Bears, Cubs making the world a better place

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Bears, Cubs making the world a better place

A late Bears practice Friday means a chance to get in some more cycling training miles for the special 100-mile Wrigley Field Road Tour coming up Aug. 19, the day after the Bears host the Washington Redskins in preseason.

(Cmon, whaddya mean, No way! Youve still go three weeks to train.)

The whole thing, which starts at Wrigley Field at 8 a.m. benefits two excellent endeavors. One is Chicago Cubs Charities, which helps Chicago youth with funding of youth sports programs, parks, schools and open spaces. In the past, buddies like Mike Adamle from Channel 5 and other notables have rolled, and it's a blast.

Cubs Charities supports a number of other charities, said Todd Ricketts, brother of Cubs chief Tom and owner of the Higher Gear bike shops. Its really all about the kids so there are things like the new Childrens Hospital and a baseball field with Kerry Wood.

And the other, World Bicycle Relief, provides bikes to Africa. But not just any bikes. These are specially built heavies that are designed for transport of people, cargo, livestock, whatever.

The reason for these is that getting from point to point in Africa is a huge challenge, a reason why kids cant always get to school, people cant get to medical services, all of that.

The issue was is there a way we can provide bikes that alleviate the burden, help a couple of hundred people and not break down, said Ricketts, who will be riding as well.

Some buddies will ride these bikes in the event in a special statement. The ride flips up north of Waukegan and heads back to Wrigley.

Check out the registration arrangements and also what this is really all about -- on WorldBicycleRelief.org. Registration is 100 plus raising another 400 for the kids. You get a T-shirt, lunch catered by Harry Carays Restaurant, and the post-ride party at Wrigley thatll have live music, food and drink.

Now, if youll excuse me, I have to got get some more miles in.

Pat Summitt used the sport to empower women at Tennessee and beyond

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Pat Summitt used the sport to empower women at Tennessee and beyond

Needing yet another men's basketball coach, Tennessee officials turned to the one person they thought would be perfect to take over the Volunteers program.

Pat Summitt said no.

She wasn't interested in the job in 1994 after Wade Houston was forced out, and she turned it down again when Jerry Green quit in March 2001. A Tennessee governor once joked he wouldn't have his job if Summitt ever wanted to run her home state.

Breaking the glass ceiling in the men's game, political office, that wasn't Summitt's motivation. She had the only job she ever really wanted.

"I want to keep doing the right things for women all the time," Summitt said in June 2011 after being inducted into her fifth Hall of Fame.

Summitt died Tuesday morning at age 64.

The woman who grew up playing basketball in a Tennessee barn loft against her brothers, and started coaching only a couple years after Title IX was invoked, spent her life working to make women's basketball the equal of the men's game. In the process, Patricia Sue Head

Summitt stood amongst the best coaches in any sport when she retired in April 2012 with more victories (1,098) than any other NCAA coach and second only to John Wooden with eight national championships.

Summitt used the sport and her demand for excellence to empower women and help them believe they can achieve anything, taking no backseat to anyone.

When I moved to Tennessee in 1976, girls played six-on-six, half-court basketball designed to protect them from getting hurt. Summitt, who took her Lady Vols to four AIAW Final Fours, refused to recruit Tennessee players. Tennessee high schools switched to five-on-five rules starting with the 1979-80 season.

The NCAA finally started running a national postseason tournament for the women in 1982. At the time, Summitt was known for having "corn-fed chicks" on her roster, big and strong but not talented enough to win national titles. After she won her first national title in 1987 in her eighth Final Four either in the AIAW or NCAA, she said, "Well, the monkey's off my back."

Back then only a student ID was needed to attend a women's game. And there was no demand for the results of those games. After graduating from Tennessee, I helped the sports writers by bringing notes from an NCAA Tournament game back to the office for someone else to write up. There was no urgency since there was no reader demand.

So Summitt worked to make it impossible to ignore her team or the women's game.

By January 1993, so many people wanted to watch then-No. 2 Tennessee visit top-ranked Vanderbilt that the contest became the first Southeastern Conference women's game to sell out in advance. With children under 6 allowed in free, having a ticket didn't guarantee getting through the door; at least 1,000 were turned away at the door - including Vanderbilt's chancellor.

The Lady Vols won 73-68, a game I covered in my first year as a sports writer for The Associated Press in Nashville.

"This was the biggest game in women's basketball, and that's what I've been waiting 19 years to see," Summitt said. "I'm glad I stayed around to see it."

Summitt scheduled opponents anywhere and everywhere, barnstorming the country to introduce people to women's basketball. Tennessee played Arizona State in 2000 in the first women's outdoor game played at then-Bank One Ballpark, drew the largest crowd ever to a regional championship in March 1998 when 14,848 packed Memorial Gym in Nashville with Tennessee trying to finish off the NCAA's first three-peat and helped Louisville set a Big East record christening the KFC Yum! Center in 2010.

The Lady Vols became must-see TV in the sport as Summitt put the women's game on the national stage with six national titles in the span of 12 years.

I remember when I got real up-close look at what drove Summitt.

Assigned to cover Summitt as part of AP's annual college basketball preview package in the fall of 1998, I spent nearly 30 minutes with the coach in her office.

