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5 Questions with...Tribune's Brian Hamilton

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5 Questions with...Tribune's Brian Hamilton

Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with everyones favorite weekly local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...

On Wednesdays, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weeks guestone of the rising stars on the Chicago Tribune sports staff whos daily task this time of year is covering the most loved and most hated college football team on the planet: The Notre Dame Fighting Irisha New Jersey native who now calls Wrigleyville his homehere are 5 Questions withBRIAN HAMILTON!

BIO: Chicago Tribune sportswriter Brian Hamilton was assigned to the Notre Dame beat in July 2007. Since joining the Tribune in September 2005, Brian has covered everything from the Illinois high school cheerleading championships to the WNBA to the Final Four to Super Bowl XLI to the Winter Olympics to the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup run, nearly all of it without embarrassment. In the summer of 2006, he wrote a profile of a plucky, under-the-radar recruit named Jimmy Clausen, giving the kid an infusion of much-needed publicity.

Prior to arriving at the Tribune, Brian spent six years scraping permafrost off his notebook while working in Minnesota at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and mainly covering college football, basketball and the NBA's Timberwolves. This after attending one of the best schools for journalism in America, Northwestern University, and taking full advantage by majoring in English and creative writing while dropping his one journalism class after two weeks.

Brian grew up on the north side of Westfield, N.J., and now lives in Lakeview.

1) CSNChicago.com: Brian, college football fans across the country are still talking about that wild finish to the Notre Dame-Michigan State game a couple Saturdays ago, in particular, the non delay of game call in OT that many Irish fans felt was grossly mishandled by the officiating crew. What was your take on that controversial moment and do you think that kind of loss hurts the Irish coachesplayers mindset going forward (they werent very competitive at home against 9 Stanford this past weekend)?

Hamilton: Well, if it hurts them moving forward, then Brian Kelly has no shot at teaching this group of players how to win, because that means they aren't buying into one of his core philosophies, one that most coaches have: Leave a loss behind after 24 hours. So I don't expect it to have much carryover. Unless, of course, they keep losing close games again and again and again, and then you can start talking about a cumulative effect. But for the near-term, I think they're fine mentally.

As for the call, someone with way, way more free time than I have broke down the sequence frame-by-frame. And the conclusion was that between the stadium play clock not the clock on ESPN's graphic -- hitting :00 and the snap of the ball, there was merely a fraction of a second of time. Like so small that it's not humanly possible for an official to take his eye from the clock, move it to the snap and determine the snap was late. But I'm of the same mindset as Brian Kelly regardless: If the Irish line up differently or two of them simply don't get run over by Michigan State players, it's moot, because they'd probably have prevented the touchdown anyway.

2) CSNChicago.com: The arrival of Brian Kelly as head coach this season is widely considered one of the best moves the ND football program has made in yearsnot only for the short term, but more for the long-term potential success of the program. With all the hype and great expectations associated with Kellys hiring, will anything short of a national title in, lets say, 4-5 years be considered a failure?

Hamilton: I'd alter that a bit and say that anything less than contention for a BCS bowl within three years probably would be a disappointment. While there are some veterans on this team, there is a lot of talent among the underclassmen, too, and the starting quarterback began this season with three years of eligibility. And the 2011 recruiting class contains two significant top 100 defensive line recruits in Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch that, in a couple years, should be pretty formidable. Assuming those guys stick with their commitments, of course.

In other words, they have some guys who will fill some holes that have plagued Notre Dame for years. But a national title run may require some luck, or some real affection for the college game from guys like Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph. At this point, it's absurd or delusional to think that one or both won't seriously entertain the thought of the NFL after this season. If they come back, the Irish should be a BCS team next year and anything less would be a disappointment. If they don't, the bar gets reset a bit lower for 2011.

3) CSNChicago.com: Recently, Notre DameNFL legend Joe Montana debunked the Rudy myth involving the diminutive, yet determined ND walk-on Daniel Rudy Ruettiger stating the crowd wasnt chanting RUDY, RUDY! at the end of that Georgia Tech game and that his teammates were only playing around when they carried him off the field. Your opinion: sour grapes on Montanas part or, since movies do take liberties with real life stories, is he probably right about this one?

Hamilton: This shocked me exactly zero percent, considering that even the most mature college upperclassmen are still college kids. They certainly have the capacity for compassion, but they also have a perhaps even greater capacity for humor and good, old-fashioned, no-harm-no-foul needling. If what happened was what Joe Montana says what happened, and you're shocked by it, you're also the type of person that's stunned to learn college kids sleep late, skip class and occasionally enjoy a frosty adult beverage.

