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.

Kyle Fuller heads to injured reserve as Bears make other roster moves

Kyle Fuller heads to injured reserve as Bears make other roster moves

The upheaval that has afflicted the 2016 Bears roster ratcheted up a notch late Tuesday when the Bears placed cornerback Kyle Fuller on injured reserve due to a knee injury and shuffled the depth chart elsewhere.

The Bears waived tight end Greg Scruggs, who was making the switch to offense from the defensive line, and linebacker Jonathan Anderson, while moving linebacker John Timu from the practice squad to the 53-man roster. To fortify the defensive line, where nose tackle Eddie Goldman is down indefinitely with an ankle injury, the Bears signed CJ Wilson, a 2010 draft pick of the Green Bay Packers who has played for the Packers, Oakland Raiders and Detroit Lions, starting 19 of 78 career games played.

Fuller, the 14th-overall pick of the 2014 draft and once identified as a building block of the Bears defense, underwent knee surgery Aug. 15 while the team went to New England for practices and a preseason game with the Patriots. He had been making significant strides in recovery as far as straight-ahead running but was still hampered with change-of-direction.

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Coach John Fox on Monday said simply that Fuller “has a sore knee. It has some medical things that kind of restrict you. When we get that healed up, he’ll go.”

The IR designation does not necessarily end Fuller’s season. Beginning in 2013, under an agreement between the NFL and Players Association, one player per team may be placed on injured reserve and later be brought back to the active roster. That player must sit out six weeks and cannot be activated for an additional two weeks.

With inside linebacker Danny Trevathan out following surgery on his thumb, Anderson had been expected to see additional playing time, possibly with the No. 1 unit. But rookie Nick Kwiatkoski started Sunday at Dallas in the base 3-4 and Christian Jones cycled in with sub packages.

Three starting points for the Bears to salvage their 2016 season

Three starting points for the Bears to salvage their 2016 season

As the noted philosopher once intoned, the past is for cowards and losers. Applied to the 2016 Bears, the latter already applies, though not wanting to look at the recent past shouldn’t be taken as evidence of cowardice, just not wanting to revisit pain.

Looking to the future is the obvious only option for an 0-3 football team.

“You’ve just got to go into every week like it’s a new week,” said linebacker Jerrell Freeman, one of the few encouraging parts of an injury-speckled defense, whose 34 tackles are approaching twice those of No. 2 Jacoby Glenn (19), with four tackles for loss vs. no one else with more than two.

“Every week is a new season regardless of whether you’re winning or losing. You can’t look back, you always have to look forward. Because if not, you won’t give the next team the respect they deserve and have another bad result.”

But the fan base can be excused for expecting a next bad result simply because the Bears have given zero indications that the future will be any better than the immediate past.

That is the signal concern: Who turns this around or, for that matter, even slows the rate of descent?

No Bears team has made the playoffs in a season that began with three straight losses. The 1932 team was winless in its first three, but those at least were scoreless ties. So postseason isn’t a relevant concept anymore except possibly as some sort of punchline.

But one vintage NFL axiom is that things from a game are seldom as bad upon later review than you thought they were at the time (they’re also never as good, either, but good hasn’t shown up yet). And turnarounds do happen.

But those do have to start somewhere. Any Bears season course correction for 2016 has three possible starting points:

A defensive 'village'

The Bears do not have elite talent on defense, meaning that the solution can come only from a marshaling of forces that makes the whole greater than the sum of the parts.

John Fox teams are built on defense, and consensus had the Bears as potentially a top-10 defense before the successive miseries vs. Houston, Philadelphia and Dallas. The Bears have zero defensive star power at this point, which is a problem, by way of understatement.

Fox’s 2011 Denver team started 1-4, then reversed itself and made the playoffs at 8-8 with Tim Tebow as quarterback. (It also had Marion Barber stepping out of bounds and later fumbling away the Bears game, but never mind that for now.) But that team had Elvis Dumervil and a rookie Von Miller combining for 21 sacks. The Bears have a total of four sacks, and players representing 1.5 of those (Eddie Goldman, Danny Trevathan) are out indefinitely with injuries.

But linebacker Willie Young cut to the chase: “We have to control the running game before we can have fun in the backfield,” he said after the debacle in Dallas with the Cowboys rushing for 200 yards. “I don’t know what was going on. All I could do is ask the guys to give me all you got. One play at a time, just give me all you’ve got.”

That would be a place to start.

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Remember the 'Run and Shoop' offense?

John Shoop might have been the object of ridicule as Bears offensive coordinator. But when he took over after the defection of Gary Crowton to coach BYU, the Bears won two of their last three by running to the point of tackle James “Big Cat” Williams, nicknaming the offense the “Run and Shoop” offense. The linemen loved it initially because Shoop simply loaded up and ran the football and, most important, stayed with the plan.

The point is not to become plodding, which Shoop’s offense ultimately became. But the Bears abandoned the run at Dallas when they trailed 24-3 at halftime, even though they had the ball to start the third quarter and with one defensive stop after a touchdown could have been working to get within one score.

“It could have flipped quickly,” guard Kyle Long said. “One drive, it turns into a seven-point game, and that’s the NFL.”

The need for the Bears to run the football isn’t really worth spending time on. Obvious. The offensive line was built for running the football. But for various reasons coordinator Dowell Loggains has not had success with what was supposed to be the foundation of the offense. The Bears cannot win by being a pass-based team, regardless of whether Jay Cutler or Brian Hoyer or Matt Barkley is doing the throwing.

The Bears will not be blowing out many, if any, teams. Their best option is to wear opponents down in first halves, live with Jordan Howard/Joique Bell/whomever netting 50 to 60 yards in a first half, then turning the two- to three-yard runs of the first half into four- to six-yarders in the second.

Shoop would like that.

Get one win

Playoff chances mean nothing. How good or bad the Bears are means nothing. All that matters is winning, not games, but one game. The next game. As Fox and other players have said, the Bears have not put together one complete game yet. That is not going to happen automatically, but one play, one quarter, one half at a time.

And they know it. “You want to win games,” Freeman said. “There’s no panic. There’s a sense of urgency, that’s for sure. We’ve got to put out this fire and put it out quick, like yesterday or the day before.”