Bears

The legend of Ron Santo will live forever in Cooperstown

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The legend of Ron Santo will live forever in Cooperstown

ST. LOUIS Before Ron Santo and Billy Williams had their statues facing each other at Sheffield and Addison, they were side-by-side at Double-A ball.

This was San Antonio in 1959 and Williams remembered Rogers Hornsby, a roving Cubs instructor, going down the line after watching workouts near the end of the season.

He looked at some of the guys and said, Listen, you better go get a job because you cant play this game of baseball, Williams recalled. He started to get to us and we didnt know what he was going to say.

He goes: William, you can hit in Chicago. You can hit right now in Wrigley Field and we want you to work on your defense. Santo, youre a good defensive ballplayer and youre going to hit some home runs. Both of you guys are going to be in the big leagues pretty soon.

Hornsby must have had a pretty good eye for talent, but theres no way he could have known that both players would ultimately join him in the Hall of Fame.

As part of the Golden Era committee, Williams lobbied for his old friend last December, and secured the spot in Cooperstown, almost exactly a year after Santo died from bladder cancer.

After years of frustration and disappointment, the induction takes place on Sunday in upstate New York, and theres no doubt which hat Santo will have on his plaque.

I dont know if the worlds ever seen a guy with more passion and care and love for a franchise, said former Cubs general manager Jim Hendry. Loved the players. Loved the fans. Loved the city. And gave his whole life through thick and thin, through good health and obviously horrible health the last decade to the organization.

Santo wound up hitting 342 home runs, and winning five Gold Gloves at third base. He never ran with the sabermetrics crowd, but he did finish among the league leaders in walks nine times during his 15 years in the big leagues.

But numbers dont tell the story of Santo, not even the more than 60 million he raised for juvenile diabetes research, because that doesnt even begin to account for all the sick kids and amputees he quietly found time for across the country.

Traveling secretary Jimmy Bank is in his 20th season with the Cubs. Santo had two legs when Bank took the job, lost them both fighting diabetes and to the end pushed to make as many trips as possible.

Heart of gold, Bank said. Every hotel, everywhere we went, he stopped and signed autographs. I even asked him a couple times: Ronnie, dont sign in the lobby, because then weve got security issues with the players.

Santo would raise his voice: These are our fans! Im gonna sign!

In good times and bad times, Santo became such a huge part of the Cubs brand, as the voice on WGN Radio for 21 seasons. Hendry, Bank and TV play-by-play man Len Kasper all essentially said the same thing: I think about him all the time.

When I got the job, he called and told me how excited he was for me, Kasper said. He basically said: Youre a Cub now. And thats kind of how he viewed the world. Once I was a Cub in his mind, I was in.

Santo didnt need to memorize the game notes. Pat Hughes, a great straight man with such a smooth voice, was there for that.

Santo was the one connected in the managers office and the clubhouse. The players saw what he went through, hobbling to get on charter planes and refusing to complain during the brutal travel schedule.

He was real, man. He was truly passionate about baseball and the Chicago Cubs, outfielder Reed Johnson said. The players really bought into that, (and) thats why he got so much respect, especially from guys in the clubhouse.

Johnson remembered the call when the Cubs clinched the division in 2008: You could just hear him in the background on the radio going: Yeeeeesssss! Yeeeeesssss!

On some level, even if you never met Santo, you still knew him if you just listened on the radio, and that connected generations of Cubs fans.

He was as himself on the air as he was off the air, Kasper said. That is what I think most broadcasters strive to be, but we all hold something back, under the guise of professionalism or whatever.

But I think in a pure sense of what people want especially Cub fans and people in the Midwest they want you to be genuine. They want you to be unvarnished and unfiltered and Ron brought that every single day.

If there was a player he had never heard of, he would tell everybody on the air, and there was something very charming about that.

Bank had lunch with some friends on Saturday in St. Louis and they started telling Santo stories. It doesnt really matter whats going on in Cooperstown. As Bank said: There are things in every city that remind me of him.

After Santo died in 2010, Bank got phone calls from bus drivers in a few cities, including the one the Cubs have had for years in St. Louis.

They used to hear us on the buses laughing and having fun and talking, Bank said. They called me (to say) were really gonna miss (you guys) on the buses.

That was the kind of magnetism at the core of Santos personality. Friends, strangers, it didnt really matter. They gathered to watch him play with maximum effort and listen to him moan and groan and cheer on the radio.

