Sunday, June 2, 2013

BEAR Naked Truth’s Top 10 most exciting Chicago Bears since 1979

                                                                June 2, 2013 

 It’s ironic that this list is being unveiled on a “Throwback Thursday”. My original intention was to reveal these 10 players to my listening audience on “BEAR Naked Truth” the night before. Sometimes the cards just fall into place perfectly. This is not a disclaimer of any sort but merely a reminder that I can remember watching and cheering for the Chicago Bears back as far as 1979 (at the age of 5). With that revelation, keep in mind that the players listed are simply my Top 10 that I had the privilege of watching play LIVE. There will be some that may only agree with half of my list and some that may agree with an even lesser number and I’m okay with that. That’s the beauty of it being MY list. Feel free to share your opinions, either way, just keep in mind we may have come up in different eras and maybe didn’t see the same players at the same time. I was very excited about putting this list together and by NO means is a list of my All-Time Greatest Chicago Bears. This is simply my Top 10 favorite BEARS to watch since 1979. I just wanted to say that again.
# 10 arrived in 1982 as a 4th round Draft pick out of Baylor University. He was a diminutive running back (5’8″ 181 pounds) that ended up playing some wide receiver as well. Though his numbers never “dazzled” you, he was a workhorse that always seemed to make plays either running with or catching the football. He was most noted for his kick return ability and led the NFL with a robust 28.8 yards per return average in 1986. He was Percy Harvin (minus the migraines) before Percy Harvin and if you ever used the BEARS on “Tecmo Bowl” for Nintendo you’ve probably returned a kickoff or two for a touchdown with him. He is Dennis Gentry …
# 9  took the league by storm, right out of the gate, returning a punt for a touchdown in his first NFL game. He arrived with a lot of promise out of the University of Miami as a 2nd round pick in 2006. He would go on a kick return onslaught unlike any the NFL has ever seen. He’s led the league in punt returns for touchdowns three different times and was the first player ever to return the opening kickoff for a touchdown in the Super Bowl. The Bears are hoping he can return to the All-Pro return man he’s been three times in his career already and is MUST see TV when the opposition kicks him the ball. He is the All-Time Leader in punt returns for touchdowns with 12 and is a 3x Pro-Bowler and NFL All-Pro returner. He is the electrifying “Windy City Flyer” Devin Hester …
# 8  is one of my favorite Bear players of All-Time and was robbed of a longer NFL career because of various injuries. There was no question that this hard hitting safety would fit in right away as a 2nd round pick out of Nebraska in 2000. This guy was an absolute play-maker that not only had a nose for the football (20 career interceptions) but also a nose for the end zone (with 7 career defensive touchdowns). He is remembered for having back to back games with “walk off” pick sixes and always seemed to make a BIG play for the Bear’s defense every time he got his hands on the football. I wish he could have retired a Chicago Bear .He is ball hawking safety Mike Brown …
# 7   is one of the more under rated players in Bear’s history, to me. He wasn’t a very popular 1st round pick out of the University of Florida in 1986. Looked to be the “heir apparent” to the legendary Walter Payton, this running back would quickly make a name for himself earning 4 consecutive trips to the Pro-Bowl from 1988 to 1991. He literally was the Chicago Bear’s offense and was fluid with the ball as a rusher and a receiver out of the backfield. His retirement at the age of only 29 surprised all Bear fans and even though he only played eight seasons he’s still regarded as one of the best to play the position for the Orange and Navy. He is Neal Anderson …
# 6  was a rare combination of speed, size and athleticism for his position and would solidify his position amongst the greats when his playing days were done. You weren’t really sure what to do with him on defense but you knew he was going to be on the field and making plays. He might’ve been the LeBron James of middle linebackers combining the size of a defensive end with the speed of a safety. His ability to cover large amounts of space in short amounts of time helped him put in 13 solid years for the Monsters of the Midway. He won Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2000, as a 1st round pick out of the University of New Mexico, Defensive Player of the year in 2005 and finished his career as an 8x Pro Bowler and 4x NFL 1st team All-Pro. He is Brian Urlacher …
# 5  was one of the most popular players of his era and one of the toughest cats to play his position. He was known as much for his off the field antics and rock star image as his ability to win ballgames. He arrived in Chicago as the 5th overall player selected in the 1st round of the 1982 draft out of BYU and went 46-15 as a