Fire

Remember Centralia 1941, Du Sable 1954?

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Remember Centralia 1941, Du Sable 1954?

Jim Brown always believed that his 1954 Du Sable team was one of the best ever produced in Illinois and surely was destined to win the state championship with a lineup featuring Paxton Lumpkin, Sweet Charlie Brown and Shellie McMillon. But the Panthers lost to Mount Vernon in one of the most controversial state finals in history.

Arthur Trout's celebrated Wonder Five was heavily favored to win the 1941 state title. But the Orphans, led by Dike Eddleman, Jack Klosterman, Bill Castleman, Harold Wesner and Bob Michael lost to Morton of Cicero and Chet Strumillo 30-29 in the state semifinals and settled for third place and a 44-2 record.

They were two of the outstanding teams that fell short of expectations. They received more recognition for losing than many other teams did for winning state championships. Who remembers Mount Vernon's 1954 team? Or Morton's 1941 team?

Du Sable 1954, Centralia 1941, Farragut 1955, Collinsville 1957 and Paris 1942 are five of the best teams ever produced in Illinois--and none of them won the state title. They will forever be remembered as great teams with great players that didn't bring home the biggest trophy of all.

Du Sable had qualified for the Sweet Sixteen in 1953 under coach Arthur Scher but lost to eventual state champion La Grange and Ted Caiazza 85-68 in the first round, finishing with a 27-3 record.

In 1954, new coach Jim Brown greeted three returning standouts--Paxton Lumpkin, Sweet Charlie Brown and Shellie McMillon. They joined Karl Dennis and McKinley Cowsen to form a devastating offense that averaged 95 shots and 82.8 points per game in winning their first 31 games and overwhelming Bowen, Quincy and Edwardsville in the first three games of the tournament. But the Panthers lost to Mount Vernon 76-70 in the final.

McMillon, who later played at Bradley, was whistled for three early fouls. Lumpkin twice was called for charging after making baskets. One of the officials, John Fraser of Alton, called traveling on Brown after he had converted three long jumpers. Lumpkin, Brown and Dennis fouled out in the closing minutes.

"He (Fraser) turned the game around," Jim Brown said. "In the last three minutes, he called key fouls and took the game over. The other official (Joe Przada of Belleville) was fair. Sure, we made mistakes. We didn't protect the key. Don Richards (25 points) surprised us. We probably should have called off the press earlier rather than foul. But I still believe the game was taken away from us."

"It's not how many fouls you call (Du Sable committed 19, Mount Vernon 12) but when you call them," Sweet Charlie Brown said. "I had been making the same move throughout the season and the tournament. I planted both feet when I caught the ball, then took a step as a launching pad for shooting. It was called traveling in that circumstance."

A few years later, as recounted in "Glory Days: Legends of Illinois High School Basketball," Fraser was convicted of fixing games and banned from officiating in the Missouri Valley Conference. It prompted Brown to do some research of his own, to confirm his suspicions that the championship game had been rigged.

"I wanted to get a copy of the film of the state final but I was told that the last three minutes were deleted," he said. "To this day, I can't get a copy of the film.

"We were 17 and 18-year-old kids playing a game and competing and trying to find out who was the best. We were out to prove our superiority, like soldiers taking a hill."

Centralia was the scourge of the Deep South in 1940-41 and Dike Eddleman, a junior, was building a reputation as one of the greatest athletes in state history. The Orphans swept past Paris and Carbondale but lost to Morton by one point in the semifinals. Morton went on to win the state title.

The following year, it was Paris' turn to suffer the same fate. Coach Ernie Eveland's team, led by Nate Middleton, won 39 games in a row before losing to Centralia and Eddleman 35-33 in the state final. Eddleman scored 16 points to lead a late comeback that stunned Paris.

Centralia rallied from a 13-point deficit in the last six minutes to stun Paris. Eddleman picked up a loose ball and scored the winning basket at the buzzer. Even after competing in the Rose Bowl, the Final Four, the Olympics and the NBA, he always considered the victory over Paris in 1942 to be his greatest thrill in sports.

