Arizona Cardinals

Ever wonder how Bears, and not Cardinals, became 'Monsters of the Midway?'

Ever wonder how Bears, and not Cardinals, became 'Monsters of the Midway?'

Ever wonder how Bears, and not Cardinals, became 'Monsters of the Midway?'

“Monsters of the Midway” is one of the coolest nicknames for a team in the NFL. It just sounds fitting for a franchise that’s steeped in great defense, especially at the linebacker position.

It also has, actually, nothing to do with the Chicago Bears.

The original “Monsters of the Midway” were the University of Chicago football team. Yes, the University of Chicago — now known for its scholars but not its athletics — once was home to a football powerhouse, winning two national championships and seven Big Ten titles between 1899-1924.

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The Maroons were coached by the legendary Amos Alonzo Stagg, who’s considered one of the most important innovators of football’s infancy.

Where does “Midway” come from, then? (It's not the airport). The Midway Plaisance is a pristine one-mile strip of parkland running through the University of Chicago’s campus, stretching one mile from Jackson Park in the east to Washington Park in the west between 59th and 60th streets.

Hence, the University of Chicago football team was dubbed the “Monsters of the Midway.”

Stagg left U-Chicago in 1932, and the university disbanded its football team in 1939, then left the Big Ten in 1946. The original Stagg Field — where the Maroons became one of the nation’s best college football teams — was the site of the first self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction on Dec. 2, 1942. 

The Bears were at their peak when U-Chicago dumped football, and absorbed the “Monsters of the Midway” moniker right around when Sid Luckman and George Halas won the 1940 NFL Championship, 73-0, over Washington. The name stuck, and roared back locally and nationally in 1985 as the Bears mauled their way to winning Super Bowl XX.

The Bears' most recent renaissances — 2005, 2006 and 2018 — were all based around dominant defenses. Perfect for being known as the "Monsters of the Midway." It fit Bill George in 1963 and Dick Butkus shortly after. It fit Mike Singletary in the 80's and Brian Urlacher in the 2000s. It fits Khalil Mack and Akiem Hicks now, doesn't it?

But you might’ve known this history. What struck me while researching this EverWonder article is how, actually, ridiculous it is for the Bears to be known as the “Monsters of the Midway.”

Because the Bears have no connection to the South Side of Chicago. But the Cardinals do.

“We lived on the South Side and the Bears were North Siders, playing at Wrigley Field then,” a die-hard Chicago Cardinals fan told the Associated Press in 1988, long after the team left the city. “The Cardinals played at Comiskey Park on the South Side.” 

In a city with such a clear, hyper-local demarcation of sports loyalties, how did the North Side’s football team co-opt a nickname rooted deeply on the South Side?

It starts with the Cardinals being bad. They stunk. This is a team that went on a 29-game losing streak between 1942 and 1945, and in that streak combined for a year with the Pittsburgh Steelers due to a player shortage during World War II.

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(The team was known as Card-Pitt, and sneeringly referred to as the “Carpets,” because as one fan wrote to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “I think it’s appropriate because every team in the league walks over them!” 

Meanwhile, the Bears won three NFL championships in the span of four years in the early ’40’s. They had a much larger following in Chicago than the Cardinals, even despite being located on opposite sides of Madison St. 

The Bears were a natural fit to carry the “Monsters of the Midway” moniker after the University of Chicago stopped playing football. From one great team to another. Local divide be damned.

The Cardinals moved away from Chicago in 1959, settling in St. Louis for a few decades before relocating to Arizona. The Bears played at Wrigley Field until 1970 before permanently* settling at Soldier Field — only a short trip up Lake Shore Drive from the Midway. 

*Let's all forget about the 2002 season in Champaign, shall we?

Maybe if the Cardinals were better back in the late ’30’s and early ’40’s, they would’ve been known as the “Monsters of the Midway.” Maybe that nickname would’ve followed them across the country, from Missouri to Arizona.

But the name just fits the Bears, doesn’t it?

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The Bears should thank the Texans for trading DeAndre Hopkins where they did

The Bears should thank the Texans for trading DeAndre Hopkins where they did

With the 26th overall pick in the 2013 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers selected UCLA defensive lineman Datone Jones. One pick later, DeAndre Hopkins went off the board to the Houston Texans. 

