, move on.
4. Make sure you look good at all times--take pride in your Halloween appearance. Don't be one of those kids who wear their regular clothes and put on a monster mask and then tip it up to the top of their heads like sunglasses so no one even knows what you are supposed to be. Life requires creativity and effort.
5. Decide on the course you are going to follow and stick with it. Be decisive. Don't go down a few houses on one block and then skip over to the next--willy-nilly criss-crossing the street.
6. Don't make excuses about your costume or how little candy you end up with in your bag. Achieve good results by great effort. Resist eating mounds of candy while you are still raking it in.
8. Don't shout "Trick or Treat" once and then give up. Give each house you visit your best shot at finding someone home. Shout a couple times. Some kids sound the words out to make the words longer: tri-i-i-i-ick or tre-ee-ee-eet. Now that's hard to ignore.
9. Don't criticize the masters or mistresses of the house based on the candy you get. Don't be one of those kids who say stuff like, "Oh, I don't like bit-o-honey" or "Sugar Babies stick to my teeth." No matter what the brand, take it and express gratitude. Remember, you don't have to eat everything you get.
10. Maintain control at all times. Work fast, hang with good friends who behave themselves and get home when you are supposed to get home. It's a lot more fun that way and it just isn't cool to scare your parents on Halloween by being late.
Copyright 2011 Sporting Chance Press.

Sporing Chance Press publishes The 10 Commandments of Baseball, Maddie Takes the Ice, and other fine sports books.

Post copyright 2011 Sporting Chance Press Inc. Photo copyright 2011 Sporting Chance Press Inc.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Chris Harris Picked Up by Lions; Leaves Chicago with Class

Reports surfaced today that Chris Harris was picked up on waivers by the Detroit Lions. Harris was released by the Bears after a some rocky games this year that included injury and some sub-par performances. In an interview on ESPNs Waddle and Silvy Show, Harris displayed a combination of honesty, clarity and class that is rare for someone in his position. The interview took place before the Lions made their move.

According to Harris, he harbors no ill will for anyone in Chicago. He bid a fond farewell to Bears fans and also had complimentary remarks about the Bears team itself--saying that the defense still had the talent to dominate and it was getting better.

You had to be impressed by the insight and maturity of his answer when asked about his release versus the Bears holding on to other players that might not have performed to expectations as well. According to Harris, the Bears made changes where they could make them - where they felt they had depth. The Bears had drafted at the safety position and they believe that the young guys they have should be able to step in now.

Harris also suggested that the Bears decision was all about football not tied to any ill will that might be harbored because of tweets, etc. Harris went on to say that he felt 100% now and that he believed he had years of NFL play ahead of him.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout by Patrick McCaskey and other fine sports books.

Excessive Crowd Noise is Not Good for Football

There is something special about the deafening roar of the crowd when something big happens at a football game. The feel of the crowd and the sense that you are part of something so huge, so immense is electrifying. The game played in places like Michigan Stadium shown above have enriched the lives of countless fans.

When Crowd Noise Gets Out of Hand

Nevertheless, something needs to be done to mitigate the advantage to home teams because of crowd noise in domed stadiums. It's one thing for a crowd to roar outdoors, but it is something quite different in a dome where noise levels can register just below that of a jet engine. The NFL has wrested with ways to deal with crowd noise--at one time legislating against certain club behaviors that increase noise levels only to come back and relax those later.

After the Bears had 9 false starts against the Detroit Lions, the following week the Lion's opponent, San Francisco, racked up five in the same place--Ford Field--and that was after practicing all week with huge loudspeakers blaring at the players.

Even outdoor crowd noise can play a huge role. Penn State acoustical tests performed in Beaver Stadium (the largest college stadium in the U.S.) demonstrated important considerations. As one might expect, the tests measured that sound levels dropped considerably when the home team conducted offensive plays and then rose when the visitors had the ball. More importantly, the study demonstrated that the home team’s quarterback could communicate with other players up to 20 feet away while the visiting team’s quarterback is limited to communications ranges of less than 2 feet. In other words, the guard might hear the signal, but no way the tackles or ends would.

An English study showed that not only does crowd noise give the home team a playing advantage in sports, it is also likely to influence officiating in favor of the home team. Officials are swayed by loud crowd reactions to their calls.

