Cubs

Manti Te'o: Mature beyond his years

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Manti Te'o: Mature beyond his years

Notre Dame fans, every single one of them, should take a moment and give thanks...to Charlie Weis.

For all of his shortcomings, and the sky-high expectations of a Knute Rockne-Lou Holtz dynasty that never happened -- or came close to happening while he was the head coach at Notre Dame -- Weis did bring one masterful prize to South Bend; a certain Heisman Trophy candidate that has helped put the Golden Domers back on the college football map.

All hail, Manti Te'o.

The senior linebacker is not your typical college football player, nor is he your average human being.

Te'o is special -- in the way he plays and thinks, walks and talks, lives and breathes.

That's one reason why Weis and former Notre Dame assistant Brian Polian made so many trips to Hawaii in 2008 and 2009 hoping to land Te'o, then the top defensive high schooler in the nation.

How many visits did they make?

"Too many," Te'o says with a laugh. "It was at the point where I told coach Polian, 'You don't have to come this often. You can just call me. You don't have to come and show up.' But it showed their dedication and it paid off. It really did pay off."

Certainly for Notre Dame. Not so much for Weis and Polian. They were fired after Te'o's freshman season in 2009.

Now three years later, Te'o is one of the best college players in the country, the Irish are undefeated at 9-0, and they are knocking on the door for a possible national championship -- what Weis and Polian were going after when they piled up all those miles flying across the Pacific Ocean.

"It would be the perfect ending to this great chapter in my life," Te'o says. "But national champions understand that it's one game at a time, one day at a time, getting better everyday. To think of that, and think of being known as a national champion at the end of the season, yeah it's a dream come true."

On the football field, Te'o plays like a valiant warrior, with a heart of a lion, undaunted by the chaos around him. Nothing scares him.

But what about off the field? What does he fear, if anything?

"I fear failure. That's my biggest fear is failure," he admits. "It's not being able to provide for my family. It's not bringing honor to my family. I don't fear anything else. I don't fear any individual. I just fear letting people down, and people that depend on me the most."

For Te'o, that's his family.

"My family is my prized possession," he says pointedly. "My family is everything."

But in September, Te'o lost two integral parts to his world. His grandmother and girlfriend passed away -- just six hours apart. His grandmother succumbed to cancer. His girlfriend died after a long battle with leukemia.

The depth of Te'o's grief is deep, and so is his mind, which exhibits the maturity and wisdom of a man twice or even three times his age.

"Although I may not be able to see them and hear them, I have faith that I will see them again," Te'o explains. "It paints this world in a whole different picture where you understand what life is really about. Yeah, football is great, all the winning is great, but at the end of the day we're all going to pass on, and what I'm going to take with me is who I am as a person, and all the lives I've had an impact on. I hope and pray everyday that I have an impact on somebody in a positive way."

Te'o is a religious man. He says his Mormon faith helped him overcome losing both loved ones so close to each other.

They might be gone, but he feels both women around him.

"All the time. I specifically sense my girlfriend around me whenever I say hi to another young lady. I feel somebody just saying, 'Who is that? Why are you saying hi?' But I sense them. I feel them whenever I'm alone. I'm feeling them telling me that everything is going to be OK."

If you were to break open Te'o's DNA, you would find all the necessary genes of a leader. He's a chief in the Notre Dame locker room and the commander of the defense. However, what makes Te'o an even greater leader is the humility he brings to his role as Notre Dame nobility.

"I think if you ask the good leaders, they won't acknowledge themselves as leaders," he says. "I don't acknowledge myself as a leader. I just acknowledge myself as somebody who's trying to win."

Te'o knows the name of every walk-on. How many college stars can do that? Or even name one?

And you can forget about being a macho football player. He has no reservations about expressing his love for his teammates.

"I know every one of my teammates. I know what they like, I know what they don't like, and as a leader of my team, I need to know that. I need to know that so I can relate to each of them," Te'o says. "If my guys can't trust me, if my guys can't love me, and I can't love them, we won't be very good. When you have that dynamic, having guys playing for the guy next to them instead of for themselves, special things start to happen."

They already have, thanks to Te'o.

And thanks to Charlie Weis.

He might be miles away in the rearview mirror, but the distance he and Polian flew to get Manti to Notre Dame is probably Charlie's greatest victory.

Te'o is proving that he's a winner every day of his life.

What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

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What Chicago sports fans should be thankful for

Families gather and people talk about things they are thankful for on Thanksgiving, but what are Chicago sports fans happy for now?

Raised expectations on the North Side

Got to be thankful that a “disappointing” season is winning the division and losing in the NLCS. The expectations have skyrocketed, and that’s thanks to a ridiculous nucleus of bats and a steady front office. Not many clubs can say that. Also, though, it’s important to be appreciative of the Wrigley bar stretch. They may charge $8 for a Miller Lite, but it’s always a damn good party.

