Posted by mike in News,Sports at 4:46 pm on February 17, 2007

The U of I announced yesterday that they will be retiring Chief Illiniwek, the Urbana-Champaign campus’s mascot since 1926, at the conclusion of this year’s seemingly-doomed basketball season. I’ve reproduced (and archived) the ominous headline and article from the Daily Illini’s print version from Friday here:

Board might retire Chief today
Full-size front page
Full-size page 2

Full details and the official version of the chain of events leading to this decision are available from the University’s web site.

While I have always been a vehement supporter of retaining the Chief as Illinois’s mascot, I can’t say that I really have a lot to complain about. The way our current culture works made this inevitable: a group (I heard the term “causeheads” for the first time yesterday, which I thought was bitingly appropriate) decides that they are going to fight against something. Once this group reaches a large enough critical mass, they will not ever go away, and eventually (no matter how long it takes) those in power give in to their wishes. This is what has been my biggest disappointment with the entire process all along, the fact that there was no resolution aside from absolution of the Chief that would effectively end the debate. The Board had previously passed a resolution to retain him, and of course that didn’t stop any of the protests, or the whining, or the well-intentioned-but-horribly-misplaced cries of racism. There was no reason to believe that any scenario other than the one we are now faced with would bring any different result. At least they have retained the nickname Fighting Illini for the school’s sports teams, after correctly assessing it as not being inappropriate in any way (the term “Illini” was used in reference to the school’s students and alumni long before the Chief had been conceived).

I have a somewhat bad habit of thinking up ideas for websites, purchasing the domain name and/or hosting for that site, and then sitting on it and never getting around to actually putting anything up. One such instance is the domain name, which I registered in response to the NCAA’s April 2005 announcement that effectively made the Chief’s ultimate retirement a foregone conclusion. The idea was to set up a website that would explore the issues associated with the NCAA’s choice of wording and what the implications of the resolution would be. Its main purpose, though, was to be a place for people to complain about all college mascots, and to send letters to the administrations of universities across the country complaining about how offensive (perhaps even “hostile and abusive”) their mascots are. Coincidentally enough, I was pointed to the blog of an old friend from high school several months ago, and he had a similar idea (his link is broken, but you can view his list of offensive mascots at his old site).

Since the decision to retire the Chief makes any activist-style ambitions I had somewhat obsolete, and the idea of contriving a manner in which every single college mascot is offensive has already been done, I’ve decided to use the domain as a pointer to my new store, to feature apparel and designs to commemorate the phenomenon of “hostile and abusive” college mascots. I’ll be adding some more items in the near future, so check it out and let me know what you think.

Chief Illiniwek

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Posted by mike in Sports at 1:50 pm on February 5, 2007

So Super Bowl XLI came and went, and was probably one of the worst NFL championship games ever played. On a rain-soaked Miami night, the Bears and Colts bumbled their way back and forth for 60 minutes until the team that sucked less was crowned champion. Bears fans were universally excited about the weather forecast– theirs is a team that thrives on playing in the harsh climates of Chicago, whereas their opponent was one that plays in a dome and has traditionally stunk it up when playing in bad weather. Unfortunately, tradition was to be damned, and it was the Bears who treated the football like a hot potato for most of the game.

But you can read the various recaps on your own. Here we will now return to my pre-game predictions and see how they played out. The following list will consist of the oft-repeated claims made by the media in the weeks prior to the game that I deemed to be preposterous, followed by my statement on their veracity, then my corresponding prediction for the game, with a brief analysis. We’ll keep score along the way and see who knows more about football in general: me or the media.

