Chicago's Top Sports Stories of 2009
The 2009 Chicago Sports landscape has seen new stars emerge, others arrive in town, and some that fell flat. There have been amazing games, playoff series that defied logic, awards, injuries, teams changing hands, immortality granted, the perfect player (at least for one day), and as usual, disappointments.
When this year is looked back upon, it might be one of the most memorable even without a championship.
In 2010, we might see some coaches that have outlived their usefulness, teams that rebuild and others that make a run at their sport's pinnacle. At some point, as true Chicago sports fans, we will be waiting until next year.
12. Northwestern Football Earns New Year's Day Bowl Berth
For the second consecutive year, Northwestern finished 5-3 in the Big Ten. They slipped to 8-4 overall after a 9-3 regular season in 2008. The 2009 team will have the opportunity to win NU's first bowl since the 1949 Rose Bowl.
Northwestern has lost their last six bowl games. All have come since NU shocked the college football world by winning the Big Ten in 1995 when Gary Barnett took the Purple to Pasadena.
The 2009 team got off to a slow start. They lost some games they probably should have won and the team was not living up to expectations. Back-to-back losses to Syracuse and Minnesota in September dropped the Wildcats to 2-2. The 2008 team started 5-0 and then stumbled by finishing 4-4.
Sitting at a crossroads mid season, Northwestern traveled to Purdue. The Boilermakers took a 21-3 lead early in the second quarter, and NU's season seemed to be slipping away. A loss would have left NU 2-3, 0-2.
They crawled back in the game with 13 unanswered points in the second quarter to narrow the deficit to 21-16 at halftime. They continued to hold down Purdue and outscored the Boilers 11-0 in the second half to win 27-21.
Two signature wins highlighted the Wildcats' season.
Northwestern traveled to then undefeated Iowa with a 5-4 record. The Hawkeyes jumped out early with 10 points in the first quarter to take a 10-0 lead. A fumble recovery in the end zone and a TD pass put the Wildcats ahead 14-10 at the half, and they went on to win 17-10.
They finished the season with a wild 33-31 win over Wisconsin. Mike Kafka had one of his best games with 326 yards, two touchdowns, and no interceptions.
The Wildcats closed the season by winning four of their last five to finish the season 8-4 and capture their second consecutive upper division finish in the Big Ten.
For the first time since the 1996 season, NU will play in a New Year's Day Bowl Game.
11. Derrick Rose Captures NBA Rookie of the Year
When the Bulls won the draft lottery in May of 2008, almost all of the Chicago fans wanted the Bulls to take hometown hero Derrick Rose. The debate at the top of the 2008 draft was between Rose and Michael Beasley.
Rose was eventually the choice and he helped the team improve by eight games in his rookie year. The Bulls won the right to draft Rose was despite having only a 1.7 percent chance in the lottery.
Rose started his rookie season strong. He was selected as the rookie of the month in November and December.
The Bulls muddled through the winter months before closing 12-4 to earn the Eastern Conference's seventh seed and a playoff matchup with the Boston Celtics.
Rose earned another rookie of the month award for March during the Bulls' strong finish.
In his first ever playoff game, Rose dominated the Celtics with 36 points, 11 rebounds, and four assists.
His 36 points tied the NBA's all-time leading scorer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for most points by a rookie in his NBA playoff debut. In one of the NBA's most memorable series ever, Rose averaged 19.7 PPG, 6.4 APG, and 6.3 RPG.
Rose finished the regular season with averages of 16.8 PPG, 6.3 APG, and 3.9 RPG. He became only the third player in Bulls' history to win the Rookie of the Year Award. Michael Jordan won the award in 1985, and Elton Brand shared the award in 2000.
10. White Sox Acquire Jake Peavy at the July Trading Deadline
During the 2008-09 offseason, Jake Peavy was considered one of the most likely and prominent players to be moved. The Cubs figured to be a leading contender to acquire Peavy.
In May, Kenny Williams and the White Sox made a play for Peavy. The rumored trade involved White Sox starting pitcher Clayton Richard, reliever Aaron Poreda, and prospects.
