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Friday, November 24

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Sox in Five
by Steve Gozdecki

Mercy mercy me, what can I possibly add to the millions of words that have been written and spoken about your 2005 Chicago White Sox since they finished their World Series sweep of Houston almost a week ago? Chances are, not all that much. Nevertheless, here's Sox in Five from a still-smiling Steve.

One: A Long Drought Ended
Thanks to Mike's Baseball Rants, I just learned that in winning the World Series, this White Sox team has put an end to the second-longest championship drought in major league baseball at 88 years. The longest dry spell? That of the Cubs, who haven't done it since 1908. Which means they haven't won a World Series since Wrigley Field opened back in 1914, which is a dang long time, and enough to make me wonder which will hit Wrigley first, a World Series title or a wrecking ball. The Sox's new chief division rival, the Cleveland Indians, now have the second-longest streak of futility, having last won it all back in 1948.

Two: I Love a Parade!
Good times for the estimated 1.75 million Chicagoans who attended Friday's White Sox championship parade and rally, which wound its way from the Cell through a number of South Side neighborhoods before ending just south of the river on LaSalle. (Purists, of course, will insist that the parade never should've crossed Madison.) As with any big Chicago event (think of Taste, or the 1968 Democratic National Convention) there were a few glitches, such as the steady rain of not-so-shredded tickertape that landed with a thump and a thud on the heads and shoulders of those of us who assembled between Lake and Wacker for the festivities, and the humorous sight of the LaSalle Bank float getting stuck under the El tracks at Lake and LaSalle, resulting in substantial damage to a replica of the steelwork that frames U.S. Cellular Field's outfield concourse. But the smiling, celebrating Sox players who came down the street atop a fleet of double-decker buses warmed even the most cynical of hearts, especially the ski cap-clad Mark Buerhle, the feral-looking Neal Cotts and the cigar-chomping El Duque. The seemingly hour-long highlights video that ran before the players and management spoke at the rally gave some of us time to hit a watering hole to watch the festivities on TV when we realized that the sound system and site lines both stunk in-person. Best parts of the rally? Well, even the biggest Jerry Reinsdorf haters had to be touched when Paul Konerko presented the chairman with the ball he caught to record the final out of Game 4. Other high points included Ozzie Guillen's announcement that he will indeed be back to manage next year, and Jose Contreras' brief crowd address, halting as his English was. On this day, even the inevitable crowd sing-along to Journey's "Don't Stop Believin'," led by Buddy Hackett look-alike Steve Perry, rang true.

Three: How Good Were They?
Time for some bar trivia that you may be hearing a lot over the next year. In baseball history, only five teams have held first place all season and then gone on to win the World Series: the 1927 Yankees, 1955 Brooklyn Dodgers, 1984 Detroit Tigers, 1990 Cincinnati Reds and your 2005 Chicago White Sox. And only those Yankees and Reds did it the White Sox way, losing a mere one game in the post-season — and those two clubs got to do it in the pre-Wild Card era, meaning they played one fewer post-season series than the Sox.

Four: Baseball Oddity
Ground control to Scott Podsednik, what on earth was with your sudden post-season power spike? The speedy White Sox leftfielder waited until September to finally hit his first triple of the year, and went the whole regular season without hitting a single home run. (As a point of comparison, he hit seven triples and 12 homers in 2004.) But here in October, Pods hit two very memorable home runs (in Game 1 of the divisional series, aka the Boston Massacre, and the game-winner in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 2 of the World Series) and a playoff record-tying three triples. Rumors abound that news will break in the next few weeks regarding an outfielder from one of the American League playoff teams who tested positive for steroids this season — say it ain't so, Pods!

Five: What Will the Future Hold?
Point one, as if it's a surprise, is that manager Ozzie Guillen will return to manage the Sox again next year despite rumblings during the season that he might retire if the club won it all. Right now, with his popularity at its peak, Ozzie could quite possibly defeat Daley if he ran for mayor. Point two, the team that breaks camp this spring will not be a duplicate of the playoff roster — already, it is expected that Brandon McCarthy will be included in the rotation, pushing Orlando Hernandez to the bullpen or replacing Jon Garland, for whom a credible "trade him for hitting" case can be made. A number of small decisions have already been made for next year, with the Sox picking up the club option on solid righty reliever Cliff Politte and declining their option on Crazy Carl Everett. Frank Thomas, aka "the greatest player in franchise history," has exercised his option, but the club also holds an option for an eight-figure Thomas salary that they are expected to decline, with the possibility of bringing the Big Hurt back under a revised deal. Finally, team leader Paul Konerko is determined to go through the free agency process after he and the team were unable to hammer out a contract extension prior to this year, with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim expected to be a major suitor for Paulie's big bat.

