Holiday Cheer!

Holiday Cheer!

Wednesday, December 30

Now that the stress of the Christmas part of the holidays is over, I can concentrate, or should I say re-concentrate on sports. Besides Team Frankie O in the fantasy football playoffs I havent had as much time for the sports world. Well that ends now!

Ive always considered the New Years holiday as kind of like my Opening Day. All of the frustrations of the past year are gone and I hit the reset button. As always, I have great anticipation, and am convinced that, finally, this is the year. Now usually I open up on the road because Im at work, but this year Im off so Ill open at home. And I couldnt have picked a better year. New Years Eve is stacked with bowl games and Ill probably catch most of them, in between snacks.

But a game Ive been waiting for since the hockey season started will be on the 31st this year. The New Jersey Devils are coming in to play the Blackhawks and this will be a real test. Over the last 15 years or so, or when Martin Brodeur became their goaltender, the Devils have been good, but then there is a year when they have the look, usually it ends with them hoisting the Cup, three times in fact. Well, they have that look again. It all starts with Brodeur. I dont think that most people could name 2 other people on their team, but with Brodeur, who cares? They start with him and build the team out. Whos 2 behind the Hawks in goals against? The Devils. Whos tied with the Hawks for most points? The Devils.

Who has beaten the defending Stanley Cup Champion 3 times, in their own building, by a combined score of 12-1? Thats right, you guessed it, the Devils. Theyve got the look all right. One thing in the Hawks favor though, is that the Devils are on the second night of a back-to-back (Pittsburgh again, this time in New Jersey), and their 4th game in 6th nights. They should be a little tired, but then again, there is that guy in net. I cant wait for the game. It will make a statement to the league about both teams. And, I know, a little early, but if youre dreaming the big dream, this could be the team that ultimately stands in the way.

After a couple hours of sleep, it will be right back to the sofa for an early, for a nocturnal bartender anyway, trifecta of 2 bowl games and the Winter Classic starting at 10:00 am. (How do people get up that early?!) First up is Northwestern in the Outback Bowl. Like Ive said here many times, Im a fan of Coach Pat Fitzgerald and love how his teams play. They dont quit. I think its time for them to get the schools second bowl victory and first in 61 years, especially after their heart-breaking loss last year in over-time in the Alamo Bowl. Go Cats!

Then, near the end of the NW game, its time to watch two of MY teams, unfortunately I dont feel good about either one. At noon, Penn State takes on LSU in the Capital One Bowl and the Philadelphia Flyers take on the Boston Bruins in Fenway Park in the 3rd Winter Classic hockey game.

Any time a team from the Big 10 takes on one from the SEC, there is concern. With PSU this year, the two times they played tough, fast defenses, (Ohio State and Iowa) they looked over-matched and got spanked. LSU is very tough and physical on the defensive side, and like most SEC teams, scary fast. This could get ugly. One thing though, Joe Paterno owns the all-time record for bowl wins (23) and this is because, given time, he can come up with a game-plan to play anybody. Thank goodness hes had plenty of time, (7 weeks) I hope hes been staying up late!

As for the Flyers, theyve had a tumultuous season to say the least. Carrying the weight of high expectations, they started out good, then, out of nowhere fell apart. (Sound familiar?) This led to their coach getting fired. It was a classic case of getting rid of the nice guy, players coach, and replacing him with the stern task-master. Theyre probably having lots of fun in their clubhouse these days. NOT! It seems to be working though, theyre on a little winning streak, and actually went into Boston and beat the Bruins 3-1 two weeks ago. Ill keep my fingers crossed. But the thing about the game, obviously, is watching them skate around in Fenway. It looked awesome here at Wrigley last year and I wouldnt expect it to be any less so this year. Will there be Chow-dah at the end of the bench to help keep the players warm?

After the inevitable afternoon nap, Ill be ready for the Granddaddy. Doesnt matter whos playing, Ill always watch the Rose Bowl. Does any other football field look better on TV? Someday Ill have to go and check it out for myself.

Then its time for the soap-opera that will be the Sugar Bowl. Whats superman going to do next? Deliver a baby at halftime? And, whither Urban Meyer? Do you think the announcers will talk about the game at all? Keep Tom Brennaman away! Im glad the games on New Years Day though. I like that Im able to watch almost all of the big-time traditional bowls, since for the BCS they spread them out, but theres still a part of me that misses the log-jam of games that used to occur on the 1st. I'll just have to make do with the 5 games that are on, stretching out for 13 hours, finishing off with the Sugar Bowl, which will provide the perfect background noise for me to doze off to.

