All posts by William D. Clark

I’m an NFL fanatic, graduate of Illinois Media School, played college ball at Trinity International University under Leslie Frazier.

The Bubble-Offs Have Finally Begun

Hoops fans we’ve been waiting for these upcoming moments for the last five months! The 2020 NBA Playoffs or what I’m coining the Bubble-offs. You all see what was done there? The road to this year’s championship will be like no other. It’s possible a team that had no business being in the tournament comes away with the trophy. Tell you one thing, if the bubble-offs are anything like the eight-game restart we’re in for some of the most exciting games you’ll ever want to see.

The Bubble-Offs are Here

It all kicked off this past Saturday when the NBA had its first-ever play-in game to get that last coveted 16th spot for the playoff birth. The Memphis Grizzlies and the Portland Trailblazers didn’t disappoint either with rookie phenom Ja Morant and bubble MVP Damian Lillard going toe to toe. Now let’s take a look at some teams that could burst the bubble of the two top-seeded and finals favorites Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks.

Time for the Bubble-Offs

Locked In

If you had the Monday blues the NBA had you covered with a full slate of games beginning with the Denver Nuggets taking on the Utah Jazz. Unfortunately, Utah was without starting point guard Mike Conley Jr., who left the bubble for the birth of his child.  The other games on the docket were the Brooklyn Nets facing the Toronto Raptors, the Philadelphia 76ers taking on the Boston Celtics and the Los Angeles Clippers seeing the Dallas Mavericks.

The top seeds are locked in, Bucks who take on the Orlando Magic and Lakers battling the Trailblazers, but there’s this thing called upsets or we can call them “bubble-sets.”   See what I did there again?  There’s usually one or two every playoff season and this year is no different.  The rest of the field shapes out like so, the Indiana Pacers versus the Miami Heat and the Oklahoma City Thunder against the Houston Rockets.

Potential Bubble Busters

The first potential bubble buster is Dame Dolla and the Trailblazers. Upsetting the Lakers would be reminiscent of the ‘07 playoffs when Golden State defeated Dallas. They match up well but King James won’t be stopped, in year 17, averaging 25 PPG, and a league-leading 10 assists a contest. Also, they have to contend with Anthony Davis‘ 26 PPG. After those two stars, there’s a significant drop off in firepower especially with no Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo.

Portland has its own dynamic duo. Lillard is averaging 30 PPG, 8.0 APG, and is fifth in PER. Then you have CJ McCollum (22 PPG) who can light it up when he gets hot. Don’t forget, they also have an ‘03 draft alum in Carmelo Anthony; or should we say Slim Melo. Since the restart, he’s averaging 17.5 points a contest. The supporting cast appears to have the edge as well with Jusuf Nurkić averaging a double-double since coming back, Hassan Whiteside league leader in blocks at 2.9 and the bubble emergence of Gary Trent Jr.

The second team possibly popping bubbles is the defending champion Toronto Raptors. Though 2019 Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard left for sunny L.A. and nobody has to deal with Drake on the sidelines. Even as the second seed in the East, the Raptors are not getting their respect. They basically have the same team with a superb coach in former Coach of the Year Nick Nurse. Veterans Kyle Lowry and Serge Ibaka steady the team, Pascal Siakam continues to develop into a star. Lastly, we can’t leave out Fred VanVleet, who just came off a 30- point, 11-assist Game 1 performance. It’s highly likely the Raptors will clash with the Bucks in the Eastern Conference Finals again. Don’t be surprised if it’s deja vu.

Grab Your Front Row Virtual Seat

This year’s playoffs will definitely have a different feel. All the games are at one site, there’s no home-court advantage or crowds. Player reactions are different as the stars adjust to not being able to feed off the fans. Role players must step up without pressure from the fans. These are all factors that will bring more excitement to this year’s games.

A New Option has Emerged in the NFL: ‘We’re Out’

It’s that time of the year that all NFL fans have been waiting for, training camp time. Though 2020 and COVID-19 has caused it’s obvious obstacles yet you can’t help but brim with excitement. That was until we got breaking news on the morning of July 28th when all 32 teams reported to camp.

Now there was a play called the read-option made famous by the Nebraska Cornhuskers in the ’90s, which was reserved for college football. With the evolution of the quarterback position and more exotic offenses, the read-option was adopted by the NFL in recent years, re-branded as the Wildcat. The NFL and NFLPA worked an agreement to allow players to run their own opt-out option, let’s call it ‘We’re Out’.

