Chicago Bears

Garfien: Carimi's not your average Bear

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Garfien: Carimi's not your average Bear

Sunday, May 1, 2011
Posted: 1:50 p.m.

By Chuck Garfien
CSNChicago.com

Theres an old joke from the classic 1980 movie Airplane! in which an elderly passenger asks a flight attendant carrying magazines if she has anything light to read. The flight attendant responds, How about this leaflet? Great Jewish sports legends.

Yes, its no secret that when it comes to extraordinary athletic achievement, the people of my religion have been associated with some of the very best equipment managers and tackling dummies to ever grace a playing surface. How long has this illustrious trend been in existence? Well, I guess the short answer is:

Forever.

In the last 100 years, weve produced the likes of Hank Greenberg, Sandy Koufax, Mark Spitz, and a collection of other Jewish sports stars. Not enough to fill a gym. More like a table at a Bar Mitzvah.

But oy, what a table!

I dont have the knowledge or degree to explain why this happens generation after generation. All I know is that when a Jewish male comes into this world, he has a much better chance of playing sports like Woody Allen than like Marcus Allen. Its a fate we accept at a young age, and are told to plan our careers accordingly.

But every now and then, a member of our tribe breaks through the mold, defying decades of athletic mediocrity to excel in a sport normally reserved for everybody else.

Which brings us to the announcement made on Thursday in New York City.

With the 29th overall pick in the NFL Draft, the Chicago Bears selected Gabe Carimi out of the University of Wisconsin. When Gabe walked across the stage at Radio City Music Hall, he looked exactly like the guy every single Jewish person will never, ever look like.

He was 6-foot-7, weighed 325 pounds, could bench press a small town, and was one of the best offensive linemen in college football.

That wasnt a surprise.

But this certainly was: Gabe Carimi is Jewish.

(That sound you just heard is the volcanic roar coming from every hebrew school on the planet).

WATCH: Gabe Carimi gets his first look at Halas Hall

Gabe is not just Jewish on paper. Its his reality. He can read from the Torah, he had a Bar Mitzvah, and even kept up with his Jewish studies after his Bar Mitzvah was finished.

Unlike some of us.

As for playing on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calender where you fast for 24 hours....not a problem.

I already looked out over the next 15 years, and Yom Kippur doesnt fall on a Sunday, Carimi told NFL scouts.

So how did Carimi, the 2010 Outland Trophy winner, defy decades of Jewish DNA to become one of the biggest and strongest players in college football?

I come from good stock I guess, he said in an interview on Saturday.Im no longer a Packers fan. The sins I have committed. I purge myself. I am a Bears fan through and through.-- Chicago Bear Gabe Carimi on his Wisconsin upbringing

On the surface, thats true. Gabes dad, Sanford, is big like his son. He stands about 6-foot-5, but never played professional football. Far from it. Sanford is a physician, who in the 1980s, spent 4 years stationed at Naval Station Great Lakes. It was there in Lake Forest where the Carimis gave birth to one of the largest babies the local hospital had ever seen.

And by the time little Gabe was 4 months old, he would grow to be 24 pounds.

The pediatricians were floored, Sanford Carimi said. He was literally off-the-charts.

As Gabe continued to get bigger, and his Jewish friends continued to look much smaller, his athletic exploits began to get noticed.

Hank Greenberg was famously known as the Hebrew Hammer. Eventually, Gabe would be called the Jewish Hammer or just plain Hammer. Although ever since the Bears drafted him, a new nickname has quickly gained momentum.

Im getting votes from Bear Nation to see if I should be called the Bear Jew from (the movie) Inglorious Bastards, Carimi said.

The Bear Jew. The Chosen One. I can already see the signs at Soldier Field.

It means a lot to me, Carimi said about his Jewish heritage. I recently went to the Jewish Hall of Fame and met some of the inductees. I was elected for the College Jewish Athlete of the Year Award, and you just see how many good Jewish athletes are really out there.

Really?

Maybe not many offensive linemen, but theyre out there.

WATCH: Take a closer look at Bears' 2011 draft class
In terms of football, the greatest Jewish Chicago Bear by far is quarterback Sid Luckman, who led the Bears to 4 NFL championships in the 1940s, and won the leagues Most Valuable Player Award in 1943.

As I interviewed Gabe while standing in the Halas Hall lobby next to a photo of Luckman (on purpose, of course), I pointed to the photograph. To my surprise, Carimi had never heard of him.

Thats awesome. Thats great, Carimi said, trying to be polite. He can be quite a mensch. When I told Gabe that he needed to study up on Luckman (hes still the greatest quarterback in Bears history. Jay Cutler should look him up as well), Gabe promised that he would.

And the Wisconsin native who grew up cheering for a certain NFL team across the border made another promise.

Im no longer a Packers fan. The sins I have committed. I purge myself. I am a Bears fan through and through.

