There was no “repeat” championship in Chicago in 2017 to follow up on the coronations of the Blackhawks in ’15 and the Cubs in ’16. If we’re being honest, we must admit that some key ingredient — or a pantry full of them — was missing from each of the city’s pro teams.
And yet the Hawks soared over 100 points by the end of last season, and the Cubs churned to yet another NLCS. The White Sox — building a monster — were downright feel-good at times, and, hey, the Bears and the Bulls? They’ve got some shiny new pieces to like, too.
Let’s take a look back at the top 10 Chicago sports stories — some joyous, others not so much — of 2017. Happy old year, everyone.
Northwestern goes dancing
Dererk Pardon caught a full-court pass from Nathan Taphorn and laid the ball in at the buzzer to beat Michigan. It was the play that symbolized the Wildcats’ first-ever NCAA tournament season. Really, though, the accomplishment was a four-year building job by coach Chris Collins and his dogged players. With Scottie Lindsey, Bryant McIntosh and watershed recruit Vic Law leading the way, NU did something that forever had been out of reach at the school.
Words to remember: “How many times in our lives do you get a chance to do something historical that has never, ever been done? And these guys have. This group has. They were the first ones.” — Collins, in Salt Lake City before an opening-round victory over Vanderbilt
Hawks fall prey to Nashville
After the second-winningest regular season in franchise history, the Blackhawks went down — for the second year in a row — in the first round, this time in shockingly one-sided fashion. The Predators were faster, stronger, deeper and so much better, humiliating the Hawks in a four-game sweep by an aggregate score of 13-3. It was the first sweep by an eighth-seeded team of the top seed in its conference in Stanley Cup playoff history.
Words to remember: “It’s a complete failure when you measure it against the expectations that we have of ourselves. We did not come even close to reaching the standard that we set over the years here, and that’s unacceptable.” —GM Stan Bowman
The Jimmy Butler trade
The Bulls cried “uncle,” and it was kind of pathetic — right? At least, that was the common first take on a deal that sent Butler and the No. 16 pick in the draft to Tom Thibodeau and Minnesota for Zach LaVine, Kris Dunn and the No. 7 pick. No doubt, the Bulls would be starting from scratch, and whether or not they had the front office to know what to do about it was the fairest of questions.
Words to remember: “Wolves Fleece Bulls In Jimmy Butler Blockbuster” — SI.com, in a headline that might go down as a premature misjudgment
Kyle Schwarber is demoted
It turned out the cure for a World Series hangover definitely wasn’t batting Schwarber in the leadoff spot. Sixty-four games into the season, the barrel-chested lefty was hitting a sorry .171 and — along with manager Joe Maddon — shouldering much of the blame for the Cubs’ malaise. Earth to Chicago: Babe Ruth doesn’t play here. Schwarber would put his head down and work his way back to Wrigley Field, but the doubts about him lingered.
Words to remember: “I ain’t a guy to back down from the challenge. . . . I’m not going to back down at all — trust me.” —Schwarber, on his first day back in Des Moines
Yoan Moncada’s debut
Baseball’s No. 1-ranked prospect began his White Sox career against the Dodgers at Guaranteed Rate Field and drew a nine-pitch walk in his first at-bat. Just like that, the big-league club’s promising future got real. Whatever lineups would be written out from there, second base would belong to a switch-hitting Cuban with a toolbox full of how-great-can-he-be? Moncada’s very presence gave credibility to a team still in the throes of an all-out rebuild.
Words to remember: “When we can, help. And when we can’t, get out of his way.” — Manager Rick Renteria
Mitch Trubisky takes the reins
The Bears seemingly had doubled down on their huge Trubisky bet before even drafting the North Carolina quarterback, showering the 49ers with extra picks just to move up from No. 3 to No. 2. Then they pushed all-in (yes, we’re mixing card-game metaphors) in Week 5 when Trubisky was named the starter over utterly forgettable free-agent signee Mike Glennon. Let’s just agree the early results have been mixed.
Words to remember: “It’s going to be a perfect fit.” — Trubisky, on the day the Bears introduced him to the Chicago media
Cubs’ title defense ends in NLCS
It never felt like a second consecutive World Series title was more than a distant hope for the 2017 Cubs, who were a shadow of their 2016 selves for most of the season. Yet, there they were in their third consecutive NLCS — wow — and anything was possible at that point. Enter the Dodgers, who destroyed the Cubs, especially from the mound, in a five-game mismatch. Aggregate score: 28-8. It didn’t seem even that close.
Words to remember: “I am not displeased. I think we did OK this year. . . . Three trips to this neck of the woods, it doesn’t happen often.” — Manager Joe Maddon
The Bobby Portis punch
A festering problem between Portis and Nikola Mirotic led to two broken facial bones and a concussion for the latter, casting an unpromising Bulls season in the darkest of lights. Would the young forwards ever play together again? Would it even matter, given the Bulls’ perceived tank-job of a season to come? It turns out both players are rolling with the punches quite well, but tank-minded fans don’t want to hear about that.
Words to remember: “I’ve texted Niko and I’ve called him. He didn’t respond.” — Portis, nearly a week after the shot heard ’round the NBA
Crazy like a Fox
Bears coach John Fox had little choice but to challenge a non-touchdown call on Benny Cunningham’s lunge for the pylon against the Packers at Soldier Field. How else was he going to maintain his near-spotless everything-I-do-is-wrong record with the team? Needless to say, a fumble and touchback was ruled on the play and — what do you know? — the Bears would fall to their rivals yet again. Only Fox’s Bears could turn a positive play into such a negative.
Words to remember: “On our look during the game, that wasn’t even really discussed.” — Fox, summing up, in 11 words, the Bears’ ineptitude
Fourteen and a half months after being shot in the head in a neighborhood park, Foreman basketball player Damari Hendrix returned to the court and scored eight points in a season-opening loss to Addison Trail. The 6-4 lefty had overcome an initial outlook that was so bleak, doctors told his mother it was a long shot that he would survive. A household name, Hendrix is not, yet some high school heroes are too special to be forgotten.
Words to remember: “It’s a win in my book. I got to go out and play with my friends, my team again. I did my best.” — Hendrix, after Foreman’s season-opening loss to Addison Trail
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