Ditka Revisited: Dent, others still think of what could have been

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Ditka Revisited: Dent, others still think of what could have been

A few years back when I was doing the research for my 2005 book, The Chicago Bears and Super Bowl XX: The Rise and Self-Destruction of the Greatest Football Team in History, I had dinner with Richard Dent. The Colonel was MVP of the game but not all of his thoughts were particularly fond memories.
 
At one point, Richard summed up his feelings about his head coach:
 
He was the reason we won that Super Bowl and the reason why we didnt win three, he told me.
 
On Wednesday morning, Dent visited with The Mully and Hanley Show on WSCR 670 AM The Score. It was clear that the edges on those feelings are still sharp.
 
The disappointing part to me is that we only got one out of it, Dent told Mike and Brian. We should have been the first team ever to win three Super Bowls in a row.
 
Roots of the collapse
 
It was difficult to disagree with Dent. Ditka alienated elements of the team with the handling of Doug Flutie and the quarterback situation around injuries to Jim McMahon. It didnt matter that Flutie eventually became a decent NFL quarterback, leaving Ditka feeling vindicated.
 
During that season Ditka castigated the team for its loss of focus over off-the-field endorsements and activities, then players went home and had to see TV ads for Ditka endorsements on all four stations that night.
 
The situation turned worse in 1987 when Ditka declared the Spare Bears as the real Chicago Bears. Whether or not that was the only real choice management gave him didnt matter to the players.
 
And the overriding problem was that the Bears were in the deep water with other sharks like the New York Giants, San Francisco 49ers and Washington Redskins, all Super Bowl winners. Even the slightest slip or drop of blood and the sharks were all over the Bears.
 
What was unfortunate was the level of hurt feelings and disappointment that still lingered in Dent, and in a number of the other players I talked with. It was truly the best of their football times, it was the worst of those times.
 
John Madden told me that the 1985 Bears was the greatest team he ever saw (and he coached against those 1970s Steelers teams). In the Forward to the book, John said, You would have thought it would have gotten them through another year or two, except that things just happened to them.
 
As far as The Colonel still calculates, Ditka was the single biggest thing.
 
The great might-have-been
 
Well, we are going to be king of the hill all the time," Dent said to The Score guys. "It doesn't matter. I was on a team that took on the world. It wasnt just winning the Super Bowl. Hell, we got a gold record. We got a platinum video. We talked about it and we did it.
 
"And we came back three years in a row and had home-field advantage. Our coach couldnt figure out the right quarterback to play. ... It was there in the taking, but we didnt manage that one position right."
 
Dan Hampton told me in the course of the book research that Vince Tobin replaced Buddy Ryan as defensive coordinator and turned attack dogs into guard dogs.
 
But Dent was insistent on the main problem:
 
"Mike didnt manage that quarterback position," Dent said. "Bringing Doug Flutie in and thinking that he's gonna come in and be on a team for three weeks and start him in a playoff game? Hell, I mean you're trying to change the name on the Super Bowl trophy to Mike Ditka from Vince Lombardi when you do something like that.
 
"We had won with Mike Tomczak and Steve Fuller. Thats all we needed to do is stay with that plan."
 
Ditkas seeming favoritism toward Flutie angered the Bears but the Washington Redskins, who ousted the Bears from the 1986 and 1987 playoffs, liked Flutie in a Bear uniform just fine.
 
"We played the Redskins and Washington cornerback Darrell Green had told me, 'Hey man, I heard you guys are gonna start Doug Flutie,' Dent said on The Score. But hey, you know, we should've won more than one Super Bowl, but the one we won is bigger and better than anybody ever won.

Under-the-radar Reynaldo Lopez impressing White Sox: 'He's got some stuff'

Under-the-radar Reynaldo Lopez impressing White Sox: 'He's got some stuff'

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- He maybe doesn't receive the same hype as some of his peers, but the White Sox think Reynaldo Lopez deserves plenty of attention.

A highly-touted prospect for two seasons now, Lopez took a big leap forward in a 2016 season that resulted in two promotions, including a trip to the big leagues.

While Michael Kopech and Lucas Giolito have garnered much of the attention, Lopez, who was acquired with Giolito in the Adam Eaton trade, is right on their heels if not equal. Lopez -- who produced a 3.21 ERA in 19 minor-league starts last season and struck out 42 batters in 44 innings in the majors -- is rated the No. 31 prospect in baseball by Baseball America and 38th by MLB.com.

"He's looked good from the get-go," pitching coach Don Cooper said. "The bottom line is we like all three of them. I didn't hear a lot (about him). When people are asking me questions it's usually about Giolito and Kopech. I'm not sure why because he's a gifted kid. He's got some stuff."

Lopez, 23, already has pitched in 11 regular season games (six starts) and made a playoff appearance. He earned those outings by excelling in a season that began at Double-A Harrisburg. Two seasons after he put up outstanding numbers at Single-A, Lopez dominated the Eastern League with 100 strikeouts in 76 1/3 innings and 3.18 ERA. He attributes his success to calming himself down in game situations.

