What's that? You were wondering exactly how many days until the start of the NFL season? Well, you're in luck! We here at the Triangle are set to spend the next three and a half months providing a daily reason to get excited about pro football's return.
My favorite Brian Urlacher story is barely about Brian Urlacher. Two days before the Bears played the Colts in Super Bowl XLI, I was standing in a Greyhound station in St. Louis, trying to make out a muffled announcement coming over the loudspeaker. Champaign, track 1 is what it sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher was saying, and since that’s where I was headed, I picked up my bag and made my way to the door. No one followed; that should’ve been the first sign.
My girlfriend at the time went to a different school, and because I was a college freshman without a car, I’d gotten quite familiar with the Greyhound route between mid-Missouri and central Illinois. Normally, any announcement sent half the station scurrying, but there I was, walking outside alone. I got to the door and asked the driver if the bus was going to Champaign. He said it was, and on I walked.
The seats were mostly empty, save for about two dozen men, all in gray sweat suits. This was not my bus.
I stayed on, partly because I didn’t know how to leave and partly because personal space on a Greyhound is rare. A few minutes into the ride, I pulled out my laptop and started doing a bit of work. Almost immediately, I heard a shout from a couple rows back: “Is that a Brian Urlacher movie?”
I turned around. “No, that’s just my background,” I said.
“I do have highlights from every game this year, though, if you wanted to watch.”
Within 30 seconds, there was a group of 10 crowded behind my row, and starting with the Week 1 win over Green Bay, we spent the next two hours reliving the Bears’ run to the Super Bowl.
When I heard the news of Brian Urlacher’s retirement yesterday, that day was the first thing that came to mind. In Chicago, there’s the Bears, and there’s everything else. And for 13 years, Brian Urlacher was the Bears.
In case you were busy concocting an elaborate theory in which the film The Faculty exists as a prequel within the Fast & Furious universe, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
LeBron James had a triple-double and scored the game-winning layup as time expired in overtime as the Miami Heat fought off a ferocious effort from the Indiana Pacers to win, 103-102, and take Game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference finals. I may be in the minority here, but I think the question remains, when will James really prove his greatness? Here's the supposed greatest player of all time, and he hasn't even quit the NBA to pursue his dreams of playing professional baseball? Gimme a break! Michael Jordan made it all the way to Double-A; that's two A's, which is already the highest grade that you can get in college, which LeBron James didn't even attend! No BA, no AA, no GOAT.
Bryce Harper scored both of his team's runs and made a game-saving catch as the Washington Nationals beat the San Francisco Giant, 2-1, in 10 innings at AT&T Park. I may be in the minority here, but I think the question remains, when will Harper really prove his greatness? Here's the supposed best young player on his team, and yet he has never once been rested in the postseason to avoid long-term injury ramifications? Gimme a break! He was left in this game even after reaggravating a minor knee injury? If Bryce Harper wants to show he's the best young player on the Nationals, he needs to play less and rest more at the end of the year, when it really counts. No DL, no DNP, no GOAST (greatest on a specific team).
To those looking for the signs, Brian Urlacher’s time in Chicago ended about two months ago. Lovie Smith’s departure certainly didn’t help, but it was Rod Marinelli’s decision to turn down an offer to stay on as the team’s defensive coordinator that likely sealed Urlacher’s fate. I’m not saying that to raise any new hypotheses — the regime change in Chicago has been cited by nearly everyone who’s looked back at Urlacher’s Bears career. I’m saying that for some of us, there was time to prepare. And it still wasn’t enough.
The timing of Urlacher’s arrival in Chicago perfectly positioned him to become the city’s central sports figure. Two years removed from Michael Jordan, in a town without a World Series in 83 years, for a franchise defined by its middle linebackers, when the Bears drafted Urlacher ninth overall in 2000, it was a match made in jersey-sales heaven. That bald head and that inability to smile made Urlacher the clear heir apparent to Butkus and Singletary, and from the beginning, he was.
You're probably familiar with the "hometown discount," the millions of dollars that a player entering free agency is supposed to leave on the table so he can exhibit loyalty to the piece of laundry that acquired his rights (often with little or no input from the player in question). You might not be quite as familiar, though, with the "hometown premium." In one sense, the hometown premium could be the extra money a team that's subpar or in an undesirable location has to pay to retain a star player or prevent him from hitting free agency, like the Panthers did with Charles Johnson before the 2011 season. I'm thinking of a different hometown premium. It's the premium that the Ravens and Bears weren't willing to pay to retain Ed Reed and Brian Urlacher, respectively. The one that led to Reed reportedly signing with the Texans on Wednesday, only hours after the Bears announced that Urlacher wouldn't be returning to the only professional team he's ever known. It's a hometown premium that involves money, but it's truly built around respect and desire.