NFL Players’ New Option: ‘We’re Out’

Is the Season Already in Jeopardy?

Here’s the rundown on the details of the opt-out guidelines. Players have until August 3rd to decide if they will sit out the season and be paid a stipend by the owners up to $350,000. The amount is based on option category, voluntary or higher risk. Of course, it’s understandable why the players fought to have this amendment added due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The safety and well being of others should always be first and foremost. These gentlemen have families, children. and their own health issues to consider.  With this agreement, and no bubble concept in place, it bears the question will the NFL season even make it to week 1?

Players haven’t been in camp for a week, (the Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans reported last week), and 21 players have already tested positive for coronavirus according to the NFLPA.  On top of that, several players have already opted-out for the season, including Eddie Goldman, a key defensive player for the Chicago Bears.  26 players have decided to forego the season so far.

Some of the notable players include  New England Patriots linebacker Dont’a Hightower, safety Patrick Chung, and offensive tackle Marcus Cannon.  Baltimore Ravens lineman Andre Smith, Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Marquise Goodwin, Buffalo Bills defensive tackle Star Lotulelei, New York Giants lineman Nate Solder, and Kansas City Chiefs lineman Laurent Duvernay-Tardif have also all opted-out.

Residual Effects

If you’re a fantasy football player like me, you’re concerned. My league has already shifted our draft to virtual but our season could be done too.  Imagine how money sites like Fan Duel are feeling. Millions of dollars of revenue lost if the billionaire juggernaut called the NFL cancels the season.  There’s no way to know how many players will contract the virus but the fact is some will. There are just too many variables.  Let’s just hope the league’s protocols in place prevent any outbreaks and keep the season afloat.

One positive that’s in place is they can use the NBA and MLB as a litmus test.  Even though the NFL has way more players and personnel to deal with, fans should be confident with precautions that have initially been taken.  There are no preseason games, camp players have been reduced to 90 or 80, and all camps are being held at modified team facilities.  Let’s all hold our collective breaths and see the status of the season after August 3rd.

It’s All in the Name

In sports, your team name is (or at least should be) a source of pride, the symbol that brings people together to lift a team on its shoulders. It starts when we’re as young as five and lasts through the rest of our lives; cheering for pee-wee leagues, our schools, and professional teams. Some names even resonate with an entire nation and around the world, whether they’re beloved or despised. Some of the names that come to mind right away are the Cowboys, Yankees, and Bulls. Maybe you’ve always wondered how did these team names come about and if they will ever change. We know now at least one team had to.

All In the Name: Why So Long?

Redskins No More

On Monday, the Washington football team have retired their name and logo after 87 years. This after a decades-long fight over the offensive nature of the name to the Native American community. The issue even went to the Supreme Court in 2009 and it was ruled that Washington could keep the name. Owner Daniel Snyder recently doubled down on insisting the name wouldn’t be changed.  When sponsors FedEx, Nike, and PepsiCo threatened to pull their support, Mr. Snyder made a change.

If you’re curious, the term is offensive because it’s associated with the scalping of native Americans as a bounty.  In their culture, being called that is derogatory. It was only right to change the name with an unprecedented focus on social justice right now.

Will This Be A Trend?

It’s long been said that a lot of Native Americans find having sports teams and mascots named after and imitating them demeaning. In 2007, the University of Illinois dropped Native American mascot Chief Illiniwek after 81 years.  That fight that started in 1989.  Yet we have a few teams professionally that have those cultural monikers.

We have the Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, and reigning Super Bowl champ Kansas City Chiefs; two baseball teams and a football team respectively.  The Chiefs at least seem to be more of a name of endearment but we’ll just have to see what changes are made moving forward.

Let’s Play the Name Game

Here’s a fun fact, the football team was not the city’s first professional sports team to change its name because of social consciousness.  23 years ago, the Washington Bullets changed their name to ‘Wizards’.  Rising gun violence in the nation’s capital brought about the change.  Their approach to the name change was unique as well, an 800-number was set up for the community to call in and vote on a list of names.  