"I just kept my focus in the game," Lopez said through an interpreter. "Before, I thought a lot about things and I couldn't think. And then I realized to keep my focus on the game. Sometimes if someone hit me or something, my mind got stuck in that moment. But then I understood you have to have a short memory and just let the things that are happening (be) in the past and focus on what's happening."

Lopez, 23, said he has taken the same approach to handling his trade to the White Sox. The right-hander admits he was shocked at first when he heard he was traded by the Washington Nationals, who signed him for $17,000 in 2012 out of the Dominican Republic.

But the more he thought about it, Lopez realized how good of an opportunity he has in front of him with the rebuilding White Sox. The club intends to try Lopez out as a starter --- there's debate among scouting analysts whether he's meant for the bullpen or rotation --- at Triple-A Charlotte this season. Asked what he prefers, Lopez said he's a starter.

And rather than try to impress the club by overthrowing a fastball that MLB.com graded 70 on the 20-80 scale, Lopez has worked on location early in camp. Those efforts haven't gone unnoticed by Cooper and manager Rick Renteria.

"Lopez is a guy who maybe goes under the radar a little bit, but when you see his bullpen work, he's pretty clean, pretty efficient," Renteria said. "He hits his spots."

Through four throwing sessions, Cooper said he likes how Lopez has located his fastball and curveball. Cooper thinks the changeup, which is the lowest graded of his three pitches (45 out of 80), is where the most work is needed. But Cooper is pleased with how Lopez has worked in the bullpen and batting practice and looks forward to seeing how it carries over once the exhibition season begins.

Lopez likes how he has fit in with the White Sox through the first week and a half. An aggressive pitcher by nature --- "I like to get ahead in the count," he said --- Lopez has tried to work down in the zone in the early part of camp. He said that was one of his main takeaways from pitching in the majors.

"I learned a lot from that experience," Lopez said. "I learned how to pitch. It's not just throw hard. You have to locate your pitches and be smart. I think that was the most important thing for me, from that experience."

Blackhawks gear up for Wild in 'extremely important' game

Blackhawks gear up for Wild in 'extremely important' game

ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Blackhawks knew their meeting against the Minnesota Wild two weeks ago was a critical contest. This one is right up there, too.

The Blackhawks are trying to keep pace with the front-running Wild, who are seven points ahead of them entering tonight's game.

"There's certainly always something to play for," said coach Joel Quenneville, whose Blackhawks are 10 points ahead of third-place St. Louis. "We want to keep getting better and we're starting to improve over this part of the season. But the point of importance of today's game and keeping it close is important for us, so we'll approach it that way. We were going into the break a week ago, and I'm sure it's an important game for them but it's an extremely important game for us."

Meanwhile the Wild will be trying to do tonight what the Blackhawks did on Feb. 11: go into their bye on a high note. The Wild haven't had many hiccups lately, going 7-2-1 in their last 10 games. Devan Dubnyk will get the start as the Wild look to keep extending their lead.

"It's one of those games that's a great challenge for your group," Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. "You're playing a team that's still won three Stanley Cups in the last seven years and they've been in every battle you can imagine. That team gets up for every important game, and I think they'll think this is an important game. It's just about being an athlete. It's one of those things, you love to play in these situations."

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

Tuesday marks the Wild's 59th game of the season; they had caught up to Chicago during the Blackhawks' bye week, yet will go into their break with a game in hand. Still, the Wild are ready for the respite.

"We're not complaining about it," Charlie Coyle said. "It's a little different, yeah, but in the long run it's going to help us. Just get this rest period, rest the legs, the body, [rest] mentally, come back and get ready for the grind. It's going to be crucial for us and we'll try to take advantage of it."

Matt Dumba (knee) could return to the Wild's lineup tonight but Boudreau wouldn't say for sure.

Broadcast information

Time: 7 p.m.
TV: CSN
Live stream: CSNChicago.com and NBC Sports app
Radio: WGN 720 AM

Blackhawks

Forward lines
Nick Schmaltz -Jonathan Toews-Richard Panik
Artemi Panarin-Artem Anisimov-Patrick Kane
Dennis Rasmussen-Marcus Kruger-Marian Hossa
Ryan Hartman-Tanner Kero-Vinnie Hinostroza

Defensive pairs
Duncan Keith-Niklas Hjalmarsson
Michal Kempny-Brent Seabrook
Brian Campbell-Trevor van Riemsdyk

Goaltender
Corey Crawford

Injuries/illnesses: None

Minnesota Wild

Forward lines
Nino Niederreiter-Eric Staal-Charlie Coyle
Jason Zucker-Mikko Koivu-Mikael Granlund
Zach Parise-Erik Haula-Jason Pominville
Chris Stewart-Tyler Graovac-Jordan Schroeder

Defensive Pairs
Ryan Suter-Jared Spurgeon
Gustav Olofsson-Jonas Brodin
Marco Scandella-Matt Dumba

Goaltender
Devan Dubnyk

Injuries/illnesses: None