The Professor

Did Bears get their man or did Green Bay?

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Brad Palmer

Covered sports for 40 years at WGN, WBBM Newradio 78, and WLS-TV (CH 7)

The Bears wound up with Florida safety Major Wright as their first pick in this year's draft, but it's likely they would have gone for Georgia Tech FS Morgan Burnett had he been available. At least the Packers seemed to think so. Why else would they have traded their third and fourth round picks to Philadelphia so that they could move ahead of the Bears in the third round?

The Packers took Burnett with the 71st pick, leaving the Bears with Wright as the 75th pick.

It was a bold move by Green Bay GM Ted Thompson and reminiscent of the 1971 draft when the Packers outmanuevered the Bears and picked RB John Brockington on the first round instead of Joe Moore, whom new Packer coach Dan Devine had just coached at Missouri.

Brockington gained over 1,000 yards in each of his first three 14-game seasons. He made the Pro Bowl three times in a 7 year career. Moore gained all of 281 yards in a 2-year career. The Bears took Jim Harrison, Moore's Missouri running mate, on the second round. He lasted 4 years, while running for a total of just 1,099 yards.

The Bears had the 11th pick that year. Green Bay had the 12th. The Packers traded up with Denver to land the 9th pick and take Brockington, leaving the Bears with a major bust in Moore. Devine obviously knew something, and the Bears got snookered, pure and simple.

Did the Bears get snookered again? Only time will tell, but based on the Bears checkered history in evaluating talent at free safety, I wouldn't bet against it.

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Football returns to Wrigley Field; Hypocrisy reigns in the NCAA

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Brad Palmer

Covered sports for 40 years at WGN, WBBM Newradio 78, and WLS-TV (CH 7)

BEARS VS. RAMS AT WF 1955.jpg

Bears vs. Los Angeles Rams-1955 - Chicago Tribune Photo

Wrigley Field will play host to its first football game since the Bears moved out in 1970. Northwestern will play Illinois on November 20, 2010.

The Bears played there from 1921 thru 1970 and made a lot of history. It's where they became th Monsters of the Midway. Red Grange played there, along with Nagurski, Luckman, Ditka, Sayers, and Butkus, not to mention all the other greats that helped make the NFL what it is today.

The NFL forced the Bears to move because the seating capacity (47,000 for football) was below its new standard of at least 50,000. The east stands were erected over what is right and centerfield for baseball. When the Bears moved, those stands became the north end zone seats at Soldier Field.

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Jerry Angelo's realism outweighs his optimism

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Brad Palmer

Covered sports for 40 years at WGN, WBBM Newradio 78, and WLS-TV (CH 7)

I've been playing golf nearly every day in Arizona since the Super Bowl, so have only taken a casual interest in the goings on back in Chicago. I read about all the hoopla surrounding the Bears acquisition of three free agents, and didn't have any strong feelings one way or the other. But I did view that as a step forward. I have to say that I share the view that Jerry Angelo made in an interview with the Bears "in house" blogger.

Basically, Angelo said, "we'll have to wait and see how much the return of a healthy Brian Urlacher and acquistion of free agents Julius Peppers, Chester Taylor, and Brandon Manumaleuna will improve the team." Angelo said he is "very optimistic." Of course, he has to be, and what team isn't about any off-season acquistions and its prospects for the upcoming season.

Optimism has no bounds once training camps open. Hopefully, there will be less euphoria coming out of Bourbannais this time around. The Bears two weak links remain the offensive line and the defensive secondary. The Bears have tried unsuccessfully to improve both areas, but don't believe for a minute that they are "comfortable" or "satified" with what they have. What else can they say?

The Bears saved a chunk of dough by releasing Alex Brown, but I think he's going to be missed.

Maybe the Bears can pull another rabbit or two out of the draft the way they did with 5th round pick Johnny Knox. I'm glad to see the Bears have put some renewed interest into the season with their off-season moves, but now "it's wait and see" until September to see if they pay off. Until then, everything is just talk.

Random Thoughts

I covered the 1979 Final Four involving DePaul, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird and the one in 2005 when Illinois lost to North Carolina, but this year's ranked right up there, thanks to Butler. Had Gordon Hayward's desperation shot at the buzzer gone in, that game would have been akin to Bobby Thomson's "home run heard 'round the world." It's probably the single greatest moment in baseball history. Thomson hit a 3-run homer with two out in the bottom of the 9th to beat Brooklyn and put the New York Giants into the 1951 World Series. I skipped school so I could watch it on our new Philco television.

This year's Masters was also special. I have generally only watched golf tournaments in which Tiger Woods was entered and always found myself pulling for him. But in light of all his recent transgressions, I didn't know how I would feel about him once he returned. I have to say I was rather ambivalent. I was glad to see him back playing, but I didn't find myself pulling for him. It was heartwarming to see Phil Mickelson win and win the way he did. That shot off the pine needles at 13th that just cleared Rae's Creek and stopped within about 10 feet for eagle was one of the greatest shots I've ever seen. Talk about winning like a champion! I can't wait for the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach.