Allowing the natural ebb and flow of enthusiasm in a game is one thing, but it's something else to build indoor stadiums that are acoustically engineered to increase sound levels. The game is meant to be enjoyed and it should be played on a something that at least resembles a "level playing field."

When teams routinely practice with jet engine noises are amplified over loud speakers, doesn't it suggest that things are just a "little" out of hand?


Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Patrick McCaskey's Sports and Faith; Stories of the Devoted and the Devout and other fine sports books.

Photo of Michigan Stadium

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Cubs May Win a World Series with Epstein, but It Ain't Going to Be Cheap

A common sentiment about Theo Epstein from a Red Sox fan:

The Sox are competitive every season, usually make the playoffs, and have won two World Series championships under Epstein. We should be pleased.

Theoretically, the Cubs might just win the World Series with Epstein running things, but one thing seems certain, it ain't going to be cheap.

Payroll Second to Yanks

According to AP figures, which may be estimates, the Boston Red Sox payroll spend for 2011 was $161,407,476 while the Cubs spent $125,480,664. Over the last five years, the Red Sox have spent about $54 Million more than the Cubs.

Consistently, the Red Sox rate just below the Yankees as the second highest payroll in baseball. The Ricketts family, owners of the team since fall 2009, have teamed up with someone who knows how to spend money and who has had a lot of support in that area from ownership.

The Dice-K Deal

Under Theo Epstein the Red Sox brought Daisuke Matsuzaka (Dice-K) from Japan. Under the baseball system in Japan, the Red Sox had to buy the rights to the pitcher from his Japanese team and then negotiate a contract with the player himself. The Red Sox paid $51.11 million for the rights to Daisuke Matsuzaka and another $52 Million
for six-year contract.

Dice-K had one very good year in 2007 when he went 15-12 with a 4.4 ERA; one great year in 2008 when he went 18-3 with a 2.90 ERA. He has not been very productive thereafter due in large part to injuries. In 2011, Matsuzaka made eight appearances posting 3 wins and 3 losses with a 5.30 ERA. In June, he underwent "Tommy John" surgery and hopes to return to the club in 2012, the final year of his contract.

The Dice-K Payoff

Daisuke Matsuzaka was certainly instrumental in the Red Sox championship season in 2007. In addition to winning 15 games during the season, he won Game Three of the World Series pitching five innings of scoreless ball. He went 1-1 in the 2007 American League Championship Series against the Cleveland Indians.

Theo may be just what the doctor ordered for the Cubs, but a run at the World Series isn't going to be cheap.
Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life) and Public Bonehead, Private Hero: The Real Legacy of Baseball's Fred Merkle.

Lions Game Revisited: Chris Harris Released

If you watched the Lion's-Bears game on October 11, you knew that the Bears had a lot of work ahead of them following that debacle. However, at the same time you probably thought the "sky is not falling." The Bears have had horrible games before and then managed to come back strong. Remember 2010?

Still, it was certainly a frustrating game for spectators—all the bad vibes seem to land on the Bears in that one game. I can only imagine what is was like for the players and coaches on the field.

You'll recall TV coverage of the game featured images of Brian Urlacher talking fast and furious with Lance Briggs, seemingly questioning what was going on with his teammates. After the game, Urlacher avoided any finger pointing and diplomatically turned the attention to the entire team—suggesting that there was a lot of work to be done all the way around. You may recall this game also featured a groundless "spearing" penalty against Urlacher at a critical moment in the game.

Chris Harris

Chris Harris fell out of favor with Bears coaches after that Lions loss. One Harris lapse reminded me of Anthony Cromartie's play against the Jets in a 2009 playoff game that apparently ended his career with San Diego. Cromartie seemed to be in a different time zone for that game. Funny that it was the Jets who picked him up.

The Tribune's Dan Pompei described the Harris play that really stuck out in the Lions game this way:

"Harris ran right past Nate Burleson in the backfield on an end around, apparently unaware Burleson had the ball."

Harris also received bad marks for a couple other plays during the game that were more typical defensive failures—the kind that you might see in most every NFL game. Yet, it was surprising to see Harris react so negatively to his benching the following week because it seemed so well deserved. Coach Smith gave him another shot against Tampa Bay in London, but apparently his performance once again failed to impress—thus his release early this morning from the Chicago Bears.

