Dozen Biggest Stories in Chicago Sports in 2012

With the football season concluding (for the Chicago Area College teams and the Bears) this week, we can finally put a wrap on the 2012 Chicago Sports Calendar. Although there seemed to be more disappointment than exhilaration, there is some room for optimism in the future. Chris Sale showed he has the stuff to be the ace of the White Sox staff for a long time. Anthony Rizzo lived up to his monumental expectation on the North Side.  Although the Bulls faltered in the playoffs with injuries to Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah there is a lot to look forward to with Tom Thibodeaux continuing to show that he is going to be one of the NBA’s elite coaches with their second consecutive finish with the regular season’s best record in 2012 and keeping the Bulls above .500 this season without Rose.

Although the University of Illinois had a very disappointing season, the two Chicago area FBS teams had seasons to remember. Northwestern finally got the Purple Monkey off its back when it won the Gator Bowl for its first bowl win since 1948. Northern Illinois completed a 12-1 regular season to become the first MAC team to earn a BCS bid.

12) Northwestern First Ten Win Season Since 1995
After nine straight Bowl losses, Northwestern finally got the Purple Monkey off their back. Pat Fitzgerald led the Wildcats to their best season since he was the leader of the defense that won the Big Ten title and finished 10-2 in 1995.

Northwestern finished the regular season 9-3 and could easily have been 12-0. The blew double digit leads in losses to Penn State, Nebraska and Michigan.

They jumped out to an early 13-0 lead and pulled away in the second half after Mississippi State had tied the game at 20. Their 34-20 victory was their first bowl win since the 1949 Rose Bowl and only the second in school history.

With most of the skill position players returning, 2013 should be another good season in Evanston.

11) Northern Illinois Earns Orange Bowl Bid
When the Huskies earned a dramatic 44-37 double overtime victory over Kent in the MAC Championship game, few envisioned they would be able to go from their 21st ranking in the BCS up to 15th. They needed to finish in the top 15 to earn an automatic BCS Bowl berth.

Quarterback Jordan Lynch finished seventh in the Heisman Trophy voting. He finished third in the country in total offense and fourth in rushing. His 136.23 Yards Per Game on the ground led all Quarterbacks nationally.

The Huskies dream season came to an end in a 31-10 loss to Florida State in the Orange Bowl. Lynch could manage just 220 yards of total offense in the game.

10)Philip Humber’s Perfect Game
Humber’s perfect game was one of the most unlikely in Major League history. Just three years after Mark Buehrle threw a perfect game for the White Sox, Buehrle followed suit. In just his second start of the season, Humber struck out nine Mariners for the third perfect game in franchise history.

The last out had a fitting ending as A.J. Pierzynski threw a dropped third strike to Paul Konerko at First Base to complete the perfecto.

9) Chris Sale’s 2012 Season
The White Sox were one of the surprise teams during the 2012 season. Sale’s first half of 2012 placed him among the favorites Cy Young. He was 10-2 with a 2.19 ERA before the All-Star break. With all the talk about Sale’s innings needing to be limited and the Washington National shutting down Stephen Strasburg in September, Sale seemed to tire in the second half. He was only 7-6 with a 4.03 ERA after the All-Star break.

8) NHL Lockout
The NHL Lockout has left a big void in the sports calendar in Chicago this winter. Over 50 percent of the NHL season has been cancelled thus far. All the games through January 14 will not be played. Commissioner Gary Bettman was quoted in the NY Daily News last month that no less than a 48 game schedule would be worth a season.

All of the four major sports have had work stoppages, but can the NHL survive a second cancelled season in nine years?

7) Bulls Lose in First Round of Playoffs
The Bulls finished the regular season with the best record for the second straight season. The Bulls entered the playoffs with a lot of excitement facing former coach Doug Collins.

Nursing a 12 point lead late in Game, Derrick Rose landed awkwardly on and tore his ACL ending his season. After losing game two at home, the Bulls took a nine point lead into the fourth quarter of game three. They eventually expanded the lead to 14 10:13 remaining in the game.

