Frankie O's Blog: The end is still part of the beginning

Frankie O's Blog: The end is still part of the beginning

Friday, April 29, 2011
Posted: 9:25 a.m.

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

The dream ended suddenly, disappointing those who were swept up in the emotion of the Blackhawks improbable rise from the mat, only to suffer the last, fatal, knockout blow. Alexandre Burrows overtime goal, after intercepting an ill-fated Chris Campoli clearing attempt, created as big of an emotional about-face as Ive ever witnessed at the bar. True to their nature, the Hawks never quit when they were down 3-0 in the series and their effort in Game 7 was worthy of a defending champion. Captain Jonathan Toews game-tying short-handed goal with just over two minutes left in regulation had everyone at the bar in a frenzy and wondering if we would be hearing Al Michaels famous phrase before the night was over. Alas, the Hawks ran out of miracles, but Im positive this wont be the last we hear of them.

This year has been one of ups and downs for the 2010 Stanley Cup Champions, starting with jettisoning 10 players that had their names engraved on Lord Stanley. You know that had to hurt, the players leaving I mean. The bond that it takes for a team to win the most difficult prize in team sports cant be under estimated. The roster turnover was at the heart of every conversation I had when the topic was: Whats wrong with the Hawks? I always said that it was part of the price of winning. Locking up the core for big-money for the next 5 years meant some guys were going to have to go. (I dont fault the Tallon contracts as much as some others do, the big-guns were going to use up the cap space anyway.) Detroit didnt win the Cup every year, but their core group has enabled them to win 4 of the last 13 and to be considered among the favorites every year, including this one. That core changed some over the years, except for the incomparable Nik Lidstrom, but they always seemed to have more elite skaters than everyone else. Its the Bowman way, and since Scotty is the Blackhawks Senior Adviser of Hockey Operations, that it would happen here should be of no surprise. Besides, can you argue with the results? The Hawks are going to be contenders for the foreseeable future, and thats good.

I cant help but look at the Hawks situation now, and the one that I have been living as a Philadelphia Flyers fan for most of my life, and envisioning where this is heading from a fan standpoint. Trust me, when cornered, I still like to tease Hawk fans that they still have the tag on their Patrick Kane jersey. But the point is, there are a ton of people wearing 88, especially young ones.

In my youth, there were no bigger heroes than those who wore the orange and black. They won back-to-back cups in 1974 and 1975 and ruled hockey with an iron fist. They also started an enduring love-affair with the Philadelphia region that is still burning bright to this day. I can still recite from memory, every player, his number and position, from those two teams. I know Im not the only 40-something (I heard that!) from that area that can do that. The Flyers have owned me since hello. That hello was the journey to those two championships. The voices of Gene Hart and Kate Smith still bring me goose-bumps. When my boys are in the playoffs, my blood-pressure doubles for each game and gets a little higher the further they progress. That they have progressed to the finals SIX times since that last title, and lost each time and Im still here is a marvel of modern medicine. But again, Im not the only one. Thats part of being a Flyers fan and we share a special bond, although Im sure my family here in Chicago would put the word special in quotation marks.

As I personally suffered here as the Blackhawks beat my Flyers last year in the finals, there was something that I knew would become true and its something that I think is very cool. I knew that this city, this Original Six city, would become a hockey hotbed again. Being a hockey fan, and Hawks fan when theyre not playing the Flyers, I know this is a good thing. The amount of hockey interest and conversations that I had at the bar this year might be equal to the amount that I had in all of the years before this combined. (16, if youre counting.) And thats just at the bar that I work in. Hawks pride is everywhere to see. (Although I havent seen hide nor hair of Bouncing Betty!) (Did I just go Dennis Miller on you?) What I love about that is that it reminds me of when I was young and the Flyers were the thing that brought us all together. Whether it was with your family or friends, we all gathered to watch the games. Sure, the winning started it, but the bond has endured. Here, the lost generation of Chicago hockey die-hards have been reborn, theyre the kids in the 88, 19 and 10 jerseys that you see everywhere in Chicago-land. Im envious of the hockey journey that they have begun to share with all of those around them. That, even as devastated as they feel about the end of the Blackhawks season, that they will have many great times ahead. For their sake though, I only hope that it doesnt take their team another 35 years (and counting!!) to win. Thats something that could make you just a little crazy! (And a slight health risk!

P.S. Its CPR night at the bar during Flyers games for the rest of their playoff run. Anyone performing CPR on a horizontal Frankie O, successfully of course, (I heard that, also!) gets a free round!

Michigan's magical March ends in one-point loss to Oregon in Sweet Sixteen

zak-irvin-0323.jpg
USA TODAY

Michigan's magical March ends in one-point loss to Oregon in Sweet Sixteen

Michigan's March magic finally ran out.

The guy who's been so fantastic throughout his senior season, point guard Derrick Walton Jr., missed a game-winning 3-point try at the buzzer, and the Wolverines fell to the Oregon Ducks by a 69-68 final score in the Sweet Sixteen.

It was an incredibly competitive game between the Big Ten Tournament champs and the Pac-12 regular-season champs, with neither side ever leading by more than six.

But Moe Wagner, who scored a career-high 26 points in Michigan's second-round win over Louisville, was pretty much a non-factor in this one, scoring just seven points on 3-for-10 shooting.

Still, seniors Walton and Zak Irvin kept an unusually cold-shooting group of Wolverines alive with a combined 39 points, 23 of which came after halftime. D.J. Wilson also scored in double figures with 12, all coming on 3-pointers.