On top of that, was what Montana said really all that bad? Was it really all that mean? I didn't see it that way, but then I'd take "Hoosiers" over "Rudy" pretty much any hour of any day.

4) CSNChicago.com: Youve traveled around the country visiting some of the nations best college football stadiums for a number of years now. In terms of fan atmosphere, facilities, playing field, etc., whats your favorite stadium to visitand least favorite?

Hamilton: Before I get assailed by emails from SEC or Big 12 fans, I will remind them that my college football writing career has involved two teams: Minnesota and Notre Dame, a Holtz-ian itinerary that has sort of restricted my stadium visits. That said, of the places I've been, nothing sticks out more in my mind than a Wisconsin game at Camp Randall Stadium. The press box literally shakes before the fourth-quarter, when the crowd goes nuts to House of Pain's "Jump Around. It's a huge place, the crowd is insanely into it and it's always electric.

Other highlights? There is nothing like the view at the Rose Bowl. Gorgeous place to watch a game, although Lewis & Clark made it to the Pacific Ocean in less time than it takes to get to your parking lot there. I wish Notre Dame would schedule a home-and-home with Iowa, and play Washington at Washington every year. Ohio Stadium (The Horseshoe) is just impressive, period. Notre Dame Stadium, for the record, is not the best but not anywhere near the worst place to work a college football game.

The worst? Well, I'm pathologically jealous of all Minnesota writers who get to watch games at TCF Bank Stadium, as six years of Metrodome home games for the Gophers felt like weekly visits to the fifth circle of hell. And I'm gonna get killed for this, but if I never cover another game at Penn State, I'll be thrilled. Atmosphere is great, but it's impossible to get to and the press box is antiquated at best. The accommodations in State College? My last hotel room there didn't have a WINDOW. No joke. It takes ages to fight through traffic and then tailgaters curse at you for driving to your assigned parking spot. Repeat: ASSIGNED parking spot. Way, way too much hassle for one day or night of work.

5) CSNChicago.com: Name your top three favorite local establishments that you consider to be hidden gems in our fine city (provide a brief line or two on why you like each one).

Hamilton: After several false starts, we finally made it to A Tavola (2148 W. Chicago) and we were not disappointed. Absolutely no better place to go for an exceptionally warm, cozy atmosphere, great service, wine and food. Brown sage butter gnocchi? Yes, please.

It's not really "hidden" at least not when my friends from New Jersey visit and make a point to go but I enjoyed The Bristol (2152 N. Damen) the couple times I've visited. Nothing like killing the annoyance of a table wait with an upstairs anteroom essentially dedicated to drinking.

And, again, not exactly hidden, but I have yet to go wrong with the brisket & gravy at Southport Grocery (3552 N. Southport). And other sources familiar with eating breakfast with me have yet to go wrong with the bread pudding pancakes there.

BONUS QUESTIONCSNChicago.com: Anything you would like to plug Brian? CSNChicago.com readers want to hear about it

Hamilton: Well, I'd hope that everyone would attend my upcoming charity fundraiser at Sunda, benefitting my two favorite causes: Saving the Midwest Aboriginal Muskrat, and getting Lauren Conrad to hook up with Devin Aromashodu.

Seriously, though, just click on the many posts from me and my Tribune colleagues at ChicagoBreakingSports.com, and follow my Twitter account: @ChiTribHamilton. And also, if you see Teddy Greenstein around, just yell "PLAYOFF!" in his face really, really loud. He loves that.

Hamilton LINKS:

Chicago TribuneCollege Sports

Chicago Breaking SportsNotre Dame

Brian Hamilton on Twitter

Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

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Three Things to Watch: Blackhawks visit first-place Lightning

Here are Three Things to Watch when the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on NBC Sports Chicago and streaming live on the NBC Sports app. Coverage begins at 6 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live.

1. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

There hasn't been a more dynamic duo in the NHL so far this season than Kucherov and Stamkos, who have combined for 68 points (27 goals, 41 assists) through 20 games, and sit first and second in the scoring race.

They've each recorded a point in every game except three — which coincidentally have been the same games — and they've lost all three of those contests. Kucherov has also scored a goal in 15 of 20 games this season. That's absurd when you consider he's scoring on a consistent basis; it's not like they're coming in spurts.

To put all that into perspective, he reached the 17-goal mark in his 36th game last year and still finished second in the league with 40 goals. He hit the 17-goal mark in 16 fewer games this season. How many can he realistically finish with? 60?

2. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.