That's about it for awhile. It's back to the golf course for me. Will try to better yesterday's 77. 

Leftovers from the Super Bowl and a prediction that ran true to form

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Brad Palmer

Covered sports for 40 years at WGN, WBBM Newradio 78, and WLS-TV (CH 7)

I suspect that many of the people who picked the Colts to win the Super Bowl didn't bother looking much further than Peyton Manning. But as I pointed out in my pre-game analysis, nearly all the numbers favored the Saints, particularly INTERCEPTION DIFFERENTIAL. Tracy Porter returned the game's only interception for the clinching touchdown.

The Saints finished the season ranked #1 in my KEY STATS formula. My higher-ranked team has now won 17 of the last 22 Super Bowls. That includes Denver in Super Bowl 32. The Broncos were an 11-point underdog against Green Bay. My 1st or 2nd-ranked team has won 13 of the last 22. 

The Bears wound up 26th in the KEY STATS; they were 6th when they made it to the Super Bowl three years ago.

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Martz gets job that eluded him exactly 11 years ago

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Brad Palmer

Covered sports for 40 years at WGN, WBBM Newradio 78, and WLS-TV (CH 7)

The Bears got their man, or did they? Mike Martz was the 7th man the Bears either interviewed or attempted to interview for their offensive coordinator vacancy. I suppose they'll say they saved the best for last. What else can they say?

What's ironic is that Dave McGinnis had Martz lined up to be the Bears offensive coordinator in 1999 when the Bears were on the verge of hiring McGinnis to succeed Dave Wannstedt as head coach. But it all fell apart when Michael McCaskey botched the hiring by calling a news conference to name McGinnis the head coach BEFORE he made him an offer. The offer was a low-ball deal for one year. When McGinnis told McCaskey he couldn't hire a staff with a one-year deal, McCaskey told him, "You don't have to tell them." McGinnis walked and Martz wound up as the offensive coordinator with the St.Louis Rams. A year later, he succeeded Dick Vermeil as head coach, so it proved to be a lucky turn of events for Martz.

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Saints figure to prevail in Super Bowl shootout

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Brad Palmer

Covered sports for 40 years at WGN, WBBM Newradio 78, and WLS-TV (CH 7)

Other than the aura of Peyton Manning, I find nothing to support the oddsmakers making the Colts a 4 to 6 point favorite. That's taking nothing away from Manning and his ability to dissect defenses and generate points. Nobody does it better. And yet, it's the Saints who are #1 in total offense and points scored.

The Colts have the better defense in terms of yards and points allowed, but the Aikman Ratings are considered to be the better barometer, and they rank the Saints defense 6th and the Colts 17th!! Takaways have a lot to do with that.

The Saints are +17 in both turnover differential and interception differential. The Colts are -1 and +5 in those categories. The Saints also ranked #2 in Red Zone defense, the Colts 13th.

Neither the Ravens nor Jets were able to keep pace with the Colts with their run-oriented attacks. They also proved that no defense, no matter how good, can contain Manning. To beat the Colts, you have to beat them at their own game, and that's something the Saints offense is more than capable of doing.  

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Bears resort to double-speak in wake of minimal changes

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Brad Palmer

Covered sports for 40 years at WGN, WBBM Newradio 78, and WLS-TV (CH 7)

Michael McCaskey once wrote a book entitled "Managing Change and Ambiguity. There was certainly a lot of that going on at today's lengthy news conference at Halas Halas, although Michael continued to stay above the fray and leave the bobing and weaving to Ted Phillips, Jerry Angelo, and Lovie Smith. Afterall, they're paid to take the heat.

Phillips said Angelo had the "final say" on personnel decisions and Lovie the "final say" on his coaching staff. But he also said that both men understood and embraced some of the changes and that the discussions included ownership, namely Michael and Virginia McCaskey. So obviously the changes weren't Lovie's alone to make and Angelo inadvertently confirmed that. Asked if it was Lovie's call, Angelo ducked the question, saying "he and Lovie discuss everything and don't always agree."

Angelo said he asked ownership if they wanted to hire one of the big name coaches on the market. They didn't. Phillips said money wasn't a factor. It may not have been THE factor, but I find it hard to believe it wasn't A factor.

The changes amounted to the firing of 6 offensive coaches, including offensive coordinator Ron Turner, and Lovie giving up his defensive coordinator duties. Lovie said he thought it was "best" that he take on that added responsibility and now thinks it "best" that he doesn't. He now thinks it best that they get someone to bring in new ideas. Of course, that's what he once had in Ron Rivera. Ron did a terrific job turning around the Bears defense, only be let go along with a growing list of players who achieved success elsewhere.