Door closed, Summitt gave a glimpse of that famous stay-away stare. With undivided attention now on me, she wanted to know if I had talked with her mother, Hazel, for the story. She then showed me the engaging side, laughing when asked about a stretch of play during the 1998 title game that resembled the Showtime Lakers, beaming while reflecting on how well her Lady Vols showed women could play the game.

The Lady Vols lost 69-63 to Duke that season in the East Regional. The next day I left a message at Summitt's house and late that afternoon, she called back to talk about more life lessons and basketball.

"It's a game, and winning and losing both can be great ways to teach kids how to get ready for the real world," said Summitt, who had to stop the interview because her mother had given son, Tyler, a gift. She explained he would have to save some of that cash before buying something for himself. Then she resumed the conversation about the game.

That was Pat Summitt: Hoops and family.

She held everyone to the exacting standards she learned from her father cutting tobacco and helping bale hay on the family farm. Tennessee and Connecticut was the biggest draw in women's basketball with Geno Auriemma and his Huskies handing Summitt her lone title game loss in 1995. But Summitt canceled the series in 2007 and refused to say why other than, "Geno knows."

Summitt ended a nine-year championship drought with her seventh national title in 2007 followed by the eighth in 2008. She became the first NCAA coach to win 1,000 games Feb. 5, 2009, and received a new contract that boosted her annual salary to $1.4 million - far removed from the $8,900 of her first season.

She never got to the 40th season in that contract, her career cruelly and prematurely ended by early onset dementia, Alzheimer's type. She finished 1,098-208 with 18 Final Fours, at the time tying the men of UCLA and North Carolina for the most by any college basketball program.

Not that numbers define Summitt, who once said, "Records are made to be broken."

Yes, all marks fade, but no one will eclipse Summitt's contributions to women's basketball.

How Far Will You Take It? - The Wrigley Field Scoreboard

How Far Will You Take It? - The Wrigley Field Scoreboard

Despite the recent renovations to Wrigley Field, one iconic feature of the century-old ballpark remains the same. The scoreboard.

Still manually operated as it has always been since its installation in 1937, the iconic scorebard is part of the rich tradition of Wrigley Field. With the construction of two large video boards in left and right fields, the center-field scoreboard stands tall to link changing Wrigley with its historic past. 

Kelly Crull takes a ride around Wrigleyville in the all-new Toyota RAV4 Hybrid to bring you the history and evolution of the iconic Wrigley Field scoreboard. 

Buddy Ryan changed the NFL game forever – and more than once

Buddy Ryan changed the NFL game forever – and more than once

One very distinguished voter for Pro Football Hall of Fame inclusion once explained a criterion of his for inclusion in the league’s most hallowed circle: If you wrote the history of football, would you have to include this individual?

Buddy Ryan is not in the Pro Football Hall of Fame; he should be, but that’s for another discussion, another time. Because the simple fact is that if you were indeed writing a history of the National Football League, that history would be incomplete without Buddy Ryan.

“I think Buddy changed the game of football,” said Mike Ditka, Bears head coach with Ryan as his first, albeit inherited, defensive coordinator. “He is the reason why teams started going to all these three- and four-receiver sets.

“He never let offenses do what they wanted. The game of football is what it is today because of Buddy.”

Ryan did not create great defense. That had been done wholly or in parts by others – Bill George, George Allen, Dick Butkus, and so on. But what Buddy Ryan did echoes down through the history of the NFL, in more a few of its defining moments.

Super Bowl III is always remembered as Joe Namath’s day. Obscured by all that Namath and the New York Jets’ offense did was what the defensive line of Buddy Ryan was doing to the Baltimore Colts, specifically holding them to exactly seven points, on a late afterthought touchdown, a team that was coached by Don Shula and included John Mackey, Jimmy Orr and averaging nearly 29 points per game.

Super Bowl III was beyond cataclysmic for the growth of the modern NFL. And all that was long before Super Bowl XX.

Maybe the best measure of how truly great a coach Ryan was lay in the fact that he managed to turn OFFENSIVE players into fire-breathers.

“He’d say to the offensive line, ‘you fatasses can’t block anybody in practice, how you gonna do it in a game?’” recalled Hall of Famer Dan Hampton. “And [left tackle Jimbo] Covert and [left guard Mark] Bortz would just turn into animals.”

Ryan loved his players. But it was tough love, affection that had to be earned, and once earned, was something they treasured.

At the end of Otis Wilson’s rookie (1980) season, No. 55 may have been the team’s first-round pick, but Ryan was publicly blunt.

“We did OK, but that ‘55’ killed us," Ryan said after one game. 

Wilson turned the humiliation into something, becoming a student of the game, his craft, even to the point of cramming for Ryan’s legendary written tests.

“'I’m out of school, Buddy,'" Wilson said he wailed. “'Why you givin’ me these exams?'"

“You need to understand the total package,” Ryan ordered. “I want you to know what everybody’s doing.”

Today that sounds almost quaint; everybody’s supposed to know everybody else’s assignments. But never lose sight of the originator, who beat that concept into every head on his defense.

In the end, Ryan belonged to more than Chicago. He was a Jet. He was a Viking. He was Bear. He was an Eagle. And finally a Cardinal.

He belonged to the NFL, which, exactly as Ditka said, was changed forever by him.