Cubs

Kickoff rules changed, Bears will adjust

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Kickoff rules changed, Bears will adjust

Tuesday, March 22, 2011
Posted: 2:01 p.m.

By John Mullin
CSNChicago.com

The rules are changed, as expected, and now come the adjustments.

The NFL will move kickoffs from the 30-yard line to the 35, meaning more kicks into end zones and therefore more touchbacks, which still will come out to the 20-yard line, rather than the 25 as had been proposed.

The league is reducing the number of kickoff returns, unquestionably one of the more electrifying plays in the game, in the interests of reducing the number of injuries from high-speed collisions. Along with those changes, members of the kicking team are allowed no more than a five-yard run-up as their kicker puts his foot into the ball. At the other end, no wedges involving more than two blockers will be permitted.

It wasnt exactly what the Bears wanted, but theyll live with it.

Obviously, our agenda would have been to leave it like it is but we understand the big picture, Bears GM Jerry Angelo told CSNNE.com colleague Tom Curran. They laid out some facts to us and in the best interest of our game and the best interest of our players, this was the best result. We understand it, it's part of the game and we're still going to have kickoff returns. I see it as an adjustment, nothing major.

Major is of course a relative term, and if youre among the NFLs best on kickoffs, as the Bears are, it could be major if it dulls an edge the Bears hold with Devin Hester and Danieal Manning returning kicks.

There are other teams with excellent returners too and all the sentiments were fleshed out by all the teams but we understand the big picture on it, Angelo said. We feel good about the rule and what it will do for the safety of our game. It's still going to be a dimension. It's not going away.

Neither is replay. In fact, its going to get better.

Coaches no longer will need to risk replay challenges for reviews of scoring plays. Those will be automatically subject to review, which should have been the case all along. Consider that an overdue good tweak of a rule intended to get it right.

Back to the kickoffs...

You do wonder if the league will do away with the K balls introduced in 1999 to shorten kicks and go back to letting kickers doctor footballs. Probably not but its a thought.

Robbie Gould told CSNChicago.com that he isnt sure that the game has seen the end of spectacular kickoff returns. Because of the closer launch point (the 35), the temptation will be to drill balls well into or out of the end zone, and that necessarily means lower, driving kicks.

That means returnable kicks. And because touchbacks will still come out to the 20, bringing the ball out of the end zone will clearly still work for the best.

Right now the longest kickoff return is 108 yards, by Ellis Hobbs for New England against the Jets on Sept. 9, 2007.

You read it here first: The Longest kickoff return record will fall in 2011 when someone (Manning or Hester are my co-choice) brings one out from nine yards deep. Some well-meaning kicker will be a yard short of target with a low line drive that the Bears returner will field, knowing that no one from the coverage team is closer than the 20. Coordinator Dave Toub will roll his eyes and HesterManning will just plain roll.

John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

In wake of Astros cheating scandal, Cubs proud they've won the right way

In wake of Astros cheating scandal, Cubs proud they've won the right way

The Cubs and Astros often are compared as franchises that rebuilt from the ground up before winning historic World Series titles. The Cubs snapped their 108-year championship drought in 2016, whereas the Astros won their first ever title a year later.

Both clubs reached baseball’s mountaintop behind young, talented position players — Kris Bryant, Javier Báez, Anthony Rizzo; George Springer, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa — and acquired an ace, veteran starting pitcher — Jon Lester; Justin Verlander — to help cook up the right recipe for winning.

Only now, Houston’s success has been tainted by their cheating scandal; the Astros used a camera located in center field at home games during the 2017 season to steal opposing teams’ signs. 

The scandal resulted in the Astros firing general manager Jeff Luhnow and A.J. Hinch — who both received year-long suspensions from MLB beforehand. The Red Sox and manager Alex Cora — Houston’s bench coach in 2017 — have parted ways, as have the Mets and manager Carlos Beltran, who played for the Astros in 2017. 

While other clubs are in a whirlwind, the Cubs have made one thing 100 percent clear: they play the game the right way.

“We’re really clear about what the rules are. They’re posted for everybody. We talk every spring training about playing with integrity and expecting our players to play fair,” Cubs president Theo Epstein said Friday at Cubs Convention. “And they’ve done a great job of that. I was proud of Anthony Rizzo when he said yesterday that he can say with 100 percent certainty that we play within the rules. And I echo those thoughts, I know that.” 

New layers in the Astros scandal unearth seemingly by the day. Thursday, videos and images surfaced on Twitter possibly showing Houston players wearing wired buzzers under their jerseys. MLB said they found no such evidence in their investigation, however.

Sign-stealing in baseball is as old as the game itself but using technology to do so is problematic, as it goes from looking for a competitive advantage to downright cheating. Houston not only stole signs, but they did so in a way where their hitters knew the exact pitch coming their way.

