Bears

Rooting Interest

Rooting Interest

Friday, Jan. 22, 2010
12:35 AM

It happens every year at this time. You know. The winter blahs. The hectic, euphoric rush of the holidays is over and for most of us all of its remnants are put away leaving everything looking bare. (That is unless youre that person in the neighborhood that STILL has their Christmas light up!)

Add to that, the bills are coming in (The Jersey Shore Barbie and Situation Ken cost what?) and we are only two months into the 6 months of Chicago winter, things are starting to look bleak. Of course for me there is also another reason for the bad feelings this time of year. (Isnt there always?) Its the NFL Playoffs. For me theyve always presented the ultimate dilemma. Thats because I realize, once again, that my team is not going to win. That I understood this going in isnt much of a consolation. Its one of the great ironies of life I guess, that someone who is as big a fan of the NFL as I am would be tortured by its ending each year. Isnt that funny? (For all of you Cub fans out there: Zip it! Youve had enough other things, Jordan, to ease your pain!) That I now reside in a city that treats its only Super Bowl win 24 years ago as the second coming makes it only funnier. Doesnt it?

So as I watch the two games on Sunday, it will be with tempered enthusiasm. Dont get me wrong, its my favorite day of football of the year. Im not feeling sorry, I think, jealous, would be the right word. Because, as the fans of the two teams that win on Sunday will find out, being that close will make your head explode. For a fan, there is no rush like your team winning it all, and of all of the sports, I dont think it gets any bigger than the NFL. A win this Sunday puts your team in the Super Bowl and you have two weeks to get ready. It can be the most wonderful two weeks of your rooting life. For someone like me its a dangerous time, as Red would tell Andy, because there is hope. It only figures then, that losing a Super Bowl is the ultimate downer. I would think that would be especially true for three of the four remaining teams.

For as much as a Philadelphia Eagles fan has suffered, over and over, fans of the Jets, Vikings and Saints are right there with them. Ill include the Jets in this even though they have a Super Bowl victory, probably the biggest ever, because it was over forty years ago. A lot of broken dreams in forty years. An Eagles fan can relate. Besides which, in New York, Jets fans are looked down upon. Normally I would find it funny, and also look down on them, and I have, but them being so close has me thinking of how much theyve endured. (Am I getting soft?!) Realistically I would think that this is the end of the line for this years Jets. They remind me of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of Tony Dungy that ran into the Greatest Show on Turf in the 1999 NFC title game. That game was also one that featured the high-powered offense versus the brick wall defense, the tipping point being that the team with the defense didnt have much play out of the QB and could run the ball, sound familiar? That game ended 11-6 in favor of the team with the offense. This Jets team, like that Bucs one is offensively a couple of years away from being the team to beat. (Tampa took 3 more.) So for a Jets team that was 9-7 and basically lucked its way into the playoffs, its been nice, we have some lovely parting gifts. I have a feeling that they will make their presence felt before they leave, but it wont be enough.

On the NFC side is where it gets really interesting. These are two tortured franchises. High praise from an Eagles fan. In Minnesota, theyve lost FOUR Super Bowls. Ouch! Not only that, in 1998, the Vikings were 15-1 and in the title game, at home, and leading with 2:07 left in the game. Their kicker, Gary Anderson had a 38 yard field goal to give them a ten point lead and punch their ticket to the Super Bowl. Of course, he missed it. His only miss all year! Atlanta then proceeded to tie the game and then win it in over-time. Dirty Bird! I wanted to get sick when I watched that. A loss like that put a serious hurt on the psyche of a fan for a long time. The players change, time moves on and the hurt stays. That team never really recovered, good but not good enough, including the infamous 41-0 loss to the Giants in the title game two years later. And did I mention the 4 Super Bowl losses? Or the Hail Mary game against the Cowboys? Can you imagine whats going on in the minds of Vikings fans right now? I can!

