Frankie O's blog: Happy New Cheer!

Frankie O's blog: Happy New Cheer!

As a life-long restaurant employee, I think I have a different view of New Years Eve and New Years Day than most. For me, theyve always meant one thing- work. That its a different kind of work, Ill give you. The two-day ritual of celebration lends itself to no end of amusing situations and, of course, most have to do with the level of beverage consumption. For those in my business, this weekend will be the end of our silly season. Next week will bring the turn of the calendar and the reality of another long winter will be in front of us.

Its what the holiday signifies that is the cool thing. Its our reset button. The angst that many feel during the holidays should be gone, at least until the credit card bills come in, and its time to go a little crazy. Of course, as always for me, there are also sporting ramifications.

I cant remember a college bowl season that I have had as little interest in. Admittedly Im still in a funk over the happenings at Penn State, but for most of my life Ive been a bowl fanatic. I think that had to do with the two-week frenzy of activity leading up to the smorgasbord of games on Jan. 1. Now we have a bloated, irrelevant slate of 35 games spread out over a mind-numbing 23 days, which includes 6 after New Years. Thats 70 bowl teams, out of 120! What is this the NHL? I guess the NCAA wants to put the bowl in the Football Bowl Subdivision! (Can we just go back to Division I, please?)Included this year are 15 teams that went 7-5, 13 that went 6-6 and, ridiculously, one that went 6-7. Nothing like rewarding mediocrity. Whats next, everyone gets a trophy? Lets call it what it is: a cash grab! Are any of the stadiums for half of these games even half full? No! The people where these games are played are as apathetic as I am. What the games really are is ESPN holiday programming. AGAIN, what we need is a playoff: 16 teams, using 15 of the existing bowls, over 21 days. Everyone else can go back to class, since thats what the NCAA cares about, right? The student athlete? I wont hold my breath. But thats what the spirit of the New Year is about: All that can be better in the future.

This year, the New Year will bring an NFL Sunday. I can live with that. Theres plenty of playoff intrigue, plus the Bears are a car wreck that you cant take your eyes off of! Then during the evening, The Bulls open the home portion of their championship schedule. Say what you want about the NBA, but any game with Derrick Rose, is one worth watching. Fortunately with the ultra-condensed schedule, he can be in your living room every other night for the 4 months. Then he will be in the NBA playoffs, where the first round takes three weeks to complete a seven game series. (Dont get me started!)

College Bowl Day will be on Monday. Ill watch the Rose Bowl, because no matter who is playing, I enjoy watching the game. Theres always perfect weather, the field is pristine and its cool that the game starts in bright sunshine and ends in the dark of night. Not to mention, besides the National Title Game, it also has the best football matchup: The finesse and explosiveness of the Oregon Ducks versus the bulk and power of the Wisconsin Badgers. Its a shame this game wasnt a national semifinal, but Ill stop beating that horse.(At least here anyway, come into the bar if you want it uncensored!)

The other game on Monday that Im looking forward to is not even a football game. Its the NHL Winter Classic featuring the Flyers against the New York Rangers in Citizens Bank Ballpark in Philadelphia. I think the NHL playing outside is cool, especially if theyre fortunate enough to get a little snow. The game isnt always the best, as the ice condition can vary wildly, but the scenery is always surreal. I always think back to skating on the ice at Wrigley Field before the game here 3 years ago. It was very exciting for me, but even more so was watching how excited the Hawks alumni and national hockey press were. It was like a bunch of kids playing hooky. I remember the look in former Hawk Brian Noonans eyes when he told me he was more than a little jealous of the guys that were getting a chance to live a dream and play outside as pros with the hockey world watching.

The added intrigue of the game is due to the 247 series for the game on HBO. The four episodes for the game last year between the Penguins and Capitals was as good as any sports program I have ever watched. For a fan, getting behind the scenes access is something we all crave. With the constant presence of the cameras, they are able to catch a lot of real moments. This year has lived up to the hype as it follows the bitter rivals non-stop leading up to the big game.

Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov is everything you would expect of a person who stops frozen rubber disks for a living. Honestly? The universe? Dogs as blonde women? Yikes! And Scottie Hartnell off the ice is not quite what you would expect. (Makes me wish they had done this before the Hawks-Wings game.)

But in both last year and this years episodes, its the coaches who steal the show. There is a reason these guys are responsible for leading men into battle. The force of their will is undeniable when you see it in so many instances. Much unlike what we are used to when we watch certain coaches during their news conferences. So many times, you just want to say: Why cant you just show a little emotion and say something more than a clich? Well, these guys take it to another level. When I talk about last years show, I tell people that it got me to like (former) Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau, who until that point, I had despised. This years show features Rangers coach John Tortorella and my guy Peter Laviolette. Its easy to see why both have their names etched on Lord Stanleys Cup, although I still have a little of my disdain towards Tortorella. What can I say? I mean, he is coaching the Rangers! (One word of warning: The language these guys use would make Rex Bleeping Ryan blush!)