What will the new name for the Washington football franchise be? Here is a list of suitable names that would fit.  Since both the NBA and WNBA teams have magical themed names, Wizards and Mystics, that’s where we’ll start.  The Washington Warlocks with there logo being a warlock character holding a football-shaped crystal ball (a personal favorite).  Next, the Washington Wave, crashing through the NFC East. Sounds like a fun start.  Lastly the Washington Wasps (that’s stings!).  That may be a reach but hey, there’s a pro team called the Pelicans.

What would your name be for the franchise?

Is the NFL Season Bubble-ing Over?

Are you ready for some fooooootbaaaaaallll? Different football that is!  This 2020 movie keeps on rolling and the upcoming NFL season doesn’t lack suspense.  When will players report to camp? What will camp look like? Where will Cam Newton land? Will Colin Kaepernick sign with a team?  This will be one of, if not the most anticipated football seasons ever because of the unknowns.  Not to mention HBO has recently announced their acclaimed show Hard Knocks will feature both LA teams, Rams and Chargers.

We can’t talk about the upcoming football season without mentioning sports’ nemesis: COVID-19.  That’s why we’re at this point. March 12th, 2020 the day sports stopped.  The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci has indicated the NFL should take the bubble approach or not have a season at all, according to an MSNBC article.

Bubble-ing Over: NFL Season at Risk?

Is the Bubble Viable

The NBA and NHL have already set COVID-19 parameters for the bubble when those respective leagues return to action. With the number of personnel and players for each of the teams, it’s doable. Look at an NBA team, for example. There are only 15 players on a roster for which only 13 are active. Along with coaches and trainers, you’re dealing with about 25 or so people per team. Not to mention the facility staff. Other than the players on the court, social distancing in this environment is challenging but can be done. Even with the measures that the NBA has taken, nobody can say that it will prevent the players from contracting coronavirus.

Looking at the juggernaut that is the NFL, there would need to be one big bubble!  Just one team consists of more than two NBA teams combined.  There are 90 players alone that report to training camp, which is cut down to 53 by the start of the season.  Social distancing?  There’s no way this is possible in the sport of football. Sure, the NFL has already suspended combined team practices. You still have over 100 people on the field together.

What about when the season starts? When the NBA restarts on July 31st all the games will be played in the Walt Disney dome in Orlando, FL. It’s hard to envision one central location for the NFL season. I’m sure most people are asking how is this viable? Even the Hall of Fame Game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys has been canceled. Though it was the Hall of Fame’s decision to do so, it could be foreshadowing of what’s to come. Being the billion-dollar industry the shield is, commissioner Roger Goodell and the NFL will find a way to pull it off.

How Will the Players React

Even though these are superior athletes, concerns still high for their health and well being. Not only for them but their families as well. Three coaches for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have contracted COVID-19.  Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott tested positive for the virus last week and has recently voiced his concerns.  New Orleans Saints safety Malcolm Jenkins also made a statement indicating football is non-essential and shouldn’t go on if it’s not safe. The league will surely develop a protocol to ensure to keep players, staff, and fans alike as safe as possible but will it be enough.

There’s always the unknown and human nature.  There will be parameters and set rules in place but players will push boundaries. Like the old saying goes, “rules are meant to be broken.” Per Kevin Seifert of ESPN, the NFL has already announced plans to start on time next month. It’s like being in the Forex market trading but instead of trading currencies, it’s people. The reward is greater than the risk, we’ll training camp is around the corner, we’ll see if the NFL will “take profit” or “stop loss.”

 

 

NASCAR: The Civil War Part 2

Back in the 1980’s growing up, I was a big car fan thanks to my late uncle and a TV show called Dukes of Hazzard. The TV show we’ll get to a bit later. My uncle had two cars I remember vividly; a ’68 Pontiac Firebird and an ’85 Chevy Malibu. He was a drag racer and on the weekends he’d take me to the Joliet Speedway to watch the races. Seeing those one-of-a-kind vehicles dart down the road and smelling that burning rubber was fascinating to a 10-year-old kid.

The Dukes of Hazzard signature staple was an orange ‘69 Dodge Challenger with a confederate flag on the roof called General Lee; named after the confederate leader. I believe many people would say that car was a favorite to see in action. Little did many of us know as kids what the roof of that car meant.

Civil War Part 2 in NASCAR

It Only Takes One Voice

I’m going in a different direction with this article and delving into the world of NASCAR. No, not because of the races but for a recently banned item at the race tracks. The last few weeks in our nation have been a whirlwind of emotions since the death of George Floyd. From protests to rioting to the much-needed attention to the treatment of black Americans by law enforcement.  We’ve seen a wave of changes and commitments to reform.