As Centralia had done the previous year, Paris came back to win the 1943 state title. With Dick Foley, Dave Humerickhouse and Max Norman returning from the 1942 squad and joining Gordon Taylor, Paris capped a 36-2 season by beating Moline.

"That was devastating," Norman said about Paris' loss to Centralia in the 1942 state final. "We thought we would be the first unbeaten state champion. It broke us up. You don't forget things like that, even 50 years later. I recall 1942 for losing almost as much as I recall 1943 for winning. To this day, I think 1942 was a better team than 1943."

But Paris didn't blow the lead in 1943. The Tigers got past Salem and All-Stater Roy Gatewood and 6-foot-7, 230-pound Dean White by a 53-50 margin in the semifinals despite Gatewood's 22 points, then prevailed over Moline 46-37 in the final.

Vergil Fletcher won two state championships and 792 games at Collinsville but the one that got away was the 1957 final when his unbeaten and top-ranked team had its 34-game winning streak snapped by Herrin 45-42 in the state final. The Kahoks were led by Terry Bethel and Thom Jackson. Herrin was led by John Tidwell.

In the final, Bethel, who was named to Parade magazine's All-America team with Jerry Lucas, picked up three fouls in the first five minutes and was forced to sit down. The Kahoks shot only 17-of-47 and Fletcher said it was one of the most disappointing losses of his career.

"Nobody will let the 1957 team die," Bethel said. "To them, there never will be a team like 1957, not even 1961."

Fletcher's 1961 team, led by Bogie Redmon and Fred Riddle, went 32-0 and is generally regarded among the top five teams in state history. After edging Centralia 66-64 in the supersectional in a duel of the state's two top-rated teams, Collinsville went to crush its last three opponents by margins of 23, 37 and 34 points.

In 1995, William "Wolf" Nelson was convinced that his Farragut team, featuring future NBA star Kevin Garnett, Ronnie Fields and Michael Wright, was destined to add to the Chicago Public League's legacy of outstanding state champions. But the Admirals were upset by Thornton in the state quarterfinals. Garnett was distraught after the game and has always said it was one of the most disappointing losses of his career.

At the end of the regular season, Farragut was 23-1 and rated No. 1 in the state. Peoria Manual was 24-2 and rated No. 2. Thornton was 22-1 and rated No. 5. In the Public League final, Farragut ousted Carver and Nick Irvin 71-62 but lost to Thornton and Melvin Ely, Erik Herring, Chauncey Jones and James Johnson 46-43 in the state quarterfinals. Thornton went on to lose to Peoria Manual in the state final.

USL expansion team with proposed 20,000-seat stadium on North Side could be significant for soccer in Chicago

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USL expansion team with proposed 20,000-seat stadium on North Side could be significant for soccer in Chicago

Stadium talk is always circling around Major League Soccer and that goes double for the Chicago Fire, which has been criticized for playing in suburban Bridgeview since Toyota Park opened in 2006.

That's why the Chicago Tribune's story about a United Soccer League expansion team playing at a proposed 20,000-seat stadium with a retractable roof in Chicago is such a big deal. According to the report and confirmed by a USL spokesperson, real estate developer Sterling Bay has purchased the rights to a USL expansion team. The stated goal is to begin play in 2020.

The details of the stadium are not finalized so the features and capacity could still change.

The proposed location of the stadium is along the North Branch of the Chicago River between the Lincoln Park neighborhood and the Kennedy Expressway. The stadium was previously mentioned as part of Sterling Bay's bid to bring Amazon's second headquarters to Chicago. Apparently, the stadium being built is not contingent on Amazon coming to Chicago.

Further information from Sterling Bay said that "announcements on ownership and team structure will come at a later date." The team does not yet have a name, but fans will be included in the naming process.

