Carving up Illinois’ post-Thanksgiving sports scene

Today’s newspaper column from The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.) and The Times (Ottawa, Ill.)

Carving up Illinois’ post-Thanksgiving sports scene


Nov. 26, 2011

Thanksgiving is gone.

And your leftovers might be, too.

But, fear not, my friends. With a full menu of football and hockey on tap this weekend, followed by college basketball on Tuesday and Major League Baseball’s Hot Stove League warming up soon after, there’s still plenty of sports for you to feast on in the coming days.

That said, there’s been a lot of famine plaguing the Land of Lincoln’s sports teams lately, too. And I’m not just referring to the AWOL status of the Chicago Bulls.

Remember them?

So, as you sit back and enjoy the remainder of your holiday weekend, allow me to slice into the meat of the local sports scene and examine what’s inside …


Feast: Last season, the Bears were only 4-3 after seven games (like this year), enjoyed an unexpected five-game win streak midyear (ditto) and went on to finish 11-5 and reach the NFC Championship Game. With the 2011 Bears’ remaining opponents – not counting undefeated Green Bay – boasting a combined record of just 21-29, why can’t they do it again?

Famine: Well, with Jay Cutler out with a Bennett’s fracture of his thumb – named after Edward Hallaran Bennett, Professor of Surgery at the University of Dublin from 1873-1906, in case you were wondering – we’re stuck with Caleb Hanie for the next several weeks. And no one really knows how good Hanie is … or isn’t.


Feast: With a new four-star (and two-ring) chef assuming control of the Cubs’ kitchen, fans are expecting Theo Epstein to swing a slew of sweet deals in the coming seasons.

Famine: Epstein hasn’t swung any sweet ones yet. And at last glance, for 2012, the Cubs have no first baseman, no third baseman, no right fielder and at least two-and-a-half question marks (if you count Carlos Zambrano as half a pitcher) in their starting rotation. With the Winter Meetings scheduled for Dec. 5-8, Theo has a full plate.


Feast: Earlier this week, a 51-year-old homeless man broke into White Sox general manager Ken Williams’ Chicago townhouse and made himself right at home, guzzling Williams’ beer, eating his frozen pizzas and even defrosting a lobster. Quite the feast – and quite the tale. But, what the story had me wondering most is what kind of frozen pizza does Williams prefer? DiGiorno’s … or Home Run Inn?

Famine: With a startlingly inexperienced manager in Robin Ventura, a roster that still features the twin albatrosses of Adam Dunn’s and Alex Rios and a pitching staff that looks like it will lose ace Mark Buehrle, Williams could be in jeopardy of finding himself on the soup line next winter.


Feast: Seven-foot sophomore Meyers Leonard is looking like a future NBA lottery pick, Illinois is playing with some grit and fifth-year senior transfer Sam Maniscalco is filling a major leadership void. As a result, heading into a road test at mediocre Maryland on Tuesday night, the Illini basketball team is off to 5-0 start …

Famine: … But so was the Illini football team. So, with this inexperienced hoops squad, it’s wise to keep your expectations at a simmer right now, Illini fans.


Feast: With the Blackhawks currently perched atop the Central division standings, former star Jeremy Roenick unleashed this whopper on Wednesday: “I actually think their team now is stronger then the team that won the Cup two years ago.” Bold words.

Famine: Just two years removed from a title, Hawks fans are hardly starved for success. But with the Bulls season on hold, the United Center is certainly starved for crowds. Perhaps by Christmas, the stadium will get a gift – an unwrapped NBA season.