Then there was the Illini loss to Ol' Mizzou. As an
eyewitness, I thought Missouri looked like a top-five team in the
country and Illinois came up a little short. I'm sure our local
Tiger fans are enjoying their braggin' rights. However, there were a
lot of hopeful signs, as the Illini's furious second-half comeback
attempt pointed toward, but the defense will have to get a lot
better for this team to take a big step forward.
Also on the
football front was Chicago's shocking victory over the Colts. I
gotta tell you... I didn't see that one coming. I'm still not sure
And of course, there are the baseball pennant races. I told our
own Greg Taylor not to worry when his beloved Cubs went into a
late-season funk. That's why I have always said that you need to
build a cushion because anything can happen. They've got enough of a
buffer to hold off the Brewers, but what about those stinkin',
surging Astros? Hopefully, the White Sox will be able to hang on,
but they're making me very nervous!
All this and more in this edition of the... Mutterings...
I didn't see last week's win over EIU, but I did witness the
Missouri game at the ED. Probably the most troubling development to
this reporter was the overall poor execution and play of the Illini
defense. There were several breakdowns. There didn't seem to be
great outside containment. Guys were not flying to the ball. Mizzou
converted first downs at will and seemed to have no trouble mounting
a drive whenever they wanted to. The hardest thing to watch was our
inability to tackle. Arm tackles, matador moves, lack of marking
receivers are just a few of the things I noticed, and I'm nowhere
near an expert on the defensive side of the ball. I do know that
when you give up big plays and lots of them, it makes it harder to
win football games.
I think the effort was there, but I can't put my finger on what
all the problems were. Coach Zook sure was mad and disappointed
after the game. He said these problems can be fixed... I sure hope
he is right. A lot of work needs to be done.
By saying all this, I realize that some will think that I'm not
giving the Tigers their due. Au contrair, mademoiselle. Chase Daniel
is one of the best college QBs in the country and you'll see him in
New York as one of the Heisman Trophy finalists. But that doesn't
mean you run away from him ... and it doesn't mean that you fail to
pick up receivers just because they have five of them running
patterns all over the field! Somebody stopped them. They weren't
undefeated last season, were they?
That was the thing that discouraged me. We had the whole
offseason to come up with a strategy to stop them ... or to at least
contain them. Surely we looked at film on what Oklahoma did to them?
If you don't remember, I do. The Sooners dropped them 41-31 halfway
through last season and then tamed them again 38-17 in the Big 12
championship game. If we would've held them to either of those point
totals ... well, you know. It just didn't look like we had a solid
plan. And I know they're good and they're multifaceted, but I was
just looking for a few guys to make some plays. I expected so much
To the Illini's credit, they did play a little better in the
second half. That gives me some hope for the future. But if we're
gonna beat the top teams in the Big Ten, we'll have to play lots
better than we did in St. Louie.
On the offensive side of the ball, there were some things to
like. I really like the way Juice Williams has improved. His passing
was as good as I've seen it. He could still adjust his touch from
time to time and maybe stay focused on deep, open receivers a
smidgen longer, but I'm working hard here to be picky. You couple
his improved passing ability with his lights-out ability to break
down defenses when he's running the ball, and the Illini may have
I still think that our running backs will have to come up big to
free up Juice to the ultimate. And then, of course, our special
teams will literally have to be special all year for Illinois to
approximate the overall success they enjoyed last season.
I'm probably a lot more worried than Illinois players are ...
but, our road schedule looks like it was put together by our friends
in Indiana or Iowa. Why does it always seem like we get the harder
schedules than our Big Ten brethren? Greg says that we improved a
lot from Week 1 to Week 2, so I'm gonna take his word for it. Let's
hope for continued progress in the weeks ahead.
Bears' big-time effort
I thought the Bears beat the Colts in every phase of the game
(save Devin Hester's little hiccup out of the end zone) ... and, as
I said earlier, I didn't see it coming. Nothing I saw, read or heard
in the preseason led me to believe that the Bears had in effort in
them like that. Nothing I saw last season led me to believe that the
Bears could even play at that level.
I thought Matt Forte was huge! Even bigger than the media made
him out to be. He was solid, he was sure, and he was a threat. That
enabled Kyle Orton to "manage the game" better. And if someone ever
utters that phrase to me verbally, I might instinctively punch him
in the mouth. I hate that philosophy ... I was never taught it, and
when I've seen it played out in the past, it has always repulsed me.
