Football

Welcome back to THE VAULT, my weekly “REMEMBER THIS IRRELEVANT BEAR” article where I threaten Fels that I’ll go be a scab for Deadspin if he doesn’t let me write 750 words about Johnny Knox. For what it’s worth, he didn’t get mad when I wrote an entire article about weed so I think I’m earning the coveted “Respected Journalist” title. I’ll be angling for a press pass so I can get into Halas Hall and score some free lunch and yell stats at the players I love. I got to go to Halas Hall in early 2018 and lemme tell you, I INSTANTLY found a pic of Corey Wooton sacking Brett Favre on what would be the last play of his pro career and was high on fumes for days after.

Today we’re going to hop back into the time machine and look at the second Bears/Lions matchup of 2011. I was fortunate enough to be at this game, a Bears win (37-17). I was at this game and in a weird place emotionally, since this ticket was originally promised to a friend who beat brain cancer, only to have that cancer reemerge months later and take his life. On top of that, Bears tickets had run in my family since the early early Soldier Field days, but they were sold in 2009, so this was my first Bears game since then and also my first Bears game with friends instead of my father. My dad was in recovery for alcoholism growing up (proud of you, pops) so I never drank at a Bears game, so even though I was 25 this was my first experience with two things central to the Bears gameday experience:

1. The $9, 8oz beers at Soldier Field
2. Tailgating next to racists

For real, I was drinking in the parking lot with some friends and there were Lions fans next to us, and at one point the guy leaned in close to ask me a question, the type of gesture that coming from a stranger usually means they’re about to say something racist or ignorant. He leaned in, smelling of Busch Light and Faygo (probably) and asked me where all the black people were. He was confused when I gestured broadly at the city of Chicago surrounding us, and he specified that he was talking about people who go to tailgates and collect cans for the return deposit. I hit him with a Big Lebowski line: “obviously you’re not a golfer” and that was the end of our conversation. He walked away and I finally saw the name plate on his apparently custom Lions #40 jersey, and it read simply “Kid Rock” and everything made sense. Say what you will about Juggalos, but when it comes to hanging in parking lots with people from Michigan I’d take a bunch of face-painted clowns who will talk to me about pro wrestling over the average Kid Rock fan any day of the damn week. Shit they might even put me through a table. Woop woop.

The Bears came into this game at 5-3, looking at a potentially deep playoff run on the heels of their NFC Championship loss to the Packers the January prior. After this victory, the Bears were on a roll that would eventually be snuffed out by Jay Cutler’s thumb injury the next week and the team then dropping their next five games. Yet on this Sunday afternoon, the orange-uniformed Bears looked like a team primed for another postseason run. This team dominated the Lions in all phases of the game, scoring on offense, defense (twice!), and special teams. Matt Forte scored on the ground, Devin Hester took a punt back 82 yards, and both Major Wright and Charles Tillman took 3rd quarter interceptions to the house. Brian Urlacher almost took a first quarter Calvin Johnson fumble back for six as well, but since 2011 Brian Urlacher didn’t have the requisite amount of hair to break away in the open field, he was caught from behind.

Hester took a punt 82 yards for a score, his last punt return touchdown in Soldier Field. Earl Bennett led the Bears with 6 catches and 81 yards, and future felon and NIU alum Sam Hurd even made the stat sheet. This one was a blowout, folks. The score was 37-6 when Tim Jennings picked Stafford off for the 4th time in the game, and the frustrated frat boy grabbed a blocking DJ Moore by the shoulder pads and whipped him down, leading to a minor brawl after Moore returned the favor by getting up and absolutely trucking a kneeling Stafford.

NFL fights are almost always the most disappointing brawls in all the major sports, save the Andre Johnson/Cortland Finnegan one from 2011, which is without a doubt the Ali/Frazier of NFL fights. If that was Ali/Frazier, the DJ Moore/Matthew Stafford dust up of 2011 was like watching a World Star video. If my memory serves me right (which it may not because the tailgating and beer vendors most certainly over served me right), that got the crowd HEAVY into the “Detroit Sucks!” chants.

The Kid Rock fans were already gone when we got back to the parking lot.

 

Everything Else

Took a few days off¬†myself during the bye and let the proletariat handle it. So clearly there’s some stuff to get through since if you give the Hawks enough time without any games they probably will trip over their own dicks.

-I can’t add too much to what Pullega and Rose have put up over the past couple days about Corey Crawford. It’s once again proof that trying to shroud yourself in secrecy just isn’t going to work.

Some people want to claim that the Hawks and really most NHL teams’ sprint to the stronghold of information blackouts springs from the NFL’s. NFL coaches are a poisonous combination of paranoid to the point of tin foil chapeaus, while also convinced of their own genius that their systems and gameplans should be studied at Wharton if not The Louvre for generations (though a fun game might be getting NFL coaches to define The Louvre, if not spell it). This is what happens when you give guys a full week of nothing to do but convince themselves of threats as they work 19-hour days and can’t remember the names of their daughters.