Not just a fan, but an actual Bear, who will soon be in the trenches of the National Football League, representing the Jewish religion. He might not look like one of us, but he is one of us, an athlete who has raised the bar for all Bar Mitzvah boys.

Mazel Tov.

Chuck Garfien hosts White Sox Pregame and Postgame Live on Comcast SportsNet with former Sox Bill Melton. Follow Chuck @ChuckGarfien on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Sox news and views.

WATCH: Deonte Thompson channels inner Devin Hester with 109-yard return in Bears preseason game

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AP

WATCH: Deonte Thompson channels inner Devin Hester with 109-yard return in Bears preseason game

It's been a while since Devin Hester electrified the city of Chicago with his touchdown returns, but we got flashbacks of that Saturday night.

Deonte Thompson took a page out of the book of arguably the best returner in NFL history by returning a 109-yard missed field goal to the house as the first half expired during the Bears' second preseason game in Arizona.

It gave the Bears a 17-7 lead, and even had John Fox going crazy on the sideline:

Deonte Thompson, you are ridiculous?

Five Bears who can improve their stock Saturday night against Arizona

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USA Today Sports Images

Five Bears who can improve their stock Saturday night against Arizona

1. QB Mike Glennon

The Bears’ first team offense as a whole could be included under this subhead, whether it’s the offensive line creating holes for a running back (Jordan Howard won't play with a minor corneal abrasion) or the receivers creating more separation to get open. But the onus is on Glennon to be better than he was Thursday night and prove that 0.0 quarterback rating was the product of a small sample size and not a sign of more serious issues. On the other side of things, a bad game from Glennon only would lead to further questions about his ability to succeed as the Bears’ starting quarterback. 

“I mean, (this game is) bigger than the first but not as big as the third,” Glennon said. “I don’t really know how else to say it. Everything gets more amplified Week 1 to 2, 2 to 3 and then ultimately the season opener. Obviously I want to go out and play well but I don’t want to make too big a deal and put too much pressure on a preseason game.” 

2. WR Kevin White

Cameron Meredith can do a lot to help Glennon’s case, but the Bears have a good idea of what they have in the third-year receiver who’s been one of the more steady performers during training camp. Kevin White is in a different position, having not been targeted at all against the Denver Broncos and still needing to prove plenty going into his third year in the NFL. White’s growth this year may be slow, but he needs to show some signs of that growth during preseason games to build up some confidence for Sept. 10. 

“Anytime you go through some injuries, there’s a whole mental game that plays a part of it,” fellow wide receiver Victor Cruz (more on him in a bit) said. “Just talking to him – I think he’s over it. He understands those things are behind him. His confidence is back in his body with the things that he can do. You’re starting to see that out there on the football field. He’s really hitting another gear, catching these balls, going deep down the field and putting pressure on these defensive backs.”

3. WR Victor Cruz

It was a little jarring to see Cruz, a Super Bowl-winning former Pro Bowler, playing until the final snap of Thursday’s game — even if that had something to do with the Bears not having Daniel Braverman available and losing Rueben Randle and Joshua Bellamy to injuries during the game. But Cruz hasn’t seemed to significantly push Kendall Wright for the No. 1 slot receiver job over the last few weeks, and could find himself on the roster bubble by the end of the month. A good showing Saturday night could provide a nice boost to his chance of avoiding that bubble.  

“I've been impressed with him,” Fox said before the Bears’ first preseason game. “He's got a great feel for the game. Sometimes it might not be just how fast they are physically but how fast they play, and he seems to be that type of guy. He's still got plenty of gas in the tank and we're excited to have him.”

4. DE Jonathan Bullard

Bullard is the only player on this list who flashed last Thursday, with an impressive tackle for a loss probably the Bears’ second-best defensive play of the day behind Leonard Floyd’s first-play-of-the-game sack. He’s had a solid camp, too, showing some promising signs after struggling to show much of anything a year ago. For Bullard, Saturday night will be about keeping his arrow pointing up, perhaps to the point that he could start at defensive end opposite Akiem Hicks in Week 1. 

“He’s definitely stronger, faster,” Hicks said. “He was already explosive, right? He has picked up the game to a point where he can play within the scheme now and see things come and be able to predict the play in order to get a step on the guard or the tackle, whoever he’s playing against. Just the things that come with getting more reps.”

5. CB Kyle Fuller

No player may have a better opportunity Saturday night than Fuller, who should be in line to take first-team reps with Bryce Callahan out and Prince Amukamara missing practices this week with a strained hamstring. What Fuller does with this opportunity could be a major deciding factor of whether or not he’s part of the Bears’ 53-man roster — this coaching staff and front office didn’t draft him, and his fifth-year option for 2018 was declined in the spring. 

“It’s a new year,” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said earlier this month when asked about Fuller. “We start evaluating guys by what you’ve seen on the field at this point.”