Utilizing his no trade clause, Peavy decided to stay in San Diego. Peavy stated, "Right now, this (San Diego) is the best place for me and my family".
At the time, it looked like the Padres were going to be a contender for a playoff spot. Williams indicated that Peavy wasn't ready to make the commitment to the White Sox because of the timing of the trade and that he was caught off guard.
The day following the rejection of the White Sox, Peavy injured his ankle rounding the bases against the Cubs. The game was ironically in Chicago.
Three weeks later, Peavy was diagnosed with a strained tendon in his ankle. He was put on the disabled list and would never play another game for the Padres.
Two months later things changed drastically.
Williams again approached the Padres at the trading deadline with the White Sox only a game and half behind the Tigers. As he has done in the past, Williams once again flew in stealth to eventually bring Peavy to Chicago.
With Peavy still on the disabled list, Williams surprised everyone in baseball by acquiring the 2007 NL Cy Young winner. The trade was similar to the one that was speculated in May. The Padres acquired Richard, Poreda, and prospects Adam Russell and Dexter Carter.
It was originally thought that Peavy would return in late August or early September. After taking a line drive off the shin while on an injury rehab assignment in Charlotte, his debut with the White Sox and American League was delayed until Sept. 19.
He pitched five innings and gave up three earned runs in his first start.
In his last two appearances, Peavy showed why the White Sox were willing to wait for him. Peavy pitched 15 innings, gave up eight hits, walked four, and struck out 13.
His final start of the season was an eight-inning, two-hit shutout against the Tigers. That loss contributed to the Tigers having to travel to Minnesota to face the Twins in the play in game they would eventually lose.
With Peavy leading the rotation, 2010 should be a positive year for the White Sox.
9. Milton Bradley's Repeated Meltdowns
When the Cubs acquired Milton Bradley during the 2008-09 offseason, many questioned the Cubs signing the mercurial outfielder.
Bradley was signed to a three-year $30 million contract. Cubs General Manager Jim Hendry was quoted as saying that he knew that the Cubs got their guy.
When Bradley was signed, he was considered to be a major piece for the Cubs to capture their first World Series in over a century. It seemed as if Bradley was ready to put controversy behind him.
In 2008 with Texas, Bradley hit .321 and led the Major Leagues in OPS. Bradley was quoted as saying he would do his best to not get emotional.
At the press conference to announce Bradley's signing, Jim Hendry said that the Cubs did their homework on their new right-fielder. "The opinion that he wouldn't be a good teammate or he would be a disruption in the clubhouse couldn't be further from the truth," Henry said.
Bradley was more his past than the promise that was made at his introductory press conference.
Bradley didn't waist much time getting into controversy with the Cubs. On April 16, Bradley bumped umpire Larry Vanover during a game and was suspended two games.
Other occurrences as the season went on included being told to go home by Manager Lou Pinella after a dugout argument and throwing the ball into the right field stands costing the Cubs two runs.
The final straw came in September. Bradley insulted Cubs fans, took himself out of a game without a pinch runner necessary, and criticized the culture of the Cubs specifically that they haven't won a World Series in over 100 years.
After an abysmal one-year stint in Chicago, Bradley was finally traded to Seattle in December for pitcher Carlos Silva.
Silva has a bigger contract and worse statistics, but getting rid of Bradley's attitude was worth it to anyone that cares about the Cubs.
8. Injury Ends Brian Urlacher's Season In the Opener
The Bears entered the 2009 season with high expectations after trading for Jay Cutler. Cutler was going to be the leader that would improve the Bears offense.
The Bears franchise always prides itself on defense. Urlacher has been the leader of that defense for the last decade. Through two coaching regimes and up and down seasons, Urlacher has been the face of the franchise. Entering this season, Urlacher was healthy for the first time in two years.
Urlacher was playing well against the Bears during the Sunday night opener. He had three tackles and broke up a pass in just over two quarters of play against the Packers. The injury seemed to occur earlier in the game, but Urlacher left after the first series of the second half.
