Bears in best spot to give Chicago a championship
BY DAN MCGRATH For Sun-Times Media May 5, 2012 6:06PM
Linebacker Brian Urlacher and quarterback Jay Cutler are two players around whom the Bears can build a championship contender. | Getty Images
Who will win Chicago's next championship?
Updated: June 7, 2012 8:12AM
Does anybody look at C.J. Watson and see Caleb Hanie? A scary thought, but Watson didn’t play enough Friday night to validate the comparison.
The 28-year-old Bulls guard is not Derrick Rose, but before Tom Thibodeau abandoned him, we thought of Watson as a useful, reliable pro most nights, a rotation laborer on a title contender.
Affix that label to Hanie and the Bears were a playoff team last season. But you know the story — he couldn’t get out of his own way as Jay Cutler’s replacement, the Bears lost the four games he started at quarterback, and a season of promise quickly devolved into a flaws-revealing melodrama that cost Jerry Angelo his job as general manager.
Not to say Cutler floats in Rose’s rare air as a unique all-world talent, but his importance to his team rivals Rose’s — the Bears went 1-5 without their long-sought franchise quarterback.
The Bulls, citing depth, unselfishness and their coach-mandated commitment to defense, have insisted they’ll do better without their reigning MVP, but any hope of an NBA title evaporated when Rose crumpled to the floor with a blown-out knee in Game 1 of the playoffs.
He is their franchise, and his absence has simply deflated them.
A city weeps … or it pouts. The Bulls gave Chicago its best chance at a championship, and that’s something to a sports-crazy populace whose moods tend to fluctuate with the performance of its teams. Thibodeau maintains they have enough to get past the Philadelphia 76ers in the first round and keep going, but the NBA is a star-driven vehicle, especially its playoffs. Grit and smarts and want-to are traits that make the Bulls admirable, but they’re missing the one great player who makes them special.
Miami has two of those guys. The Heat was probably going to beat the Bulls with Derrick Rose. The season didn’t end when he got hurt, except it did.
So with Hanie exiled into Peyton Manning’s shadow in Denver, and Cutler presumably recovered from his broken thumb, the Bears take over as the local squad most likely to succeed. You can’t be surprised. From the gushy reviews his hiring occasioned, Phil Emery could be running the World Monetary Fund or a mid-sized country, never mind a mere pro football team.
But he’s not Jerry Angelo, and that reality prompts acceptance of the Brandon Marshall acquisition. Marshall’s legal entanglements, if stacked in a pile, would exceed Sam Hurd’s vertical leap, but go-to receivers land in Chicago about as often as franchise quarterbacks. Lest Cutler remain unfulfilled without one, Marshall’s talents were worth a roll of the dice on his deportment.
We’re five months from knowing whether the draft addressed a glaring talent disparity between the Bears and their division rivals in Detroit and Green Bay. Yet, with all that uncertainty, they remain Chicago’s best bet to host a parade.
The Blackhawks, you say? Last year’s one-and-done was understandable — the depth that delivered them a Stanley Cup was obliterated by salary-cap excesses. Another one-and-done this season tells us those Kris Versteeg/Andrew Ladd-level supporting players were harder to replace than we’d been led to believe … and that the celebrated, high-priced core of Kane, Toews, Hossa and Keith might not be that good.
The White Sox? Not a playoff team, even if Jake Peavy is what John Danks was supposed to be, but surely not as hopeless as the doomsday forecasts. Adam Dunn and Alex Rios can’t possibly be as bad as they were last year, but it’s hardly comforting that Gordon Beckham looked lost at the plate before eight hits in a recent four-game stretch hinted at recovery.
You’d watch Beckham in his rookie year and it was hardly a stretch to envision the next Ryne Sandberg. Now you’d settle for Chris Snopek or Craig Grebek — or .221 hitter Jared Sandberg.
Beckham is only 25, too young and too talented to write off. But the Sox aren’t going to wait on him forever. They can’t afford to when they’re on pace to draw 1.6 million fans, their lowest total since 1999.
The Cubs? Dale Sveum is a tough, no-nonsense baseball guy, a drill sergeant by comparison with his scout-leader predecessor. Sveum won’t tolerate the indifference or the lampshade-on-the-head execution that characterized the Cubs of the last two years.
So it’s possible they’ll play better baseball and not win as many games. The talent level doesn’t approach contending standards — nine home runs in the month of April? One by an outfielder?
Billy Williams weeps. Somewhere, so does Ozzie Timmons.