starting quarterback for the Bears. It wasn’t always pretty but Bear fans always appreciated his toughness and he will always be celebrated as Chi-Town’s “Punky QB” and Super Bowl Champion. His rebel image earned him tons of endorsements as he was fun to watch and a true leader of his troops. He undoubtedly is responsible for half of the grey hairs in Coach Mike Ditka’s head. He is the one and only Jim McMahon …
# 4   was an absolute wrecking ball in shoulder pads and one of the hardest hitters I’ve ever seen. He was originally drafted in the 10th round of the 1976 draft by the Miami Dolphins as a wide receiver out of Yale and later cut. He was picked up by the Bears that same season and would be the team’s starting strong safety the following season. He would go on an 11 year reign of terror against ball carriers and receivers alike and his bone crushing hits landed him on many a highlight tape (back when the NFL glorified the violent nature of it’s sport). He made his 2nd consecutive Pro-Bowl in 1981 and was voted 1st Team All-Pro after picking off 6 passes. He would snag 38 picks for his career and truly lived up to his well earned nickname “The Hit Man”. He is “Mr. Clean” Gary Fencik …
# 3  was just an absolute terror and had to give left tackles nightmares the night before games. Many, at the time, didn’t know what to make of the lanky 8th round draft pick in the 1983 draft out of Tennessee State. He would show the league he meant business in just his second year racking up 17.5 sacks in 16 games (only 10 starts). He made his 1st Pro-Bowl in 1984 and followed that season up in 1985 with 17 more sacks (to lead the league) and earn his 2nd consecutive trip to Honolulu and 1st Team All-Pro. He was an absolute menace that disrupted the rival’s passing attack with his fierce pass rush off the edge and would quickly become one of the anchors on the great Bear’s defenses of the 80s. He’d top the 1985 season off with a Super Bowl MVP trophy and notched 124.5 sacks in 170 games with the Bears. He is none other than the “Sack Man” Richard Dent …
# 2 arrived in Chicago as a slow, undersized middle linebacker out of Baylor drafted in the 2nd round. He would play with an undeniable chip on his shoulder for his entire career and he used it to knock the blocks off the competition. He would become one of the most feared and respected players of his generation and his intensity was a lightening rod for the defenses he captained. His intense looks would pierce the souls of quarterbacks and running backs alike and became a trade mark of his intimidation just as much as his ferocious hits. He would carry the torch of legendary middle linebacker play in Chicago earning 2 Defensive Player of the Year Awards (in 1985 and 1988), 10 consecutive trips to the Pro-Bowl and named 1st Team All-Pro seven times. He was the undisputed leader of one of the fiercest defenses the NFL has ever seen and his career is rivaled by few. I had a chance to meet him at a Revie Sorey Football Camp as a youth and he was as mild mannered and humble as one could be. He spoke to our group and had a bunch of 12 to 14 year olds ready to run through walls. I was amazed at the meekness of this man with broad shoulders and the big glasses that made him look like he and Harry Carey had the same optometrist. Surely this wasn’t the same mad man I saw “jaw jacking” and knocking guys out on Sundays and Mondays ? He is one of the most menacing defensive presences I’ve ever witnessed. He is Mike Singletary …
# 1 was not only the my most exciting Bear to watch he was my favorite player of All-Time period. He arrived in Chicago as the 4th overall pick in the 1st round of the 1975 draft and would carry this team for 13 years, mostly through lean times. He was the consummate “work horse” at running back leading the NFL in rushing attempts 4 consecutive years for 1976 to 1979. He led the NFL in rushing yards in 1977 with an incredible 1,852 yards and rushing touchdowns with 14 in just 14 games. He averaged a ridiculous 132.3 rushing yards a game that season earning his 2nd of what would be 9 Pro Bowl appearances, 1st of 2 NFL MVP Awards and 2nd of 5 First Team All-Pro honors he would receive in his illustrious career. He amazingly only missed one game in his career, despite being one of the most physical runners in the history of the NFL. His willingness to not go out of bounds without hitting defenders and his notorious stiff arms on would be tacklers were as famous as his “high step” en route to the end zone. He retired as the All-Time leading rusher in 1987 after amassing 16,726 yards and rushing for 110 career touchdowns. He also has 492 career receptions to his credit. He was one of the most complete football players of his generation and was as accomplished a blocker as he was a runner and receiver. He’s even thrown 8 touchdown passes in his career making the halfback pass a very dangerous option in the Bear’s playbook back then. He is simply the Gr34test of All-Time, in my book. The man, the myth, the legend. He is Walter Payton …

“Throwback Thursday’s” 10 favorite Chicago Cubs since 1988.