Some writers suggest that Harris was still suffering from a hamstring injury when he suited up for the Lions game. If that's the case, he may be a good prospect for some of the other teams in the league that are having problems with the Safety position. There are many reports on the Internet today about several teams that may be interested in picking up Harris including the Minnesota Vikings.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Patrick McCaskey's Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout and other fine sports books.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Carimi Back

The Bears had a light workout Wednesday that included Gabe Carimi who is coming back from a dislocated kneecap that he suffered in the Chicago Bears-New Orleans Saints game. There will be a lot of discussion on whether Carimi will start now that the current offensive line has come together and played well under the new streamlined scheme that focuses more on running Matt Forte. Much has been said about the excellent run blocking of Chris Spencer who has been playing with a hand injury.

We may see more of a substitution, of players than a wholesale change in the existing line. The Bears will need a line that can be proficient at pass blocking when they face teams now who will be more focused on shutting down the run.

Regardless of how the Bears play Carimi, they will be in the best shape they have been in for several weeks after their bye week when they line up against the Eagles on November 7, 2011. The Eagles on the other hand, face a tough hungry Dallas Cowboys team. The Eagles were highly touted early on, but failed miserably to measure up to expectations. Nevertheless, they seem to be turning things around.

Image is of Panini Threads Football Card
Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Patrick McCaskey's Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout and other fine books.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Forte, Payton, Anderson: Three Bears Running Backs; Nine Awesome Years

Matt Forte is in his fourth year in the NFL. Much is being said about Forte because the Bears have adjusted their game plan to feature him and he has not yet under contract for next year. If Forte continues the rushing/receiving pace he has set so far this season throughout 2011, it will be his best ever.

Are the contract issues affecting Forte one way or another? Who knows, but he is in a zone now—the kind of zone only a few Bears running backs have managed for three or more years. Here's a quick look at three years in the early career of Matt Forte, Walter Payton (naturally) and Neal Anderson.

Year One

Forte has three complete seasons with the Bears. In his first year 2008, he had 316 rushes for 1,238 yards and a 3.9 yard average. That same year, he had 63 receptions for 477 and a 7.6 yard average. Forte's total yards gained equaled 1,715. Forte also scored 12 TDs for the Bears.

You can not compare a current player's statistics in which teams play 16 games against someone who played during the 14 game season. Walter Payton's first three years were played during 14-game seasons. The NFL did not start the 16-game season until 1978. Rather than try to “normalize” the statistics on the three players here, we just provide the raw data on them from There are many factors that also make actual year-to-year comparisons questionable. By just looking at the performances generally, fans may have a better understanding of the value of these three great running backs without having to make any judgments that span teams, offensive/defensive schemes, talent or lack of talent surrounding the players etc.

In addition to the number of games, it should also be noted there is one more huge difference that reflect in Payton's numbers. Fullback play was much more prevalent then. Roland Harper, the Bears fullback was used liberally and got 100 carries for 453 yards in Payton's first year. Bears running back Mike Adamale also got 94 carries for 354 yards that same year. By the same token, today we see a more liberal use of the running back as receiver. It might also be said that Forte's at 6'2'' and 214 lbs. is a more likely target for passes than Payton who was 5'10" and roughly 200 lbs and Anderson who was Payton's size.

Payton had 196 carries for 679 yards and a 3.5 yard average in 1975. In receiving, Payton had 33 catches for 213 yards and a 6.5 yard average. Total yards gained by Walter Payton in his first year equaled was 892. He scored 7 TDs.

For Neal Anderson who began his Bear career in 1986, it was not until his third year that he had the same level of involvement as Payton and Forte in the Bears offense. He was working himself into the lineup as Payton’s career was closing. In 1988, Anderson had a 249 carries for 1106 yards and a 4.4 yard average. In receiving, Anderson had 39 catches for 371 yards and a 9.5 year average. Total yards gained by Neal Anderson in 1988 tallied 1477. Anderson scored 12 TDs.

Looking at these three performances, you can see that all three players certainly had "game" and were following in the footsteps of the Bears great running back traditions. Payton would go on to break the mold over 13 seasons.