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Two big plays and the environment lead to Bears upset victory over Vikings

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Brad Palmer

Covered sports for 40 years at WGN, WBBM Newradio 78, and WLS-TV (CH 7)

Bottom line: turnovers were the deciding factor in the Bears 36-30 overtime victory over Minnesota. The Bears parlayed two Vikings turnovers into 9 points, while Minnesota got 3 points off the only Bears turnover, Jay Cutler's 26th interception of the season.

MLB Hunter Hillenmeyer set the stage for the winning touchdown by punching the ball out of Adrian Peterson's grasp. Nick Roach fell on it at the Minnesota 40-yard line. On the very next play, Jay Cutler hit a wide open Devin Aromashodu in stride with a bomb for the winning touchdown. It was Cutler's 4th TD pass of the game, a season high. Aromashadu caught 7 passes for a career-high 150 yards.

How much the conditions played a part is open for debate. But this is what we do know:

Since 2001, Minnesota is 11-31 on grass and 13-38 outdoors.

All 3 of the Vikings loses in their last 4 games have been on grass.

Brett Favre has lost 8 straight on the road when the temperature was 34-degrees or colder.

The Vikings (11-4) have been outscored on grass this season, while outscoring their opponents an average of 16 point/game on turf.

Their turnover differential on grass is -5; it's +9 on turf.

The Vikings have now lost 7 of their last 8 games in Soldier Field, including 4 in December.

In short, they are two different teams when they play on grass as opposed to turf, which is why I went out on a limb and PICKED THE BEARS TO WIN in my pregame analysis.

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It's ELEMENT-ary; Bears can and should beat Vikings on MNF

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Brad Palmer

Covered sports for 40 years at WGN, WBBM Newradio 78, and WLS-TV (CH 7)

It's quite obvious Minnesota is a much better team than the Bears. But the Vikings are two different teams when it comes to playing on artificial turf and in warm weather as opposed to playing on grass and in cold weather.

Since 2001, the Vikings are 11-30 on grass and 13-37 outdoors.

The Bears have beaten Minnesota in 6 of their last 7 games at Soldier Field. Three of the Bears victories were in December. The lone Viking victory came in mid-October.

Brett Favre is 12-2 in his last 14 games at Soldier Field; both loses were in December. Favre is 1-7 on the road when the gametime temp is under 34 degrees (1-6 as a Packer and 0-1 as a Jet). It was 37 degrees with a windchill of 33 when the Vikings lost last Sunday at Carolina 26-7. But wait, it gets even better.

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Bears write new sequel to Dumb and Dumber in loss to Packers

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Brad Palmer

Covered sports for 40 years at WGN, WBBM Newradio 78, and WLS-TV (CH 7)

The Bears put up a pretty good fight against Green Bay (9-4). They were 2-for-2 in the red zone and held the Packers to 13 points in their three trips inside the red zone.

But that wasn't enough to overcome 13 penalties for 109 yards, a lot of miscommunication on pass routes, and another major gaffe by Lovie Smith.

With the Bears trailing 21-14 in the fourth quarter, Greg Olsen caught a 25-yard pass on third-and-22, only to drop it when he hit the ground. Instead of challenging the call, Lovie called timeout and then decided to drop the challenge flag, costing the Bears a second timeout. It made no sense, but then we've come to expect that from this organization.

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Bears bunker mentality nothing new; snub of NBC is

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Brad Palmer

Covered sports for 40 years at WGN, WBBM Newradio 78, and WLS-TV (CH 7)

The Bears have long had a bunker mentality at Halas Hall. It is born out of arrogance and insecurity, bordering on paranoia and can be traced to Michael McCaskey (the man behind the curtain) and Jerry Angelo.

A decade or so ago, I was doing a live-shot for Channel 7 in the comfort of one of the Bears meeting rooms at the original Halas Hall, having been given permission by the public relations director because of a snowstorm. McCaskey happened by and said I should be outside, snowstorm or not.

I asked him if he thought any other company would take that stance toward a major media outlet providing it with free publicity. McCaskey's response, "We don't need the publicity." I could almost hear George Halas groan. There was a time when the team's founder hand-delivered his releases to the newsrooms of the city's newspapers.

Little has changed in the ensuing years under McCaskey's reign, and now the Bears have decided to ratchet their anti-media posture up a notch. According to Sun-Times beat writer Brad Biggs, the Bears have denied NBC-TV access to any of their people for sitdown interviews for Sunday's pregame show, "Football Night in America."