A 20,000-seat stadium and a retractable roof will make for a fancy and impressive, but also expensive venue and a USL team as a primary tenant may prove difficult to justify the cost. The location itself would be an easier sell to draw in fans than Toyota Park out in Bridgeview. However, minor league soccer may not excite local residents in large number.

The USL had 30 teams in 2017 with eight more teams planned to join by 2019. This past season, only two USL teams averaged above 10,000 in attendance: FC Cincinnati and Sacramento Republic FC. Both of those are prime MLS expansion candidates and Cincinnati beat the Fire in the U.S. Open Cup in front of 32,287 fans in June.

Many USL clubs are either owned/operated by MLS teams or are affiliated with an MLS team. The Fire switched from Saint Louis FC to the Tulsa Roughnecks as its affiliated club in 2017, sending players to Tulsa to gain playing time as opposed to sitting on the bench with the Fire.

According to the Tribune's story, the stadium would also try to attract other events such as international soccer matches, college football, college basketball and concerts. Rugby and lacrosse were also named in documentation sent by Sterling Bay. Sterling Bay has also yet to present formal plans and still needs to gain zoning approval.

At the Fire's end of the season media availability on Nov. 7, general manager Nelson Rodriguez was asked about the proposed stadium and if he or MLS had been contacted about it.

“I can’t speak about MLS," Rodriguez said. "I don’t know if they have or have not. I have not. I haven’t spoken, been approached by anyone. I’m not sure I would be the person they approach or speak to, but I’m not aware of any conversations.”

The Fire moving to this stadium could be an ideal solution for both parties. An MLS team with an existing fan base would have an easier time drawing big crowds. Boosted by the arrival of Bastian Schweinsteiger and a team that made the playoffs for the first time since 2012, the Fire drew crowds of 20,000 or more six times in 2017. The regular season average of 17,383 was the highest since moving to Toyota Park and highest since the club's inaugural, championship-winning season in 1998.

However, things aren't that simple. The Fire are locked into a 30-year lease with Bridgeview and Toyota Park, which the Fire have played in since 2006. Getting out of that would require a significant buyout or a breach of contract.

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

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USA TODAY

See how they stack up: Week 12 college football top 25 rankings

With Week 12 in the books, here’s my top 25:

1. Oklahoma (10-1)

Still the team with the best resume in the country, no one can compete with OU’s wins over TCU, Ohio State and Oklahoma State, the latter two coming away from Norman. Baker Mayfield might not be a choir boy, but he’s the best player in the nation.

2. Miami (10-0)

You might think that being down 28-14 to Virginia in the second half was cringe-worthy, but the Canes made up for things by storming back with 30 unanswered points. Now they finally have to go away from South Florida for the first time since almost losing to North Carolina last month.

3. Alabama (11-0)

Tide gonna roll. But this Cupcake Weekend in the SEC has got to stop. While teams in other conferences are slugging it out against rivals, Bama gets to take a day off against Mercer? It’s just not fair. Also, Bama’s schedule is so soft, there’s no way it deserves to be the No. 1 team in the country.

4. Georgia (10-1)

The Dawgs should wrap an 11-1 regular season this weekend against Georgia Tech. But the SEC title game presents a kind of no-win scenario: undefeated Alabama or Auburn, who throttled Georgia earlier this month.

5. Wisconsin (11-0)

You didn’t need Wisconsin to do what it did to Iowa and Michigan to prove it had one of the best defenses in the country — but that sure didn’t help. Stockpiling national love with those two wins, a win in the Big Ten title game figures to make the Badgers a Playoff lock.

6. Clemson (10-1)

Why’d Kelly Bryant have to go and get hurt for that Syracuse game? The Tigers would be No. 1 and the undisputed best team in the country. Still, though, a win over Miami in the ACC title game ought to get the champs back into the Playoff.

7. Auburn (9-2)

Great job pounding Louisiana-Monroe, Tigers. You shall not escape the wrath over Cupcake Weekend in the SEC. That dumb game aside, Auburn and Alabama will meet in a titanic Iron Bowl this weekend with a trip to the SEC title game on the line — and perhaps a Playoff spot, as well.