Many of these actions started in the sports arena with the NFL & NBA pledging their support for black lives, something most would expect since most of the players are black.  Then a little over a week ago, NASCAR  joined the race when Bubba Wallace made a stand indicating that the confederate flag should be removed from racing events.  Wallace is the only black, full-time driver in the circuit by the way.  48 hours later, on June 10th, NASCAR honored his request and banned that flag from all sponsored events.

Long Overdue Change

The Civil War went on from 1861 to 1865 where the confederates of the southern United States fought northerners for the right to keep African Americans enslaved.  The deadliest war in U.S. history, over 100,000 American soldiers killed.  It’s kind of surreal when you think about it, a country going to war with itself to keep a particular group of citizens oppressed.  At any rate, the confederate army lost but statues were erected and the confederate flag was a prominent fixture in the South and in NASCAR.

NASCAR has been around for 72 years, founded in 1948.  Only 8% of the fan base is African-American and there have only been four drivers of this nationality since its inception.  Wallace is one, the other three are Wendell Scott, Willy T Ribbs, and Bill Lester. 1865-2020. 155 years is long enough allowing a flag that represents the enslaving and mistreatment of American citizens to be displayed in public places.  Especially when those very people are patronizing a business.

Time for a Complete Change

Hopefully, NASCAR’s ban will lead to other institutions and public places following in their footsteps.  There has been one racer, Ray Ciccarelli, that doesn’t agree with the change. So he, in turn, stated he will be retiring at the end of the 2020 season.  We’ll see moving forward how other drivers and fans react during the season.  As Bubba Watson articulated, nobody should be uncomfortable coming to an event.  See you at the races.

Sports Can’t Breathe

What a start to the turn of a new decade, 2020 has been relentless. First, the sports world gets shook with a tragic helicopter accident killing nine people including Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter.  Shortly thereafter the world is hit with a Coronavirus pandemic deemed Covid-19.  An invisible menace that’s had us quarantined for the last three months and has claimed thousands of lives.

Then on Monday, May 25th, 2020 on Memorial Day, a day to celebrate our fallen servicemen and women, a police officer took the life of yet another unarmed black man named George Floyd.  You can say my community’s collective breath was taken away in eight minutes and 46 seconds.  Going into the sixth month of 2020, the second half of this year I’m sure we’re all wondering when will the director say cut!

Sports Can’t Breathe

This Is Supposed to Be About Sports

It took me a week to construct this piece because I was angry, upset, and didn’t want my emotions to completely take over my writing. You see, I’m a black man in my 40s, same as Mr. Floyd, and that could’ve easily been me.   I’ve had my experiences with racial profiling from police and civilians.

To see a video of officers of the law who took an oath to protect and serve the community hold down a human being and kneeling on his neck for over eight minutes watching him die is one of the worse crimes to witness.  The disturbing part is this was the third such incident in a month where a black individual was murdered.  What those cops didn’t know is that George Floyd was good friends with former NBA player Stephen Jackson and he would be the catalyst in leading a global protest for justice.

I understand that this is supposed to be a sports column and I can assure it is.  It will just be a little different approach on this one. Almost four years ago it was in a football stadium, 2016, that former San Francisco 49ers   quarterback Colin Kaepernick exercised his American right to protest.  His peaceful protest was to sit during the national anthem to bring awareness to police brutality of black people.

Even after people saw this as disrespectful to our military, he consulted with a serviceman and changed to more appropriate kneeling.  Players began following Kaepernick in this protest and the message was interrupted by President Trump making this issue about respecting the American flag.  The president even went to the lengths of insulting the players and the mothers of these exceptional athletes by calling them sons of b*****s.

NFL Had a Chance to Take a Stand

The NFL and owners had the opportunity to support its diverse players but instead decided it valued its bottom line more than human life.  In the process exiling Kaepernick from the league who never received another contract offer.  One of the most outspoken owners, Jerry Jones, had plenty to say about that protest in 2016. Fast forward to today, crickets.  Countless mothers and fathers being taken away leaving children without parents with no repercussions just doesn’t seem American.

