Frankie O's blog: What's under your tree?

Frankie O's blog: What's under your tree?

By Frankie O

As you get older the holiday season takes on new meaning. For me it signifies the end of the ten month torture-fest known as my fantasy sports affliction. I cant explain the fog that takes over your brain when you have to know every three-back rotation in the NFL as well as every NL bullpen. Its a wonder that I can do anything else. I love the reactions I get in the bar talking about it. Guys are especially skeptical about the roto baseball.

Why would you do that? Dude, youre drinking a Grasshopper, why would you do that?!

But I do understand talking about fantasy sports can make peoples eyes glaze over. Fantasy conversations in the bar should be in general terms, getting specific about your team just kills the buzz. Especially, if youre that guy who owns every player of relevance. Of course thats easy to do if you have a void in your life that makes you enter 7 leagues. The story you want to tell loses all meaning when you begin with the phrase, In my other league Dont be that guy!

Ironic though, in the two month break I get from the obsession with endless statistics, that Im right in the middle of the most wonderful time of the year and all that it brings with it.

Lately, the true meaning of the holiday season is increased stress. At my advanced age - and those of you who know me know how far that it advanced this week! life is about simplification. Unfortunately, that goal is increasingly elusive. So during this season of giving, I do. I give the wife the credit cards and close my eyes. There. That was easy. This is supposed to be a time of fun, right? And since no good deed goes unpunished, Ill have the depressing winter blahs, along with everyone else, when the bills come in next month. Cest la vie. (Did I just go French? Boo-Ya!)

What I think the holidays can do though, hopefully, is bring back that feeling of when we were younger and anything was possible. Kind of like Opening Day, except its colder and you get presents.

It also should be a time to be thankful for what we have. That of course is ironic, since all we are bombarded with by the advertising world is about everything that we DONT have and should, because we deserve it!

Ive gotten to a place where the holidays bring about memories from those of the past and hopefully Im creating the same kind for my kids. None of mine really center on what I got. I always remember as a kid getting a bunch of things, but I couldnt tell you most of what I got or when I got it. (Obviously, most were sports related.) Some of it has to do with being born on Christmas week. So I was getting presents for that, and some that were combined! (I swear Im not bitter! But while Im getting combined gifts, my sister is having picnics and parades on her birthday since she was born on the 4th of July. Honestly!)

Not a year goes by though that I dont remember Christmas of 1971.This was the time when my infatuation in pro football was starting to bloom. It was all we talked about as kids at school or afterward, when we would play at the park until it was time to go home.

After awaking way too early and tearing the paper off all of our presents, we played for a while, then, it was time to visit both sets of grandparents. I remember that for most of the day, the TV was off as we were visiting. After being at my grandparents on my fathers side for a couple of hours, the television was turned on, after we ate, for the Dolphins-Chiefs playoff game. I dont know that I fully understood what I was watching (Or that I would today for that matter!) but I realized that the game meant a lot and was very exciting. The energy came right through the TV. That was assured by the big game AFC voices of their time, Curt Gowdy and Al DeRogatis. The score kept going back and forth with twists and turns. Big defensive plays, field goals, missed field goals, touchdowns and interceptions, until after 82 minutes and 40 seconds, Garo Yepremian kicked the game-winner from 37 yards out. It was (is) the longest game ever played in NFL history. Double-overtime! Twelve Hall of Famers played in the game, six on each side. Both of the head coaches are also inducted in Canton. But the player I will never forget was the Chiefs Ed Podolak. He was all over the field. Smallish for a running back, he had a funky facemask under which his large nose seemed as though it was going to protrude right through it. By the end of the game that nose was covered in sweat and dirt and blood. He had 350 total yards in one of the guttiest performances I have ever watched. Too bad it was in a losing effort. I was rooting so hard for the Chiefs to win. (Setting up a long string of games in which the football team Im rooting for met a bitter demise. Be nice or Ill root for your team!) There is much debate about the greatest games in NFL history, but you can guess which one gets my vote. That was when the NFL started for me.