On the other side you have the New Orleans Saints. 6 playoff appearances in 43 years! Thats more than broken dreams, its heartbreaking. Why would you be a Saints fan? (I know why!) Do you like pain and suffering? Are you in such a Mardi Gras haze that you dont realize whats going on? And who dat could forget the Aints of the early 1980s? Yes this is one team that even a hardened cynic like myself wouldnt have a problem seeing win, theyve earned it. Also I have to mention that on the Saturday night before the 2006 NFC title game between the Saints and Bears was one of the most fun nights Ive had in the bar in my 15 years there. There was a line out the door. Saints fans everywhere! They were singing and dancing, and yes, drinking to their hearts content. It was a sight to behold. And after what they had endured with Katrina, who could blame them? They were happy to be ANYWHERE, let alone watching their team one step from the Super Bowl. We know how that ended, but I had so many of them come back in on Sunday, after what I know as a tough loss, to thank me for how much fun they had. That is something Ill never forget.

So I guess you can tell what team Im rooting for. While Im at work, Ill be riveted to the TV and cheering on the game (and my side bets) with everyone else, but Ill also realize how much it means to three fan bases far away from here. I know that for any one of them, two more wins will mean more than winning a game. It will mean an end to a seeming lifetime of suffering. Yeah, Im jealous (and soft!). But, of course, if Indy ends up winning it all, theres going to be a familiar feeling in those three fan bases. Very familiar, trust me. Same as it ever was!

Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?

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USA TODAY

Three questions for Bears ILBs: What kind of an impact will Roquan Smith make?

Pre-camp depth chart

1. Danny Trevathan
2. John Timu
3. Joel Iyiegbuniwe

1. Roquan Smith
2. Nick Kwiatkoski
3. Jonathan Anderson

1. How good can Roquan Smith be?

Making sweeping observations from shorts-and-helmets practices in OTAs is often a fool’s errand, but Smith looked the part while running around the practice fields of Halas Hall after being drafted in April. His quickness and instinctiveness stood out — as they did at Georgia — and his football intelligence and work ethic were praised by coaches and teammates. 

“He’s learning well,” Trevathan said. “He’s doing a good job of learning. He’s learning the little things that you need to learn in this defense. Now it’s all about putting on a show and going out there and rocking.”

And that’s what’s going to be fun to watch in Bourbonnais: How does Smith play with the pads on? Chances are, the answer to that question will be “well,” setting the eighth overall pick on a path to being a mainstay of this defense for years to come. 

That’s not to say Smith doesn’t have plenty on which to work during training camp. But he left Georgia as a sort of “safe bet” in the draft, and nothing he’s done to this point has changed the view of him that he’s likely going to be a good one. 

2. Can Danny Trevathan stay healthy?

In terms of size and athleticism, Trevathan and Smith profile similar to NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis, the inside linebacking tandem that was the spine of the San Francisco 49ers defense during Fangio’s time there. But for Trevathan and Smith to reach that lofty bar — or even to come close to it — Trevathan needs to be more available than he was his first two years with the Bears.

This isn’t questioning Trevathan’s toughness — far from it. That he returned for Week 1 of the 2017 season 10 months after rupturing his patellar tending (an injury that can be a career-ender) was impressive, and that he was immediately productive upon returning was even more extraordinary. But Trevathan missed three games in November due to a strained calf, and coupled with a one-game suspension and the seven games he missed in 2016, the 28-year-old has only played in 21 of 32 games since signing with the Bears. 

Trevathan is confident he can improve his production in 2018, given he wasn’t able to participate in last year’s offseason program practices. He’s entering his third year in Fangio’s defense and feels better prepared after going through OTAs and minicamps this year. It’s just now about him staying on the field to make sure that work pays off.

“I’m more comfortable with this defense, I’m more comfortable with the guys and the calls that we make,” Trevathan said. “I take pride in being correct and working my tail off and making the defense better. And the more that I can be out there — which I plan on being out there a lot — it’s going to help us tremendously.” 

3. How big a role will Nick Kwiatkoski have?

The Bears didn’t draft Smith because they felt like they absolutely needed to upgrade over Kwiatkoski, who’s acquitted himself well in 25 games since being picked in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. But Kwiatkoski has dealt with some injury issues, and for as solid a player as he may be, the Bears’ defense needed (and still needs) more great players. Drafting Smith gave the Bears a shot at adding a great player.