The next day Urlacher sent a text message to the Tribune announcing his season was over. He had pins inserted into his wrist during surgery. The surgery required Urlacher to be in a cast for 10-11 weeks and would require another month of rehabilitation.
The Bears defense has never recovered. After getting off to a 3-1 start, the Bears have lost eight of their last 10. They haven't returned to the playoffs since making the Super Bowl after the 2006 season.
7) Bulls-Celtics Playoff Series
The Bulls improved by eight games from the 2008 season, largely because of the edition of Rookie of the Year, Derrick Rose. Even without superstar Kevin Garnett for their first round series match-up, the Celtics were still a heavy favorite against the inexperienced Bulls.
The Bulls opened the series with a bang.
Rose exploded for a rookie playoff debut record 36 points and the Bulls escaped with a 105-103 overtime win. The Celtics evened the series in game two when Ray Allen buried a three-pointer with two seconds left.
The Celtics seemed to take control of the series with an easy 107-86 win in game three. That's when the series got interesting.
With the Bulls down two games to one, they faced a must win game four at home. A loss would mean a 3-1 series deficit returning to Boston for game five.
After clutch shots by both teams, the Bulls eventually held on for a 121-118 double overtime win. Every Bull that played scored in double figures.
In a series that never ceased to amaze, game five needed overtime again. After a Paul Pierce shot put the Celtics up two with three seconds left, controversy took over.
Rajon Rondo fouled Bulls back up center Brad Miller hard. Bulls fans were shocked when a flagrant foul wasn't called. Should the Bulls have received two shots and the ball?
Miller received two shots to try and even the game and force a second straight double overtime game. Miller missed the first and then purposely missed the second.
The Bulls were unable to secure the rebound and the Bulls headed back home fighting for their playoff life down three games to two.
After five games, three that required a total of four overtimes, no one could have imagined what lied ahead for game six.
Fitting for the series, game six nearly doubled the four-overtime total of the first five games. The drama that occurred would have been dismissed as too unbelievable if it had been written.
Game six had enough drams and heroes to fill an entire series.
Ray Allen scored 51 points (three points shy of a team record) and Rajon Rondo had 19 assists for the C's.
John Salmons scored 35 points, Derrick Rose netted 28 and Joakim Noah pulled down 15 rebounds for Chicago.
The most memorable play of the 2009 NBA playoffs came from Noah in a most unlikely fashion. The Bulls center intercepted a pass and raced the length of the court to put the Bulls up late in the third overtime.
The Bulls' win sent the series back to Boston for game seven. They started out strong, but a 22-2 Boston run in the second quarter was the ultimately the difference in the game. The Bulls' loss dropped them to 0-6 on the road in game sevens.
Ben Gordon was amazing for the Bulls in the series.
He averaged 24.3 PPG and was the player the Bulls leaned on when they needed a big shot.
Rondo nearly averaged a triple double in the series and became public enemy number one in Chicago.
The series will go down as the most dramatic in NBA history.
6) The Blackhawks Resurgence
During the last ten years of the Bill Wirtz regime, the Blackhawks failed to generate much buzz in Chicago.
Their home games were not on TV and with only one playoff appearance they almost became an afterthought in the Chicago sports landscape.
When Bill died, his son Rocky inherited the team. Rocky instituted more modern practices of running an NHL franchise.
Behind young hot shots Jonathan Towes and Patrick Kane and a reawakening from Nikolay Khabibulin, the Blackhawks reached the conference finals for the first time since 1996.
Kane scored a memorable goal as part of a hat trick to help eliminate Vancouver in the second round. The Hawks also knocked off Calgary in the first round.
The season was their most successful in many years. They hosted the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field on New Year's day and made their first playoff appearance in seven years.
For the first time in a long time, the Blackhawks mattered in Chicago. They went into the offseason generating excitement for their fans. The Hawks are on the verge of returning to the NHL elite for the first time since the mid-90s.
5) Mark Buehrle's Perfect Game
When Mark Buehrle pitched a no-hitter in 2007 many baseball experts were surprised. They said that he didn't have the dominating "stuff" that most pitchers that throw no-hitters have.
