5 Questions with...Tribune's Brian Hamilton

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5 Questions with...Tribune's Brian Hamilton

Wednesday, Sept. 29, 2010

By Jeff Nuich
CSN Chicago Senior Director of CommunicationsCSNChicago.com Contributor

Want to know more about your favorite Chicago media celebrities? CSNChicago.com has your fix as we put the citys most popular personalities on the spot with everyones favorite weekly local celeb feature entitled 5 Questions with...

On Wednesdays, exclusively on CSNChicago.com, its our turn to grill the local media and other local VIPs with five random sports and non-sports related questions that will definitely be of interest to old and new fans alike.

This weeks guestone of the rising stars on the Chicago Tribune sports staff whos daily task this time of year is covering the most loved and most hated college football team on the planet: The Notre Dame Fighting Irisha New Jersey native who now calls Wrigleyville his homehere are 5 Questions withBRIAN HAMILTON!

BIO: Chicago Tribune sportswriter Brian Hamilton was assigned to the Notre Dame beat in July 2007. Since joining the Tribune in September 2005, Brian has covered everything from the Illinois high school cheerleading championships to the WNBA to the Final Four to Super Bowl XLI to the Winter Olympics to the Blackhawks' Stanley Cup run, nearly all of it without embarrassment. In the summer of 2006, he wrote a profile of a plucky, under-the-radar recruit named Jimmy Clausen, giving the kid an infusion of much-needed publicity.

Prior to arriving at the Tribune, Brian spent six years scraping permafrost off his notebook while working in Minnesota at the St. Paul Pioneer Press and mainly covering college football, basketball and the NBA's Timberwolves. This after attending one of the best schools for journalism in America, Northwestern University, and taking full advantage by majoring in English and creative writing while dropping his one journalism class after two weeks.

Brian grew up on the north side of Westfield, N.J., and now lives in Lakeview.

1) CSNChicago.com: Brian, college football fans across the country are still talking about that wild finish to the Notre Dame-Michigan State game a couple Saturdays ago, in particular, the non delay of game call in OT that many Irish fans felt was grossly mishandled by the officiating crew. What was your take on that controversial moment and do you think that kind of loss hurts the Irish coachesplayers mindset going forward (they werent very competitive at home against 9 Stanford this past weekend)?

Hamilton: Well, if it hurts them moving forward, then Brian Kelly has no shot at teaching this group of players how to win, because that means they aren't buying into one of his core philosophies, one that most coaches have: Leave a loss behind after 24 hours. So I don't expect it to have much carryover. Unless, of course, they keep losing close games again and again and again, and then you can start talking about a cumulative effect. But for the near-term, I think they're fine mentally.

As for the call, someone with way, way more free time than I have broke down the sequence frame-by-frame. And the conclusion was that between the stadium play clock not the clock on ESPN's graphic -- hitting :00 and the snap of the ball, there was merely a fraction of a second of time. Like so small that it's not humanly possible for an official to take his eye from the clock, move it to the snap and determine the snap was late. But I'm of the same mindset as Brian Kelly regardless: If the Irish line up differently or two of them simply don't get run over by Michigan State players, it's moot, because they'd probably have prevented the touchdown anyway.

2) CSNChicago.com: The arrival of Brian Kelly as head coach this season is widely considered one of the best moves the ND football program has made in yearsnot only for the short term, but more for the long-term potential success of the program. With all the hype and great expectations associated with Kellys hiring, will anything short of a national title in, lets say, 4-5 years be considered a failure?

Hamilton: I'd alter that a bit and say that anything less than contention for a BCS bowl within three years probably would be a disappointment. While there are some veterans on this team, there is a lot of talent among the underclassmen, too, and the starting quarterback began this season with three years of eligibility. And the 2011 recruiting class contains two significant top 100 defensive line recruits in Stephon Tuitt and Aaron Lynch that, in a couple years, should be pretty formidable. Assuming those guys stick with their commitments, of course.

In other words, they have some guys who will fill some holes that have plagued Notre Dame for years. But a national title run may require some luck, or some real affection for the college game from guys like Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph. At this point, it's absurd or delusional to think that one or both won't seriously entertain the thought of the NFL after this season. If they come back, the Irish should be a BCS team next year and anything less would be a disappointment. If they don't, the bar gets reset a bit lower for 2011.

3) CSNChicago.com: Recently, Notre DameNFL legend Joe Montana debunked the Rudy myth involving the diminutive, yet determined ND walk-on Daniel Rudy Ruettiger stating the crowd wasnt chanting RUDY, RUDY! at the end of that Georgia Tech game and that his teammates were only playing around when they carried him off the field. Your opinion: sour grapes on Montanas part or, since movies do take liberties with real life stories, is he probably right about this one?