While watching the game in the living room, I heard the side door in the kitchen open. My grandfather was still in uniform as he came through the door arriving home from his shift as a local police officer. Soon afterward I had to get out (Gladly!) of his recliner in front of the TV. As he loosened his tie as he sat down to relax, I hopped on his knee so that we could have our picture taken together. I sat on the floor next to him as we watched the rest of the game. I dont remember much else, but I remember Ed Podolak and sitting on my grandfathers knee for that picture like it was yesterday. That was forty years ago. It wasnt too long after that my grandfather passed away. That picture is one of the few that I have with him. There isnt a time that I hear about that game and dont think about that picture. Nor is there a time that I look at that picture and dont remember that we watched that game together.

So as I enjoy another Christmas, there are plenty of NBA games and one NFL game to watch. In my family, the Bulls and the Bears will be must-see TV. A game without Kobe kind of loses its luster for the Bulls against the Lakers so I hope he plays, but it doesnt look good. And I wont even get into the Bears situation, but how can we stop watching this far in? But in the end, it doesnt really matter. As always its about getting together and sharing time with each other. But you never know, maybe something memorable will happen that we all can share. I already know that your team doesnt always have to win to have a memory that will last a lifetime.

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

Jon Lester says Cubs haven’t done anything yet: ‘Nobody likes second place’

As Cubs players and generations of fans celebrated Christmas in October, Jon Lester had to be The Grinch for a moment. Sure, the Cubs would party from Saturday night into Sunday morning, probably get “a little bit” drunk and enjoy the franchise’s first National League pennant in 71 years. But the reality of the Cleveland Indians would set in once the Cubs got rid of this hangover.

“We ain’t done anything yet,” Lester said during the Wrigley Field celebration after the Cubs eliminated the Los Angeles Dodgers. “Nobody likes second place.”

There are enough Boston Red Sox connections in this World Series that Lester already knows what to expect, starting with Indians manager Terry Francona, who became a father figure as he dealt with a cancer scare as a rookie.

There are ex-teammates from those championship teams in 2007 (Coco Crisp) and 2013 (Mike Napoli, Andrew Miller) at Fenway Park. There is the accumulated experience from throwing 119 postseason innings (2.50 ERA) and becoming one of the best big-game pitchers of his generation.

“I don’t want to sound like a smart-ass, but we got a long ways to go,” Lester said. “I know that manager on their side’s going to be prepared. I know their coaching staff’s going to be ready. I know their players are going to be ready, just based on one player alone, and that’s Mike Napoli. I know what he brings to the table. He helped transform our 2013 team.

“Come Tuesday, we got to put the gloves back on. We got to get ready to fight and grind and do what we’ve done well all year. We got four more games to win.”

After limiting the Dodgers to two runs in 13 innings, and being named the NL Championship Series’ co-MVP along with Javier Baez, Lester should be a worthy Game 1 starter opposite Corey Kluber, the 2014 American League Cy Young Award winner.

This is why Lester took a leap of faith with Cubs bosses/ex-Red Sox executives Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer and chairman Tom Ricketts’ family and what had been a last-place team in 2014.

Two seasons into the $155 million contract that signaled the Cubs would be serious about contending – and not just in the Baseball America/Baseball Prospectus prospect rankings – the franchise has won 200 games and four playoff rounds and remained in position to dominate for years to come.

“Theo and Jed and the front office and Tom and all these guys had a belief,” Lester said. “I believed in that belief. The talent here speaks for itself. I didn’t do anything – I came here because I wanted to win in Chicago. I’m just happy to be here and be a part of this and get to this point.

“(But) we’re four hard wins away from doing what we set out to do in spring training.”

[SHOP: Buy a "Try Not to Suck" shirt with proceeds benefiting Joe Maddon's Respect 90 Foundation & other Cubs Charities]

As bright as the future looks on the North Side, Lester will be 33 next season and his left arm has already accounted for more than 2,000 innings during his decorated career. John Lackey turned 38 on Sunday. Jake Arrieta only has one more season before becoming a free agent.