Buehrle's biggest strength is the pace at which he works. It keeps his fielders more engaged in the game and ready to make a play on every pitch.
Buehrle's perfecto was improbable for a few reasons.
Buehrle's game plan is to make opposing hitters put the ball in play. At some point during a game, the opponent will benefit from some good luck and get a hit. He only stuck out six hitters, this requiring 21 outs to be made without an error by his fielders.
In the ninth inning, Dwayne Wise entered the game as a defensive replacement. As it usually does, the ball was hit to Wise by the first batter of the ninth inning.
Gabe Kapler hit a drive into left center field, Wise leaped above the fence and brought the ball down, bobbled it and held on as he fell to the ground. Buehrle recorded the last two outs to pitch the 18th perfect game in Major League history and just the second White Sox pitcher to do so.
The next game Buehrle retired the first 18 batters to set the MLB record with 45 consecutive batters retired.
4) Michael Jordan Gets Inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame
The question was when, not if Michael Jordan would be inducted into the basketball Hall of Fame. Jordan capped the most decorated career in NBA history with a speech that rankled nearly everyone that saw the induction ceremonies.
Jordan was one of the most loved athletes ever and one of the world's most famous.
Basketball has given him everything he has. His six NBA championships, five MVP awards, two Gold Medals and one NCAA Championship are all achievements that most basketball fans are aware of.
In his speech, Jordan spared no one. He jabbed at former Bulls General Manager Jerry Krause, fellow HOFers George Gervin, Magic Johnson and Isiah Thomas and former Utah Jazz Bryon Russell.
MJ was upset with Krause's comments that organizations win championships, not players. Jordan said that organizations don't play with the flu or an injured ankle. The organization has to supply the players, but the players ultimately have to perform.
Jordan was upset with his contemporaries for freezing him out during the 1985 All Star game during Jordan's rookie year. Russell challenged Jordan during his first retirement by telling him that he could guard Michael.
Jordan took that as disrespectful.
Jordan's championship winning shot while guarded by Russell in Game Six in 1998 was seen by Jordan as poetic justice.
Jordan did thank the Chicago fans for all their support and hope that they would have another championship someday to compare the two eras. He also thanked former teammate Scottie Pippen and he praised his presenter David Thompson.
Michael Jordan is the most important athlete in Chicago Sports history. He always seemed bigger than life. That might have muted some of his popularity.
Other Chicago greats like Walter Payton and Ernie Banks seemed more touchable. MJ's speech will always be remembered, if not necessarily for the right reasons.
3) The Tribune Sells the Cubs to the Ricketts Family
When Chicago Mogul Sam Zell bought the Tribune company one of his stated goals was to sell the Cubs. It took the Tribune over two years to sell the team.
The sale was slowed by the Trib filing for bankruptcy, the collapse of the credit markets and Zell and the Tribune wanted to get as much for the team as it could.
The Tribune company bought the Cubs in 1981 for $20.5 million and sold it for $845 million. The sale includes Wrigley Field and a 25 percent stake in Comcast Sports Net Chicago.
It was the biggest sale in MLB history. The Red Sox, Fenway Park and the the Red Sox television network sold for $660 million in 2002.
The Ricketts family will own 95 percent of the Cubs, while the Tribune Company will retain a five percent interest. Matriarch Joe Ricketts founded TD Ameritrade and is worth $2.6 Billion.
MLB requires that one person head up an ownership group. Ricketts' son Tom will head the Cubs new leadership.
Tom Ricketts has been a Cubs fan since the summer of 1984 when he lived with his brother Peter near Wrigley Field. He met his wife Cecilia the same summer in the bleachers at Wrigley.
2) Bears Acquire Jay Cutler From Broncos
The Bears earned their Monsters of the Midway moniker by running the ball and playing tough defense.
They have only had eight pro bowl quarterbacks in their history. Jim McMahon was their last QB to earn a trip to Hawaii. He did so after the Bears won Super Bowl XX concluding the 1985 season.
