Frankie O's Blog: Harry and Me

Frankie O's Blog: Harry and Me

Friday, March 4, 2011
10:12 a.m.
By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

Theres a lot going on in the world of sports right now, but one thing was mostly on my mind this week. On Tuesday (3-1-11) we celebrated the life of Harry Caray (and Ron Santo) with the 13th annual world-wide toast in his honor. For me, it was actually number 14. Coming into work on the 18th of February 1998, I already knew that Harry was in the hospital in California and the prospects were not good, still, when you receive the news, its a jolt. Not only that. I was told that I was to stand on top of the bar, and lead everyone in a toast in his honor at 7:30. It was one of those out-of body experiences: Cameras everywhere, and a room thick with emotion. Everyone raised their glasses and then there was nothing but silence until the bagpipers started playing Amazing Grace, after which you could hear the sniffling and see most in the room wiping their eyes. Death is never easy to deal with, ever. The family was great in saying that we should not be sad, Harry wouldnt want that, and that we should celebrate the long, remarkable life that he lived. For thirteen years now, weve been doing that every day.

Having a celebrity name on a restaurant means that youre going to have to answer questions about that person every ten minutes. When Harry was alive, most of the time it was pretty easy. Yes. Hes in the dining room right now! People would light-up like Christmas trees when they found that out. Unlike another downtown eatery that had an iconic name on it, that was pretty cool.

People always ask my favorite story, but I dont really have one in particular. What I like to tell them about is the vibe that he created. As a bartender, Im a natural observer of human behavior. There are two things in particular: How people act, and, how do they treat others? Those things have a huge influence on my job and surroundings. Harry was off-the-charts positive in both. To see the affect he had on others was amazing to watch. It was so easy and effortless you wonder why everyone couldnt do it. But that was his genius. He did not have to try, it was who he was. He had a showmans impeccable timing when he came into the bar, never staying for too little or too long, the whole room beaming when he left.

So now, the questions, and stories, have been in the past tense for quite a while. For me behind the bar, they never get old. In many ways, being a guy from Philly, I didnt quite know what I was getting into when I walked in the doors for a job back in95. It was an exciting and dynamic place to walk into, so who wouldnt want to work there? Especially, if you were a baseball nut like myself and seeing Hall-of-Famers every day.

The Cubs fan pilgrimage thing was in full force then, they all had to come to 33 W. Kinzie. I always teased, calling the restaurant the Cubs fans Graceland. (I always love hearing Harrys story about meeting Elvis and imagining what that night was like. I mean, honestly, those two together? The mind boggles!) Those experiences changed, obviously, after his passing. People coming in would share the most touching stories with me. Mostly theyre of baseball, their family and Harry. For a lot of us, baseball is the soundtrack of the summer, and if it was Harrys voice you were hearing, that soundtrack resulted in more shared smiles and laughs than you can count. Its hard to imagine, just by being himself, someone who created more good will.

As I go to work now, Im reminded of that almost daily. Oh, sure, I once in a while get the Whos Harry? question. Time moves on and those darn drinkers keep getting younger! But I never get tired of sharing his story with a new generation for them to enjoy. The longer Im behind the bar the more I realize how important that is. Its as though those of us that work in his namesake restaurants are in charge of caretaking his legacy. And if it cant be in a ballpark, where better than in an environment where people can eat, drink, laugh and share good times. I dont think he would have it any other way.

So as I think of Harry, he reminds me of others that I have known who have passed. Even though they are gone, its still possible for them to live on in our hearts and thoughts, and still bring a smile to our face every day. Who wouldnt raise a glass to that? Heres to you, Harry!

Illinois State, Loyola, Northern Iowa all in action Saturday on CSN and CSN+

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USA TODAY

Illinois State, Loyola, Northern Iowa all in action Saturday on CSN and CSN+

Illinois State, Loyola and Northern Iowa will all be in action Saturday.

And you can catch all three games on CSN and CSN+.