Hamilton: This shocked me exactly zero percent, considering that even the most mature college upperclassmen are still college kids. They certainly have the capacity for compassion, but they also have a perhaps even greater capacity for humor and good, old-fashioned, no-harm-no-foul needling. If what happened was what Joe Montana says what happened, and you're shocked by it, you're also the type of person that's stunned to learn college kids sleep late, skip class and occasionally enjoy a frosty adult beverage.

On top of that, was what Montana said really all that bad? Was it really all that mean? I didn't see it that way, but then I'd take "Hoosiers" over "Rudy" pretty much any hour of any day.

4) CSNChicago.com: Youve traveled around the country visiting some of the nations best college football stadiums for a number of years now. In terms of fan atmosphere, facilities, playing field, etc., whats your favorite stadium to visitand least favorite?

Hamilton: Before I get assailed by emails from SEC or Big 12 fans, I will remind them that my college football writing career has involved two teams: Minnesota and Notre Dame, a Holtz-ian itinerary that has sort of restricted my stadium visits. That said, of the places I've been, nothing sticks out more in my mind than a Wisconsin game at Camp Randall Stadium. The press box literally shakes before the fourth-quarter, when the crowd goes nuts to House of Pain's "Jump Around. It's a huge place, the crowd is insanely into it and it's always electric.

Other highlights? There is nothing like the view at the Rose Bowl. Gorgeous place to watch a game, although Lewis & Clark made it to the Pacific Ocean in less time than it takes to get to your parking lot there. I wish Notre Dame would schedule a home-and-home with Iowa, and play Washington at Washington every year. Ohio Stadium (The Horseshoe) is just impressive, period. Notre Dame Stadium, for the record, is not the best but not anywhere near the worst place to work a college football game.

The worst? Well, I'm pathologically jealous of all Minnesota writers who get to watch games at TCF Bank Stadium, as six years of Metrodome home games for the Gophers felt like weekly visits to the fifth circle of hell. And I'm gonna get killed for this, but if I never cover another game at Penn State, I'll be thrilled. Atmosphere is great, but it's impossible to get to and the press box is antiquated at best. The accommodations in State College? My last hotel room there didn't have a WINDOW. No joke. It takes ages to fight through traffic and then tailgaters curse at you for driving to your assigned parking spot. Repeat: ASSIGNED parking spot. Way, way too much hassle for one day or night of work.

5) CSNChicago.com: Name your top three favorite local establishments that you consider to be hidden gems in our fine city (provide a brief line or two on why you like each one).

Hamilton: After several false starts, we finally made it to A Tavola (2148 W. Chicago) and we were not disappointed. Absolutely no better place to go for an exceptionally warm, cozy atmosphere, great service, wine and food. Brown sage butter gnocchi? Yes, please.

It's not really "hidden" at least not when my friends from New Jersey visit and make a point to go but I enjoyed The Bristol (2152 N. Damen) the couple times I've visited. Nothing like killing the annoyance of a table wait with an upstairs anteroom essentially dedicated to drinking.

And, again, not exactly hidden, but I have yet to go wrong with the brisket & gravy at Southport Grocery (3552 N. Southport). And other sources familiar with eating breakfast with me have yet to go wrong with the bread pudding pancakes there.

BONUS QUESTIONCSNChicago.com: Anything you would like to plug Brian? CSNChicago.com readers want to hear about it

Hamilton: Well, I'd hope that everyone would attend my upcoming charity fundraiser at Sunda, benefitting my two favorite causes: Saving the Midwest Aboriginal Muskrat, and getting Lauren Conrad to hook up with Devin Aromashodu.

Seriously, though, just click on the many posts from me and my Tribune colleagues at ChicagoBreakingSports.com, and follow my Twitter account: @ChiTribHamilton. And also, if you see Teddy Greenstein around, just yell "PLAYOFF!" in his face really, really loud. He loves that.

Hamilton LINKS:

Chicago TribuneCollege Sports

Chicago Breaking SportsNotre Dame

Brian Hamilton on Twitter

With Dexter Fowler in St. Louis, Cubs see Kyle Schwarber as a potential leadoff answer

With Dexter Fowler in St. Louis, Cubs see Kyle Schwarber as a potential leadoff answer

Dexter Fowler buttoned up a white No. 25 Cardinals jersey and put on a red St. Louis hat, posing for the cameras during Friday morning’s press conference at Busch Stadium.