It also leaves Kwiatkoski in the same spot he was in a year ago, when the Bears entered the 2017 season with Trevathan and Jerrell Freeman as their unquestioned starting inside linebackers. Smith still has to earn that starting spot, but the safe bet is he will, relegating Kwiatkoski again to reserve duties.

And that’s a positive for the overall health of this defense, having a player good enough to start ready to play if needed. But it also raises this question: What do the Bears do with Kwiatkoski if he’s one of their four best linebackers, but isn’t one of their two best inside linebackers? 

So for the purposes of watching training camp practices, seeing if Kwiatkoski gets any reps at outside linebacker will be an interesting storyline to follow. 

Nationals fans sent Kyle Schwarber from hero to villain in monumentally entertaining Home Run Derby

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USA TODAY

Nationals fans sent Kyle Schwarber from hero to villain in monumentally entertaining Home Run Derby

WASHINGTON, D.C. — How could someone like Kyle Schwarber play the villain?

The fan favorite who’s always quick with a smile — or an Uncle Sam costume on the Fourth of July — Schwarber doesn’t fit the mold of a loathsome target of boos. But he made quite the heel turn in the minds of Washington Nationals fans Monday night, and of course he knew it was coming.

Schwarber went from getting cheered by the legions in attendance at the Home Run Derby to getting booed when he took on, and eventually lost to, hometown hero Bryce Harper in the final round.

“I was down in the tunnel saying, ‘If we get to the finals, Harp, they’re all going to be against me. I think they’re all going to be against me,’” Schwarber said Monday night. “And then I went out there and got booed after they all got pumped up for me. That’s just the beauty of it, and I was happy for Bryce that he won it in front of the home crowd.”

Harper delivered an incredibly memorable baseball moment Monday night, catching up to Schwarber’s 18 home runs with a ridiculous display of repetitive power to win a Home Run Derby for the ages. The format of this event, revamped a couple years ago, made for a dramatic and hugely entertaining evening. Harper smacked nine homers over the final 47 seconds of the final round to tie Schwarber, then bested him in bonus time. Unsurprisingly, the home crowd was going ballistic for their boy.

But earlier in the night, it was Schwarber getting all the cheers, when he made his own last-second comeback to beat Philadelphia Phillies slugger Rhys Hoskins in the second round. Schwarber was pumping up the crowd, pumping his fists and screaming while putting on a show of his own to catch and pass Hoskins' 20 home runs and advance to the finals.

How quickly the locals forgot.

By the finals — during which Schwarber looked understandably exhausted — the crowd had turned on him, trying to get every advantage for Harper.

“As soon as I got done with that round, I told myself that he had it,” Schwarber said. “I knew that he had the home crowd behind him, and I knew that he was a very prolific power hitter with a great swing. For him to come in and do that and started getting down to the wire, all of a sudden he started racking them up one at a time. You kind of just accept your fate there.”

Perhaps the night could’ve ended differently for Schwarber had he listened more closely to the advice of his teammates, Javy Baez and Willson Contreras, who were quick with Gatorade, a towel and words of encouragement on Monday. Baez hit 16 home runs in his own first-round appearance, though Los Angeles Dodgers slugger Max Muncy knocked him out.

“I was just telling him to slow down,” Baez said. “He was kind of rushing a little bit, that’s why he was jumping to the ball.”

“They were actually giving me really good advice that I didn’t take because I was really dumb-headed,” Schwarber said. “‘Make sure you take some pitches and get the pitch that you want.’ At the end, I felt like I was swinging at everything. I was just running out of gas. I felt like I had to put up as many swings just to try to put a couple out.”

Schwarber was totally content with losing out to Harper’s home-field advantage. Though as his homers flew out deep into the right-field seats Monday night, you couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like if Schwarber was instead taking aim at Sheffield Avenue and getting his own home-field advantage from Cubs fans.

The North Side hasn’t played host to the All-Star Game since 1990, so perhaps Schwarber will still be slugging the next time the Friendly Confines are the site of the Home Run Derby.

“That’d be really cool one day if the All-Star Game’s at Wrigley,” Schwarber said, “and to participate in the Derby, that’d be fun.”