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.