Second Year

In 2009, Forte's second year, he had 258 rushes for 929 yards and a 3.6 average. He had 57 receptions for 471 yards and an 8.3 average. His total yards for the season were 1,400. He scored 4 TDs.

Payton's numbers were building in his second year. In 1976, he had 311 carries for 1390 yards and a 4.5 average. His 15 receptions made 149 total yards, which gave him a 9.9 yard average. Total yards were 1539 for Payton that year. He scored 13 TDs.

Neal Anderson's second very productive year was amazing. In 1989 he rushed 274 times for 1275 yards and a 4.7 average. He also had 50 receptions for 434 yards and an 8.7 yard average. Anderson's total rushing and receiving yards were 1709 for the season. He scored 15 TDs.

Third Year

In 2010, Forte rushed 237 times for 1,069 yards netting a 4.5 yard average. His 51 receptions gave him 547 yards and a 10.7 average. His total yards for the year were a hefty 1,616. He scored 6 TDs.

Payton was nothing short of phenomenal in 1977. He rushed 339 times for 1852 yards and a 5.5 average. He had 27 receptions for 269 yards and a 10 average. His total yards tallied an incredible 2121. He scored 16 TDs.
In 1990, the third consecutive year we reviewed for Neal Anderson, he rushed 260 times for 1078 yards and a 4.1 average. He had 42 receptions for 484 yards and an 11.5 average yielding 1562 yards for the year. Anderson scored 13 TDs.


Payton, Anderson and Forte will always be appreciated by Bear fans who witnessed their performances. The numbers suggest that based on Forte's performance for the first three years of his career, he is right up top with the best of the Bears running backs. While Forte is catching more passes than Payton, no one will forget Payton’s leaps over the line for touchdowns. Fans appreciate all three of these great backs, each in their own right. The numbers tell us definitively that any way you measure it, they were great NFL backs in the best Bears tradition.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout by Patrick McCaskey.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Bears Need More than Forte

Matt Forte is getting high marks from Bears fans and the media all across the country. And for good reason. After just 7 games, Forte has almost 1100 combined rushing and receiving yards. The Bears have improved to a solid offensive team with Forte's impressive runs and receptions. The Bears offense has moved up to 17 in the rankings. The Bears are also moving up the chain on power rankings--now 14 on Brian Billick's

The Bears run game not only adds balance, but also helps take the heat off the offensive line by eliminating a constant pass rush from opposing defenses. But, the Bears will need a balanced offense if they are going to beat the best teams in the NFL and isn't that what it's all about? The 2011 Bears need to continue to develop their passing game with Cutler and his receivers.

If the Bears are going to win their rematches against the Lions and the Packers, they will need a solid offense that includes Cutler and his wide receivers as well as Matt Forte running and receiving. Barber's role is also important especially for the short yardage situations.

Of course, continued success from the special teams will help give the Bears much needed extra help against the NFL's elite.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Patrick McCaskey's Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout and other fine sports books.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Bears-Bucks-London-Wembley: Magic

Wembley Stadium is the site for NFL's London match between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Chicago Bears scheduled for Sunday, October 23. The game kickoffs at 6:00 p.m. UK time; Noon in Chicago. It was 25 years ago when the mighty Chicago Bears played in front of a sold-out Wembley Stadium in 1986. The Buccaneers played at Wembley in a 2009 game against the New England Patriots.

The game is promoted as part of a Pepsi Max International Series, which takes on a festive feel with a three-day series of events. "Unfortunately" for the Bears players, it has been described as a business trip by coach Lovie Smith who expects his team to knuckle down to business in preparation for a game that means a great deal to the 3-3 Bears and the 4-2 Buccaneers.

The Bears and the NFL have a good following in England and the European continent. Fans are coming from many different countries to see the game. Hopefully, Devin Hester will give them something special to see.

Wembley Stadium has a capacity for 90,000 fans with no obstructed views and offers much to amaze sports fans around the world. The seats are spread over three tiers: lower 34,303, middle 16,532 and upper 39,165. However, the feel for fans is one of a single bowl--"we are all in this together." Wembley was totally rebuilt and reopened in 2007. Stadium designers took special care in creating a sliding roof that helps insure an excellent pitch--computer models are used to map out air movement and sunlight. Much care is taken to provide the best field of play for the athletes.

