Bears

NIU alumni celebrate Orange Bowl bid at holiday party

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NIU alumni celebrate Orange Bowl bid at holiday party

By Jack McCarthy
CSNChicago.com

Festive white lights twinkled on a 25-foot Christmas tree rising towards the arches of the University Club's Cathedral Room as Northern Illinois University alumni gathered for a holiday party on Thursday.

But forget about the traditional Christmas hues and highlights.

Orange -- as in Orange Bowl -- was the color to celebrate as several hundred alums saluted the NIU football team's historic berth in a major college bowl game.

"I got a little emotional about it when I found out," admitted athletic director Jeff Compher as the party got under way. "This is a seminal moment in the history of our university. It's one of those defining moments that validates everything we've been doing and how we've been doing it."

The Huskies (12-1) vaulted into Bowl Championship Series contention following last Friday's Mid-American Conference double overtime title victory over Kent State.

The reward was a No. 15 spot in the final BCS rankings announced last Sunday and an unprecedented Orange Bowl berth -- the first major bowl appearance by any MAC team.

Northern Illinois, also ranked in the top 15 in two major national polls, will face No. 12 Florida State in prime time (7 p.m. Central) on New Year's Day.

The Huskies inclusion generated plenty of controversy. ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit called it a joke and college football message boards have been awash with criticism of the Huskies selection, strength of schedule, mid-major status and a broken BCS system.

"So what?" says NIU alums like Dave Heide, who played under coach Bill Mallory on the 1983 California Bowl championship team.

"The thing that kind of befuddles me a little is that you look at college basketball and everybody roots for VCU, they root for Butler, they root for Gonzaga," he said. "Why not in college football? I think Herbstreit's (negative) comments were very strong that I think the country has rallied around Northern.

"I couldn't be more proud of this program, they do everything the right way."

Besides, Northern Illinois legitimately qualified under current BCS rules. And under a new system set to debut in 2014, the Huskies would also be in the field.

The past decade has seen the most successful seasons since Northern Illinois was a NCAA College Division power in the 1960s, winning a national championship in 1963 behind College Football Hall of Fame quarterback George Bork.

In 2002, the Huskies were emerging as a Mid-American power under coach Joe Novak and finished 8-4 with a MAC West championship. Two years later, Northern Illinois made its first bowl appearance since 1983 with a 34-21 victory over Troy in the Silicon Valley Classic.

Novak guided NIU to the Poinsettia Bowl in 2006, then stepped down after the Huskies slipped to 2-10 in 2007.

The three-year Jerry Kill era began the next year with the revived team finishing 6-6 and reaching the 2008 Independence Bowl, the first of five straight postseason appearances.

Northern dropped a 27-3 decision to South Florida in the 2009 International Bowl and beat Fresno State 40-17 in the 2010 Humanitarian Bowl. The next year, under former Wisconsin assistant Dave Doeren, NIU went 11-3, won a MAC championship and beat Arkansas State in the 2012 GoDaddy.com Bowl.

Doeren guided the Huskies to a 12-1 record and another MAC title this season before resigning to take the top job at North Carolina State.

Now its up to new head coach Rod Carey -- still adjusting to his quick promotion -- to continue Northerns winning ways.

A week ago I was buried in film figuring out to block Kent State's tackles, said the 42-year-old Carey, who spent the last two seasons helping guide two of the most explosive offenses in program history. "I don't have a sense of this yet, but it's fun."

NIU alumni, meanwhile, see good things to come out of the Orange Bowl experience.

"When you go to a university like NIU, it's a great institution," said Joseph Matty, NIU associate vice president for university advancement and CEO and executive director of the school's alumni association. "Our athletic program is allowing the rest of the country to see how great it is."

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

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USA Today

Can Cairo Santos be the kicker the Bears need?

Since the Bears inserted Mitchell Trubisky as their starting quarterback, they've had 12 drives end with a field goal — an average of two per game. Connor Barth hit nine of those dozen kicks, which had an average distance of 38.4 yards, but all three of Barth’s misses came from 45 yards or longer. 

Barth’s missed game-tying 46-yarder in the final seconds Sunday against the Detroit Lions was the last straw for someone who hadn’t been consistent in his one and a half years in Chicago. So enter Cairo Santos, who made 89 of 105 field goals (85 percent) from 2014-2017 with the Kansas City Chiefs. More importantly: Santos has made 73 percent of his career field goals from 40 or more yards; Barth made 52 percent of his kicks from the same distance with the Bears. 

(73 percent from long range isn’t bad, but it’s not great, either: Philadelphia Eagles kicker and Lyons Township High School alum Jake Elliott has made 88 percent of his 40-plus-yard kicks; Harrison Butker, who replaced Santos in Kansas City, has made 90 percent of his kicks from that distance. Both players are rookies who were drafted and cut prior to the season.)

Santos was released by the Chiefs in late September after a groin injury landed him on injured reserve (he played in three games prior to being released). The injury wasn’t expected to be season-ending, and Santos said he’s felt 100 percent for about two weeks before joining the Bears on Monday. 

“It was a long and difficult battle, but I was confident that it wasn’t going to be a serious injury, I just needed time,” Santos said. “I dealt with it in training camp, I was kicking really well, I was the only kicker in KC, and I didn’t have the appropriate time to heal. I tried to play the first three games and it got worse, so my main goal was to get 100 percent. I’ve been kicking for about a month now and finally the last week been able to come here and visit with the Bears. The muscle is in good shape to come and take a full load of a week’s practice and games, so thankful the opportunity worked out.”

For Santos, these next six weeks can be an audition for him to stick in Chicago next year. If the Bears can look optimistically at the improvements made by the Philadelphia Eagles and Los Angeles Rams with second-year top-drafted quarterbacks, they’ll need to figure out their kicking situation sooner rather than later. Bringing in Santos provides a good opportunity for that down the stretch. 

“He’s kicked in Kansas City, which is a similar climate,” special teams coordinator Jeff Rodgers said. “Their field is similar to Soldier Field. He’s played in some big games, played in some important situations and he’s, by and large, been successful in those situations.”

Another wild twist in the Derrick Rose saga

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USA TODAY

Another wild twist in the Derrick Rose saga

We may have seen the last of Derrick Rose on a basketball court. 

According to ESPN's Dave McMenamin and Adrian Wojnarowski, the point guard, who's currently recovering from ankle injury, is away from the Cavaliers organization and contemplating his future in basketball: 

The news may come as a shock considering Rose is still only 29 years old, but the Chicago native has experienced triumphant highs and depressing lows like few others in league history. Undoubtedly, that's taken a toll. 

From youngest MVP in league history to injury-prone backup, the former No. 1 pick of the Bulls has seen it all in his nine-year career. And just last season in New York, his passion for the game was called into question after missing a game without informing coaches, players or staff to attend to a family issue. 

He decided to team up with LeBron James in Cleveland last offseason -- a move that nobody could have predicted five years ago -- on a veteran's minimum contract, and averaged 14.3 points before, you guessed it, being forced to sit with injury. 

If Rose ultimately decides to step away for good, eerie parallels can be drawn to Doug Collins' NBA stint. Collins didn't have quite the upside Rose had, but he was a three-time All-Star before foot and knee injuries cut his career short at, yes, also 29. 

It's another sad twist in the Derrick Rose Story. He may be the greatest 'What if' in NBA history.