Blackhawks

We are! Collateral damage!

We are! Collateral damage!

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Once again, Im having to deal with my mental and emotional fallout due to the Penn State scandal. The information coming from the Freeh Report confirmed most of my worst fears. Although, unlike a lot of folks I talk to, I feel this situation is going to get worse as more people go to trial and the Feds get involved and we get closer to understanding the full scope of the cover-up of Jerry Sanduskys actions. The denial that many are living with is going to have to be reconciled. For me, Im definitely in the anger stage and want to see heads roll. My current state seems to be similar to the reactions of the NCAA considering the sanctions that they imposed on the university and the football program last week.

Just about everywhere the NCAA was lauded for its swift and punitive actions. I get that. I appreciate that they didnt drag their feet and take years of investigations in their infractions process to determine guilt. Its obvious that this was a university hierarchy out of control and the school needs to pay for those misdeeds.

Its here where I have more conflict. Im trying to understand who really suffers from the punishments rendered. At this point, the three surviving members of the infamous Gang of Four, former President Graham Spanier, former Vice President Gary Shultz and exAthletic Director Tim Curley are not serving lengthy jail terms, yet. This would help in the healing process. They were the ones who knew and decided not to act, I mean besides Mike McQueary. (Just a question, I know he reported what he saw to Joe, but how did he sleep at night knowing nothing was done about it for the next 10 years?)

Actions against all of the above would be very appropriate. While Im at it, actions against the silent Board of Trustees would seem appropriate also. In the Freeh Report he used the word disengaged to describe them. I read that word as complicit. How this board can survive is beyond me. At least long-time Joe supporter Steve Garban finally showed the decency to step down from his post. His admitting his role in what transpired would be nice, but his failure to do so is the point.

Its all about protecting the golden goose. They hope this will all die down and they can move on. It seems to me theyre as delusional as the press releases coming from the Paterno family. (I understand the point of due process and letting all the facts get out, but just about any attorney I know would tell you to keep your mouth shut until that happens. Ever hear of a thing called a civil suit?)

The NCAA sanctions get to the core of this. Debilitating the football program means there is less money coming in, less in revenue and less in donations. This is not a small consideration. Its the language all these people speak, meaning the NCAA and those who run major universities. Its all about the cash. Always has been and always will be. In that, we are offered a valuable life lesson. Its one that the current players and students might pay attention to and heed. If they learn anything while they are at school, it is being played out in front of them: People will do just about anything to make money, then they will do everything in their power to protect it, whether its for themselves personally, or the entity that allows them to be gainfully employed. Im not being cynical, just stating a fact, one that the sooner we learn, the sooner we are able to navigate our way.

For me this lesson occurred at the start of my senior year of high school. For all of us, this is supposed to be a special time, a culmination of a lot of hard work and a last year of bliss before the harsh realities of the real world. This is the time since either its time to go to work, or go to college to amass loads of crippling debt, but I regress.

My senior year was my return to football after a self-imposed two-year exile. I always preferred playing baseball, but for some reason before my senior year, was overcome with the desire to hit things. Go figure! Training camp long and hot and a lot of fun! It was great being part of a team, better yet being part of one that had a chance to be good. The class that had departed the year before did so with the conference crown and expectations for my class were just as high. Personally, it was with a tremendous sense of achievement that I earned the starting safety assignment. Things were going my way.
Then when school was about to start, all the talk in the local newspaper was about the labor impasse our teachers had with the school district. Strike? That couldnt happen to us could it? Thats how we seniors looked at it. This was our time. Well, maybe a couple extra days of summer werent a bad thing.

Then days turned to weeks, and the weeks turned into a month. Things were not pretty. A lot of angry words were exchanged. I remember a lot of us felt let down by our coaches. We worked so hard for them. Why would they let us down?

One day when a bunch of us went to hang around outside the school to watch the strike festivities, one of the major Philadelphia papers had a reporter there. Of course when asked, a bunch of us gave our opinions. One of them, a fellow who someday would become on overweight bartender in the city of Chicago, was actually quoted in a front-page article voicing his displeasure. Go figure, again!!

Mostly it had to do with a sense of helplessness about being punished for something that none of us students had anything to do with. That those who were supposed to be molding us as young adults were not setting a good example by putting themselves above those who it was their job to shepherd.

When the strike finally ended, the classrooms where a chilly place, especially for someone whose opinions where in print. (Some things never change!) And the classroom had nothing on what occurred on the football field. Our coaches refused to come back to lead us. Instead, a few well-meaning, but in-over-their-heads administrators agreed to take over the team. Well, team in its loosest sense. Nothing was the same. There was no heart. There was no bond between player and coach. And we got hammered in every game we played.

Not to mention, the one teacher who was the most militant in support of the strike, and convinced his fellow football coaches to no-show in football, was the head baseball coach, money he agreed to take. How long do you think it took him to cut the aspiring bartender during tryouts? Everybody on the field! You, in the red bow tie, not so fast.
Like any teenager, I had enough other issues to keep my plate full, but I dont think, at the time, this was the best thing that could happen to me or any of my other classmates. The whole year had a sense of negativity to it. A stifling effect. It would take years for me to make sense out of it.

So its with that eye that I look at the Penn State situation. First and foremost, I think about the unspeakable horrors that the victims endured and the fact that people that were supposed to know better, could have prevented.

But in the ripple effect of life, there are more victims, ones whose only crime was to choose the wrong university to attend. I think about how the players must feel right now, how hard have they worked only to see dreams of a team accomplishment shattered.

About how upper-classmen, who go to every game, can figure out whats going on, on the campus around them. This was supposed to be their time.

Now? They all are going to have to learn about the facts of life. That stuff is going to happen beyond their control for the rest of their lives. The sooner this is accepted the better.

I cant help but feel for so many good kids that have been put in a bad situation. As a parent, you want everything to go right for your kids, for all kids. But you also know that isnt a realistic expectation. Bubbles are going to burst.

But things also have to be put in perspective. Things arent always going to work out the way we want. Everyone doesnt get a trophy. We have to learn how to deal with it and move on. Even it happens in a place we least expect it.

The other thing we learn: Its always easier said than done

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.