I grew up on Sid Gilman, Tom Flores and John Madden throwing caution
to the wind and attacking teams for 60 minutes a game. Veteran QB or
rookie, they came at you from all angles trying to keep you on your
defensive heels the entire contest. I believe that's the way the
game must be played. You can't yell at Bear QBs the past several
seasons when the very philosophy that is being preached is the one
that leads players to be tentative, unsure and ultimately does not
give them a fair chance to live up to their potential. There, I said
it... I'm probably wrong, since no NFL team is contacting me to be
their QB coach or offensive coordinator, but I just despise that
"manage the game" approach. If you play my team, we're coming after
you the whole time!
I thought the Bears did that better than they have since 1985!
Where was that effort last year? Where was it the year before or
even in the Super Bowl? That kind of effort can win you some
football games, and Bears fans everywhere have to be downright giddy
about that performance!
The big question I have for you Bear fans is this: Did the Bears
just man-up because they were embarrassed last year and in their
Super game with the Colts? Or, are they capable of this kind of
inspired play on a regular basis? I guess time will tell...
Cubs, Brewers still in the driver's seat
Though both teams have been in a little funk of late, I believe
that they will both make the playoffs. This is why I said this
summer that the Cards would have to keep it close to have a chance
in the end... They didn't and they probably don't. I still tip my
cap to Don Tony for an amazingly entertaining run in a throwaway
season, but I think Cardinal fans deserve more than that. Why
management didn't go out and get Tony some help when they made an
amazing summer surge, I'll never know.
Since we talked about philosophies earlier, we might interject
one here as well. I'm not the sharpest sports commentator in the
country. But I am smart enough to know this: When you have a chance
to win and get into the postseason, you better grab it with both
hands. I've lived long enough to hear lots of plans of how teams
were gonna build a program or a franchise to win over the long term
and cashed in a chance to win in the present ... only, never to
return to the cusp of the playoffs again. So, while I know the Cards
took an improbable 2006 world championship out of thin air, can't we
go for more? Thank you, sir. May I have another ... "works real well
for me"? Once I truly discovered the business of baseball, and the
business of sports for that matter, a big part of me died inside!
Oh, well. It's just a game, right?
I am still hoping that the White Sox can somehow hold on, but can
you believe those pesky Twins? How do they do it? I'm really happy
to see local area product Jim Thome having a fantastic second half
for the Pale Hose! If he isn't a Hall of Famer, they oughta close
the place down!
[to top of second column
Late season funks
It must be a lot harder to seal the deal than one might think.
Just think of the teams that went through late-season funks over
just the last few seasons. The White Sox went through one on their
way to the 2005 title. The Cardinals went through a horrible
two-week stretch during the last part of September on their way to
the 2006 crown! And I could go on and on. That's why I told Mr.
Taylor not to worry. It's what you do in October that matters most
... if you get there!
This and that
Baseball needs to go back to having divisional teams playing each
other a lot in September. You can't gain nearly as much ground when
you stop playing each other in midsummer. Not the smartest
development I've ever seen.
This is the 10th anniversary of Mark McGwire's shattering of
Roger Maris' home run record. I know I'm a tired vinyl record on
this subject, but McGwire deserves the accolades. During the summer
of 1998, baseball was in a death spiral. It can be argued that he
and Sammy Sosa (I don't understand all the hate toward him either)
literally and figuratively saved the game. Baseball is as healthy
now as ever, and a lot of that can be traced right back to Sosa and
However, baseball media, especially sports writers, are judge and
jury, keeping McGwire out of Cooperstown mostly because they can.
They keep pointing to the character and integrity parts of the HOF
admission clause. That's funny because I remember McGwire admitting
to the use of andro, and if memory serves, it wasn't an illegal
substance in MLB at the time. But in some ways that's beside the
point. Have you looked at the names of the people enshrined in the
Hall? I've been to Cooperstown so, yes, I have. I've read their
bios. Many of the players who have been selected surely had lots of
help meeting the character and integrity clauses. Many Hall of
Famers are not choirboys, my friends. I'm quite sure that McGwire
can hold his own -- tit for tat, as it were -- with the majority of
Another point to consider is that, unlike the vast majority of
the players suspected of juicing and then watching their stat
numbers improve, McGwire was belting prodigious homers SINCE his
rookie season (49, I think, to be exact) ... and long before all the
hate came down. So, if you don't like him, just be honest and say
so; don't penalize him for it.