Fowler stood in between Mike Matheny, the St. Louis manager who now has a new leadoff guy at the top of his lineup card, and John Mozeliak, the general manager who helped structure a five-year, $82.5 million contract that goes against The Cardinal Way.

That visual might be disorienting for Cubs fans who just watched what will probably be the best two seasons of Fowler’s career. But Theo Epstein’s front office understandably wanted to get younger, upgrade defensively and preserve some financial flexibility for the future, planning to go with Albert Almora Jr. and ex-Cardinal Jon Jay in a center-field timeshare.

“I’ll be forever grateful that I was a Cub,” Fowler said. “We made history, won a World Series. But I guess that door is closed, and, you know, I’m a Cardinal now. And we’re trying to make history over here as well.”

Let’s not get carried away with all the talk about Fowler being such a great leader and magnetic clubhouse personality. There were enough questions about him that the draft-pick compensation dragged down his market to the point where he accepted a $13 million guarantee in spring training. But he is a switch-hitter who sees pitches and works at-bats (.366 career on-base percentage) and can ignite an offense when healthy.

[SHOP CUBS: Get your World Series champions gear right here]

Cubs manager Joe Maddon might not go with a traditional leadoff hitter in 2017. But this lineup should still score 800-plus runs again, factoring in a full season of Kyle Schwarber, projected growth from MVP Kris Bryant and All Stars Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell and an anticipated bounce-back year from Jason Heyward after the $184 million outfielder had been one of the least productive hitters in the majors.

 “Schwarber is not a bad name, Kyle is not a bad name at all,” Maddon said when asked about his leadoff hitter during this week’s winter meetings at National Harbor in Maryland. “(Ben) Zobrist isn’t a bad name. There are different guys to consider right there.

“Actually, a couple years ago, (when) Kyle came up and Dexter was still there, I considered leading Kyle off and putting Dexter second. But I had all the dudes do all the work — all our nerds did all the work — and they really liked Fowler 1 and they liked Schwarber 2, just based on our data.

“So I went with that, and it worked out really, really well. So now all of the sudden, Dexter is not there anymore. It’s not impossible to consider Kyle in that spot, Zobrist in that spot.

“I don’t know if we’re going to do anything differently during the course of this offseason that might cause me to think differently, but there’s not a whole lot of other candidates.”

Fowler bet on himself after the Baltimore Orioles dragged out negotiations over a reported three-year deal in the $30 million range, shocking the baseball world when he showed up in Arizona in late February. It paid off with a staggering contract that will add another level of intrigue to a rivalry that has already seen Heyward and pitcher John Lackey switch sides.

Fowler will be in Cardinal red on Opening Night 2017 when the Cubs begin their World Series title defense at Busch Stadium.

“It’s bittersweet,” Fowler said. “Now they’re the rival. But you still got some boys over there. We’ll always be boys. We won a championship together. But when you get on the field, it’s ‘go time.’ Now we’re playing against each other.”

Dexter Fowler: Cubs-Cardinals rivalry 'almost even'

Dexter Fowler: Cubs-Cardinals rivalry 'almost even'

The Cubs have the World Series trophy, and that's the ultimate in bragging rights.

But new Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler — who helped the Cubs win that first championship since 1908 — thinks there's not too much separating the Central Division rivals.

Fowler officially switched sides in the rivalry Friday, signing a five-year deal with the Cardinals and getting an introduction in St. Louis.

"Playing over there and playing against the Cardinals, you see them and they weren't that far away," Fowler said at his introductory press conference Friday morning. "Obviously they beat up on us, we beat up on them. It was almost even. It was one day or another. I can't put my finger on one thing or another, but we're definitely close."

Even though the Cubs are on top of the baseball world right now — and the Cardinals missed out on the playoffs last season — the numbers back up Fowler's claim.

Only one game separated the two in their regular-season series in 2016, the Cubs taking 10 games and the Cardinals winning nine. The year prior, both teams won more than 97 games and reached the postseason, with the Cubs eliminating the Cardinals in the NLDS. During the regular season, though, the Cardinals won 11 of the 19 matchups and the Cubs won eight.

The two teams have indirectly swapped All-Star outfielders in each of the last two offseasons. Jason Heyward signed a huge deal with the Cubs prior to the 2016 season. And now Fowler will be in the Cardinals' Opening Day lineup in 2017.

That ought to add even more fuel to the fire in this epic rivalry.

But the rings are the thing, of course, so can the Cardinals challenge the Cubs as the North Siders attempt to make it back-to-back championships in 2017?

"I can't tell what the future has in mind, but I feel like this team has a chance to win a World Series," Fowler said.