June 2, 2013

With baseball in full swing, and having just done a Top 10 most exciting Chicago Bears since 1979 list, it was only right I did one for my beloved “north siders” in MLB. I was always a casual viewer of baseball as a young lad, growing up on the south side of Chicago. Some find it funny that I’m a Cubs fan and I tell people all the time that I’m a “Chicago” fan. I watched the White Sox but I was magnetized to the Cubs. I really started to pay attention fully, in 1988 (the year after Andre Dawson bashed 49 homeruns against National League pitching and won NL MVP). The magic of Cubs home games was undeniable back then and still is to this day. Anyone that’s ever been to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs play will tell you it’s an experience like no other. They’ve had me since 1988 and here are my 10 favorite players since that time …
The guy coming in at # 10 made his Cubs pitching debut at the age of 20 back in 2001. Fans knew from the start that this kid could be a 20 game winner, if he could stay in the strike zone and locate his blazing fastball in different spots. He’d appear in 6 games, in 2001 (1 start), but his pitches were all over the place as he walked 8 batters in 7.2 innings. The Cubs knew they had something special in this hard throwing right hander from Venezuela and his fiery competitiveness would be both a gift and a curse as his temper would sometimes flare out of control. He’d go on to be staple in the Cubs starting rotation from 2003-2008 and led the league in wins with 16 in 2006. He was just as much fun to watch at the plate as he was on the mound. The switch hitting pitcher has 24 career homeruns to his credit and shows off his swing in the baseball card below. His temper wasn’t the only thing he had trouble “controlling” as he led the league in walks in 2006 and 2007. He would be rewarded handsomely by the Cubs, financially, but never lived up to the contract and ended up being traded to the Florida Marlins after the 2011 season. He is the talented yet volatile Carlos Zambrano.
The slick fielding first baseman coming in at # 9 made his Cubs debut back in 2004, after being acquired from the Marlins. This California native saw his defensive prowess earn him 2 Gold Gloves with the Cubbies in 2005 and 2007. His bat earned him the NL batting title in 2005 (hitting .335) and saw him finish 3rd in NL MVP voting that year. He made 2 All-Star Teams as a Cub (2005 and 2007) and was a threat in the middle of their batting order in his time in Chicago. He was a leader in the clubhouse and a respected teammate. Cub fans saluted him when he departed via trade to Atlanta in 2010 as he was a solid citizen in the community as well as an outstanding player. He Is the gentle giant Derrek Lee.
The # 8 Cub on this list was a critical addition to the ball club when they won the NL East in 1984. This hard throwing right hander arrived from Cleveland in an early season trade that same season and went a combined 20-6 as a starter. He went an impressive 16-1 for the Cubs that year and would win the NL Cy Young Award. The red head from Missouri, known simply as the “Red Baron”, went 82-65 in his 8 year run with the Cubs and led the NL in wins with 18 in 1987. The way he cuffed the ball behind his back before delivering to home plate was as signature as his full, bright red beard. He last pitched for the Cubbies in 1991 and is still a fan favorite. He is Rick Sutcliffe.
The Cub that climbs in at # 7 was a roller coaster of excitement, whether it was on the base paths or in the field. This Brooklyn native was the #1 overall player taken in the 1982 amateur draft and would make his Cub debut at shortstop during the 1985 season (playing in 74 games). He belted 17 homeruns (in 150 games) the following season and would go on to start at short for the Cubs for 9 more years. His throws to first base were legendary for their velocity and the way they made the first baseman’s glove “Pop”. He was always a threat to stretch a single to a double if the outfielder “lolly gagged”. His tremendous speed allowed him to steal 175 bases as a Cub and made him incredibly fun to watch. He is “Mr. Excitement” himself Shawon Dunston.
The # 6 Cub to check in generated as much excitement as one could as the #4 overall player taken in the 1995 amateur draft. This 6’5″ “fire-baller” from Texas drew comparisons to another famous hard throwing right hander from Texas (Roger Clemens) and he would not disappoint fans. He burst onto the scene in 1998 winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award and led the league in average strikeouts per 9 innings pitched (with 12.6) a feat he’d accomplish again in 2003 (11.3). He had Wrigley Field rocking when he struck out 20 Astros in one game, his rookie season. He led the NL in strikeouts (with 266) in 2003 and was an anchor in the starting rotation until shoulder injuries got the better of him. He would make a successful conversion to closer, once determined his shoulder could no longer handle the heavy innings of being a starter. He saved 34 games as the Cub closer in 2008 before moving on to pitch with the Indians and Yankees. He would re-sign with the Cubs in 2011 and struck out 57 batters in 51 innings pitched, as a reliever. He would in 2012 after pitching in just 10 games. He undoubtedly, at his bets, was magic and his fastball was as unhittable as his curve was mystifying. He is none other than Kerry Wood.