The Cubs built their franchise around young hitters, with the idea that they can figure out the pitching later with free agents, change-of-scenery trades and bounce-back guys. Easier said than done. They have a true No. 1 starter now in Lester, who as a free agent watched a recruiting video that imagined what it would be like when the Cubs win the World Series.

“This isn’t it,” Lester said. “It’s been a tough playoffs for us to this point and it’s only going to get tougher. We’re going to enjoy it. We’re going to show up Tuesday in Cleveland ready to play. We’ll see what happens.”

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Three quick fixes for some Bears woes while searching for a turnaround

Positives were difficult to find in last Thursday’s 26-10 loss to the Green Bay Packers. So maybe the place to look for improvement lies in just getting rid of a few negatives.

As far as positives, Leonard Floyd would be the obvious one, with two sacks, one a strip and fumble recovery for a TD. Ka’Deem Carey would be another, with 10 carries for 48 yards, his second straight game with high-impact running; Jordan Howard has been shackled for two weeks, so the Bears have needed another backfield-committee member contributing. Jeremy Langford may have trouble finding work when he comes back from his ankle injury.

But negatives have far outweighed positives, which is how you get to 1-6. Fixing three of those will go a long way toward improving their chances against a Minnesota Vikings team that appeared eminently beatable in losing at Philadelphia on Sunday:

Stop the penalty hemorrhaging

For the third straight game the Bears had 10 penalties walked off against them. This "streak" started after eight infractions in the win over Detroit. The 10 in Green Bay cost the Bears 108 yards in a game where their offense netted just 189. Seven of the penalties were charged to the defense, six of which gave the Packers first downs.

The three offensive penalties were mental. A wide receiver (Alshon Jeffery) lined up offsides. The quarterback (Matt Barkley) drew a delay flag. An offensive lineman (Ted Larsen) was illegally downfield.

All of which point to a discipline problem getting worse, not better. Whether the fault lies with players losing focus or coaches not instilling a mindset is a debate, but meaningless if the problem is not addressed. “There were a lot of penalties out there,” said cornerback De’Vante Bausby, who committed three of those penalties. “We had a good scheme and plan but we just didn’t finish in the second half as a group.”

Stop the dinking

While Brian Hoyer replacing Jay Cutler scaled back the downfield element of the offense, the loss of an emerging Kevin White should not be understated. The de facto rookie may not have gotten in the end zone but he was leading the team in receptions before he suffered a broken leg in the win over Detroit.

Since the loss of White, however, the offense has shrunk. The Bears averaged 7.5 yards per pass attempt through four games with White. Without White the average is 7.0, and that is including the blip in Indianapolis, which stands as a complete anomaly. The average was 5.9 in the Jacksonville loss and 5.0 in Green Bay.

Hoyer’s ball-security orientation has been a positive, but also a limiting factor. Cutler last year had one of the best ball-security seasons of his career, yet the offense was able to average 7.5 yards per attempt.

The Bears scored two of their three rushing touchdowns in games with White, who may not yet be the field-stretcher his 4.35 speed but the prospect of White arguably made for a more threatening offense than even with the contributions of Cam Meredith.

Stop the Vikings

The Minnesota Vikings have suffered injuries at a rate like the Bears’ but have overcome them. Until Sunday in Philadelphia, when the Eagles sacked Sam Bradford six times and hit him more than a dozen other times. The Vikings never sacked Carson Wentz, who wasn’t special but was good enough while Minnesota was self-destructing.

The Vikings have beaten the Bears the last three times they’ve met, the first time that’s happened since 1999 and 2000, which is also the last time the Bears started 1-6. And the Bears have lost three straight.

The Bears were able to end the first three-game skid by focusing on one game: the Lions. The result was shutting down a very good offense, the lowest yardage-allowed (263) of the season and the firmest commitment to the run game (29) attempts.

Morale inside the locker room can only be revived by a win. One game. This game.