This isn't true in the case of every longtime veteran who has spent the bulk or entirety of his career with one team, but it certainly appears to be true with the cases of Reed and Urlacher: Their teams had to give them more money and show them more appreciation than the free-agent market was likely to offer. All money isn't equal. A two-year, $8 million offer from the Ravens didn't mean the same to Reed as an identical offer from the Texans, because of the context surrounding each opportunity. If the Ravens ever even made Reed that offer, it would have been as part of a noticeable pay cut from his previous salary. It would have been a slap in the face to a player who has given so much to his organization during the past 11 years. That exact same deal from the Texans — the only team that appeared to be looking at Reed in free agency — would have been seen as a token of investment (both financially and emotionally) from the only team smart enough to make a bid for him. You can imagine similar feelings of distrust and then vindication coming from Anquan Boldin's camp, as he produced one of the best postseasons in league history and promptly found his front office threatening to release him if he didn't take a pay cut. Who would you think valued you more — the Ravens or the 49ers?
In case you were too busy lamenting the fate of your already busted NIT bracket, here's what you missed in sports on Wednesday:
LeBron James had a triple double as the Miami Heat extended their winning streak to 24 games, overcoming a 27-point deficit to beat the Cleveland Cavaliers, 98-95. "We are legends," James said after the game, in which the reigning NBA champions beat a Cleveland team missing its two best players by three points. "This is a game for the history books, a true shining moment for Heat basketball," he said about a game in which he was dunked on repeatedly by Alonzo Gee. James concluded his postgame remarks by suggesting that a game in which the third-worst team in the Eastern Conference outscored his team by 21 points in the first half would cement his legacy as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.
Future Hall of Fame safety Ed Reed has left the Baltimore Ravens after 11 seasons, signing a three-year deal with the Houston Texans. Although Reed has yet to comment publicly on the move, confirmation has come from former teammate Ray Lewis, who was seen doing a flamboyant bird-like dance toward the east, before turning and performing a trio of bull-like dance moves toward the south.
The Chicago Bears have parted ways with star linebacker Brian Urlacher after the team failed to come to contractual terms with the former NFL defensive player of the year. While Urlacher has publicly stated that he's prepared to join another team, he's privately known to have spent much of the past 24 hours listening to Semisonic's "Closing Time" while looking wistfully at old pictures of former Bears quarterback Rex Grossman. Urlacher was later spotted alone in a bar mouthing "You don't have to go home, but you can't stay here" to himself, as a single tear rolled down his cheek.
James Madison defeated the LIU Brooklyn Blackbirds, 68-55, in the preliminary round of the NCAA tournament. Unfortunately, history, as it always does, found a way of repeating itself, as James Madison moves on to face the red jerseys of Indiana, who've already made clear that, win or lose, they intend to burn down the White House. "But I picked Indiana to win it all," complained President Barack Obama, as the first lady began packing their most valuable artwork into an old Dodge Caravan.
Thanks to Marc Gasol's game-winning tip-in with 0.8 seconds left, the Memphis Grizzlies beat the Oklahoma City Thunder in overtime, 90-89. Watching at home on TV, L.A. Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak shouted "Tradebacks!" as Gasol's shot fell in. When told by assistant GM Glenn Carraro that "tradebacks" aren't a real thing, Kupchak protested, "But me want best center. Lakers get best center, yes? Lakers get best center always. Me want, me want, me want!"
Veteran winger Teemu Selanne scored the winning goal as the Anaheim Ducks came from behind to beat the Chicago Blackhawks, 4-2, in a battle of Western Conference powers. "I don't feel a day over 55," joked the 612-year-old Selanne, before asking teammate Corey Perry if he could "just borrow some blood for a while, you know, because that's a cool thing that friends do for other friends."
The San Jose Sharks staged a third-period rally before downing the Edmonton Oilers in a shootout, 4-3. Sharks center Logan Couture, who had two goals in regulation before scoring again in the shootout, dedicated his effort to "all the real sharks out there who keep losing their teeth. We don't talk about this problem enough, but it sucks. I feel your pain, great whites and tigers. You, too, nurses and whales. Stay hungry, my brothers."
Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Clint Dempsey was named the U.S. Men's National Team captain for its upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Costa Rica and Mexico. In unrelated news, Dempsey's erstwhile teammate Landon Donovan was named captain of his bowling league team, "The U.S. Men's Trashed-onal Team," where he's known as "Lane One" Donovan.
Robinson Cano 2B
Some Red Sox Guy 3B
Bernie Williams CF
Uh, can we also put Bernie Williams in left? LF
If we're cloning Bernie Williams once, we might as well put another Bernie Williams in right RF
A prospect who's overrated because he plays for the Yankees SS
Yogi Berrnie Williams C
A copy of a copy of Bernie Williams DH
Dan Johnson 1B
With free agency and the draft process revving up, there are plenty of questions for every NFL team. But for most, there's one issue that trumps the rest. This is the latest in a team-by-team look at the offseason tasks that just can't get botched.
On October 16 of last year, the Chicago Bears released offensive tackle Chris Williams. The move meant that from Jerry Angelo’s tenure as the team’s general manager, which stretched from 2001 to 2011, only one first-round pick remained on the roster (his final one, Gabe Carimi; we’ll get to him). Angelo’s struggles were eventually what cost him his job, but nowhere were those struggles more pervasive than at offensive tackle.
In the 2002 draft, Angelo’s first at the helm, the Bears selected Boston College left tackle Marc Colombo with the 29th pick. Blake Brockermeyer, the team’s left tackle from its 13-3 2001 season, had been cut a few weeks before the draft to save the team a $500,000 roster bonus, and although James “Big Cat” Williams had gone to his first Pro Bowl in January, at age 33, it was his first.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday:
LeBron James posted a triple-double, but Jordan Crawford (22 points) and the lowly Wizards somehow upset the Heat 105-101 for their second win of the season. After this loss, and a near-loss to a Spurs team playing without their three stars, sources report that the Heat are likely to face a starting lineup composed of Rasheed Wallace and four obese men named "Joey from Bayside" when they play the Knicks on Thursday.
The Jags train is leaving the station. Or not. Whatever.
In the past 12 hours, yet-to-report Maurice Jones-Drew has gone from very upset about some of his new owner’s public comments to maybe not so upset anymore. Early Tuesday, Jags owner Shad Khan continued his cavalier approach to MJD’s holdout, telling the Florida Times-Union, "Train is leaving the station. Run, get on it." This prompted Jones-Drew and his camp to tell reporters that in that case, the 2011 rushing champion would like to be traded. By this morning, most likely realizing that he and his client have almost no leverage, Jones-Drew’s agent had softened that stance.
The NFL’s real preseason started in earnest this past weekend (I refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the Hall of Fame Game), and with the first set of games in the books, we’re here to sling around the latest football news.
1. Andrew Luck's debut
Andrew Luck’s NFL career sort of began on Sunday, and now we will forever get to hear that Andrew Luck’s first pass was a 63-yard touchdown. In reality, Andrew Luck’s first pass was a three-yard shovel pass and 60-yard run by Donald Brown (the latter of these being far more surprising), but even with that, Luck looked excellent. The highlight wasn’t Brown’s score or even Luck’s second touchdown throw, but rather a deep, deep out to fellow rookie T.Y. Hilton on the left sideline. Luck’s decision making, poise, and athleticism all looked as advertised, but on the toughest throw there is, the velocity on Luck’s ball was a telling answer to questions about his arm strength.
I grew up in a house that is about three miles from football’s most famous hill. I was maybe 5 or 6 years old the first time my dad took me there. The area was a landfill then — mostly trash, brush, dirt, and rocks, with a few small paths carved into tall grass. "This is it," he said. "This is Walter Payton’s hill." And he didn’t need to say anything else.
Like any suburban Chicago kid born as Payton’s career was ending, all I had were the stories — of running that hill, of end zone leaps, of refusing to duck out of bounds. That, and what seemed like 100 viewings of a VHS tape in my grandparents’ basement called Super Bowl Champions: The Story of the 1985 Chicago Bears (I was the only kindergartener in greater Chicagoland who thought Wilber Marshall was the greatest pass-rusher ever). That team still rules Chicago. I was 12 when Payton died. The news came late in the afternoon, just before the drive to football practice. I cried the whole way there.