8. Ohio State (9-2)

Not that pummeling Illinois is any big deal, but the Buckeyes are still alive in this thing and look like a team capable of making some Playoff noise. First, Ohio State has to win The Game and then the Big Ten title game to knock out undefeated Wisconsin.

9. Notre Dame (9-2)

Out of the Playoff chase thanks to that loss at Miami, Notre Dame squeaked by Navy this past weekend. Hope a New Year’s Six bowl game is enough for the Irish. We know it’s not enough for those ND fans. So maybe join a conference? Just saying.

10. TCU (9-2)

The Frogs can still make their mark on the Playoff race, even if they can’t get in themselves. The Big 12 title game will almost surely be TCU’s attempt at revenge on Oklahoma. Unfortunately, if revenge does come, it will probably cannibalize the conference’s Playoff hopes, too.

11. Penn State (9-2)

Why Penn State gave up 44 points to Nebraska, I do not know. What I do know is that probably no one cared because Penn State is going to go down as the most inconsequential 10-2 team of all-time. Such a bummer considering the preseason expectations for both the team and Saquon Barkley.

12. USC (10-2)

Yeah, I guess there’s still a way for USC to make the Playoff, but it’s hard to imagine that madness unfolding, even in the oft-mad college football. The Trojans get the winner of the Apple Cup in the Pac-12 title game.

13. UCF (10-0)

Finally we get our much-anticipated UCF-USF showdown this weekend. Make it count, Knights. This is probably gonna be Scott Frost’s last regular-season game in Orlando.

14. Washington (9-2)

It’s hard to say who has the edge in the Apple Cup, but certainly the stakes are high, with the winner going off to play USC in the Pac-12 title game. Can either team make the Playoff? Well, probably not, no.

15. Washington State (9-2)

Is this it for Mike Leach on The Palouse? He could be a hot candidate this offseason and leave for perceived greener pastures. Winning the Apple Cup would go a long way toward making that happen.

16. Mississippi State (8-3)

A win in the Egg Bowl means a 9-3 regular season for the Bulldogs with their three losses coming against three top-10 teams.

17. Oklahoma State (8-3)

Poor Okie State has been so good all year and had two losses to the two best teams in its conference, and then it went and lost to K-State for some ridiculous reason. The Mullet deserved better in 2017.

18. Northwestern (8-3)

The Cats are the fourth-best team in the Big Ten, simple as that, with wins over Michigan State and Iowa and conference losses to Wisconsin and Penn State. As commendable an effort as you’ll find in a highly competitive league. Plus, Fitz’s team is on a six-game win streak that could end up extending to eight.

19. Stanford (8-3)

Already with a win over Washington, Stanford could close the regular season with two wins over top-10 teams in its final three games. Also Bryce Love is back in the groove after back-to-back 100-yard games.

20. Memphis (9-1)

The Tigers have lost just one game all season, to the best Group of Five team out there. Heck of a season by Memphis.

21. Michigan State (8-3)

A 17-7 win over Maryland couldn't have been the most exciting way for anyone to spend their weekend. Sparty's had a mighty fine season, though, considering how badly things went in 2016.

22. LSU (8-3)

The SEC has seemingly gotten increasingly better as the year has progressed, with LSU and Mississippi State making for a solid-enough middle tier. But remember when LSU lost to Troy? That wasn’t good.

23. South Florida (9-1)

If not for that loss to Houston, USF’s showdown with UCF this weekend would be for Group of Five supremacy. Even without that, though, this should be a highly entertaining affair.

24. Virginia Tech (8-3)

The Hokies have a chance to salvage their tumble at the close of the season with a win at Virginia. But given how well the Cavs played at Miami this past weekend, a VT win is no sure thing.

25. Iowa State (7-4)

I understand the math and all, but can't the Big 12 just suspend its rules and send Iowa State to the title game? We all want to see the OU-ISU rematch. Why are you preventing us from being happy, Big 12?