 

Bears in Five
by Craig Aichele, Ramsin Canon & Friends

If you look at the stats from Sunday's Bears-Lions game, you would have guessed the Lions won. Almost identical in every statistical category, and in fact the Bears being worse in some (like penalties and 3rd down percentage), one would imagine that this game would have been a nail biter to the end — but really, it wasn't. The Bears dominated the Lions thoroughly, giving up yards and first downs but never when it counted and never in dangerous territory. Granted the game went into overtime, but given the Lions' superior passing game, the Bears' penalties (plus some very iffy calls by the refs, natch) and home field advantage, by all appearances the Lions should have won. Instead, Charles "Peanut" Tillman intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown to win a few minutes into overtime.

One: OK, So He's Not a Robot.
Time for the weekly Thomas Jones fix. Yeah, he failed to rush for 100 yards against the Lions. Sure, he lost a fumble. He even got banged up a little bit and sat out the remainder of the game including overtime. Surprisingly, rookie and sports talk radio punching bag Cedric Benson came through with big runs in overtime, although they ultimately didn't mean anything. None of that mattered, though. Kyle Orton threw for over 200 yards (230 to be exact) for the first time in his NFL career. While there were some poorly thrown balls on his part, he made connections with his receivers when he needed to. Mark Bradley looked to be on his way to a breakout performance before injuring his knee in the second quarter. So all is fine in Bear land as far as the offense is concerned.*

Two: The Reason the Bears Will Go 6-0 Against NFC North Opponents This Year.
And for that matter, win the rest of their games this year to finish 13-3. And then cruise through the playoffs to win the Super Bowl. And then go undefeated next season. And win the Super Bowl again. It's the defense, stupid. The defensive play of the Chicago Bears allows us to make such bold predictions. It is unfortunate that they surrendered their first rushing score of the season, but it was going to happen at some point. You have to believe that every member of that defense believes that they are all-pro, because that's how they're playing. Tank Johnson's third sack in two games, anyone? After seeing the hit he laid on Eddie Drummond, you have to wonder if kicker Robbie Gould has been getting some work in at free safety during practice. Alex Brown got his first sack of the season on Sunday, but has been drawing double teams all year with his bull rushes and quick moves to the outside of the tackles. He should get credit for half of the sacks this team has gotten this year. The Bears have the second lowest scoring defense, comparable to the '85 Bears (actually, this team has so far allowed 17 fewer points than those monsters). Ladies and gentleman, this defense is for real.

Three: Oh When the (New Orleans, Baton Rouge, San Antonio) Saints Go Marching In
This one should be easy. The best player on that football team, Deuce McAllister, is out for the season. Their second best player, Joe Horn, has been injured and inconsistent all season. Aaron Brooks has been erratic to say the least at quarterback. The other side of the ball for the Saints? Other than defensive end Charles Grant, they just look confused. Do you see a theme with this team? Oh yeah, don't forget that they're homeless. That wasn't a tasteless hurricane joke, it was a statement of fact. Their dirtbag owner is actually thinking of pulling up stakes and moving to LA — what a sweetheart. Chalk up another W for the Bears.

Four: We Know Who the Better Coach Was, But Who Makes the Better Halloween Costume?
There was a fan in Detroit who was dressed up as our beloved Mike Ditka for Halloween. His twist on it was a Lions sweater instead of the proper Bears sweater. But what about late '80s/early '90s Lions head coach Wayne Fontes? Can't the man get a little respect from the city that he coached in? You don't want him to start crying again, do you? While Ditka makes the more obvious and recognizable costume, a Wayne Fontes costume is funnier.** Much funnier. Oh, and Wayne, there is no crying in football. We're serious here.

Five: Where We Pretend We're Going To Give You Analysis of Next Week's Game
This is "Bears in Five," so we were going to use this fifth section to preview the Bears-Saints game and lay out the cogent reasons why the Bears are going to dominate and pull even further ahead in the NFC North. However, it is such a foregone conclusion that we conscientious members of the Noble Street League would rather give you something productive to read. So, here is a definition of a Mobius Strip, the geometric figure which reinforces the wonders of Euclidean geometry, from Wikipedia.com:

Topologically, the Möbius strip can be defined as the square [0,1] × [0,1] with its top and bottom sides identified by the relation (x,0) ~ (1-x,1) for 0 ≤ x ≤ 1. The Möbius strip is a two-dimensional compact manifold (i.e. a surface) with boundary. It is a standard example of a surface which is not orientable. The Möbius strip is also a standard example used to illustrate the mathematical concept of a fiber bundle. Specifically, it is a nontrivial bundle over the circle S1 with a fiber the unit interval, I = [0,1]. Looking only at the edge of the Möbius strip gives a nontrivial two point (or Z2) bundle over S.

As an added bonus, here's a behind-the-scenes peak at our fifth annual NFL All-Names Team — congratulations, Obafemi Ayanbadejo!

* This seemingly insane statement is modified by the fact that we are taking for granted the continued dominance of the Bears defense, see point two.

** Wayne Fontes, although most known for crying a lot, also earned the nickname "Cocaine Wayne" in Detroit. Wanna guess why? If you guessed "He got busted with coke in his car and he dimed his own kid," you'd be right!

