We left for Indianapolis today, which means that for the first time ever, I am now officially unemployed. Until today, I was just a kid who worked if he wanted to but didn’t have to, but I am now a person who is paying rent and who needs a job and doesn’t have one. It’s kind of exciting, actually. It won’t be exciting if I still don’t have a job in a month, but right now, it’s a sign that I am entering a new chapter of life. Welcome to the world, kiddo.
Leaving home is always a bit sad, but it does give me a chance to drive once more through the city I love so much. We head east first, towards the lake on Central Street, past Mustard’s and Dyche Stadium and the Chandler Rec. Center where we played in the 6th grade Friday night 3-on-3 league. We hop on Sheridan Road and move south, following its curves through Evanston, past the Northwestern campus where school will soon be in full swing, past the beaches where joggers and bikers make their way, where autumn leaves will soon gather. We take Sheridan through Rogers Park, under the El tracks at Loyola, curving to the left at Devon, and then back around to the right. Straight ahead with the stop and go traffic, and then left on Hollywood and onto Lake Shore Drive, past the parks and fields and courts and sidewalks where Chicago enjoys the end of summer, and further south still, where the big lettering of the Drake hotel signals the start of downtown, through the city that suddenly appears, the skyscrapers that seem so distant when sitting at the rocks at Northwestern, over the bridge at Navy Pier and then curving to the right and then straight through the city towards the Shedd Aquarium and then towards Soldier Field. I shudder a bit when I see the spacecraft, but as we drive alongside of it the obtrusive metal is out of sight in my window and all I can see are the stone columns standing proud, and I smile. We take the I-55 exit to I-90, head south past Comiskey, and then onto the Skyway and through the tolls and onto the endless I-65 towards Indianapolis as the sun sets.
We did not want to drive in the dark but it ended up happening anyways. We were planning on leaving around three this afternoon, but got delayed and left at five. That put us in the thick of Sunday rush hour traffic leaving the city, which meant more time to listen to the Score…
…and what a day to be listening to the Score, as Lovie officially named Kyle Orton the Bears’ starting quarterback. More shocking than that, however, was Chad Hutchinson’s freefall down the depth chart. He now sits behind Jeff Blake and Kurt Kittner as the Bears’ number four quarterback, which means unless something changes, this guy just played his way from a starting NFL QB to an out-of-work football player sitting at home, waiting for a phone call. All this in a span of three days. I’d imagine he’s not nearly as excited as I am to be unemployed.
There is excitement in this town. Who’da thunk it? Bears fans are gearing up for the Kyle Orton era, and people are actually excited. Who knows how long it will last, or whether or not it will be more successful than the Jonathan Quinn era, the Craig Krenzel era, or the Chad Hutchinson era. Frankly, I think that Orton will easily out play all of those guys, and it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Rex were to return and find that his starting job is not simply handed back to him.
The other big news of the day is that finally, after a 36-day holdout, Cedric Benson has signed a five-year deal with the team.
So now we’ve got our quarterback, and we’ve got our running back, and we’ve got a much better offense and a defense that nearly every pundit is referring to as “playoff-caliber”—which is a term only used on teams that the pundits do not think is going to the playoffs, presumably due to the lack of a “playoff-caliber” offense—and a coach who seems to know what he is doing, and finally, for the first time since 2002, there is reason to believe that this Chicago Bears season will end in the playoffs.
Of course this is coming from me, the eternal optimist, the guy who thinks that we’re definitely gonna pick up this 4th and 30 and score eight runs in the ninth and hit four threes in the last two minutes. It seems that I’m one of the few. On the drive back to Indy, while listening to Bears talk on the Score, the hosts ________ ______ and ____ __________ pose this question to callers:
“Are we as Chicago fans being duped by our teams? Not the players, but the organizations. Are they doing everything that they can to give you, the fan, a championship team to watch?”
The question arose out of a few current Chicago sports dynamics. First was the Bears quarterback situation, with a few callers feeling like Orton winning the job was a “disaster” due to the Bears’ failure to sign a veteran backup over the offseason, and second was the White Sox’s failure to trade for Cincinnati outfielder Ken Griffey, Jr., the future Hall of Famer who has had some down years but is having a “return to glory” season for the Reds.
“Where do you put Griffey if he comes to the Sox?” __________ asks rhetorically, in response to Sox fans who have said that the Sox cannot take Griffey because they don’t have any openings in their lineup. “You put him wherever he wants to go. Where do you want to play today Mr. Griffey? Centerfield? Great. Go play centerfield. Where do you want to bat today? Third? Great, you’re batting third.”
I can’t say why the White Sox did not pull the trigger on a deal for Junior, and I disagree with anyone who says that Orton starting at quarterback is a “disaster,” but I understand the “duped” sentiment. For years I’ve watched the ownership in Chicago jerk fans around, knowing that our loyalty and love for our teams would always guarantee ticket sales. Has there ever been a city with teams in all four of the major sports that had owners who were all among the least popular in their respective sport? The best of the group is Jerry Reinsdorf, who has given us six titles with the Bulls along with some quality White Sox teams, but he is unpopular in some circles for his role in the Breakup of the Bulls, as well as his role in helping cause the 1994-95 baseball strike.
Next is the McCaskey family, and while we love Virginia, we could never stand Michael. Then the Tribune Company, who for years were notoriously cheap due to their feeling that the Cubs would always make money, what with their immense popularity and the popularity of Wrigley Field.
But these owners are fairy godmothers when compared to the worst of them all: our dear friend Bill Wirtz. It’s a well known fact that Dollar Bill does not televise Blackhawk home games because he doesn’t think that anyone will attend if the games are on TV, but let me just repeat that: Wirtz does not televise Blackhawk home games because he doesn’t think that anyone will attend if they are on TV. That’s ridiculous! It’s a shame what this guy has done to the Blackhawks’ popularity, a team that was the pride of Chicago for so many years. My dad is not a big hockey fan by any means, but even he enjoyed the Hawks as a kid. Just as I love doing my imitation of Neil Funk announcing the Bulls, so does Dad imitate the Blackhawks’ old radio announcer. Wirtz has taken this beloved franchise and turned it into a joke of a team that is now outdrawn by the semipro Chicago Wolves. That Blackhawk fans are hurt by his selfishness is of no concern to Wirtz. He gets his money, and that’s that.
There is more to sports than just escapism. This is not a movie to sit and watch for a few hours. It is not a rock concert. It is deeper than that. Fuller than that. It lives with us, in our hearts and our souls, in our memories, in our grandparents and our grandchildren. And as much as I accept the modern world, I can’t help but worry about how money is ruining the games and the teams that we love. But Bill Wirtz is happy. And thank goodness for that.