Tennessee-Martin at Illinois State, 2 p.m., CSN+

The Redbirds (4-3) are coming off of a tough loss on the road at Tulsa, but they're off to a solid start early in the season. Senior point guard Paris Lee, a Proviso East product, is having a monster season for Illinois State so far, averaging 15 points, 6.4 assists and three rebounds per game while shooting 54 percent from 3-point range.

Tennessee-Martin (8-2) is off to a great start with only a pair of road losses to SEC opponents Ole Miss and Kentucky.

Milwaukee at Loyola, 3 p.m., CSN

The Ramblers (8-2) have won three straight games and will try to carry that momentum into Horizon League play. Junior forward Aundre Jackson is off to a great start, averaging 16.2 points and 4.8 rebounds per game.

Loyola features a few former local high school stars. Senior Milton Doyle (Marshall) and junior Donte Ingram (Simeon) are both playing well.

Milwaukee (4-5) is off to a decent start in a rebuilding year under new head coach LaVall Jordan and is coming off a road win against Montana State.

Rockford Boylan product Brock Stull is the Panthers' leading scorer and rebounder. The sophomore guard is averaging 11.5 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.

North Dakota at Northern Iowa, 7 p.m., CSN

Northern Iowa (4-4) is coming off of a blowout win over South Dakota State.

Senior Jeremy Morgan has been doing it all for the Panthers. He leads the team in points, rebounds and assists per game. Morgan is putting up 15.6 points, 6.9 rebounds and 3.4 assists per contest this season.

North Dakota (5-2) has two straight wins, including a victory over in-state rival North Dakota State.

The Fighting Hawks are led by Quinton Hooker, who's averaging 16.7 points per game this season.

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Eric Kush was in some pain after the Bears win over the San Francisco 49ers. But it was a “good” pain, particularly since part of it was inflicted by a teammate.

The teammate was running back Jordan Howard, and the Bears left guard was learning along with his linemates that when Howard is coming, “he’s a-comin’,” Kush said.

“Oh man, sometimes you’re, ‘[groan-groan-groan], and he’ll hit you right in the back, you fall and try to take your guy down with you and stick him in the snow so you’re not the only one getting soaking wet and cold. But Jordan’s a lot fun and we try to kick some butt for him.”

The rookie running back has become more than simply a draft nugget from the fifth round of this year’s draft. Howard has established himself as an integral part of a winning formula of complimentary football, the concept long favored by John Fox, Lovie Smith and coaches who operate from the foundation of a premier running game, impact defense and solid special teams.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The Bears’ three wins have come this season in the only games in which Howard has been given 20-plus carries: 23 vs. Detroit, 26 vs. Minnesota, 32 vs. San Francisco. Add to those the 3 pass receptions against the Lions and the 4 against the Vikings and the true centerpiece of the 2016 Bears offense is more than a little apparent.

For obvious reasons beyond simply the rushing numbers.

“Especially pass protection,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “I think he's taken a big jump that way. When you're young in this league, those are the things that can get grey for you. You run the football, he's obviously a talented player there, but in pass pro, he's made his biggest growth.”

As a corollary to Howard, San Francisco was only the second game this season in which the Bears called fewer than 30 pass plays (the only other time was at Green Bay, when the Bears only ran a total of 45 plays, 27 of them pass plays). In that respect, the snow was viewed as an ally by some in the locker room who have been unhappy at the run:pass balance, which was just 36-percent-run coming into the 49ers game.

“It was one of these games where, with the weather, we couldn’t pass the ball like we normally do —  30 times — so we had to keep it on the ground,” said one member of the offense.

Howard’s breakout game as an NFL ball carrier came against the Lions (23 carries, 111 rushing yards, 3 receptions). The Bears, looking for a breakout of their own in the form of a first two-game win streak in more than a year, are expected to keep it simple — and in Howard’s hands.

“I always expected a lot out of myself,” Howard said. “I didn’t really think that things would happen maybe this soon or this fast. I’m definitely grateful for it.”