I don’t think hockey’s comes from that. It’s part that, sure, but hockey coaches and execs have always been too dismissive/stupid/mealy-mouthed to actually share information. The fear has always been that if you announce a player has an ankle problem, every player on your next opponent is basically going to do everything up to and including chair-shots on said ankle. Hockey being hockey, this isn’t totally far-fetched.

But with the Hawks, they should have learned long ago that if you have a period of silence, anything and everything is eventually going to fill up that void with all sorts of noise and you’re going to end up speaking about it anyway. And that’s where the Hawks find themselves.

I don’t know what they hoped to gain by plugging their fingers in their ears and shouting the chorus to “Caravan” as a team policy. This was always going to happen. Maybe they feared exposure of once again not handling a head injury correctly. Here’s an idea, and I know this is totally out there but maybe next time just handle the head injury correctly?

-This Crawford stuff has buried another nugget from Hawks fans’ favorite radio host Dan Bernstein on 670 The Score. While discussing the Crow weirdness he also let it be known that behind closed doors Joel Quenneville is still seething about the trade of Niklas Hjalmarsson. I couldn’t help but joke in my head that when the discussion on the afternoon show turned to whether or not Hawks fans watched other teams that maybe they should ask if the coach does as well.

By any measure, Hjalmarsson has been bad on a really bad Coyotes team this year. And if you were paying attention you saw a precipitous decline in the second half of last year. While his shot-blocking certainly got the most slobber treatment from Eddie O and apparently Q himself (and this is something that really needs to stop because you shouldn’t aim to be blocking shots as a go-to), that was far from Hammer’s most important attribute. While he was a stay-at-home d-man, he had greater mobility than most who fit that role. Which meant much like Keith and Oduya and even Seabrook back in the day, he could step up at his line and squeeze the space for opponents while not having to fear being beat to the outside. In addition, there may not have been a better Hawk d-man at making that 5-10 foot pass under duress, often blind, from the corner or below the goal line to the front of the net to a waiting Hawks center to release all the pressure and get the Hawks out of the zone.

Well, Hammer lost the step that allowed him to step up at his line. He lost the half-step to make that and other breakout passes as often as he could. And that’s not going to get better.

But it certainly explains the Connor Murphy scratchings at the slightest misstep #5 makes. It would hardly be the first time that Q has tried to either make a point to his GM, or simply stick it to him. Brad Richards starting behind Andrew Shaw on the center depth chart to start a season comes to mind, as does Steve Montador starting a season on the wing or Antoine Vermette playing a wing after arrival. There are others. Murphy is being held to an at-times unfair scale simply because his coach cries on a framed picture of a certain Swede before going to bed at night. Even with that, he’s been the Hawks best d-man by some distance this season.

This is where you wish the Hawks though they could be as transparently operated as both baseball teams in town are at the moment. Because if Stan truly envisioned this as a “transitional” season, and his quotes suggest he very well might have, he’d finally have a cudgel over his coach. If this is about getting the Schmaltzes and DeBrincats and Forslings of the world grounded, as well as getting Murphy into the Hawks’ “Martz-ian” system, Stan would have evidence to take to his bosses/fans about how his coach is getting in the way. And it would keep Q in line or maybe Stan would finally get to hire his own coach that he actually has a relationship with.

Instead, we get more of the same push and pull between coach and GM, and at this point it’s tiresome for all.

-I don’t know there’s much more I can add to the hysterical-if-it-wasn’t-sad choice of Kid Rock to perform at the All-Star game. The best case scenario for the NHL is that they’re just wildly ignorant, which isn’t encouraging. The simplistic explanation is that someone simply saw a google photo of him in a Red Wings jersey at a game and thought that was enough. Does he still do that now that they suck? Or is he more in the CM Punk fashion where he’s only around if it helps his brand?

Once again hockey has quivered in fear of a portion of the fanbase it would actually probably rather do without, and that’s the old angry white guy. And yes, if you listen to Kid Rock you’re old now. Sorry. You also suck, and I would gladly trade my life to bring Warren Zevon back to his only long enough so he could impale Kid on a flaming spear for stealing his song.

It’s that fanbase that keeps hockey from banning fighting which it would really like to, or enforcing the rules even harder to open up the game, or heavily suspending players for hits to the head/dirty play. But no, the NHL is terrified that the angry white dude who measures his own dick by how “tough” he perceives the sport he watches to be we’ll up and leave if they ever did any of this. You and I both know he won’t, because he has nowhere else to go (unless they did all this and Vince McMahon was convinced he could start an XHL and oh god this is going to happen isn’t it?), but the NHL has always operated out of fear and ignorance. Which is why they won’t backtrack on this either, although they’ll continue to celebrate Will O’Ree and Hockey Is For Everyone and You Can Play right along with it. Good stuff there.

Which is why it will always be a joke to most everyone else.