Noah’s gruesome ankle injury in the fourth quarter eventually did the Bulls in. Without Noah, the Bulls were unable to rely on the secondary strength of rebounding and defense without Rose.

After losing games 2-4, the Bulls won game five at home to pull the series within 3-2. The Bulls seemed to have game six at Philadelphia in hand with a three point lead and under 30 seconds remaining. Omer Asik couldn’t convert late free throws and then fouled the Sixers Andre Iguodala with 2.2 seconds remaining to put him at the line to provide the series winning margain.

The Bulls became just the fifth top seed to lose in the first round.

6) Ron Santo Hall of Fame Induction
Santo had pleaded with Hall of Fame voters for years to get him in the Hall. Santo was a Nine time All-Star and five time Gold Glove winner that was always on the fringe of the Hall. Like a famous artist, it took Santo’s death to increase his stature.

His widow Vicki Santo gave his induction speech 19 months after his death.  Although Ernie Banks was known as Mr. Cub, it was Santo that is probably the most beloved Cub of all.

5) Anthony Rizzo Debut
Acquired by the Cubs in the trade that sent Andrew Cashner to San Diego, Rizzo’s debut was anticipated all spring and through June.

After a moderate start in four games in June, Rizzo took off in July. He hit .330 with seven home runs and 17 rbi’s and a .942 OPS. He finished the season hitting .285 with 15 home runs and 48 rbi’s.

In a 101 loss season, he gave the Cubs fans hope for the future.

4) White Sox Collapse
After defeating Detroit on September 17th in a key makeup game from earlier in the month the White Sox seemed to gain control of the division. After a win the next day over Kansas City, the White Sox proceeded to lose ten of their next 12. The White Sox maintained the lead in the division as late as September 24, but couldn’t hold on. From that point on, the Tigers won seven of their next eight to clinch the division title. The White Sox held the division lead for 116 days overall and 63 consecutive until the Tigers caught them in December.

Robin Ventura had a memorable first season as the White Sox Manager. The two prevailing memories will be that the team exceeded expectations, but in the end failed to close out a division that was theirs to win.

3) Lovie Smith Gets Fired
Lovie Smith is the third winningest coach in Bears history. During his tenure, the Bears won three division titles, made three playoff appearances, hosted two NFC Championship games and advanced to one Super Bowl. Ultimately, their failure to make the playoffs five times in his last six seasons did Smith in.

The Bears defense was consistently one of the best during the Smith Era. The offense finished only as high as 15th once.

2) Derrick Rose Tears ACL
With the Bulls leading Philadelphia 99-87 with 1:10 remaining in the fourth Quarter, Rose came down awkwardly after a hop step. An MRI eventually revealed the Rose tore his Anterior Cruciate Ligament  The 76ers had cut a 20 point with 4:36 remaining to the 12 point deficit with 1:10 left. When asked why Rose was in a game seemingly in hand, Coach Tom Thibodeau responded “The score was going the other way. He has to play. He has to work on closing. Our team didn't handle that part great. That's what I was thinking."

Rose still has not returned and it’s not clear when he will be back.

1) Bears Collapse
The Bears began the season 7-1 against playing what many would consider the easier part of their schedule. Since the NFL went to eight divisions in 2002, no team that started 7-1 had missed the playoffs.

The defense began the season on a historic pace. They scored six touchdowns (plus another on special teams) in the first seven games, an NFL record. The defense finished the seasons fifth overall, third in points allowed, fourth in time of possession against and second in forced fumbles.

The problem became that the offense had become too reliant on the defense to create turnovers and score. The defense forced 28 turnovers in their 7-1 start and just 16 in the 3-5 finish. They were plus 16 in the first half of the season and just plus two through the last eight games. The Bears tacked on nearly a touchdown per week via the defense and special teams through eight weeks. They only scored two touchdowns in the second half of the season on defense. Both of those came in their week 16 victory at Arizona.

The offense didn’t score more than two touchdowns in each of the last five games.

Their historic collapse ultimately cost them a playoff spot and Lovie Smith his job.



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