The most recognizable feature of the stadium is 133 metre tall arch that sits above the north stand supporting much of the weight of the roof. The stadium also boasts close proximity to world-class transportation including train stations and lines that routinely transport 40,000 plus fans.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Patrick McCaskey's Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout and other fine books.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

On the Bears as They Head to London

The Bears are a good team. When they play within themselves--to their strengths and are true to themselves, they do well--and who knows how far they can go. When the Bears hired Mike Martz, they got someone whose system offered both opportunity and challenges to QB Jay Cutler who is both smart and gifted. Martz was particularly kind to Cutler, frequently trying to deflect heat from critics. Long-time Bears fans know that coaches can scar a QB at critical points in his career, which in some cases has seemingly ruined some talented players.

Martz's system is still a little ahead of the Bears personnel. Last year, he had to scale things back at the break and this year the system has just been too challenging for several key players and the offensive line. What we saw against the Vikings was a realistic approach with adjustments to the existing talent. It should be noted that the Bears have a great deal of talent on offense, but just not the right mix of experience and talent to manage Martz system fully loaded--yet.

Under the modified Martz system, Devon Hester looked like a first class receiver against the Vikings and it just seemed like most everyone was in the right place most of the time.

Some fans and writers still try to advance the position that the Bears should be a running team. But the Bears offense, like every other NFL offense, should have good balance. The Bears have Cutler, who is a very good passing quarterback, they need to use the talent they have.

Matt Forte is certainly a force. It's really wonderful to see someone who can make a "Payton-like" difference. But he cannot take the offense totally on his shoulders, at least not against many of the better NFL teams. Forte needs to build up steam before he can really allude tacklers. If the defense is keying on the run and gets to him early, he often gets stuffed. In games when Forte gets stuffed several times early, the Bears have a tendency to play pass more. If they lose, the media tends to blame it on the play calling as opposed to admitting that the Bears were simply trying to take what was there.

The Bears need Cutler at his best, Forte at his most allusive and their receiving corp playing heads up. They need their line to play within themselves and they need a game plan that takes all these things into consideration. I think Martz and Smith can provide that. Each year the Bears can build towards that more advanced Martz model if they choose, but for now, they need the modified variety.

And as most observers know, if the Bears offense can hold up their own, the defense becomes a real difference-maker--one that can dominate and intimidate the best of teams. That's Bear football and that should never change.

Photo of London Bridge by Jon Sullivan, Public Domain

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Patrick McCaskey's Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout.

Bears Offensive Line Heads to London with Heads Up

After picking up the pieces after the Lion's game, the Bears got back to work and managed to beat the Vikings in a game that provided several weeks worth of highlights for the TV stations. The game plan was quite different than previous weeks and the offensive line received a lot of help from the ends. Frankly, it looked like almost everyone was expected to throw a block when they weren't running or receiving, including Jay Cutler.

The Bears have come under heavy criticism for poor offensive line play this year. The Bears offensive line is very young, very inexperienced and prone to allowing sacks. Against the top defenses they are going to have problems. But like last year, it should get much better as the season wears on.

Much criticism has been directed to management for not responding to the personnel needs. But, it might be a good time to remind critics that the Bears used their first round draft choice to pick up Gabe Carimi. It's safe to say that the Bears were very thin on the offensive line, but the Carimi acquisition was pretty much what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately, Carimi was injured in the second game (New Orleans) of the season and has been out ever since.

Bears management was also criticized for not signing Olin Kreutz, but the ex-Bear did reject a $4 Million dollar deal. The Bears acquired Chris Spencer, who can play center, but the team was compelled to use Roberto Garza at Center because of his knowledge of the offense. Moving players around from their "natural" position is often painful, but sometimes it has to be done.

No one seems happy with Frank Omiyale's performance filling in this year, but last year it was said that "he filled in admirably." J'Marcus Webb had plenty of problems the start of his rookie season in 2010, but Mike Martz said in the playoffs last year, "I don't know in 38 years of coaching that I've seen a player make this radical improvement in such a short time as he has." The early season match-ups against several of the best teams in football have made the O-line weaknesses much more visible. Additionally, almost every offensive lineman has suffered through some sort of injury this year.

