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Extremes were name of game in 2013, with Hawks enjoying the highest perch

Jonathan Toews

Jonathan Toews

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Updated: January 30, 2014 6:36AM



More than a million people lined the streets of Chicago and poured into Grant Park on a hot, sunny day in June to celebrate another Stanley Cup with a group of delirious, bleary-eyed Blackhawks. It was a giddy moment, but also a cathartic one for a city that, off the ice, hasn’t had a whole lot to cheer about.

There was Derrick’s knee and Jay’s groin, lost summers for the Cubs and Sox, frustrating falls for Northwestern and Illinois. Heck, even Northern Illinois’ inspiring season ended with a stumble.

Let’s look back at 2013 in Chicago sports — a year of awfully high highs and awfully low lows.

BLACKHAWKS

The best

In basketball and football, losses become wins all the time — a buzzer-beating three-pointer down two, a last-second touchdown down four. In hockey, it doesn’t work that way. But the Hawks pulled it off in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final in Boston, turning a loss into a win — and a Stanley Cup — in 17 seconds. With the Hawks down 2-1 and Game 7 looming, Bryan Bickell scored with 1:17 left to tie it. Dave Bolland then scored with 59 seconds left in arguably the most remarkable ending in hockey history.

The worst

Off Jonathan Toews went to the box. Then again. Then again. Three straight penalties in Game 5 at Detroit in the second round had Toews — already frustrated by his scoring struggles — losing his famous cool at the worst possible time. Brent Seabrook even had to come into the box and talk him down. The 2-0 loss put the Hawks in a 3-1 hole, facing elimination and a likely offseason overhaul. It ended up working out OK.

— Mark Lazerus

CUBS

The worst

The Cubs signed their first big free agent under Ricketts ownership, only to watch Edwin Jackson perform among the worst starters in baseball in 2013. Never mind the MLB-high 18 losses. He finished with the second-worst ERA and WHIP in the National League, managed just 14 quality starts in 31 tries, had the nerve to show up his manager in the dugout for being pulled after four shaky innings in a September start and left his final start of the year after only two innings because of ‘‘lat tightness.’’ Said Jackson: ‘‘Sh---y year, to sum it up.’’ Next up: A run at Masahiro Tanaka.

The best

The Cubs won only 66 times, but on Aug. 27, facing a team on a two-month run of .800 baseball, they beat the game’s best pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, 3-2 at Dodger Stadium behind All-Star Travis Wood. ‘‘Probably one of our most satisfying wins, that’s for sure,’’ manager Dale Sveum said of the only win against the Dodgers, barely a month before he was fired.

— Gordon Wittenmyer

SOX

The best and the worst

The boss wants 150 words on the best and worst of the Sox this year. Hmmm. I will have to scrounge around to find so many on the best. On the worst, I could type till New Year’s Day. Chris Sale, fifth in American League Cy Young voting and the winning pitcher in the All-Star Game, was the light in a dark Sox season summed up on June 25 at U.S. Cellular Field when Gordon Beckham called off Conor Gillaspie on a would-be game-ending pop-up in front of the mound and stumbled over closer Addison Reed as the ball fell to let the New York Mets tie the game (costing Sale a win despite 13 strikeouts). The Sox won the game, but it felt like just another defeat in a long, lost season full of baseball bloopers. Energizing the roster with young ’uns Avisail Garcia, Adam Eaton, Matt Davidson and Jose Abreu could turn out to be the best things to happen in 2013. Aside from Sale, there wasn’t much else.

— Daryl Van Schouwen

BULLS

The best

No Luol Deng, no Kirk Hinrich, Joakim Noah playing on one good foot and, of course, no Derrick Rose. The Bulls still took the Brooklyn Nets to a Game 7 in Brooklyn in the first round and disposed of them 99-93 in a win-or-go-home game. Who could forget Nate Robinson’s performance in the first round as he averaged 17 points per game and was the hero in a 142-134 overtime win in Game  4 in which he scored 34 points?

The worst

The hometown-kid-makes-good story line has ended, and there are more questions about Rose now than answers. Between back-to-back season-ending knee injuries and mixed messages from members of his camp, the Rose has slightly wilted. All eyes were on Rose this winter after he took 18 months off to rehab the surgically repaired anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. He played 10 games before his right knee betrayed him.

— Joe Cowley

BEARS

The best

It took 59 years for a receiver to snap the franchise’s yards record. And then it took Alshon Jeffery — he of the acrobatic catches that will highlight the Bears’ season-ending sizzle reel — eight weeks to do it again. The second-year receiver’s 12 catches for 249 yards against the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 1 broke his own mark, set Oct. 6. It might not stand another 59 years, but only because Jeffery figures to be a star for years to come.

The worst

A future Hall of Famer leaving a franchise is like a divorce: ugly even in the best of circumstances. But the way the Bears and linebacker Brian Urlacher handled his departure and eventual retirement soured what, for 13 years, had been a great partnership. We were left with stories about Jay Cutler not phoning, the Bears faking injuries and Urlacher feeling the Bears hadn’t been honest with him.

— Patrick Finley

Notre Dame

The best

The buildup to the BCS national title game on Jan. 7. Notre Dame was undefeated and the top-ranked team in the country. The Irish stood four quarters away from their first national title since 1988. The team featured a dominating defense led by one of the top players in the land in linebacker Manti Te’o.

And then . . .

The worst

The BCS national title game. Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14. The Crimson Tide led 21-0 with 14:56 left in the second quarter. Alabama piled up the numbers, finishing with 529 total yards of offense (202 of which came in the first quarter). Any momentum Notre Dame might have gained by appearing in the title game vanished in May when quarterback Everett Golson was suspended from the university for ‘‘poor academic judgment.’’ Injuries also played a role in the disappointing 8-4 regular season that followed.

— LaMond Pope

ILLINOIS

The best

With a 20-16 victory at Purdue on Nov. 23, Illinois handed down its worst-in-the-Big Ten football status to the Boilermakers. And what a welcome change that was for a program that had dropped a humiliating 20 consecutive conference games. Are the Illini on a serious climb? Perhaps not, but at least there’s hope for better Saturdays to come. Rarely has 4-8 felt as OK as it did in 2013.

The worst

Hoops coach John Groce surely would insist otherwise, but the dirty (or at least immature) hat trick pulled by Curie superstar big man Cliff Alexander on signing day was a real blow to Illini Nation. A day fans had dubbed ‘‘Cliffmas’’ turned into a dark moment when Alexander, announcing his decision on ESPNU, picked up an Illinois hat, only to trade it for a Kansas one at the last second. In a word: Boo.

— Steve Greenberg

NORTHWESTERN

The best

Kudos to Northwestern athletic director Jim Phillips, who was able to sway Chris Collins, then the hottest coaching prospect in the country, to a Northwestern basketball program whose futility could make a Cubs fan blush. With the cupboard left bare, the team has been up and down on the court. Off it, the program has done an about face. In eight months on the job, Collins has Northwestern’s best recruiting class in history coming to campus in 2014.

The worst

Fourth down. Apologists will talk about plays like Nebraska’s Hail Mary on Nov. 2 and Michigan’s last-second field goal on Nov. 16, which sent that game into overtime. (The Wildcats lost both contests.) A realist would see that Northwestern failed to stop Nebraska on fourth-and-15, which set up that Hail Mary play, and that Michigan converted two fourth downs before kicking that field goal. There was also a notable failed fourth-and-1 conversion against Ohio State in a loss on Oct. 5.

— Seth Gruen



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