Thursday, December 25, 2008

Top Ten Chicago sports stories of 2008

With 2008 coming to a close, everyone can agree it has been a pretty wild year for Chicago’s sports teams.

The Cubs and White Sox both gave us thrills for six months before disappointing in the playoffs, the Bears were a pleasant surprise, the Bulls were an unpleasant surprise and the Blackhawks finally appear to have turned the corner.

It was a mixed bag for the local college teams, with Northwestern football and Notre Dame basketball turning heads and Notre Dame/Illinois football making people puke. So, without further ado, here are the ten biggest sports stories from Chicago in 2008.

10. Bulls hire Vinny Del Negro
Mike D’Antoni was the Bulls first choice, but much to a lot of people’s chagrin, a deal never got done and he ended up with the Knicks. Then it appeared Doug Collins would return to coach the Bulls 20 years after he was fired. When Collins suddenly backed out, John Paxson made the surprising hire of Del Negro, who had no coaching experience and spent the previous year as an assistant to Phoenix Suns general manager Steve Kerr.

9. Emergence of guys like Floyd, Danks, Alexei, Dempster, and Soto Each of these guys played a major role in helping both Chicago baseball teams make the playoffs in the same season for the first time since 1906. Soto won NL Rookie of the Year, while Alexei finished second in the AL. Dempster was an All-Star, and Floyd and Danks combined for 29 wins and a 3.58 E.R.A., despite all three pitchers being question marks heading into spring training.

8. Bears draft Matt Forte In a great year for rookie running backs in the NFL, Forte has arguably been the most complete back, rushing for almost 1200 yards, leading the team with sixty receptions and leading all rookies with a combined 12 touchdowns. After wasting so many high draft picks on running backs who didn’t pan out (Cedric Benson, Curtis Enis, Rashaan Salaam), the Bears have finally found a long-term answer at the position.

7. Carlos Zambrano’s no-hitter In front of a pro-Cubs crowd at Miller Park, where the make-up game was played due to Hurricane Ike sweeping through Houston, Zambrano threw the Cubs’ first no-hitter in 36 years. Zambrano, pitching for the first time in two weeks after returning from a sore rotator cuff, came one walk short of a perfect game.

6. Chicago announced as one of four finalists for 2016 Summer Olympics The final decision will come in October of 2009. Tokyo and Madrid remain the two favorites however. Chicago has come up with a tentative $1.15 billion guarantee against operations, including $500 million from the city, $500 million in projected operating surplus and a $150 million pledge from the state, which has yet to be approved.

5. Charlie Weis’ struggles After back to back poor seasons, Weis was seriously on the hot seat, with about a 50/50 chance on returning to coach Notre Dame next fall. Weis has pulled in three straight top ten national recruiting classes, but his four year record of 30-21 just doesn’t cut it. Plus, that record is inflated by 10 wins in each of his first two seasons, when he won with former coach Tyrone Willingham’s recruits.

4. Blackhawks rise to prominence Credit owner Rocky Wirtz and president John McDonough for bringing the franchise back to the heights where it once resided. The Hawks have a pair of young stars in Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, proven players in Patrick Sharp, Brian Campbell, and Martin Havlat, and the franchise appears to be in great shape for the long-term future. Currently, the Blackhawks are #1 in the NHL in home attendance (ticket sales are up 300%), and people in Chicago are getting excited about hockey for the first time in a long while.

3. The Sox push to the playoffs It all came down to games 161, 162, and 163 in the Sox exciting and surprising season. Needing to beat the Indians, Tigers, and then Twins in a one-game playoff, the Sox did just that. Alexei’s grand slam against the Tigers and Danks’s masterpiece versus the Twins carried the overachieving Sox to the playoffs, where they were overmatched against Tampa Bay.

2. Bulls win the lottery and take Derrick Rose Despite finishing with only the league’s ninth worst record, the Bulls finally had something to smile about after a miserable 2007-2008 season. With only a 1.7 percent chance to win the lottery, the ping-pong balls somehow bounced the Bulls way. While some people called for Michael Beasley, drafting Rose was really a no-brainer. Not even Paxson could have messed this one up.

1. Cubs win 97 games but get swept out of playoffs For the second straight year, the Cubs were swept in the NLDS, this time by a Dodgers team that was under .500 for a good portion of the year. Whether it was Dempster’s wildness in game one, untimely errors in game 2, or the series long choke job from both Alfonso Soriano and Aramis Ramirez, the Cubs’ wait for a World Series now stretches to 101 years and counting.


Phil Barnes said...

Charlie Weis stuggles (to keep his weight under 400 lbs.) As my roommate Bret once said "I think he is the only guy in the world who tucks his fat under his belt."

Anonymous said...

Very nice list. Maybe I would have put this Bears season on there though, bc no one expected them to have a chance for 10 wins.

K.P. said...

Although neither were real significant, maybe my two favorite stories both involved Joakim Noah; getting suspended by his own teammates and later getting arrested for marijuana.

Anonymous said...

When was that picture taken of Danks and Floyd? So much for their "battle" for one rotation spot.