The Cub cracking the top five, at the # 5 spot, always showed promise and potential, even as an undrafted amateur free agent signed by the Texas Rangers back in 1985. This native of the Dominican Republic flashed a cannon in the outfield and homerun power, earlier in his career. He, like most young sluggers, had a problem laying off pitches and use to swing so hard and miss that his batting helmet would jump up and back down over his eyes. He’d end up on the North side by way of a trade with the cross town White Sox and made his Cub debut in 1992 (playing in 67 games). He’d come back the following season and crush 33 homeruns, drive in 93 runs and steal 36 bases (in 159 games). This started an epic run of 12 consecutive seasons (1993-2004) with 25 or more homeruns. His rocket arm in right field made him fun to watch in the field as well as at the plate, just as it did a legend before him. He won the NL MVP in 1998 and his homerun numbers were so outrageous that speculation arose about the use of performance enhancing drugs. In a 5 year period from 1998-2002 he smacked 49 homeruns or more (topping 50 once and 60 three times in that stretch). His signature “hop” after belting a homer had to make opposing pitchers furious. His run with the Cubs was historic as he banged out 545 homeruns in 13 seasons with the ball club. He packed Wrigley Field many a summer day and night and is none other than “Slammin” Sammy Sosa
The next Cub makes # 4 and he had an “Amazing” run with the North siders. This sweet swinging lefty was a career .308 hitter, in 13 years with the team. His defense at first base earned him 4 Gold Gloves and his overall play earned him 3 All-Star game appearances. His stroke was pure and he had a penchant for big hits. I was surprised he never eclipsed the 20 homerun mark in any season with the team. He might not have gone long a lot but he had a nose for the “2 bagger” cracking 456 career doubles with the Cubs (leading the NL with 51 in 1995). He was a fan favorite and even signed my glove for me after my 1st game at Wrigley Field back in 1989. I wonder what happened to that glove ? He was the ultimate professional and fielded his position with style and “Grace”. He is old blue eyes himself Mark Grace.
This leaves us with just three more names on the list. The thing about # 3 is when he signed as a free agent before the 1987 season many thought his better days were behind him. He responded to those that thought that by bashing the most homeruns (49) and driving in the most runs (137) of his career. Who knows what his career might have looked like, had he played his first 11 years on the soft, lush natural grass of Wrigley Field (81 games out the year) instead of the unforgiving, artificial surface in Montreal ? Though his knees weren’t what they use to be and he was no longer the stolen base threat of the past, this guy gave Cub fans much to cheer for. His compact, violent swing was as intimidating as his “hawk” like stare at opposing pitchers attempting to get him out. The crack of his bat sounded like thunder and he hit 21 or more homeruns for 6 consecutive seasons with the Cubs. Base runners were wise not to run on this man with a rifle for an arm in right field. He was a leader in the clubhouse and class personified. He walked quietly but carried a BIG stick. He is the “Hawk” Andre Dawson.
How my # 2 on the list was ever allowed to leave town in the first place is beyond me. This former 2nd round pick of the 1984 amateur draft made his pitching debut in 1986, as a 20 year old. As a full time starter in 1987 he went an unimpressive 6-14 with a 5.61 ERA and many wondered if he had the stuff to cut it on the major League level. He followed that disappointing season up with an 18-8 record, 3.18 ERA and make his first of 9 career All-Star appearances. This started a 5 year streak that saw the wiry built right hander win 15 or more games including 20 wins in 1992 (to land his first Cy Young Award). Foolishly, he was allowed to leave the North side via free agency to sign with the Braves at the age of only 27. This was as big of a mistake the Cubs since the Lou Brock trade to the Cardinals. The Cy Young won in 1992 by this “mad dog” was followed up by 3 more won consecutively from 1993-1995. His pin point control was masterful and his endurance was the stuff of legend (leading the NL in innings pitched 5 consecutive years from 1991-1995. he found his way back to the Cubs, in 2004, and won 16 games at the age of 38. He went 133-112 in 10 seasons as a Cub posting a 3.61 ERA during that span. He is loved to this day by Cub fans and is none other than the “Professor” himself Greg Maddux.
Now we get down to business. My # 1 Cub since 1988 won’t surprise many (well it shouldn’t anyway). I’ll give you a hint. It’s not Dwight Smith (who was one of my favorite Cubs back then but not Top 10 material) to the surprise of a few. I can hear the virtual “gasps” and “sighs” across the web. This guy here could easily be “Mr. Cub” of my generation and for the purpose of this list I guess he is. He was originally property of the Phillies by way of the 1978 amateur draft but arrived on the North side by way of a trade in 1982. He would help the Cubs win the NL East pennant in 1984 with a season that saw him rewarded as the NL MVP (batting .314 with 19 homeruns and a league leading 19 triples). He was the sweetest fielding second baseman of his generation was must see baseball when the Cubs were on TV. He averaged 30 homeruns a year from 1989-1992 and led the NL in homeruns in 1990 with 40. He belted 282 homeruns in 15 years for the Cubs and is regarded as one of the greats to field his position. he is the “Ryno” Ryne Sandberg.