When Jerry Angelo made the move to acquire Cutler, Bears fans everywhere rejoiced. Celebrations of Happy Jay Cutler Day were made on sports radio and the Bears were considered one of the contenders to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
The Broncos shopped Cutler because he became upset when new Broncos coach Josh McDaniels tried to trade for New England QB Matt Cassel.
Denver finally moved Cutler and a fifth round pick to Chicago and the Bears sent the Broncos QB Kyle Orton, first and third round picks in 2009 and a 2010 first rounder.
Cutler's career record could be looked at two ways: Prior to arriving in Chicago, Cutler had a 17-20 career record, but was 13-1 when Denver held opponents to less than 21 points.
He has always been a bit of a gambler. In 37 career starts in Denver, Cutler threw 54 touchdowns and 37 interceptions.
The opportunity to get a Pro-Bowl quarterback was too great for Angels to pass up. Cutler was going to upgrade the Bears offense.
He would make the inexperienced Bears receivers better. His ability to move in the pocket would complement the Bears mediocre offensive line better than the more traditional pocket presence of Orton.
The same day that the Bears made the trade for Cutler, they also signed future Hall Of Fame left tackle Orlando Pace to protect Cutler's blind side. Add in Frank Omiyale from Carolina and the Bears were going to have an improved o-line in 2009.
Cutler coming to the Bears would allow them to play a more open offense. Cutler's big arm would mean more shots down field and keep defenses more honest.
Sometimes the best laid plans don't always come to fruition.
Cutler threw four interceptions in the season opener as the Bears lost at Green Bay.
Through the first 15 weeks of the season, Cutler leads the NFL with 25 interceptions, the second most in Bears History.
The record was set by Sid Luckman with 31 in 1947. Cutler has thrown 19 touchdown passes. In the Bears 2006 Superbowl year, Rex Grossman threw 23 Touchdowns against 20 INTs.
The Bears offensive line and the poor production from the running game have impacted Cutler and vice versa. Cutler's per game average is down 60 yards from last season. The Bears offense has gone from 14th in scoring in 2008 to 23rd in 2009.
Despite his struggles, Jay Cutler is here for the long haul. The Bears didn't trade two first round pics and a third and extend Cutler's contract to 2013 to give up on him so soon.
What happens around him going forward remains to be seen. Lovie Smith and his staff probably will have to turn things around in 2010 to keep their jobs.
If Cutler is going to thrive, Jerry Angelo is going to have to get Cutler some playmakers and an offensive line to protect him.
1) Chicago Loses Out on the 2016 Olympics
The Chicago 2016 Olympic bid seemed to split Chicagoans. The buzz that the bid generated was undeniable.
When the October 2 voting day approached, the prevailing wisdom was that the final choice was going to come down to Chicago and Rio DeJaneiro. The other finals were Tokyo and Madrid.
Chicagoans know all about politics. The Windy City was so named because of its politicians.
When Chicago was the first city eliminated, shock, dismay and disappointment prevailed downtown at Daley Plaza and all around Chicago. No one could understand why or how Chicago was the first to go. Many people didn't even make it to Daley Plaza in time for the planned rally.
Two factors seemed eliminate Chicago first. Rio was probably the front runner all along. Strangely, the Olympics have never been in South America and the IOC seemed to be committed to bringing them there.
One unidentified IOC member was quoted as saying "When you look at the margin, it was clear there was an effort to make sure that Rio got this, and the only meaningful threat to Rio would have been Chicago. So all the friends of Rio were urged to try and make sure Chicago didn't get into the position"
Madrid could have been a sentimental choice to advance to the final round. Former IOC chairman Juan Antonio Samaranch is from Madrid.
During the Madrid presentation, Samaranch gave an impassioned speech. He said to IOC Members, "I know that I am very near the end of my time...I am, as you know 89 years old. May I ask you to consider granting my country the honor and also the duty to organize the games in 2016."
Chicago has hosted major sporting events in the past. Past events include the Pan-Am Games, the opening ceremonies and game of the FIFA World Cup and Women's World Cup, multiple PGA Championships and US Opens and the Big Ten Tournament.
While losing the Olympics was a disappointment, Chicago still has a bright future hosting major sporting events.