Javy tags, too. Don't forget Javy tags.

Rebuild sparking hope in White Sox fans

Where to begin? Obviously, be thankful for the plethora of young talent that will soon take over the South Side. Be thankful for Avi Time (while you still can). Be thankful that taking your friends or family to a game won’t cause you to take out a second mortgage. Be thankful for the 2020 World Series and, of course, 2020 MVP Eloy Jimenez. But most importantly, be thankful that Rick Hahn’s phone stays buzzing.

Eddie O back in the booth for the Blackhawks

The Blackhawks are having a rough start to the season, but at least Eddie Olczyk is back in the booth. The longtime Blackhawks broadcaster returned to the booth on Oct. 18 after missing time while undergoing chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer.

With some of the key names from the Blackhawks’ title runs either leaving or being unable to play this season (in the case of Marian Hossa), Blackhawks fans are probably thankful to see a familiar face and hear a familiar voice during games.

Lauri Markkanen leading the Bulls rebuild

OK, there’s not much to be thankful for about the current Bulls team. At 3-13, the Bulls are tied for the fewest wins in the NBA (maybe in the long-term that’s something to be thankful for as well). However, Zach LaVine’s pending debut after his eventual return from injury should help create some excitement.

The thing Bulls fans really should be thankful for this year is the play of rookie Lauri Markkanen. The 20-year-old leads the team in scoring (14.6 points per game) and rebounds (8.3 per game) while shooting at a high percentage (34.2 percent on threes and 50.6 percent on twos). It’s only the beginning of the Bulls’ rebuild, but Markkanen is a good start.

Mitchapalooza

If a few things broke the Bears’ way, Chicagoans could have been grateful that the team was finally out of the cellar. Instead, we’ll settle for the fact that there seems to be some building blocks already in place. Mitchell Trubisky, Tarik Cohen, Leonard Floyd and Akiem Hicks seem to fit that category. Also, some may be thankful that this is likely John Fox’s last season at the helm.

Fire ending a playoff drought

After finishing dead last in MLS in 2015 and 2016, the Fire were one of the most improved teams in the league in 2017. After posting the third best record in the league, the Fire made a first playoff appearance since 2012.

The playoff run didn’t last long with the Fire losing a play-in game at home, but the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and the league’s leading goal-scorer, Nemanja Nikolic, helped fill the stadium with six sellouts and gave Fire fans something to cheer for.

With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

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With Leonard Floyd going on injured reserve, will the Bears have a pressing need at outside linebacker in 2018?

The Bears placed Leonard Floyd on injured reserve Thursday morning, ending the second-year outside linebacker’s season following a knee injury suffered Sunday against the Detroit Lions. Floyd suffered an MCL and PCL injury and will have surgery in the next week, coach John Fox said, and the Bears do not have a timetable for his recovery yet. But that Floyd didn't suffer damage to his ACL is potentially good news for Floyd's recovery timetable. 

Still, with Floyd on injured reserve and out for the season, the Bears’ current outside linebacker depth chart consists of two veterans (Pernell McPhee and Sam Acho) and two practice squad signees (Isaiah Irving and Howard Jones). These final six games of the 2017 season could serve as auditions for all four players for roles on the 2018 Bears. 

If every team needs at least three good pass rushers, the Bears can count on Akiem Hicks and Floyd for 2018, provided Floyd comes back healthy. But who’s the third?

The Bears could save about $7.5 million in cap space if they release McPhee in 2018; if they were to cut ties with Willie Young, who’s on injured reserve right now as well, it would provide $4.5 million in cap relief. McPhee will be 29 in December, while Young will turn 33 next September. 

The Bears won’t necessarily need the cap relief next year, and could certainly decide to keep both players, who’ve shown they’re still productive when healthy. But even if both players are back, the Bears may need to add another outside linebacker via free agency of the draft — remember, the team could’ve began the season with Floyd, Young, McPhee, Acho and Lamarr Houston as their outside linebackers; an injury Houston suffered in the fourth preseason game ended his time in Chicago. 

Needs at wide receiver and cornerback are pressing, but outside linebacker may need to be in that same conversation. If the Bears have a top-10 pick for the fourth consecutive year, plus some cap space, they perhaps could have the ability to address all three needs in March and April. 

That may be looking a little too far into the future, though. The best-case for the Bears is McPhee finishes the season strong and Irving and/or Jones shows something in the opportunities they receive in these final six games (Jones, for what it’s worth, had five sacks as a rookie with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2015). But the worst-case — and perhaps the most realistic — is that the Bears go into the offseason needing to fill at least one pass-rushing spot.