They say he just should've come clean in the now famous or
infamous congressional hearing. What? Have you ever been
interrogated? How does one succeed when they've been publicly
accused? I'm not sure I've ever seen a case where total success has
been achieved in that regard. Not in the sports world, or any court
for that matter. In light of Roger Clemons' recent escapades and the
fates of several other athletes worldwide, I think McGwire might be
looking smarter all the time. And do you really think he came up
with that plan by himself? He's a decent and intelligent guy, but
you have to believe that a lawyer or team of lawyers briefed him on
how to handle that inquisition from the word go.
They say you can tell a lot about a man by his friends or what
his friends say about him. Uniformly around baseball, all you hear
are players talking about what a great man McGwire is. If he's such
a rat, would players go to him for help or even associate with him?
I think not. I'm not a member of his legal team (though I'd love to
play one if they ever make a made-for-TV movie of his life), and I
have no association with him whatsoever. BUT, if it was in my power,
I would mount the hugest Hall of Fame campaign ever for this man.
I went to many of the games in 1998 (and the years before and
after). He was great with the kids. His batting practice shows were
the best ever (in the modern era at least). Today's players owe a
huge debt to McGwire. And today's baseball writers owe a huge debt
to him as well! If not for him, they might not even have their jobs
today! Is Mark McGwire perfect? I hardly think so. But, is he Hall
of Fame worthy? ... Without a doubt! If they ever give us true
sports writers a chance, he'll get my vote ... not just because of
his awesome power numbers, but because he helped save the game I
Wie goes back to school
Michelle Wie will no longer receive sponsor exemptions, so she
will be going to the LPGA qualifying school. Here's hoping that she
does well. I know that some golfers, some media members and some
fans don't like her because she has gotten kind of a free pass into
these events. They also don't like her entering men's tournaments,
and they certainly don't like the fact that brings home a cool $5
million a year in endorsement deals. But what's not to like? She
does have some meddling parents, but so do a lot of people. She
certainly has the talent, and I think she has the moxie to really
help that tour be a better draw. I salute her and wish her well...
Wonder if she needs an agent?
I love watching nonconference games between colleges from
different conferences, especially power conferences. When teams play
each other every year, they rotate officials from their respective
conferences. Sounds like a good idea on the surface maybe... but, is
it really? I don't think so!
Since I have no allegiances to the ACC and the SEC, let's use
them for an example. Say a team from each leagues plays each other
every year. Say the two teams are Duke and Georgia. My question is
this: Why would you put refs from either league in a situation like
this? If the SEC officiating crew calls too many penalties on Duke,
people (other than Georgia fans) are upset because they think the
SEC refs are homers. But on the other hand, if they call more
penalties on Georgia or just ref the game in such a way that they
even seem a little harsher with Georgia than they are with Duke,
then the Bulldog fans are upset. When I say harsher, I mean ... when
Georgia has the ball, they speed up play, start the play clock
immediately; when Duke has the ball, they take their time putting
the ball back in play so that no one can say that they're favoring
I've watched this scenario for years, and I have a suggestion.
Couldn't a Big East or Big Ten crew be more neutral in a situation
like this? I know this suggestion just makes too much sense, but
c'mon... They're always saying they want to do things for the good
of the game... Well, here's one thing they could do.
One more tiny little suggestion ... and if they already do this,
I apologize for my lack of knowledge (this isn't the only area that
I have a lack of knowledge in). I would like to see football
officials from across the nation have at least one mandatory meeting
a year where they all get together. I'd like for them to show
highlights of good calls and horrible calls. I'd like them to also
stage many hypothetical calls. They could do the same thing with
replay calls. I think it would really help the game.
And of course, you can only dream that they would implement this
same idea for basketball officiating.
I don't like watching PGA events without Tiger ... but I would
like to see the U.S. team surprise in the Ryder Cup... I think that
will be a tall order.
Serena and Roger
Serena Williams and Roger Federer are your U.S. Open tennis
champions. Not much seems to be changing in the tennis world.
Finally, the conclusion...
There's a lot more stuff happening, but I'm worn out. We'll talk
some area hoops next time and handicap the MLB playoff contenders.
Until then, have a great month, everybody!
[By JEFF MAYFIELD]
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