Now the NFL wants to make statements of support for the black community when it’s convenient and is the right thing to do.  It comes off as disingenuous because it took protesting and rioting on a global scale to finally be heard as a community.  The league and its owners could’ve done like their NBA counterparts and given support when it was uncomfortable to the very people that make this a billion-dollar industry.  We’ve all heard the saying “get out of your comfort zone”.  This is supposed to represent growth within one’s self.  Time to get out of your comfort zones.

How Can Sports Make an Impact

One thing we’ve learned since March 11th, 2020 is how important sports are to our way of life.  We can see that from the most-watched documentary in history, “The Last Dance”.  In this instance, though this issue shouldn’t just be blanketed by the restart of the NBA or any sporting event for that matter.  Instead whenever the NBA starts all the players should refuse to play, same for when the NFL starts.

This stance may not happen but a more feasible impactful statement could.  The NFL taking accountability for the lack of understanding of what Kaepernick’s kneeling protest was bringing attention to.  Second, rectify this by teams offering Colin a contract giving him the opportunity, if he chooses, to exit the game his way.  Lastly, at the start of any sporting event letting the clock run for eight minutes and 46 seconds with no movement and displaying the statement, “I can’t breathe”.

This would serve as a reminder that our country as a whole has a lot of work to do eradicating systemic racism and ensuring equality for all Americans.

The Final Dance of the Last Dance

 

Well, good people, we had our final dance of the 10-part documentary “The Last Dance” last night and what a dance it was.  It lived up and surpassed the hype leading up to its early release.  For the last five Sunday evenings, we’ve been treated to an intimate inside look into Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls dynasty of the ’90s.  Did it leave you wanting more?  I know it did for me, it could’ve been 10-20 more and I’m here for it.

The timing of this documentary also added to the aura of Jordan.  In typical MJ fashion the light is shining brightest on him like there are 1.1 seconds left in the game, he has the final shot, and the entire world is holding its breath.  Same as his first retirement announcement in ‘93 on a Wednesday morning or his first game back in ‘95.  What better time to have this series air than during a global pandemic with sports halted and the world salivating for any sports content? Enter Michael Jordan.

Final Dance of The Last Dance

Supporting Cast

We know the documentaries main focus was Jordan but it’s about the team as well.  Chicago definitely had the supporting cast that helped with the six championships Mike led them to.  The show did a great job highlighting the diverse characters of the team.  It revealed things about some players even die-hard fans didn’t even know.  We knew about the star power of arguably the greatest number-two player in history Scottie Pippen and the best rebounder in league history Dennis Rodman aka the Worm.  Pippen was also the only other Bull that was with the organization for all six championships so his role was vitally important to the team’s success.

Their backstories were the intriguing part, Scottie coming from very humble beginnings and his fractured relationship with the general manager the late Jerry Krause.  The biggest takeaway was that Pip also is probably the most grossly underpaid superstar ever.  Rodman was that wild card, the rockstar of the team.  His off the court life was legendary within itself!  He leaves the team during the season for a 72-hour whirlwind weekend in Las Vegas with Carmen Electra and gets back to play with no problem. If that’s not crazy enough how about right after a finals game getting on a private plane to appear on WCW Nitro and missing practice the next day. Things that NBA players wouldn’t think about doing today.

Steve Kerr was another player that played a key role, hitting big shots (see Game 7 of the 1998 Eastern Conference Finals against the Indiana Pacers).  His career-defining shot though came in the ‘97 Finals Game 6 when he hit the game-winner to give the Bulls their fifth title, this one over the Utah Jazz.  Besides these great moments, Kerr surprisingly was the teammate that could most relate to Jordan with tragedy.   Both men’s fathers were murdered.  Per Kerr’s account they never spoke about it. But that was their silent connection.

Global Icon

The Jordan brand was birthed back in 1985 when Nike first introduced the Air Jordan.  At the time nobody knew it but a trail was blazed.  Countless other endorsements derived from MJ’s game. Gatorade, Chevrolet, Hanes.  Just like the NBA, anything that was associated with the Jordan name turned to gold.  Pre-Jordan, the NBA was in 80 countries. When he retired it was over 200.  Not to mention the Chicago Bulls 90’s teams are considered the creme de la creme of NBA franchises.

The success of Jordan has allowed the players of today to be some of the highest-paid athletes in sports.  Even guys that sit at the end of the bench averaging about seven minutes a game got it made.  It’s also allowed the likes of Lebron James and Steph Curry to be their own brand.  There’s no doubt Jordan was the force that started the power change from the owners to the players.