The Bears — and the NFC North — dodged a bullet there. Can you imagine Hopkins with Aaron Rodgers? And maybe Davante Adams, too? Yikes. 

So when the Houston Texans agreed to gift Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals in a truly bizarre trade (which becomes official Wednesday), the first thought here wasn’t wondering why the Bears didn’t go after ‘Nuk for the low, low price of an over-the-hill running back, a second round pick and a fourth round pick. 

The Bears need to work out a contract extension for Allen Robinson, who, by the way, had only 18 fewer yards than Hopkins in 2019 and is a year younger. Trading for Hopkins probably would've necessitated an extension for him, and since the Bears already have Robinson, it's better to try to get him secured.

But anyways: The thought here for Bears fans should be a sigh of relief the Packers didn’t make a play for Hopkins. 

I’m not sure how realistic that would’ve been, seeing as Green Bay isn’t flush with cap space. But a Hopkins-Adams pairing for the twilight of Aaron Rodgers’ career? Oof. That would’ve been rough news for the Bears. 

The good news here? The Bears don’t play the Cardinals this year. 

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2019 MLB preview and predictions: How Cubs stack up against Cardinals

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AP

2019 MLB preview and predictions: How Cubs stack up against Cardinals

The National League looks as strong as ever, with as many as 12 of the 15 teams planning to contend in 2019.

The Cubs had a quiet winter, transactionally speaking, but almost every other team in the NL bolster their roster this offseason. 

But expectations haven't changed at the corner of Clark and Addison. After a disappointing finish to 2018, Kris Bryant and Co. once again have their sights set on another World Series.

With that, let's take a look at all of the teams that could stand in the way of the Cubs getting back to the Fall Classic:

St. Louis Cardinals

2018 record: 88-74, 3rd in NL Central

Offseason additions: Paul Goldschmidt, Andrew Miller, Matt Wieters, Chris Beck, Drew Robinson

Offseason departures: Luke Weaver, Tyson Ross, Bud Norris, Matt Adams, Carson Kelly, Patrick Wisdom

X-factor: Marcell Ozuna

The Cardinals traded for Ozuna last winter, expecting to get the hitter that just put up 37 homers, 124 RBI, a .924 OPS and hit .312 while coming off back-to-back All-Star appearances.

Instead, they got a solid hitter who was only slightly above average (106 OPS+) and saw a major dip in power (23 homers, 88 RBI). 

Which player is the real Marcell Ozuna?

He's still only 28 and is a free agent after this season. The Cardinals are counting on him to be one of their big bats in the middle of the lineup, likely hitting cleanup and lending protection to Goldschmidt.

We know Goldschmidt and Matt Carpenter are going to hit if they're healthy and we know guys like Paul DeJong, Yadi Molina, Kolten Wong and Harrison Bader will be thorns in the Cubs' side at various points in 2019. But we don't know what type of player Ozuna will be.

You could say the same thing about Dexter Fowler, who has hit just .230 with a .739 OPS in a Cardinals uniform after signing an $82.5 million deal with the organization before the 2017 season. He still has three years left on his contract and if he can't regain his form, will the Cardinals be forced to stick a guy making more than $16 million a year on the bench in favor of better offensive options Jose Martinez or Tyler O'Neill?

Projected lineup

1. Matt Carpenter - 3B
2. Paul DeJong - SS
3. Paul Goldschmidt - 1B
4. Marcell Ozuna - LF
5. Dexter Fowler - RF
6. Yadier Molina - C
7. Kolten Wong - 2B
8. Harrison Bader - CF

Projected rotation

1. Miles Mikolas
2. Jack Flaherty
3. Adam Wainwright
4. Michael Wacha
5. Dakota Hudson

Outlook

The last time the Cardinals were in the playoffs, they watched as Javy Baez sent Wrigley Field into a frenzy with a blast to the right-centerfield bleachers. That 3-run shot came off John Lackey and both he and Jason Heyward had yet to don a Cubs uniform. Only one pitcher that threw for the Cubs in that game is still on the team (Pedro Strop).