 

Bulls in Five
by Jason Maslanka

When I sat down to pen this week's column, I immediately realized that the end of the Bulls' preseason is lacking in an important aspect of sports: games. The last game before this Wednesday's season opener against the Bobcats of Charlotte was last Wednesday's loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves. Having not gained much insight from that game, except another affirmation that Michael Sweetney is good (18 points), I bring you the five most important things to watch for as the Bulls attempt a second straight winning, playoff-bound season.

One: Is Chandler a Dominator?
While he has been plagued with some injuries during his short career, Tyson Chandler has shown moments of brilliance defensively. Huge blocked shots, big rebounds, and being a disruption to the opposition in the paint have been his game since he entered the league. Now that he's received his first non-rookie contract and Eddy Curry is gone, does Chandler have what it takes to be a dominant defensive center? If he does, he'll be a big help to a fairly undersized team. Along with his forte, Chandler's offense is a big question mark and will make a difference this year. No one expects Chandler to have the post moves or touch of Curry, but it should be expected that he get timely points, go strong to the basket, and pick up points on offensive rebounds. I look for him to average about 10 points, 12 rebounds and a block per game.

Two: Who is Tim Thomas?
For years, all NBA fans have heard about is that Tim Thomas is a disappointment. With his 6-10 frame and guard-like skills, many feel he should be more of a dominant player. This is a man who was named to the All-Rookie Second Team, was runner-up for the '00-'01 Sixth Man of the Year Award and has averaged 11.9 points per game in his career. If you're looking for him to be dominant, then you'll surely be disappointed. If you're looking, however, for a big man who can handle the ball, create some excitement, and get you 10-15 points, you may be very excited about Thomas. As the second player included from New York in the Curry trade, he'll be a terrific backup at both the 3 (small forward) and 4 (power forward) spots. If he can pick his rebounding up to six or seven a game, he'll become invaluable.

Threeeeee: Running the Show?
The Bulls were pleasantly surprised last year when they saw that Chris Duhon was an NBA-caliber point guard who didn't need to spend time in Europe. His quality of play helped offset the early season loss to injury of Jannero Pargo, who had come on strong at the end of '03-'04. Now, the Bulls come into the year with three healthy point guards, all with their own skill sets. Kirk Hinrich is clearly the cream of the crop, a terrific floor leader in only his third year, with a great shot that continues to develop. Duhon is a terrific, smart and scrappy player. He combines hustle with a tremendous knowledge of the game, but needs work on his shot. Pargo has the shot and the speed, but sometimes makes mistakes in the flow of the game. With a young team, the point guard will have to work extra hard to keep the game under control at all times. If Hinrich can avoid picking up his dribble early, Duhon can make his shot more consistent, and Pargo can avoid mistakes, this trio should give the Bulls a young yet stellar floor leader all game, every game.

Four: Deng's Development
If you watched any of the many nationally televised Duke games during '03-'04, you undoubtedly know Luol Deng's story. In short, Deng started playing basketball very late in Egypt after escaping Sudan's civil war. Most experts have agreed that Deng has only scraped the surface of his abilities and has the potential to be a terrific multi-tooled player. Last year we saw him shoot, handle the ball, rebound and defend impressively until a wrist injury ended his season. In my book, he projects to be a 20 points, eight rebounds and five assists per game player eventually, and he needs to make another leap towards those stats this year. His offense will be greatly needed on this team, and his preseason nine points, four rebounds and one assist just will not get it done.

Five: Defense Wins Championships
The average fan can't usually pick out good team defense by watching it on TV. The average fan doesn't know the defensive three seconds rule, or the difference between zone and man defense. Add in double-teaming schemes, ball pressure and defensive rebounding and you have a whole side of basketball most people don't think about. All of this, and so much more, will probably be the key to the Bulls' season, however. Last week, I talked about Ben Gordon becoming a better on-ball defender in order to increase his playing time. Each and every player on this team is going to have to make those same strides to have a winning season. Watching the Detroit Pistons, you may be impressed with Tayshaun Prince's offense. What you don't think about is how he uses his long arms to play terrific defense and block shots out of the small forward position. If Darius Songaila can play tough post defense and Sweetney can use his huge frame effectively while Andres Nocioni continues to annoy opponents, you'll be watching another playoff team. If not, you'll probably be watching a few Gordon highlights as the team sinks in the standings.

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About the Author(s)

Steve Gozdecki has been a White Sox fan his entire life, with the exception of an ill-advised flirtation with the 1984 Cubs. Because he swears by the work of the "baseball outsiders," who believe that statistic analysis trumps things like subjective evaluations and team chemistry, he finds himself baffled by the success his team is having in this 2005 season. Each week through the end of the Sox's playoff run — which will hopefully end around Halloween — Steve will bring you five crucial talking points you can use the next time someone says, "Hey, how 'bout them Sox?" Send comments to sox@gapersblock.com.

Craig Aichele, Ramsin Canon and friends are not really friends but rather fierce competitors on the fantasy gridiron. They meet weekly to embarass each other with random football trivia at the Noble Street League HQ. This is where they write their column. Craig knows where every professional athlete went to college, and in some cases the names of their roommates. Creepy. Send comments to bears@gapersblock.com.

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

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