Last Impression of the Dance

Going into the Last Dance docuseries, most people considered Michael Jordan as the greatest basketball player of all time.  A recent AP poll has him ranked as the most popular athlete in America, even after being retired for 17 years.  After watching it I think it proved he’s head above shoulders of his NBA peers.  That’s no knock on the other greats, it’s just that MJ carved out a section in history where only he can stand.

He’s the epitome of taking your skill and sculpting greatness from it.  There also was the example of sacrifice.  To be successful in any endeavor it takes sacrifice and putting your all into that you wish to succeed in.  One of the most profound things that I heard Mike say was at the end of the last episode. That all you need is “hope” to spark that fire within you.

2020 Chicago Bears NFL Draft Recap

The 2020 NFL Draft has come and gone, the most viewed televised draft in history. 55 million over the three days. I think it’s safe to attribute that to the nation’s quarantine policies and draft being completely virtual. Though it was an interesting outcome seeing commissioner Roger Goodell call out draft picks in his man cave from in front of his big-screen to his lounging chair by the third round. Another fun aspect was seeing the draftees and their families’ reactions when their names were called of new members of club NFL.

We even had comic relief, some of the best moments was seeing 17th pick wide receiver CeeDee Lamb showing off his hand-eye coordination by snatching his cellphone back from his girlfriend. How about defensive tackle, and 14th pick, Javon Kinlaw‘s father falling off the couch when his son was selected.

Lastly, and maybe the best one, was the 29th selection, offensive tackle Isaiah Wilson‘s mom yanking his girlfriend out the camera shot, (after she appeared to resist the first request).  This was one of the deepest drafts in recent memory, teams could find solid value through all seven rounds.  Only time will tell, let us not forget 20 years ago one of the greatest players in NFL history was found in the sixth round, Tom Brady.

2020 Bears Draft Recap

Mixed Emotions on Chicago Picks

Chicago’s draft was met with an array of feelings as the team decided for their first pick to opt for drafting the best of the worst, as far as depth, in this year’s crop.  That was at the tight end position, the 43rd-overall pick Cole Kmet from Notre Dame, the 6’5″ 250-pounder is expected to come in and contribute immediately.  Kmet did have an impressive junior year campaign amassing over 500 yards receiving and six touchdowns helping Notre Dame to an 11-2 record.  Fun fact: those six touchdowns were all he had for his college career.

The team’s second selection, 50th overall, was more of a relief, picking Utah cornerback Jaylon Johnson, another junior who finished with 7 career interceptions.  The one big question surrounding Johnson is not his play but his health, he played the entire season with a torn labrum.  Chicago then maneuvered to move up to the third round to grab EDGE Trevis Gipson out of Tulsa.  A solid addition to provide more edge rush depth.  Here are the rest of the new Chicago Bears as follows:

The Bears also signed undrafted free agent Ledarius Mack, younger brother of star Khalil Mack.

What to Grade Chicago’s Draft: C+

Grading the Bears 2020 draft can be debated but that’s my mark on it.  Hey at least it’s a passing grade even though it started out shaky, they brought it up though.  The immediate response was, “What are you doing??” Needs for the team are offensive line, wide receiver, and secondary; specifically safety.  The team circumvented what direction they should’ve gone (see my previous article) but recovered some.  As you’ll see, predictions were dead on as two of them went 44th & 46th.

Initially, it started out as a D, drafting a tight end to an already overcrowded position which brought the number to 10 (since down to nine) on the roster.  Not to mention signing free agents Demetrius Harris and Jimmy Graham.  With Kmet added unless the plan is to convert some of the many tight ends to offensive linemen, maybe Adam Shaheen, expect to see no more than four on the roster.

Speaking of offensive line it appears the staff is content with the unit as is and the free agents from the clearance rack they invested in.  Seeing that the offensive line wasn’t addressed until the end of the draft.  Possibly the addition of the new offensive line coach, 24-year vet Juan Castillo, will add improvement.

General manager Ryan Pace made strong moves thereafter adding substantial depth on the defensive side of the ball snatching up corner Jaylon Johnson and moving into the third round to bolster pass rush getting Trevis Gipson.  He was even able to get considerable value in the fifth at wide receiver with Darnell Mooney, fast, he will need time to develop though.

