Garfien: Carimi's not your average Bear

459240.jpg

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.

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Bears establishing smash-mouth core with Jordan Howard

Eric Kush was in some pain after the Bears win over the San Francisco 49ers. But it was a “good” pain, particularly since part of it was inflicted by a teammate.

The teammate was running back Jordan Howard, and the Bears left guard was learning along with his linemates that when Howard is coming, “he’s a-comin’,” Kush said.

“Oh man, sometimes you’re, ‘[groan-groan-groan], and he’ll hit you right in the back, you fall and try to take your guy down with you and stick him in the snow so you’re not the only one getting soaking wet and cold. But Jordan’s a lot fun and we try to kick some butt for him.”

The rookie running back has become more than simply a draft nugget from the fifth round of this year’s draft. Howard has established himself as an integral part of a winning formula of complimentary football, the concept long favored by John Fox, Lovie Smith and coaches who operate from the foundation of a premier running game, impact defense and solid special teams.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

The Bears’ three wins have come this season in the only games in which Howard has been given 20-plus carries: 23 vs. Detroit, 26 vs. Minnesota, 32 vs. San Francisco. Add to those the 3 pass receptions against the Lions and the 4 against the Vikings and the true centerpiece of the 2016 Bears offense is more than a little apparent.

For obvious reasons beyond simply the rushing numbers.

“Especially pass protection,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “I think he's taken a big jump that way. When you're young in this league, those are the things that can get grey for you. You run the football, he's obviously a talented player there, but in pass pro, he's made his biggest growth.”

As a corollary to Howard, San Francisco was only the second game this season in which the Bears called fewer than 30 pass plays (the only other time was at Green Bay, when the Bears only ran a total of 45 plays, 27 of them pass plays). In that respect, the snow was viewed as an ally by some in the locker room who have been unhappy at the run:pass balance, which was just 36-percent-run coming into the 49ers game.

“It was one of these games where, with the weather, we couldn’t pass the ball like we normally do —  30 times — so we had to keep it on the ground,” said one member of the offense.

Howard’s breakout game as an NFL ball carrier came against the Lions (23 carries, 111 rushing yards, 3 receptions). The Bears, looking for a breakout of their own in the form of a first two-game win streak in more than a year, are expected to keep it simple — and in Howard’s hands.

“I always expected a lot out of myself,” Howard said. “I didn’t really think that things would happen maybe this soon or this fast. I’m definitely grateful for it.”

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

Bears looking into Teryl Austin’s past for clues on how Lions will scheme vs. Matt Barkley

The adage “play the man, not the board” seems somehow appropriate for what the Bears are doing to prepare for the Detroit Lions behind quarterback Matt Barkley.

“The man” is Detroit defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, and the Bears have been scouting him as well as his defenses, beyond just Bears games, beyond this season and last, taking in his 2014 Detroit season when Austin prepared defenses for Jay Cutler and Jimmy Clausen.

How did Austin scheme for rookie Carson Wentz when the Lions played (and beat) the Philadelphia Eagles? How did he structure is defense to stop a rookie Teddy Bridgewater when Detroit played Minnesota? (Not very well, apparently, since the Vikings won both games and scored 54 points combined in the two games).

While the John Fox Bears staff went against Austin’s Lions defense twice last year, Cutler was the Bears quarterback. When the Bears beat Austin and the Lions two months ago, it was with Brian Hoyer.

Now the Bears quarterback is Matt Barkley, who has fewer NFL games played (seven) than Cutler has NFL seasons (11), Hoyer (eight), too, for that matter.

“Different defensive coordinators attack young quarterbacks differently,” said offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. “Some guys blitz, some guys play a bunch of zone. This group on defense there, they have a really good defensive coordinator, they're really smart, they do a bunch of stuff. On the back end, they run all the coverages.

“As a game, we'll have to make adjustments as the game goes and see what their plan to come out is early.”

Coaches and players may talk about how they prepare for a scheme irrespective of which opposing quarterback, running back, linebacker or whatever they will be facing. But in fact, preparations start with who is orchestrating the opponent’s offense or defense – play the man, not the board.

[SHOP: Gear up Bears fans!]

A risk can be out-thinking yourself trying to anticipate what a coordinator will do. The first point, Loggains said, is to start with your own strengths.

“We definitely look at that,” Loggains said. “As you go in the league long and longer, you face these guys, you see them in crossover games. We always know how a guy attacks a rookie quarterback or attacks a young quarterback, a veteran, or, in Matt's case, a guy who hasn't played as much.”

Evaluations of Barkley’s performance will broaden, particularly now that he is on tape for defensive coordinators to scheme for and scout. And while they are watching Barkley, the Bears are watching them.