Oh yeah, and the Cubs were still a year away from winning their first championship in more than a century.

In other words: It was a long time ago. It feels like a lifetime given how often the Cardinals were in the postseason prior to 2016.

So yeah, this organization and their fanbase are hungry as hell to get back to October. They proved that this winter.

The Cardinals didn't make a ton of moves over the offseason, but the decisions they made are very impactful — trading for Goldschmidt and signing Miller and Wieters.

Then they went out and reportedly extended Goldschmidt through the 2024 season. He is one of the best players in the NL and brings a legitimate stud to the middle of the lineup. Now the Cubs are forced to face him 19 times a season for at least the next half-decade and he carries a .353/.471/.699 slash line (1.170 OPS) against Chicago pitching in 43 career games. (The somewhat good news is that Goldschmidt also tears up Brewers pitching to the tune of a .366/.478/.652 slash line in 46 career games.)

Miller had a rough 2018 season, sporting a 4.24 ERA and 1.38 WHIP while pitching only 34 innings due to injuries. But he's still only 33 and was arguably the best reliever in the game from 2014-17 when he posted a 1.72 ERA, 0.79 WHIP and 14.5 K/9 in 260 appearances. If he's even close to that pitcher again, that's a huge stabilizing force at the back end of the Cardinals bullpen. However, he's had a really rough go of it in spring training thus far:

Wieters has never turned into the star many were expecting him to become, but he'll be good depth for St. Louis behind Molina.

This offense should be just fine, especially once Jedd Gyorko returns from injury and if they can somehow find a way to get Martinez and O'Neill in the lineup often.

The defense is also going to be great, with speedster Bader chasing everything down in the outfield and Molina/Wong/DeJong up the middle.

The pitching staff is where most of the questions lie. 

Carlos Martinez has been their ace in the past, but he experienced shoulder issues this spring and it's unknown how much time he'll miss or if he'll be a starter or reliever when he returns. He only pitched 118.2 innings last year due to the same injury.

Veteran relievers Brett Cecil and Luke Gregerson are also both dealing with arm injuries and not expected to be in the Opening Day bullpen.

Miles Mikolas was an incredible find for the Cardinals last year and after a fantastic season (18-4, 2.83 ERA, 1.07 WHIP), they made sure to lock him up for another four years. 23-year-old Jack Flaherty was a Top-50 prospect entering 2018 and exploded onto the MLB scene with a very good season that included a ridiculous 10.8 K/9 rate. He looks like a potential Cy Young contender this year and gives the Cardinals a nice 1-2 punch in the rotation even without Martinez.

After that, however, it's up in the air. Adam Wainwright is 37, Michael Wacha has been injured/inconsistent and rookie Dakota Hudson (just named the team's fifth starter Thursday) has only 27.1 MLB innings under his belt.

Meanwhile, in the bullpen, 22-year-old Jordan Hicks is looking like the closer with his 100+ mph fastball, but he also has some control issues (5.2 BB/9 in his rookie season) and blew more games (7) than he saved (6) last year. After him and Miller, there's a hodge podge of unproven guys like John Brebbia, Dominic Leone, Chasen Shreve and others. Former top prospect Alex Reyes is looming as a potential X-factor in the bullpen, but he has pitched only 27 innings since he had Tommy John surgery after the 2016 season.

Expect this to be a three-team race in the NL Central all year and it would not be at all surprising to see the Cardinals on top come October. 

But for now, I'll put them just behind the Cubs only because I have question marks about their outfielders (Ozuna and Fowler) and some of their pitching. I also think the Cubs have more depth than any team in the division and are better built for the marathon that is a 162-game season.

Prediction: 2nd in NL Central, wild-card team

All 2019 previews & predictions

San Francisco Giants
Arizona Diamondbacks
San Diego Padres
Colorado Rockies
Los Angeles Dodgers
Miami Marlins
New York Mets
Atlanta Braves
Philadelphia Phillies
Washington Nationals
Cincinnati Reds
Pittsburgh Pirates
Milwaukee Brewers
St. Louis Cardinals

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