The Bears line improved greatly against the Vikings. Lance Louis played right tackle with Spencer at right guard. On the left side was Chris Williams at guard and J'Marcus Webb at tackle. All seemed to hold their own against some Viking heavyweights.

Cutler Deal Still Impacts Player Personnel

Most people now believe that the deal for Jay Cutler was a huge upgrade for the Bears franchise, but management critics should also remember that Denver required two first round draft picks in 2009 and 2010 as part of the bargain. Those were two draft picks that could have helped the line, but you can't have it both ways. The Bears could not get Cutler without paying the price.

The line may continue to be a problem for the Bears, but it's not because it went unnoticed by team management. Carimi will help a great deal when he gets back on the field.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Patrick McCaskey's Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout and other fine books.

Friday, October 14, 2011

McCaskey Gets High Marks for ISU Newman Center Presentation

Chicago Bears Senior Director and Sporting Chance Press author Patrick McCaskey received high marks for his recent presentation at the John Paul II Newman Center at Illinois State University. His speech was featured in Catholic Post coverage of the event, "Bears' Senior Director Talks Sports, Faith at Newman Center" by Tom Dermody. The Catholic Post is the newspaper of the Diocese of Peoria.

McCaskey's Witness to Faith

McCaskey offers his personal witness to faith as a Christian athlete, husband, father and businessman in his presentations. He reveals his personal faith journey and how faith is key in the lives of many athletes, coaches, religious leaders and others he has known. Based on his book, Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout, McCaskey's presentation looks at decades of spiritual enlightenment and life lessons, recalling with good humor and compassion those who made the cut on and off the field, plus people who left comfortable lives to serve the under-served in extraordinary ways.

Patrick McCaskey is a 37-year veteran and Senior Director of the Chicago Bears and parishioner at the Church of St. Mary in Lake Forest, IL. He is chairman of Sports Faith International, an initiative, which recognizes exceptional athletes who lead exemplary lives. A high school football all-American and record-breaking track star in his youth, McCaskey competes on the masters track circuit.

Newman Centers, like the John Paul II Center at Illinois State offer Catholic ministries at non-Catholic universities throughout the world. These centers provide pastoral services to their Catholic communities, in particular to the Roman Catholic student population within universities.

Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of Sports and Faith: Stories of the Devoted and the Devout and other fine books.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Little League

Book titles are important. Ones that sell books are worth their weight in gold, but it's important to make sure they accurately portray the content of your book.

Maybe we should have titled Sporting Chance Press's The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life) something like All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Little League. But in deference to Robert Fulghum monster best seller All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten we did not. I suppose we could have gone to an older blockbuster theme and come up with Everything You Wanted to Know about Baseball (and Life) Principles (But We're Afraid to Ask), but somehow that would not have seemed right playing off Everything You Wanted to Know about Sex (But We're Afraid to Ask). Although David Reuben's guide to sex was educational, we might have turned a lot of people off with that one.

Another approach might have been How to Keep Your Baseball Principles Alive, A Guide for the Compleat Idiot, but that's a little distant. The classic How to Keep Your Volkswagon Alive, A Guide for the Compleat Idiot was a groundbreaking book by John Muir, but there are just too many "Idiot" and "Dummies" books around today to keep them straight.

Well, we stuck with The 10 Commandments of Baseball, the ancient theme that McCarthy himself used when he penned his commandments in 1921. We were faithful to the original metaphor. But although our book is not a blockbuster yet, this timeless gem is destined to build into a bestseller none-the-less. It is what has been called a "perfect storm of baseball books" and a superb airplane book (perfectly absorbing and entertaining for frequent flyers).

The book examines the background of baseball's commandments and illustrates these simple principles with brief snippets of baseball stories and characters. It's as fun for the baseball aficionado with an extensive library as it is for the casual fan.

The author, J. D. Thorne, is simply one of millions of Americans who fell in love with baseball at an early age and couldn't get enough regardless of his more practical career choice. The author is a "keep your day job" kind of guy, but an "I can't stop playing and watching baseball every leisure minute I have" kind of guy. Thorne manages to both entertain and inform readers with a pinch of humor, a couple cups of major league lore and a generous sprinkling of nostalgia. The reader ends up with a fun read that will take a position of honor on any bookshelf--perhaps right next to All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.

Copies of The 10 Commandments of Baseball are available from Sporting Chance Press.