But Michigan, which had been on fire offensively for much of the last month, shot just 43.1 percent from the field and missed 20 of its 31 shots from behind the arc.

The Wolverines actually shot under 40 percent over the opening 20 minutes as the two defenses did good work for these typically high-scoring squads. Michigan turned the ball over seven times before the break but trailed by just two as it went to the locker room.

The tit-for-tat nature of the game continued at the outset of the second half before Oregon reached its game-high six-point lead, but Michigan responded with seven straight and grabbed its first lead of the second half around the 11-minute mark. The Ducks answered that mini surge with six straight of their own, part of a larger 10-4 spurt, before Wilson and Walton hit back-to-back triples to once again give the Wolverines a narrow advantage, this time with a little more than four minutes remaining.

Oregon and Irvin traded buckets from there, and a Walton jumper was Michigan's sixth straight make from the field, putting the Wolverines up three with under two minutes to play. But Michigan didn't score again, and Jordan Bell and Tyler Dorsey got back-to-back layups, the latter the game-winning one ahead of Walton's missed 3-point attempt as time ran out.

Dorsey was fantastic for the Ducks, scoring 20 points, his sixth straight game with at least 20 points. Bell had a double-double with 16 points and 13 rebounds. Oregon advanced to its second straight Elite Eight with the win.

Michigan's entertaining end-of-season run is over. Entering Thursday night's game in Kansas City, the Wolverines had won seven straight and 10 of their last 12. Those two losses came by a combined seven points. Add this loss in and just eight points separated Michigan from 13 consecutive wins.

Certainly this group of Wolverines will be remembered for its sensational four wins in four days at the Big Ten Tournament after that horrifying aborted takeoff, as well as for reaching the third Sweet Sixteen in the last five seasons under John Beilein.

Cubs president Theo Epstein, world's greatest leader? 'The pope didn't have as good of a year'

Cubs president Theo Epstein, world's greatest leader? 'The pope didn't have as good of a year'

MESA, Ariz. – Cubs president Theo Epstein showed zero interest in playing along with Fortune magazine putting him on the cover and ranking him No. 1 on the list of "The World's 50 Greatest Leaders," or two spots ahead of Pope Francis.

"The pope didn't have as good of a year," manager Joe Maddon said Wednesday, channeling Babe Ruth.

Epstein essentially bit his tongue, responding to reporters with a copy-and-paste text message that reflected his self-awareness and PR savvy. 

"Um, I can't even get my dog to stop peeing in the house," Epstein wrote. "The whole thing is patently ridiculous. It's baseball – a pastime involving a lot of chance. If (Ben) Zobrist's ball is three inches farther off the line, I'm on the hot seat for a failed five-year plan. 

"And I'm not even the best leader in our organization; our players are."

Epstein obviously has a big ego. No one becomes the youngest general manager in baseball history and builds three World Series winners without a strong sense of confidence and conviction. But he genuinely tries to deflect credit, keep a relatively low profile and stay focused on the big picture. 

Fortune's cover art became an older image of Epstein standing at the dugout, surrounded by reporters during a Wrigley Field press gaggle. (This was not Alex Rodriguez kissing a mirror during a magazine photo shoot.) The text borrowed from Tom Verducci's upcoming "The Cubs Way" book. 
 
Fortune still hit an Internet sweet spot and generated a lot of buzz, ranking Epstein ahead of Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos (No. 4), Army Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster (No. 7) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (No. 10).

"I'm all about the pope," Maddon said. "Sorry, Pope Francis. We're buds. I'd like to meet him someday. But after all, what we did last year was pretty special. 

"Has the pope broken any 108-year-old curses lately?"

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Epstein also ended an 86-year drought for the Boston Red Sox, putting the finishing touches on the immortal 2004 team and winning another championship in 2007 with eight homegrown players. 

No matter how the Cubs try to airbrush history now, that five-year plan featured lucky breaks, unexpected twists and turns and payroll frustrations as the franchise went from 101 losses in 2012 to 103 wins last season. But even after the biggest party Chicago has ever seen, no team in baseball is better positioned for the future. And there is no doubt that Epstein is a Hall of Fame executive.  

"He's very good at setting something up and then permitting people to do their jobs," Maddon said. "That's the essence of good leadership, the ability to delegate well. But then he also has the tough conversations. 

"He sees both sides. I've talked about his empathy before. I think that sets him apart from a lot of the young groups that are leading Major League Baseball teams right now. You know if you have to talk to him about something, he's got an open ear and he's going to listen to what you say. He's not going to go in there predetermined. 

"You can keep going on and on, him just obviously being very bright, brilliant actually. He's got so many great qualities about him. But he leads well, I think, primarily because of his empathy."

That blend of scouting and analytics, open-minded nature and pure guts led to the Cubs: drafting Kris Bryant and Kyle Schwarber; trading for Anthony Rizzo, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta, Addison Russell and almost their entire bullpen; and signing transformative free agents like Jon Lester and Zobrist.            

Chairman Tom Ricketts locked up Epstein before the playoffs started last October with a five-year extension believed to be worth in the neighborhood of $50 million. Arrieta didn't laugh off the Fortune rankings.

"It just shows you all the positive that's he done," Arrieta said. "Not only here, but beforehand in Boston and what he's built for himself and for the city of Boston and the city of Chicago. It's hard to understate what he means to the organization."