What to Expect in 2020

With the current state of the sports world, it’s hard to gauge what to expect.  Any team-related activities are virtual, there’s no timetable of when facilities will be open for players and coaches to meet.  It’s an unprecedented time in the league right now, so we all have to play it by ear.  At least the other teams in the division drafts were lackluster except for the Minnesota Vikings.

If there is a silver lining it’s the signing of Ledarius Mack, we can have the “Mack Attack” here on the defense.  This could end up being Pace’s best move of this draft.  Mack’s journey to the NFL can be compared to Vikings Hall of Fame defensive tackle John Randle, who was drafted 30 years ago.  Talk about history repeating itself, Randle also had an older brother in the NFL, Ervin Randle.

It doesn’t stop there, the similarities of both Mack and Randle are uncanny!  Both were considered undersized at their positions at 6’1, Mack weighing 240 lbs and Randle 244 lbs.  Think of the possibilities of playing with and learning from your brother who’s a defensive player of the year and considered one of the best if not the best at his position.  We could soon be witnessing history here in the Windy City but time will tell.

The Chicago Bears and Draft Day

We’re only a few hours away from the 2020 NFL Draft which was supposed to take place in Las Vegas but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, an unprecedented change had to be made.  The NFL will have it’s first virtual draft from the home of Commissioner Roger Goodell.  It’s like the ultimate “real life” fantasy draft, just think about it.  Don’t worry about it, us fantasy players get it!  The evening’s historic festivities begin with the Cincinnati Bengals picking first.

The first four selections seem to be locked according to several mock drafts starting with Heisman winning QB Joe Burrow of LSU.  Two through four have EDGE Chase Young, cornerback Jeff Okudah (both from Ohio State), and Isaiah Simmons, a linebacker from Clemson going to the Washington RedskinsDetroit Lions, and New York Giants respectively.  Simmons may slip from that fourth slot but the rest of the first round is murky and up in the air. With teams bound to make trades, wheeling and dealing, we’ll just have to see where the chips fall.

Bears and Draft Day

What will Chicago Do

The Chicago Bears and general manager Ryan Pace have an extra day to prepare as they have no first day selections.  Remember the Khalil Mack trade in 2018 with the Oakland Raiders, (now Las Vegas)?  If not, a quick refresher: Chicago’s first-round pick this year (19) was part of the deal; which was well worth Mack.  Bears have seven picks in total this year with the first coming in the second round at 43rd and then 50th, they don’t pick again until the fifth round.  So with that said Pace and the organization really need to make those first two picks difference makers.

What direction will the Bears decide to go?  What direction should they go?  The answer should be simple. Offensive line first, secondly wide receiver and a distant last, safety.  Good thing the draft will be loaded at the most needed positions.  Looking at the offensive line in 2019, besides quarterback, was the most inconsistent part of an offensive unit that failed to score a touchdown in the first half in 11 of 16 games. Chicago ranked in the bottom half of the league in all major offensive categories. 27th in rushing, 25th in passing, 29th in both total yards and scoring, 31st in yards per play and 32nd in yards per pass attempt.

Chicago’s line struggles can be attributed to injuries, pro bowl guard Kyle Long was lost to a hip injury after just 4 games, who has also since retired.  Long was then replaced by Rashaad Coward who was a converted defensive lineman.  Right tackle Bobby Massie suffered an ankle injury that put him on the shelf for the last five games of the season.  Need we say anything more, to compete offensively in the NFL your foundation starts up front.

In regards to wide receiver, it appears that Taylor Gabriel didn’t quite fit the role the team was expecting him to.  As evidenced by Pace releasing the six-year veteran. In two seasons in Chicago Gabriel had 96 receptions, 1041 yards, and six touchdowns.  The Bears now need to add a speedy downfield threat to fill in that slot position.  That would be a welcomed addition for Anthony Miller and Allen Robinson, who led the team with a career-best 98 receptions, 1147 yards, and seven touchdowns.

What Prospects Will the Bears Select?