  • Preposterous claim: The Colts have too many weapons on offense.
    This one was indeed not a true indicator of the Colts’ performance on Sunday. Peyton Manning was mediocre at best, and the vaunted receiving corps of the Colts was largely held in check. It turns out that the only weapon the Colts’ offense needed was the one that was probably least suspected of being their key to success: their running game. Media: 0
  • My prediction: The Colts will not score more than 25 points.
    This almost held true. The Colts’ offense did not, in fact, score more than 25 points (they scored 22). Their team put up 29 total, however, thanks to a Calvin Hayden pick-6 in the fourth quarter that served as the nail in the Bears’ coffin. I get half a point for this. Me: 0.5
  • Preposterous claim: Peyton Manning will shut up the people who say he can’t win the big game.
    This one turned out to be correct, and the media’s love affair with Manning is now guaranteed to continue for several more years. To add insult to injury, Sir Peyton was inexplicably given the game’s MVP honor, as if it was a foregone conclusion that if the Colts won it was going to him. Media: 1
  • My prediction: Peyton Manning will not throw for over 300 yards, and will have at most 2 touchdown passes.
    I was right on the money with this one. Manning was 25/38 for 247 yards, with only 1 touchdown pass and 1 interception. Me: 1
  • Preposterous claim: Rex Grossman is a terrible quarterback.
    I suppose I really have to face the facts that this might be true. It was certainly true Sunday night. And while it is still true that Rex played 14 good games this year (all of their victories, minus the Arizona debacle on Monday night), it is also true that when he plays poorly, he plays really poorly, and is the Bears’ worst impediment to winning. Despite decent stats (20/28, 165 yards, 1 TD, 2 INT), the brunt of the blame for this loss falls squarely on Grossman’s shoulders. Aside from the two interceptions, he also fumbled the ball twice (both recovered by the Colts) on sloppy exchanges from center. When your quarterback turns the ball over that much, it’s almost impossible to win. Media: 1
  • My prediction: Rex Grossman will not turn the ball over more than once, and will throw at least one touchdown pass.
    As just mentioned, I was horribly off on the turnover prediction. I was predicting a Bears win, and for that to have happened Grossman turning the ball over as much as he did was not an option. He did throw one touchdown pass, though. Me: 0.5
  • Preposterous claim: The Bears’ defense is overrated. / These aren’t the 85 Bears.
    Despite the fact that most of the media still wishes to deny the Bears’ defense the credit they deserve, the truth of the matter is that they played a hell of a game. For a defense to be on the field for over 38 minutes of a football game and only allow the NFL’s best offense to score 22 points is a remarkable feat. They were a bit weak against the run, and the Colts were able to exploit that fact, and yet the Bears were still very much in the game until Hayden’s 4th quarter interception of Grossman, thanks to their defense. Media: 0
  • My prediction: The Bears will force at least 2 turnovers. Brian Urlacher will make 10 tackles.
    The Bears, in fact, forced 3 turnovers, and Brian Urlacher made 10 tackles. The defense as a whole played as well as could have been expected, and gave their offense ample opportunities to win the game. Me: 1
  • Preposterous claim: The Bears have no offense.
    While I still dispute this claim in general as it pertains to the 2006 Chicago Bears, it was certainly true last night. If we’re not going to give the Colts’ offense credit for the touchdown their defense scored, then we can’t give the Bears’ offense credit for the touchdown their special teams scored, either. That means that the Bears’ offense put up a whopping 10 points total. It was as if when Cedric Benson got hurt they just gave up, which makes little to no sense when you consider that he is not the focus of their offense by any means, and is largely used to keep Thomas Jones fresh. When your quarterback can’t complete any passes of any significance, though, you become a one-dimensional offensive team, and no matter how deficient the opposition’s defense is, they’re going to be able to contain you. Media: 1
  • My prediction: The Bears will score at least 30 points.
    This one I was off on by a long shot. I thought the Bears would be able to move the ball against the Colts’ defense, combining the one-two punch of Jones and Benson with some big pass plays down the field to open things up. None of this occurred, though, and the Bears looked downright anemic on offense for most of the game. Me: 0

Final Score:
Media: 3
Me: 3

I guess I didn’t have this game figured out as much as I thought I did. Then again, neither did anybody else. When the weather gets sloppy, so does the play, and in the end it’s the team with the most poise that will overcome that sloppiness. In this case it came down to a battle between Peyton Manning and Rex Grossman, and the latter was outshined and outclassed last night. Maybe with some more experience under his belt–all indications are that Grossman will continue to be the Bears’ starter in 2007, and he’ll be in a contract year, which typically bodes well for a QB’s performance–Rex will have another chance to play in a championship game and show what he’s really capable of. For now, though, I’ve got a really sour taste in my mouth, and can’t believe I’m going to have to see even more of Peyton Manning on TV than I already do.

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Posted by mike in Predictions,Sports at 9:36 pm on February 3, 2007

I’ve managed to go an entire season without writing a single entry about football… Almost. Now that we are here, one day away from Super Bowl XLI in Miami, I have a few things to say. I haven’t remained silent during the Bears’ run this year because I’m afraid of “jinxing” them or any such nonsense like that; it’s more that I prefer to not get cocky while they’re in the middle of it–better to see where it ends up and then reflect when it’s all said and done.

As with every year, the past couple of weeks have been filled with a lot of talk about the upcoming game by people who are lucky enough to be employed to do so. While it’s understandable for people to have widely varying opinions, what never ceases to amaze me is just how short the collective memory of the media is. By means of several examples to support this claim, I will now present some predictions for this year’s big game.

The Colts have too many weapons on offense.

They’ve had the same offense for years. The only major difference this year is in replacing Edgerrin James with the tandem of Dominic Rhodes and rookie Joseph Addai, which has worked out quite well for them. Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, and Dallas Clark have been through the past several dominant regular seasons and subsequent disappointing post seasons together. I recognize and respect the effectiveness of the Colts’ high-powered offense–I’m just surprised that everybody seems to have forgotten this offense’s tendency to look very mediocre in the post season. It was only a few weeks ago, in fact, when they looked downright pathetic against the Ravens, a defense very similar to the Bears’.

