In Chicago, there are the Blackhawks, the Cubs and a huge dropoff
I have a request for pro athletes and their coaches: Please dispense with the bromides about great effort, character and togetherness. We’re not idiots.
A team can have all three of those attributes and still stink, meaning a fan is asked to spend $100 on a ticket to watch hardworking, upstanding and inseparable players trip over their own and each other’s feet. And where is that fan afterward? Poorer and even more depressed.
I was pondering all of this after the Bears’ loss to the Packers on Sunday, a loss that occurred due to a lack of talent and a lack of coaching. John Fox and his players have turned into the kings of deflection, choosing to talk about how hard the team plays, as if that somehow absolves the Bears of a 3-11 record. I’m sure your players are what fathers everywhere would want in future sons-in-law, Coach, but what does that have to do with throwing a rookie cornerback to the wolves known as Aaron Rodgers and Jordy Nelson?
Whoever said that winning is the only thing was right, at least as it pertains to pro sports. The rest is losing or losing dressed up as something else, whether the excuse is a rebuilding project, a raft of injuries or the ball bouncing the wrong way. I can’t think of one organization that has ever shrugged and admitted it was simply inept.
With that in mind, here’s the pure, uncut state of Chicago sports. It’s a decidedly mixed bag:
— The Bears are awful. No matter how you want to wrap it, they aren’t good, and they weren’t good before the injuries started piling up. If they have a direction, it’s hard to tell what it is. Are they rebuilding? Are they looking to find a replacement for Jay Cutler? Should we trust them to find a replacement for Jay Cutler? The fact the Bears are playing a ton of rookies doesn’t, by definition, mean those rookies are good. It just means that the Bears have run out of replacements for injured players. Ask yourself this question: Do I see anything that clearly points to a much-improved team for next season? Then go to your room, pull down the shades, get under the covers and refuse to come out again.
— The Bulls are middling, which is the second cousin of deathly. Somehow, a few early victories tricked us into believing they could be good this season. Instead, the Bulls are a team of three veterans who like the ball – Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler and Rajon Rondo – and a group of young players that either doesn’t know what it is doing or can’t do what it is asked to do. There is nothing worse than watching an average NBA team. It combines no hope for the present with no hope for the future. On a brighter note, how about those Jordan years?
— The White Sox were brutally boring before they went into full rebuild mode and are now intriguing for what the very distant future might bring. That’s the ultimate irony in sports these days: Reduce the product to rubble and watch the fan base get energized! A rebuild was something that had to be done, but there’s no way the buzz of possibility can stand up to the bad baseball that is about to settle over the South Side like a stalled weather system.
— The Blackhawks are the gold standard in Chicago. They’re what every other franchise wants to be – a champion again and again. If they could offer one piece of advice to other organizations, it would be, “You might want to draft Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane.” A franchise can talk all it wants about team culture and togetherness, but if it doesn’t have great players at its core, it’s building a fraternity, not a champion. Season after season, people predict salary cap doom for the Hawks, and season after season, the team is in the hunt for a Stanley Cup.
— The Cubs are the current World Series champions, and it still feels almost otherworldly to write that. They will be good for at least the next several years. The most important factors behind their success are not the long rebuild or the inherent tanking. That didn’t guarantee anything. It was picking the right players and taking advantage of a generous helping of good luck. Almost everything president of baseball operations Theo Epstein did worked out, and many of the players he signed succeeded. If he were a hitter, his on-base percentage would be about .600. Does he know anything about pro football?