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.

Injury clouds may be disappearing over (some) Bears

Injury clouds may be disappearing over (some) Bears

The daily litany of injuries and practice limitations through training camp and to this point of preseason have been stories. But they typically do not take on real significance until about this time of the football year, when teams swing onto final approach for their first regular-season game.

Against that backdrop, the Bears’ injury forecast was trending the right direction on Monday when No. 1 tight end Zach Miller and No. 1 nickel receiver Eddie Royal, both out for extended periods going through the team’s concussion protocol, were practicing without the don’t-hit-me red practice jerseys they were in as recently as last week.

Right guard Kyle Long, down with a shoulder injury since the New England game, was not in practice pads Monday but trotted over to a nearby goalpost at one point during practice, got into his stance and delivered a couple of linemen “punches” to the padding.

All three are vital components of a struggling offense in desperate need of impact players at any position.

[SHOP: Get your Bears gear here]

Rookie linebacker Leonard Floyd, held out of the Kansas City game on Saturday with hamstring soreness, was in uniform as well. Cornerback Kyle Fuller, who had knee surgery two weeks ago, was out running laps around the practice field, although he remains a longshot to be active for the Sept. 11 opener in Houston.

The situation was less encouraging for linebacker Pernell McPhee, who continues to do only controlled running and cutting along the sidelines as he works back from knee surgery in January. Chances of his return for the start of the regular season appear next to nil.

“We’ve got some avenues that we’re going to have to decide here as we cut down [the roster] to the 53 and some time from now, so I don’t like making those decisions now,” said coach John Fox. “But we’ll continue to evaluate him. There are options. He did start [training camp] on PUP [physically unable to perform]. We have a lot of options and we’ll do what’s best for us and him.”

The team has kept details of McPhee’s procedure and injury in-house. But teammate Willie Young, whose 2014 season ended with an Achilles injury of his own, offered a perspective that hinted at how serious McPhee’s injury may have been.

“It’s a credit to him, because to bounce back from any what used to be career-ending injuries is a challenge,” Young said, adding, “but he’s on course, I would say.”

Amid 0-3 preseason carnage, Bears believe one positive can be building block

Amid 0-3 preseason carnage, Bears believe one positive can be building block

With the No. 1 units in all three phases generally done for the 2016 preseason, one of the few stats that coaches and teams focus on can be analyzed for a Bears team that doesn’t have a lot of numerical results worth noting.

Through three preseason losses the Bears curiously have a plus-1 turnover ratio, taking the ball away from opponents. Through three games last year the Bears stood at plus-6 after a 2-1 point of a preseason in which coach John Fox sought to change a losing culture with an aggressive preseason approach.

Why this matters in a preseason of failures is this: Of the 15 teams with negative turnover totals, only one had a winning record. Not that a positive preseason means regular-season success, as the Bears demonstrated last year.

[SHOP: Get your Bears gear here]

But while the Bears offense has done precious little with the football when it’s had it, at least it is not giving it to opponents. Brian Hoyer has thrown the only two interceptions in 96 throws by Bears quarterbacks, a rate of 2.1 percent.

The defense has been without starting cornerback Kyle Fuller and No. 1 nickel corner Bryce Callahan for the past two games, and top corner Tracy Porter for game one and part of game three, the latter because of a concussion.

Still, members of the defense, which has produced two interceptions and two fumble recoveries through three games, have noticed a difference this year from last year’s first in a 3-4 base defense.

“Faster, that’s the main thing,” said defensive tackle Will Sutton. “A year under my belt in the system, you’re not thinking as much because you should know the plays. I can play a lot faster because I know how the blocks are being made against this type of defense, for instance.”

[RELATED: Wrapping up Bears-Chiefs: Not all bad, so why not find some good?]

The results have not yet been reflected in points, yardage or wins. But within the defense, players believe that team speed has been increased along with reaction speed, breaks on the ball and other elements that go into producing takeaways.

“Absolutely,” said linebacker Willie Young. “We’ve got a couple more guys who are more familiar with the scheme this year, including myself and [linebacker Lamarr] Houston, who obviously got off to a slow start last year.

“But we do have a lot more guys in position who are more familiar with the defensive scheme. So it allows you to fill a bit faster, a little more confidence.”

Wrapping up Bears-Chiefs: Not all bad, so why not find some good?

Wrapping up Bears-Chiefs: Not all bad, so why not find some good?

Bears coach John Fox declared in the wake of Saturday’s 23-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs that what transpired hadn’t been all bad. And that’s true; good wins don’t usually look as good in the film room afterwards, and bad losses don’t automatically show up all dark, either.

And so it is after preseason game No. 3 that the Bears in fact did have some good along with some bad in what was the worst performance of the preseason, if only because so much of it involved the No. 1 units, and they’re supposed to be better than that.

Since so much seemed to be (and actually was) bad on Saturday night, the contrarian approach is invoked here: Let’s start with the good.

Good: The Bears faced Kansas City (which also was missing a handful of key starters) without Bryce Callahan, Leonard Floyd, Kyle Fuller, Kyle Long, Pernell McPhee, Zach Miller and Eddie Royal. Tracy Porter left with a concussion. They expect to have some if not all of those starters and sub-starters back by Week 1.

Bad: Miller, Porter, Royal and McPhee have varying degrees of injury histories, McPhee the least of the group but had never been put in the position of holding up as a full-time starter before last season. The chances of the Bears having all their key players for full seasons are slim.

Good: Jay Cutler has thrown 31 passes this preseason. None of them have been intercepted. In what proved to be a foreshadowing of a ball-security breakthrough for the historically turnover-prone quarterback, Cutler threw zero interceptions in 33 attempts last preseason. In the regular season Cutler had two games of 31 attempts and another of 33 with zero interceptions, plus pick-free games of 24, 27 and 45 attempts.

Preseason and training camp stats mean nothing; preseason and camp performances often do.

[RELATED: Bears defense can't pick up all the pieces from a broken offense]

Bad: Kevin White has shown less than nothing through preseason, catching a total of three passes and dropping an equal number in what is his de facto rookie season. He has run imprecise routes and looked a seventh-round draft pick, not a seventh-overall one. Despite his apparent explosiveness, no Bear is averaging less than White’s 4 yards per reception.

Good: Josh Bellamy and Cameron Meredith have had next-step preseasons, a matter of some potential significance given the health concerns with Eddie Royal and production concerns with White. No Bear has caught more than Bellamy’s 10 passes, and no Bear with more than two catches has averaged more than Meredith’s 16 yards per catch.

Bad: The Bears need a road win at Cleveland next Thursday to avoid the fifth winless preseason in franchise history.

Good: Of the previous four no-win warmup slates, the Bears finished 9-5 in 1962 and 11-5 and in the NFC Championship in 2010. The 1998 season, Dave Wannstedt’s last, wound up 4-12 but 1978 at least was 7-9.

Five of the last six times the Bears lost the “all-important third preseason game,” the Bears finished 8-8 or better.

Bad: (put in the Kansas City game tape)