I keep hearing predictions about the game’s final score that have the Colts in the 30s or even 40s. People get so wrapped up in talking about the Colts’ offense that they seem to completely forget about the Bears’ defense (more on this later). People also seem to forget that the Saints were the NFC’s leading offense, and yet they were very ineffective in their loss to the Bears in the NFC Championship game. My prediction: The Colts will not score more than 25 points.

Peyton Manning will shut up the people who say he can’t win the big game.

People like to oversimplify things and ascribe a single trait to describe players. For Manning, it’s the “can’t win the big game” taboo. What people seem to be forgetting, though, is that for Peyton Manning “the big game” is the AFC Championship game, particularly when it’s against the Patriots. He got over both hurdles this season already, and I really think he effectively blew his load with that comeback win against the Patriots two weeks ago. My prediction: Peyton Manning will not throw for over 300 yards, and will have at most 2 touchdown passes.

Rex Grossman is a terrible quarterback.

Back in October, everybody was ready to give Grossman the MVP. He had a few bad games–and a couple of absolutely horrible games–and all of a sudden it’s as if he’s the new Kurt Kittner. The truth of the matter is that for much of the season Grossman has done everything the Bears have needed him to do: he manages the offense, allowing the Bears to establish the run, and then takes some shots down field when they need a spark to get them going. When he plays well, which he’s done much more often than not, he doesn’t turn the ball over, either. In the playoffs, Grossman has thrown 2 TDs, only 1 interception, been sacked 3 times, and has a modest rating of 75.4. Compare this to Peyton Jesus Manning, who has also thrown for 2 TDs in this year’s playoffs, but has thrown 6 interceptions, been sacked 5 times, and has an even more modest 66.8 quarterback rating.

I’m not saying Grossman is the greatest quarterback. I’m also not suggesting that Peyton Manning is anything less than the best QB playing right now. But let’s not forget the reality of the matter: despite the media’s preference for portraying the Bears as a team that has won in spite of Rex, and Manning as the greatest thing to ever happen to football, both are extreme exaggerations. Grossman has played well for most of this season, including the playoffs, whereas Peyton Manning is a terrific regular season quarterback, but not a very good post season one, including this year. My prediction: Rex Grossman will not turn the ball over more than once, and will throw at least one touchdown pass.

The Bears’ defense is overrated. / These aren’t the 85 Bears.

There really isn’t any reason to compare this year’s team to the Bears team that won Super Bowl XX, and yet it keeps coming up. The truth of the matter is that while this year’s defense isn’t as dominating as that year’s was, they’ve been one of the league’s best defenses throughout the season. This year’s offense is actually more versatile and capable of moving the ball and scoring points better than the 85 Bears, making the comparison completely irrelevant.

The cliche this season is to talk about how inferior the NFC is compared to the AFC. This gets extended to discrediting the Bears for being champions of their conference, despite (as already mentioned) the fact that they beat the conference’s #1-rated offense quite handily just two weeks ago. It’s hard to believe that the defense that led the league in take-aways this year isn’t as good as they’re made out to be. And yet, people seem to forget these statistics, and forget the fact that the Bears are among the NFL’s top 5 defenses. The defense’s captain, Brian Urlacher, was named the second-most overrated player in the league earlier this season. He went on to play his way into his 6th Pro Bowl appearance, and has led the team to the Super Bowl–but at least the sportswriters had something controversial to talk about for a week or two. My prediction: The Bears will force at least 2 turnovers. Brian Urlacher will make 10 tackles.

The Bears have no offense.

This is an extension of the exaggeration of Rex Grossman’s deficiencies, due to 2 or 3 abysmal performances. The truth of the matter, though, is that the Bears’ offense, while not great, was very serviceable throughout the season, including in the playoffs. They were right in the middle of the NFL’s offensive rankings this year. As an offense whose game plan starts and ends with the run, I think they match up quite well against the league’s worst rush defense. Granted, the Colts’ D has stepped it up in the playoffs, but I still think the Bears own the edge here. My prediction: The Bears will score at least 30 points.

If you add up all of what I’ve said here, it’s easy to see that I’m convinced the Bears not only have a shot to win this game, but that I actually believe they will do so. There’s one more thing that people seem to be forgetting, and that’s the oft-repeated sports adage that defense wins championships. So while the Colts’ offense and the Bears’ defense match up great against each other, I find it curious that everybody seems to be hopping on the bandwagon of the Colts. Then again, the Bears have been playing the “no respect” card for most of the season and the entire playoffs, and it’s served them well to this point. I’m comfortable with being the only person to correctly assess this year’s Super Bowl… and yes, I’ll eat my words if they end up being wrong. I wanted to put my thoughts and predictions down in writing, though. After the game we’ll revisit this and see how I did.

Final Score Prediction:
Colts: 24
Bears: 38

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