But most of all, what the new year will bring, is hope. I know we learned in Shawshank that hope can be a dangerous thing, but for those of us who have been involved in long-time unrequited relationships with our beloved teams, its about all we have to hold on to. This has to be the year! Doesnt it?

The best part is that the slate has been wiped clean, in some cases 103 times! (Im sorry, had to take it. We only tease the ones we love!) The changing of the calendar is like Opening Day for our lives, rooting or otherwise. Instead of dwelling on the past, we can celebrate the fact that it is the past.

So come on in, pull up a stool, and entertain me this weekend. We can laugh as we look back at how our teams imploded last year and point out how thing will be different this year. Hopefully, this is the year we get it right.

Morning Update: Bulls fall to Blazers; Could Chris Sale be on the move?

Morning Update: Bulls fall to Blazers; Could Chris Sale be on the move?

Five Things to Watch: Bulls in Detroit for fourth game in five nights on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Coyotes tonight on CSN+

Despite Chris Sale rumors, White Sox say they have contingencies in place for a rebuild

Kenley Jansen? Wade Davis? Cubs keeping an open mind for the ninth inning

Slow start to fourth dooms Bulls in loss to Blazers

Back from scary concussion, Leonard Floyd playing like franchise pass rusher Bears craved

Scott Darling takes the reins for Blackhawks in Corey Crawford’s absence

White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf knows 'it will be very hard to trade' Chris Sale

Cubs: The next steps for Kyle Schwarber

Rajon Rondo used foul language with Bulls assistant coaches following loss to Mavs

Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Bears DL Akiem Hicks making the most of a chance the Saints never gave him

Living well is indeed the best revenge, and sometimes nothing feels sweeter than proving doubters wrong. Akiem Hicks is savoring that exact feeling.

When the New Orleans Saints made Hicks their third-round pick in the 2013 draft, they typecast their big (6-5, 318 pounds) young defensive lineman as a one-trick pony.

“There were people in New Orleans that said, ‘You can’t rush the passer,’” Hicks recalled after the Bears’ win Sunday over the San Francisco 49ers. “They told me from my rookie year, ‘You’re going to be a run-stopper.’”

This despite Hicks collecting 6.5 sacks and 3 pass breakups as a senior at Regina in Canada. The Saints forced Hicks into the slot they’d decided he fit – nose tackle – then eventually grew disenchanted with him and traded him to New England last year – where he collect 3 sacks in spot duty.

Interestingly, Bears GM Ryan Pace was part of the Saints’ personnel operation. Whether Pace agreed with coaches’ handling of Hicks then isn’t known, but when Pace had the chance to bring Hicks to Chicago for a role different than the one the Saints forced Hicks into, Pace made it happen.

Pace likely saw those New England sacks as a foreshadowing or a sign that the New Orleans staff had miscast Hicks. The Bears defensive end now is under consideration for NFC defensive player of the week after his 10-tackle performance against San Francisco. Signing with the Bears last March 13 as a free agent was the career break Hicks has craved. For him it was a career lifeline.

“They have given me the ability to go rush the passer,” Hicks said. “So I love this organization – [GM] Ryan Pace, coach Fox, Vic [Fangio, defensive coordinator] – for just giving a guy the capability to put it out there and do what you feel like you can do.”

[MORE BEARS: Back from scary concussion, Leonard Floyd playing like franchise pass rusher Bears craved]

Hicks has been showing what he can do, to quarterbacks. For him the best part of win over the 49ers was the two third-quarter sacks of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Those sacks gave the massive lineman, who the Saints said couldn’t rush the passer, 6 sacks for the season – more than any member of the Saints defense this season. It has been a classic instance of putting a player in position to maximize his skills, not jam someone into a bad fit.

“Akiem has been in a couple of different types of packages before with New Orleans and New England,” said coach John Fox. The Patriots switched from a long-time 3-4 scheme to a 4-3 but “we’re more of a New England-type style. But we’re playing him more at end; he played mostly a nose tackle [in New Orleans]. He’s fit really well for us as far as his physical stature.

"But he does have pass rush ability. It shows a little about his athleticism. So he’s got a combination of both.”

That “combination” has been allowed to flourish at a new level, and the Bears’ plan for Hicks was the foundation of why he wanted to sign in Chicago as a free agent. The Bears do not play their defensive linemen in a clear one-gap, get-upfield-fast scheme tailored to speed players. Nor do they play a classic two-gap, linemen-control-blockers scheme typically built on three massive space-eaters on the defensive line.

They play what one player has called a “gap and a half” system, which requires being stout as well as nimble.

One Hicks rush on Kaepernick featured a deft spin move out of a block, not the norm for 336-pound linemen. He got one sack with a quick slide out of a double-team.

“I’m not freelancing,” Hicks said. “But I’m rushing ‘fast.’ There’s a portion of the defense where you have the [run] responsibility and don’t have the freedom or liberty [to rush]. It’s a great system for me and I love what they’ve let me do.”