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Bulls in Five - Back Down to Earth
by Jason Maslanka

Things just aren't going the Bulls' way this year. The moment they win four games in a row, it's time for another West Coast road trip. Off they go to Dallas, Oklahoma City and Phoenix. Now, that's no way to treat a team on their way to the playoffs, is it? Maybe they're not that team after all. In this up and down season it's tough to tell, but you can take solace in the fact that those three losses were to teams they probably should lose to. The West is a better conference, and those teams are just plain better. The real problem comes in when you lose to Utah, a team under .500 that you should beat. What does it feel like to lead by seven in overtime? Like you're going to win... and when you don't, it hurts so much more. "Ouch," said Bulls announcer Tom Dore. Agreed, Tom.

One: That Superstar I Mentioned
The start of this road trip was another reminder that the Bulls need a superstar to win consistently. Watching what Dirk Nowitzki brings to Dallas — even on an off night — tells the story. He can do it all when they need it. Even a rookie superstar like Chris Paul of the Hornets made all the difference in that game. Not to offend the Illini fans, but the fact that Deron Williams was drafted before Paul shows a terrible lack of judgment by the Jazz' scouting team. In Phoenix, things were even more apparent as the only chance the Bulls had was when Steve Nash sat on the bench most of the second quarter. Draft, trade, sign: this team needs a star.

Two: 39 Big Ones
It's hard for the points to be "big" when you lose, but in the difficult 118-101 loss to Phoenix, Ben Gordon scored a new career high with 39 points. The bulk of the points came from behind the arc, sinking nine of 13 from the three, setting the Suns' record for an opposing player's three-point shooting. Maybe the most amazing part of the game for Gordon was the eight rebounds and five assists he had to go with his whopping point total. What's needed from Ben is more consistent 20-point nights, although the 40-point nights are certainly fun.

Threeeeee: In Other Surprising News...
This just in... Tyson Chandler is still good. We're going on 10 games with Chandler in double-digit rebounds, and in the last seven, he's shooting 80 percent from the floor. No one, including Chandler, seems to have a good explanation for the sudden turnaround, but no one's complaining. While I'm also not complaining, I am holding my breath. Something about a player completely changing his ways half-way through the season scares me a little bit. Every game day, it feels like Chandler's stat line might go back to two points and six rebounds.

Four: The Rest of the Road Trip
On a seven-game road trip, when you lose the first four, you're already in trouble. When you still have to play Denver, Sacramento and the surprisingly impressive Clippers, you're in big big trouble. The Bulls absolutely have to beat the Kings, a team with no discernable star and direction. The Nuggets and Clippers are, unlike Phoenix and Dallas, at least possible wins. The bright side of all this is... well, um, I'll stop now.

Five: Transaction Wire Time
There seems to be a lot of confusion on the part of the major-media outlets in Chicago regarding the Bulls' trade, salary cap and draft positions this season through the off-season. It's been reported by multiple sources that former Bull Antonio Davis, whose wife seems to have an anger issue or two, might be traded back to the Bulls from the Raptors, where he was just traded to by the Knicks. While Davis' family still lives in Chicago and the Bulls could use another big man, NBA rules prohibit the trading of a player and that player being traded back to you in the same season. If the Raptor's bought out Davis' contract and cut him, he would be available, but that's the only situation. As for some other misconceptions, the Bulls have both their and the Knicks' first round picks this year. Next year, the Bulls have the right to trade picks with the Knicks if theirs is better. The Bulls also have terrific salary cap room this summer as Tim Thomas' giant contract comes off the books.

Standings Update: The Bulls (20-27) are amazingly still in 9th place in the Eastern Conference, but now trail Washington (23-23) by 3.5 games.

 

Steelers — Super Bowl Champions
by Jenn Sodini

If it's Sunday during football season, walking into The Dark Horse Tap and Grill is like being teleported 450 miles east to Pittsburgh. Wriglyville's Dark Horse is probably the smallest and least known of the three Steelers bars on the North Side, with Joe's and Durkin's being the other two, but it's booming nonetheless. During the playoffs, the bar was standing room only as early as two hours before kickoff. For the Super Bowl, it was completely packed — a sea of Terrible Towels and Steelers jerseys. My friend Eric said he watched the Super Bowl there because, "I wanted to be as close to Pittsburgh as I could — as close spiritually." When bartender and Pittsburgh native Dave wasn't dishing out cheap Pittsburgh-made Iron City beer by the bucket, he would jump on the bar and lead the crowd in a cheer. He played "The Steelers Polka" every time they scored. Chicago is a welcoming place for a Steelers fan.

Many people think the Steelers fan is an unambiguous creature: Face paint. Beer. Shirtless in sub zero weather. Relishes the hard-working, blue-collar image. Considers the Steelers a meat-and-potatoes kind of team. But for some of us, our fandom is a little more complicated.

When I lived in Pittsburgh, I never went to sports bars, and Iron City beer was a last resort. I always liked the Steelers, but had mixed feelings about sports in general. I tried playing them, with lackluster results. I hated jocks. And baseball hats are still an indicator of people I want to avoid. I'm not the type of person who has "love of the game."

