Sunday, May 1, 2011
Posted: 1:50 p.m.
By Chuck Garfien
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:
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.
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.
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.