Cubs

Fans now a part of Super Bowl media day

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Fans now a part of Super Bowl media day

From Comcast SportsNet
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) -- Chad Ochocinco was recounting how much he had changed during his one season in New England, when a section of fans in the stands started to cheer. Startled, he turned his head away from the microphone and tried to see what was causing the commotion at Super Bowl media day, which had a new look this year. For the first time, fans were allowed to sit in the stands and watch the goofiness unfold on the field. What he heard was some of the 7,300 fans at Lucas Oil Stadium cheering Tuesday when a player complimented their city and their restaurants. "It's kind of crazy," Patriots linebacker Tracy White said. "It's a new thing with the fans being able to buy tickets and come watch us do interviews. It's pretty cool." For 25 apiece, they got headsets that allowed them to hear how coaches and players at some of the 14 podiums on the field responded to media questions and everything else thrown their way. They quickly became part of the ambiance. While videographers were setting up tripods at the most popular podiums -- the one for quarterback Tom Brady drew the most attention -- fans settled into their seats, most of them wearing Colts jerseys. One fan dressed like Brady -- blue Patriots jersey, pants, shoulder pads, hand towel and pretend play list on his left forearm -- ventured to the front row and quickly got his desired several minutes of interview attention. Shortly before the Patriots started walking onto the field, a public address announcer told the crowd: "Let's respect all the media, all the players." The crowd applauded, then started figuring out how to tune in the headsets to listen to the interviews. "It's such an intimate experience," said Nick Lowery, a Patriots fan who drove from Columbia, Mo. "This is really cool." Until Tuesday, the NFL had restricted interviews at the Super Bowl stadium to accredited members of the news and entertainment media. By opening it up to fans, the two hour-long interview sessions felt more like the practice sessions before NCAA basketball tournament games, which are open to the public. Fans weren't allowed to get autographs or take photos with players, but a couple of them managed to sneak one in. A fan got Giants safety Kenny Phillips to autograph a football and toss it back. Mostly, they watched a typical media day -- lots of questions, a little bit of strangeness. A man dressed as a caped character from a cable network wandered about with a crew taping his off-beat interactions with Giants and Patriots. A Spanish language network sent a crew with a dance instructor and a disco ball on a stick, luring players into showing their moves to salsa music. Ochocinco's social media network -- the Ochocinco News Network -- prowled the sideline for interviews. Nobody enjoyed the day more than Ochocinco, who reached the playoffs only twice during 10 seasons with Cincinnati and wound up 0-2. When he was traded to the Patriots in July, he knew he would have to keep most of his comments to himself to co-exist with coach Bill Belichick, who doesn't tolerate diva distractions. Ochocinco kept quiet and accepted a reserve role on the team. He was the last Patriot to wade into the media throng on Tuesday, smiling at one of the best moments of his career. "Aw, man, I've dreamed of it," Ochocinco said. "I've been playing this game a long time -- started out at 4 years old. And this is what you dream of, to come to this stage and enjoy it. So that's what I'm going to do." Asked if it was bittersweet because he wasn't a starter and didn't get to sit at one of the podiums, Ochocinco smiled again. "It's not bittersweet," he said. "It's the Super Bowl."

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

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USA TODAY

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Jon Lester struggles against the division-rival Cardinals

It was a tough day for the North Siders.

The Cubs got obliterated by the Cardinals as Matt Carpenter had a three-homer, two-double day. Ben Finfer, Seth Gruen and Maggie Hendricks join David Kaplan on the latest SportsTalk Live Podcast to talk about the blowout.

Was Jon Lester due for this kind of terrible outing? And do the Cubs have enough to swing a big trade before the deadline?

Plus, the panel discusses Matt Nagy’s first training camp practice in the rain and Roquan Smith’s absence in Bourbonnais.

You can listen to the full podcast here or via the embedded player below:

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

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USA TODAY

Could Bears improve and still lose ground? The MMQB's Albert Breer weighs in on tough NFC North

NBC Sports Chicago’s John "Moon" Mullin talked with The MMQB's Albert Breer, who shared his thoughts on where the Bears stand — and if they’ll be able to compete — in a highly competitive NFC North.

Moon: The Bears have made upgrades, but they’re in the NFC North and not many divisions are tougher, given the strength at quarterbacks.

Breer: Yes. You look at the other three teams, and they all very much believe they’re in a window for winning a championship. The Packers are going through some changes, but they’ve gotten Mike Pettine in there as defensive coordinator and a new general manager who was aggressive on draft day. I know that internally they feel that’s going to give them a boost, and bringing Aaron Rodgers back obviously is the biggest thing of all.

Minnesota, all the things they did this offseason, signing (quarterback) Kirk Cousins, (defensive lineman) Sheldon Richardson, and they were knocking on the door last year.

The Lions have been building for two years under (general manager) Bob Quinn and (new coach) Matt Patricia, who lines right up with the general manager — the two of them worked together in New England. They really believe that Matthew Stafford is ready to take the sort of jump that Matt Ryan made in Atlanta a few years ago, where you see that mid-career breakthrough from a quarterback that we see sometimes now.

It’s one of the toughest divisions in football, and every team in the division believes that it’s in the position to contend right now.

Moon: We didn’t see a lot of Mitch Trubisky — 12 games — so it sounds possible that the Bears could improve and still lose ground.

Breer: The Lions were pretty good last year. The Vikings were in the NFC Championship game. And who knows where the Packers would’ve been if Rodgers hadn’t broken his collarbone. The biggest change is that Aaron Rodgers will be back, and that’s the best player in the league. It was a really good division last year, and you’re adding back in a Hall of Fame quarterback.

As far as the Bears, there’s going to be questions where the organization is going. It’s been seven years since they were in the playoffs. I think they certainly got the coach hire right. This is a guy who I know other organizations liked quite a bit and was going to be a head coach sooner or later.

And I think he matches up well with Mitch. I think the Bears are in a good spot, but as you said, they’re competing in a difficult environment, so it may not show up in their record.

Moon: A lot of love for the Vikings after they get to the NFC Championship and then add Kirk Cousins.

Breer: A lot of people look at Minnesota and think Kirk Cousins’ll be a huge improvement. And maybe he will be. I think he’s a very good quarterback, top dozen in the league. But Case Keenum played really, really well last year, so it wasn’t like they weren’t getting anything out of that position last year.

The NFC right now is clearly the strength of the league. If you picked the top 10 teams in the league, you could make a case that seven or eight of them are in the NFC. I think there will be NFC teams that miss the playoffs who could be in the Super Bowl coming out of the AFC. There’s a little bit of an imbalance there.

Moon: Trubisky projects as part of a wave of new quarterbacks league-wide, a sea change in the NFL.

Breer: The interesting thing is that this is probably as stable as the league has been at quarterback in a long time. There’ve been questions where the next great quarterbacks will come from, but I don’t know that there’s a team right now in the NFL like you looked at the Jets or Browns last year, where you say that team is definitely drafting a quarterback in 2019.

Everyone either has a big-money veteran or former first-round pick on their roster. One team that doesn’t is the Cowboys, but they’ve got Dak Prescott who’s played really well. Every team in the league has some stability at the position. I think the position is as healthy as it’s been in a long time, and you’ve got a lot of good young prospects.