But now that I've moved to Chicago, I unconditionally, obsessively love the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Even before they won the Super Bowl, I proved how much I've come to love this team. On December 10th, I attempted to fly from Chicago to Pittsburgh for the Steelers/Bears game. Of course, I felt confident the Steelers would win, and the idea of my old home team beating my new home team gave me a special thrill. Also, this was a must-win game for the Steelers to have any shot at the playoffs. But when a snowstorm caused all flights to be cancelled, I raced around Midway in a panic, asking any stranger donning Steelers garb how they were getting to the game. After a few unsuccessful attempts, I got an offer from a man who forever in my mind will be known as "Steelers Mike."

"You need to get to the game? We have a van. We're all nice, respectable guys. We all have wives. No one's a psycho."

By "we" he meant five other men and Brittney, one of their wives. By "van" he meant a Ford Windstar. Most of the other passengers were strangers that had met in the airport bar, a mix of Steelers and Bears fans. The seven of us finally started the snowy, 9-hour drive at around 8pm, with Mike blasting a CD of Steelers fight songs — the only CD in the car.

As you might expect from a van of Steelers and Bears fans, no one was exactly waifish. The rear bench seat, where I sat in the middle, was so cramped that I had to cross my arms like a vampire. I thought that this had one advantage — should we crash and die, I would be "in position." The confined quarters prompted lots of irritating jokes from the men, like "hey ladies, that's a pretty tight fit back there. Britney, you better watch where she puts her hands. Hahahaha." This was followed up with a college sports trivia game, which I was silent through, and then one of the Bears fan's imaginative take on the Cower/Roethlisberger relationship that involved some graphic descriptions of formerly illegal sex acts.

At around 3am it sunk in that I really had a lot riding on this game. And I really started to question why someone like myself would have so much invested in the Steelers.

Pittsburghers in Chicago banded together, finding each other through watching these football games. Now that the Steelers have won the Super Bowl, Pittsburgh is mentioned everywhere; the team and the city are on every expatriate's mind. People wearing Steelers gear shout to each other as they pass in the street.

But this Super Bowl-inspired revitalization of Pittsburgh pride and football spirit is a little strange. Here in Chicago, some people have become Pittsburghers they weren't before. I don't consider myself blue collar, or even that hard working, but I'll sing along to fight songs and talk about this fifth Super Bowl ring by using the common Pittsburgh lingo, "one for the thumb."

And for these Steelers bars, creating an "authentic" Pittsburgh feeling is very intentional. When I asked Dave at the Dark Horse how the bar became a Steelers bar, he said the owners were trying to get a bigger Sunday draw. And there's no doubt Dave's enthusiasm for the Steelers is genuine. But all the empty Iron City six pack cartons that are used to hold the ketchup and saltshakers — that's for show. Intentional crappines to mimic Pittsburgh's "realness."

I remember, when I worked at the Andy Warhol museum there, how European tourists would always say things like, "This is such a great city. It feels so... real." I think I understood what they were talking about — the city has little pretense. The city is rugged. And Steelers feel real in the same way. The day of the game, my landlord said to me, "I'm rooting for the Steelers. I always like those blue-collar teams." Jerome Bettis, a Detroit native and Steelers running back, said in a recent interview: "My game is a blue-collar game. Three yards and a cloud of dust and get up and do it again. That's the way in the Midwest. I think people relate to that, as well as Pittsburgh." And certainly you didn't need to see the overwhelming amount of Steelers fans at Ford Field to understand that Detroit relates.

But, of course, a "real" team from a "real" city also means unglamorous. It means gritty and grey. It means representative of a waning America. After all, the namesake of the Steelers, the steel industry, no longer exists there. U.S. Steel changed to the ominous-sounding U.S.X. Corporation 20 years ago — just after the glory days of the Steelers. That's the unsaid thing about these Chicago Steelers bars: no matter how much Pittsburgh pride they display, they're full of people who left.

And I wonder if exalting this blue-collar identity might do more harm then good. I'd like to think it's better than nothing, but maybe for Pittsburgh or Detroit or any of these Midwestern cities to overcome their hardships, they're going to have to make that identity evolve. It seems fitting that in front of the world, in the highest rated Super Bowl in 10 years, that the Steelers should blunder and barely eek out a victory. As much as I wish it to be true, I doubt another football championship will signify another golden age for Pittsburgh.

In the meantime, I'll be honking my car horn and singing about the "One Fur Da Thumb." Even though I wasn't alive for the glory days of the Steelers or of Pittsburgh, I'll be celebrating with my other expatriates. I'll get drunk on watery beer and wave my Terrible Towel and scream "Wooooo!"

It's why I miss home. And it's why I moved to Chicago in the first place.

Comments

caitcat / February 8, 2006 4:27 PM

jenn's column made me feel for pittsburgh, and for chicago, and for all of us who come from "unglamorous" places

 

About the Author(s)

Jason Maslanka began his fandom of the Chicago Bulls in June of 1991, conveniently coinciding with the franchise's first championship. The years since the championships tested his fandom, but it never faltered. He believes that the NBA is more than dunks and hip hop, and that the NBA dress code is a good thing. He thinks most fans don't really understand basketball, and if they did, they'd love it even more. He knows that there are certain players who do the little things for no praise, and stat-mongers who don't really do anything to help their team win. Every week, he plans to execute a beautifully crafted column containing five points you should be thinking about and discussing as a Bulls and NBA fan. Send comments, questions, and arguments to bulls@gapersblock.com.

Jenn Sodini is a guest columnist.

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