At this point, it would be easy to say the best offensive lineman available but with the teams first pick not coming until Friday at selection 43, get the best value at positions in need.  Unless there’s a player they’ve targeted that they believe will be there later, then they can work out a trade to move down and possibly get another pick, say, in the 3rd round.  With that being said here are some players the Bears should have an eye on:

  • Justin Jefferson WR LSU – Great hands, physical receiver, 4.4 speed
  • Grant Delpit S LSU – Second-ranked safety prospect, value pick, good size, and coverage skills
  • Cesar Ruiz OL Michigan – True Center would allow Cody Whitehair to move back to his natural guard position
  • KJ Hamler WR Penn State – Second-fastest WR in the draft, strong for his size, 5’9 176lbs, downfield threat

Now time to see if any of these players will be the next Chicago Bear.

It’s Time for ‘The Last Dance’

We’re only 3 days away from the start of what will be the GOAT of all sports documentaries, (the ESPN 30 for 30 ’85 Chicago Bears’ currently holds that title).  The highly anticipated 10 part  “The Last Dance,” which documents the extraordinary career of Michael Jordan with the Chicago Bulls; specifically his final season, ‘97-98.

The program will air on ESPN starting Sunday, April 19th and will run every Sunday, through May 17th.   If there are any bright sides to this pandemic this is definitely one for the sports world.  This documentary was not slated to be released until early June but ESPN heard our wish and it was granted.

Time for the Last Dance

Nostalgia…

Oh, the 90s. Hard to believe that decade started over 30 years ago and basketball during that time was some of the best you would ever see, especially if you were from Chicago.  It was the decade where Jordan cemented himself as the greatest basketball player of all time, or the GOAT if you will.  The decade whereby the turn of it the run of the Los Angeles LakersBoston Celtics and Detroit Pistons comes to an end.  Thus, the Chicago Bulls dynasty was born.

Just like the 90s was the golden era of rap, (now the genre is classified as hip hop), it was also the golden age of basketball with the Chicago leading the way.  The Bulls six championships  (via two three-peats) and the sheer dominance of MJ, his Airness, gave the sport a meteoric rise in popularity worldwide.

This was also the time a teammate, Scottie Pippen, developed into a bonafide superstar.  If you need a reference, see his player card and the 1993-94 season…you’re welcome.  In the 1996 campaign, we saw them break the single-season wins record going 72-10, a record that stood pat for 20 years until 2016 when the 73-9 Golden State Warriors broke it.  Some, especially Chicagoans, may say the Warriors really didn’t surpass that Bulls team because the deal wasn’t sealed, no championship!

Who can ever forget one of the greatest shots in not only NBA Finals history but NBA history period!  Michael Jordan’s final career shot over Bryon Russell to defeat the Utah Jazz in the 1997 Finals giving Chicago their sixth NBA championship.  Well, we thought it was his last shot but you’ll have to tune into ‘The Last Dance’ to see.

Reminisce Over You!

Let’s flashback to that 90’s time, think about what you were doing then, (at least those of us that can).  For myself, it was the start of those crucial teenage years we all go through.  My formidable high school and college years as well.  To my fellow Gen X’ers and millennials, who were definitely raised on it, think about the music you were listening to.  My goodness, the music! Personally, it was R&B (it’s final hoorah) and rap (it’s golden era as mentioned before).

The artist that laid their foundations during this time, Jodeci, Mary J Blige, NWA, 2PAC, Jay-Z, Diddy and a host of others.  Just blow the dust off that CD collection and look through it and watch how those memories flow through your mind.  Yes, I said CDs, before the luxury of modern technology that was our Spotify and Pandora.  Who else put their phones to the stereo speaker to record your answering machine greeting?  We can’t reminisce about the 90s without mentioning the fashion, just google the styles for that decade.  You’ll probably see the most popular footwear were Jordans,  which is still true to this day. They debuted 35 years ago; yes 35!

What To Know Before the Big Dance

For those that need to brush up on some history of Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, here are a few points you want to know:

  • Michael Jordan was drafted 3rd overall in the 1984 NBA draft.
  •  Phil Jackson and Tex Winter were the head coach and assistant coach, respectively.  Winter was the architect of the iconic triangle offense that Jackson implemented to perfection.
  • Jerry Reinsdorf is the owner and the late Jerry Krause was the GM.
  • Jordan retired after ‘93 season to play baseball for the Chicago White Sox and returned in the middle of ‘95 season.

Now that we have some info to reference it’s time to dance, I’m sure we’re all in for a great one.  Those who know the history and those who may be just novice, this will give even more insight into Michael Jordan the man and it will be breathtaking.