Tampa Bay knows how dangerous Chicago's dynamic duo can be as well, as evidenced in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. The Blackhawks' superstars know how to get up for a big game.

In 13 career regular-season games against the Lightning, Kane has 18 points (six goals, 12 assists). Toews has 14 points (eight goals, six assists) in 14 games.

They're both producing at or above a point-per-game pace, and they're going to need more of that against this powerhouse Lightning team.

3. Something's gotta give.

Tampa Bay's offensive prowess is off the charts up and down the lineup. It has four lines that can come at you at waves, and a strong, active blue line led by potential Norris Trophy finalist Viktor Hedman and Calder Trophy candidate Mikhail Sergachev.

Although Chicago allows the fourth-most shots per game (34.0), it actually hasn't been bad at preventing goals — a large reason for that is Corey Crawford. 

The Lightning rank first in goals per game (3.95) and first in power play percentage (28.0) while the Blackhawks rank sixth in goals against per game (2.65) and four in penalty kill percentage (84.9).

Who's going to crack first?

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

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USA TODAY

For one writer, Hall of Fame semifinalist selection of Brian Urlacher closes a career circle

The news on Tuesday wasn’t really any sort of surprise: Brian Urlacher being selected as a semifinalist for the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Some of the immediate thoughts were, however, for one writer who covered Brian from the day he was drafted on through the unpleasant end of his 13-year career as a Bear.

Good thoughts, though. Definitely good.

The first was a flashback, to a Tuesday in late August 2000 when the ninth-overall pick of the draft, who’d been anointed the starting strong-side linebacker by coach Dick Jauron on draft day, was benched.

It happened up at Halas Hall when Urlacher all of a sudden wasn’t running with the 1’s. Rosie Colvin was in Urlacher’s spot with the starters and would be for a few games into the 2000 season. I caught up with Brian before he walked, in a daze, into Halas Hall after practice and asked about what I’d just seen.

"I'm unhappy with the way I'm playing and I'm sure they are, too," Urlacher said. "I don't think I've been playing very well so that's probably the cause for it right there. I just don't have any technique. I need to work on my technique, hands and feet mostly. I've got to get those down, figure out what I'm doing. I know the defense pretty good now, just don't know how to use my hands and feet."

Urlacher, an All-American safety at New Mexico but MVP of the Senior Bowl in his first game at middle linebacker, had been starting at strong side, over the tight end, because coaches considered it a simpler position for Urlacher to master. But he was not always correctly aligned before the snap, did not use his hands against blockers effectively and occasionally led with his head on tackles. His benching cost him the chance to be the first Bears rookie linebacker since Dick Butkus to start an Opening Day.

It also was the first time in his football life that Urlacher could remember being demoted.

"It's not a good feeling," he said. "I definitely don't like getting demoted but I know why I am. I just have to get better."

Coaches understood what they were really attempting, subsequently acknowledged privately that the SLB experiment was a mistake. While the strong-side slot may have been simpler than the other two principally because of coverage duties, "we're trying to force-feed the kid an elephant," then-defensive coordinator Greg Blache said.

"So you see him gag and what do you do? You give him the Heimlich maneuver, you take some of it out of his mouth, try to chop it up into smaller pieces. He's going to devour it and be a great football player. But he wouldn't be if we choked him to death."

Urlacher didn’t choke and eventually became the starter, not outside, but at middle linebacker when Barry Minter was injured week two at Tampa Bay.

We sometimes don’t fully know the import or significance at the time we’re witnessing something. Urlacher stepping in at middle linebacker was not one of those times – you knew, watching him pick up four tackles in basically just the fourth quarter of a 41-0 blowout by the Bucs.

That was the beginning. Over the years came moments like Urlacher scooping up a Michael Vick fumble in the 2001 Atlanta game and going 90 yards with Vick giving chase but not catching him. Lots of those kinds of moments.

And then cutting to the ending, in 2013, when he and the organization came to an acrimonious parting after GM Phil Emery managed to alienate the face of the franchise both with the one-year contract offer and the way it was handled. Butkus had a nasty separation at the end of his Bears years, too, and Bill George finished his career as a Los Angeles Ram after creating the middle linebacker position as a Bear. Maybe that’s just how Bears and some of their linebackers wind up their relationships.

In any case, while there is no cheering in the pressbox, the hope here is that Brian goes into the Hall in a class with Ray Lewis in their first years of eligibility. Somehow that just seems like it all should close out for that confused kid from New Mexico who lost his first job out of college, but responded to that by becoming one of the all-time greats in his sport.