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Lovie called out for his anti-truth charade

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Brad Palmer

Covered sports for 40 years at WGN, WBBM Newradio 78, and WLS-TV (CH 7)

It was my experience while covering Lovie Smith's first two seasons as the Bears head coach that if he said anything that seemed to have some significance attached to it, it was probably a lie or a half-truth. On most topics, he said nothing of consequence at all. I see from Rick Morrissey's feature column in today's Chicago Tribune, that nothing has changed. But then I already knew that, having been subjected to the constant flow of mindless quotes and sound bites coming out of Halas Hall. Talk about a waste of airtime and news print.

 

As a reporter, my job was to cut through the BS and report facts, not someone's fiction. Easier said than done, since most of today's players and coaches have learned to be less than candid, unless they are able to speak "off the record".

 

One shining example occurred the week prior to the Bears 2005 season finale at Minnesota. The Bears had already clinched a playoff spot, so the game meant little. Still, Lovie said that he would start all of his regulars. He could have said he was going to rest some people, which would have been the truth. Instead, he lied, and in so doing, violated the spirit of the NFL rules prohibiting teams from putting out misleading information about player availability for upcoming games.

 

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Will baseball never change for the better?

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Brad Palmer

Covered sports for 40 years at WGN, WBBM Newradio 78, and WLS-TV (CH 7)

Baseball used to be my favorite sport. That was way back when it really was the national pastime. Pro football has that distinction now. The NFL gets it. I doubt the MLB owners ever will. 

I haven't seen a baseball game since my retirement from WLS-TV (Ch 7) nearly four years ago. The sport no longer exists for me, although I covered it for some 40 years, and was a fan long before that. Cubs centerfielder Andy Pafko was my boyhood idol. I have many fond memories.

I cut school so I could watch the NL playoff game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants in 1951. Got to see Bobby Thomson hit the "home run heard 'round the world." I managed an exclusive interview with Casey Stengel upon the Mets first visit to Wrigley Field in 1962. I was studying journalism at the University of Illinois at the time.  

Years later, I felt like I was stealing money by getting paid to cover games and be around some great players and great people in and around the game. But money, greed, and cheating has changed all that.

 

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Bears continue to mortgage their future with trade for DE Gaines Adams

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Brad Palmer

Covered sports for 40 years at WGN, WBBM Newradio 78, and WLS-TV (CH 7)

As the saying goes, "One man's trash is another man's treasure." That seems to be the case in the trade in which Tampa Bay sent DE Gaines Adams to the Bears for a second-round draft pick. The 0-5 Bucs no longer saw Adams (the #4 overall pick in the 2007 draft) as a building block for their future. Somehow the Bears do.

Gaines does give the Bears some flexibility at defensive end, what with Adewale Ogunleye and Mark Anderson in the final year of their contracts, but for a second-round draft pick??? I don't see that as a bargain. I see that as mortgaging the future. The Bears overpaid for Jay Culter and now they have overpaid for Adams, a man who has fallen far short of all expectations in terms of production.

This will leave the Bears without first and second round draft picks for the second year in a row. Of course, the Bears haven't been very successful with high draft picks, but what's that say about the organization's ability to judge and evaluate talent? This is the team that let talented S Chris Harris go so they could take Adam Archeleta off Washington's trash heap. Let's hope Adams isn't the bust Archeleta was. 

Alas, Michael Jordan reveals his dark side

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Brad Palmer

Covered sports for 40 years at WGN, WBBM Newradio 78, and WLS-TV (CH 7)

Michael Jordan has enjoyed a larger than life existence around these parts for the better part of 25 years. In my opinion, he was and still is the greatest basketball player to ever play the game. He lifted the sport to new heights and brought years of excitement to Chicago. And because of that, he could do no wrong.

 

Some of us in the media knew otherwise but found ourselves between a rock and a hard place. Basketball fans didn't want to know what they didn't know about MJ. They didn't want to hear anything that would diminish their perception of the legendary figure. When I related some of the stuff I knew and had heard from legitimate sources about MJ to ex-Cub Billy Williams, he said, "Stop, I don't want to hear anymore"

 

It wasn't always like that. During the 1980's, when people would ask me what Michael Jordan was really like, my reply was always, "He's too good to be true." I meant it. It wasn't until the Bulls began winning championships that I saw a different side of Jordan. And since everthing revolved around Jordan, everyone around him was more or less compelled to go with the flow.

 

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Class is back in session

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Brad Palmer

Covered sports for 40 years at WGN, WBBM Newradio 78, and WLS-TV (CH 7)

It's been 3 1/2 years since I retired from Channel 7. My career covering sports in Chicago spanned five decades.

I began in 1966 at WGN, but didn't begin covering sports full-time until 1969 at WBBM Newsradio 78. That was the year Gale Sayers came back from knee surgery to win the NFL rushing title and the Cubs were overtaken by the Miracle Mets.

It was while covering the '69 Cubs that it became obvious to me that professional sports were really a "business". The Cubs, enthralled with their sudden success, hired an agent. The merchandising of T-shirts and coffee mugs was understandable.

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