I cant wait. The two-day New Years sports feast will be the perfect way to start the year and, most importantly, help me get my sports swerve back on! And, not a moment too soon, because the NFL playoffs are less than 10 days away, and Ive got to be ready for that heartbreak!

Happy New Year!

Bears Talk Podcast: What's next for Bears at QB after Brian Hoyer suffers broken arm?


Bears Talk Podcast: What's next for Bears at QB after Brian Hoyer suffers broken arm?

Lance Briggs, Alex Brown and Jim Miller break down where the Bears go at QB following Brian Hoyer’s injury and evaluate the defense’s gutsy performance on Thursday night against the Packers despite numerous injuries. Plus, a look at the big picture and who can help the Bears down the road.

Check out the latest edition of the Bears Talk Podcast here:

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

Anthony Rizzo/Javier Baez antics show how this Cubs team doesn’t feel the same weight of history

LOS ANGELES – Within minutes of the last out on Thursday night at Dodger Stadium, ESPN’s @SportsCenter account sent out a photo of Moises Alou at the Wrigley Field wall to more than 30 million Twitter followers: “The last time the Cubs were up 3-2 in an NLCS was Game 6 of the 2003 NLCS vs. the Marlins. Most remember it as ‘the Bartman Game.’”

As Kerry Wood once said: “Irrelevant, dude.”
Look, the Cubs still need to find a way to beat either Clayton Kershaw or Rich Hill this weekend, with Kenley Jansen resting and waiting for the multiple-inning saves. The obligatory description for Kershaw is “the best pitcher on the planet.” Hill’s lefty curveball – and “the perceptual velocity” of his fastball – freezes hitters. Jansen has a mystical cutter reminiscent of the great Mariano Rivera. The top-heavy part of this Los Angeles playoff pitching staff has held the Cubs to zero runs in 16.1 innings.

But until proven otherwise, forget about this idea of a Cubs team weighed down by the history of a franchise that hasn’t played in the World Series since 1945.

Just look at Javier Baez getting in Anthony Rizzo’s airspace during Game 5, the human-highlight-film second baseman standing right next to the All-Star first baseman as he caught a Kike Hernandez pop-up for the second out of the third inning.

It didn’t matter that this was a 1-0 game and MVP-ballot players Justin Turner and Corey Seager were coming up. This is what the 2016 Cubs do. Rizzo caught the ball, quickly flipped it underhand and it bounced off Baez’s chest – in front of a sellout crowd of 54,449 and a national Fox Sports 1 audience.

“We always mess around,” Rizzo said at his locker inside a tight clubhouse jammed with media after an 8-4 win. “So I’m screaming: ‘Javy! Javy! I got it! I got it, Javy, I got it!’

“And usually he’ll yell at me: ‘Don’t miss it!’ Or I’ll yell at him: ‘Don’t miss it!’

“We do that a lot. If it’s a pop-up to him, I’ll go right behind him. It’s just little ways of slowing the game down and having fun, too.”

Rizzo is a Gold Glove-caliber first baseman for a team that led the majors in defensive efficiency this year. As a super-utility guy, Baez got credit for 11 defensive runs saved in 383 innings at second base, or one less than co-leaders Dustin Pedroia and Ian Kinsler, who each did it in almost 1,300 innings.

“Sometimes when I call (Rizzo) off to get a fly ball, he starts talking to me,” Baez said. “I tell him: ‘Hey, you can do whatever you want. Just don’t move my head. You can touch me if you want. Just don’t move my head.’

“And I told him to be ready for it, because I was going to do the same thing. You just got to be focused on the fly ball. No matter what’s happening around you, you just got to catch it.”

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

This isn’t about Bartman. It’s about a group of young, confident players who are growing up together and absolutely expect to be in this position. It’s manager Joe Maddon designing “Embrace The Target” T-shirts and telling them to show up to the ballpark whenever they want and then blow off batting practice.

“For sure, we’re relaxed,” said Baez, who’s gone viral during these playoffs, the rest of the country witnessing his amazing instincts and flashy personality. “I’m relaxed when I play defense.”

The thing is, Rizzo and Baez could be playing next to each other for the next five years, the same way Kris Bryant and Addison Russell will be anchoring the left side of the infield.

This is how Rizzo introduced Russell to The Show when a natural shortstop tried to learn second base on the fly last year and track pop-ups in front of 40,000 people: “Hey, watch out for that skateboard behind you! Don’t trip!”

“Oh yeah, we yell at each other all the time,” Rizzo said. “It’s just one of those things where you got to stay loose.”