“It’s unfortunate. It’s definitely surprising too,” Cubs left fielder Kyle Schwarber said Friday. “For me personally, this is the only organization I’ve been in and the way we go about our business is pretty straightforward, cut through. We go with the rules, we go out there and play baseball.

“To hear this is definitely upsetting. I can’t imagine how some of the teams feel that played them in that playoff series, knowing that this is a real thing and knowing that it was an advantage. For that to happen, it’s a shame.”

For the Cubs, their hubris is so strong they don’t feel the need to steal signs, according to right fielder Jason Heyward.

“Even when [former hitting coach] Chili Davis got to our team, he kind of mentioned to us about how teams in Boston,” Heyward said, “how they got together — and this is no pun intended on what just happened with the manager — but he would just say ‘Hey guys, just pay attention. If you’re on second base, look in and see if we can find a way to get a little bit of an edge late in the game.’

“We were all kind of like to ourselves ‘Well, we don’t really do that here. We never really needed it.’ That’s not being cocky or anything, but we never really needed it.”

“I got nothing against any team or any players, but I think we should play the game right and let your talent the competition decide who’s the best,” shortstop Javier Báez said. 

The Cubs maintain they’ve been playing the game the right way, and they’re extremely proud of that. This current era of Cubs baseball has netted four postseason appearances in five seasons, three trips to the NLCS and that one famous championship.

“Definitely feels good, the ways we did it, especially stepping on top in ’16,” Schwarber said. “I think it’s a better satisfying taste too, now that you can look back on it. I think it’s a little thing that you can say you’re proud of. 

“You hear people back in the steroid era say that they’re proud they didn’t take part in that. I think we can say the same thing too.”

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Blackhawks star Patrick Kane’s legacy will live on forever in London after jersey retirement

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Bolt London

Blackhawks star Patrick Kane’s legacy will live on forever in London after jersey retirement

LONDON, Ont. — Patrick Kane will forever be linked to the London Knights after having his No. 88 jersey retired on Friday in a special pregame ceremony. And it was an emotional moment for the Blackhawks superstar, which doesn’t happen often.

“I didn’t really expect that,” Kane told NBC Sports Chicago. “I didn’t know what to expect, to be honest with you. I spent one year here. It was a great year. It felt like more than one year with all the memories I made here and all the friends and relationships I have today.

"The video was pretty special. Obviously with the things that happened in London but even more-so maybe the things that happened in Chicago and everything coming together. You’re just standing there and that’s your career over 13 years, so I think that started hitting me.”



Kane became the ninth player in Knights history to have his number retired, but the first to receive the honor after playing just one season. It’s because it was a historic one.

As a 17-year-old, Kane registered 62 goals and 83 assists for a league-leading 145 points in 58 games during the 2006-07 campaign and was named the Canadian Hockey League’s Rookie of the Year. He went on to post 31 points (10 goals, 21 assists) in 16 playoff games before falling short in the Conference finals.

But before he committed to the Knights, Kane wasn't drawing as much attention as he would've thought. Draft experts projected him to go in the third round and Kane wasn't buying it.

“I couldn't believe it to be honest with you,” Kane said. “I thought I was a lot better than that."

Did he ever prove them wrong.

Kane quickly started to separate himself from the pack in London, and after a strong performance at the 2007 IIHF World Junior Championship, his name was now being discussed for No. 1 overall. And that's exactly what happened.

“Just coming here, not really worrying about that stuff,” Kane said of the draft hype. “I mean, obviously there's outside noise when it's your draft year but I always said the ice rink is my sanctuary out there. That's what I love to do the most and feel the most comfortable, is being on the ice and playing hockey, making plays and trying to score goals.”

Back in London, Kane got a chance to reflect on how far he's come since his days with the Knights. He's a three-time Stanley Cup champion and a former Hart Trophy winner who's still at the top of his game at age 31.

But touring his old locker room — which he said "looks the exact same" — was a reminder for Kane on how quickly his hockey career has flown by.

"It's crazy to think I'm in my 13th year now," Kane said. "We were just looking for our team picture in the room and I was way too far from the recent teams to where I should've been looking. A little bit of time has passed."

A lot of time has passed, but Kane's impact on the organization and community is everlasting.

Screaming young fans in No. 88 Blackhawks jerseys were in awe that Kane was within reaching distance. He signed autographs, took pictures with as many as he could, shook the hand of longtime faculty members and arena workers that he recognized from his playing days in London and smiled his way around the Budweiser Gardens — which Kane knows as The John Labatt Centre.

Kane even gave the Knights a pep talk in the locker room before the game. Even though he didn't play in London very long, it says something about your legacy when aspiring players are choosing to play for the Knights because they look up to No. 88.

“That’s what it’s all about right there,” Kane said. “I remember being a little kid and looking up to certain hockey players too and wanting to be just like them, so if that’s the way this younger generation looks at me, that’s what it’s all about for me. I enjoy that. That excites me, that makes me happy.”

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