Thats why so many will be there in Cooperstown, as the Hall of Fame recognizes what the Cubs already knew a long time ago.

Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

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Recalling moments in Tom Brady history ahead of his likely last meeting with Bears

As Tom Brady approaches what in all reasonable likelihood will be his last game against the Bears and in Soldier Field, the first time this reporter saw Tom Brady comes very much to mind. Actually the first times, plural. Because they were indeed memorable, for different reasons.

That was back in 2001, when Brady should have started replacing Wally Pipp as the poster athlete for what can happen when a player has to sit out and his replacement never gives the job back. Drew Bledsoe, who’d gotten the New England Patriots to a Super Bowl, had gotten injured week two of that season. Brady, who’d thrown exactly one pass as a rookie the year before, stepped in and never came out, playing the Patriots into the AFC playoffs the same year the Bears were reaching and exiting the NFC playoffs when Philadelphia’s Hugh Douglas body-slammed QB Jim Miller on his shoulder.

After that the playoff assignments were elsewhere, including the Patriots-Steelers meeting in Pittsburgh for the AFC Championship. Brady started that game but left with an ankle injury and Bledsoe came off the bench to get the Patriots into Super Bowl.

Then came one of those rare moments when you are witnessing history but have the misfortune of not knowing it at the time.

The question of Super Bowl week was whether Bill Belichick would stay with Bledsoe’s winning hand or go back to Brady. Belichick of course waited deep into Super Bowl week before announcing his decision at 8 p.m. on a Thursday night, the second time that season Belichick had opted to stay with Brady over a healthy Bledsoe. And of course Belichick didn’t announce the decision himself (surprise); he had it put out by the team’s media relations director.

You did have to respect Belichick, though, going into his first Super Bowl as a head coach with a sixth-round draft choice at quarterback and leaving a former (1992) No. 1-overall pick with a $100-million contract on the bench. The Patriots upset The Greatest Show on Turf Rams in that Super Bowl, Brady was MVP, and Bledsoe was traded to Buffalo that offseason.

History.

That Super Bowl also included one of those performance snapshots the Bears envision for Mitch Trubisky but missed a chance to let him attempt last Sunday at Miami in his 17th NFL start. Brady took the Patriots on a drive starting at their own 17 with 1:30 to play and no timeouts, ending with an Adam Vinatieri field-goal winner.

If Belichick was all right letting his second-year quarterback in just his 17th start throw eight straight passes starting from inside his own red zone, the next time Matt Nagy gets the football at his own 20 with timeouts and time in hand, best guess is that the decision will be to see if his quarterback lead a game-winning drive with his arm instead of handing off.

It may not happen this Sunday. Brady is a career 4-0 vs. Bears, and if there is one constant it is that his opposite numbers play really bad football against him, or rather his coach’s defense. Bears quarterback passer ratings opposite Brady, even in years when the Bears were good: Jim Miller 51.2 in 2002, Rex Grossman 23.7 in 2006; Jay Cutler 32.9 and Cutler again in the 51-23 blowout in Foxboro. Cutler finished that game with a meaningless 108.6 rating, meaningless because Cutler put up big numbers beginning when his team was down 38-7 after he’d mucked about with a 61.7 rating, plus having a fumble returned for a TD, while the Bears were being humiliated.

A surprise would be if Trubisky bumbles around like his predecessors (New England allows an average opponent passer rating of 91.6), but whether he can produce a third straight 120-plus rating…. Then again, Pat Mahomes put a 110.0 on the Patriots last Sunday night, but Deshaun Watson managed only a 62.9 against New England in game one.

Trubisky will make the third of the three 2017 first-round QB’s to face the Patriots. The first two lost.

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

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USA TODAY

Bulls Talk Podcast: The ultimate Bulls briefing to get you ready for Opening Night

On this edition of the Bulls Talk podcast, Mark Schanowski sits down with Kendall Gill and Will Perdue to discuss all the need-to-know topics to get you ready for the season opener. The guys analyze how Lauri’s injury will make its mark on the early season rotation, whether Jabari will return to the starting unit or embrace the 6th-man role and why Portis betting on himself is the right move. Plus, Kendall has the key to unlock a “6th Man of the Year” award for Portis this season.

Listen to the full episode here or via the embedded player below: