By Ryan Bukowiecki (@ryanbski)
This past decade in Chicago sports has been a drastically up and down period.
There have been historic highs — the Blackhawks’ mini dynasty and the Cubs’ finally overcoming the Billy Goat curse chief among them — but periods of indefinite lousiness has infested each pro franchise in the city over some point.
The White Sox are one of a handful of Big 4 (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL) franchises who didn’t make a postseason at all from 2010 through 2019, the Bulls began the decade fighting the likes of LeBron James and the Miami Heat for future supremacy of the Eastern Conference, now they’re as irrelevant to NBA success as they’ve been since 1998.
And the Bears…ugh. One needs to go no further than the empty rhetoric and non-answers of their season-closing press conference Tuesday morning than to grasp where that endlessly teasing franchise, who more often lucks into success than earnestly sets itself up for it, is going. The gleam of 2018 is so dim at this point, it might as well be lumped into 2006, 2001 and the mid-80s.
One can instantly reel off the sparse times this once proud NFL-standard bearer was an honest competitor for a title in modern times and that’s some sad shit. A few seasons only separates the Bears from the completely hopeless likes of the Lions and Browns, who’ve never been to a Super Bowl, or the completely bewildered Cowboys and R*ds*ins, whose present and future prospects reveal little to hope for.
Ugh….ok, lets take a breath…
On the real side, things aren’t looking very good in Chicago sports right now. This most recent year represented that fact explicitly, a blunt exclamation on a “character-building” era to be a Chicago sports fan, to say the least.
Granted, Dallas Keuchel’s new team spent 2019 staying low and building and the White Sox may actually have the best chance at ending the current playoff-less streak in 2020, but that’s what Chicago sports has boiled down to — hoping for an over-performance from a team that hasn’t really played a meaningful game since 2008.
It’s OK to feel bad if you are a Chicagoan who’s into sports, especially if you favor the North Siders and don’t even have the encouragement of the Sox rebuild to keep you warm this winter. I certainly don’t feel well and I do love the Sox. Lawrence Holmes doesn’t feel well and he gets paid to follow this foolishness.
We can’t rely on above-average temps to last through February, giving us reason to go outside and make something of our lives. At some point we’re all just going to sit in our abodes with nothing to do, you’re going realize “hey, the Bulls are on…” and turn mindlessly to WGN, realize the Bulls are never going to be on there again (another reason to be down on Chicago sports right now), turn instead to NBC Sports Chicago and see some undefined offense being ran or some completely unavailable defense and then comes the sads again.
We at WARR don’t want you to run from your feelings, but maybe dig a little deeper or maybe do some exploring for other sports experiences near-by that possibly could lift one’s spirits. We weren’t completely devoid of such things in 2019. For instance:
Look to the Sky: a return to the playoffs for Chicago’s WNBA team, its first postseason appearance since 2016, capped off a successful 2019. With a deep back-court of play-makers and added experience and grit coming from the front court, this team showed a balance and full-court effort game to game that shamed the Bulls completely.
The Sky should likely be contenders in 2020 and they have a cool and devoted cult fan and media following, including our very own Chris Pennant. You should want to be a part of this come next May.
Red Stars Keep Shining: The National Women’s Soccer League should be a bigger deal in this country and the Chicago Red Stars should definitely be a bigger deal in our town after making five straight postseasons and reaching the NWSL championship game this past summer.
Furthering both the women’s sports movement and the USA women’s soccer’s dominance over the summer, the Red Stars provided local context to that program’s international excellence in the days after winning another World Cup.
The Stars’ Julie Ertz was named the US Women’s Soccer player of the year and is developing into a star, doing commercials with her husband, Eagles tight end Zach, and just by being one of the best in the world at what she does, which tends to get one a lot of attention.
Ertz alone is worth a drive out to beautiful Bridgeview (her team being smart enough to stay out there instead of choosing to partially fill Soldier Field like some other teams), as is the most consistently winning pro sports team in the area.
North Central Football: Low key, a lot of the best Chicago-related sports stories in the last 10 years were on the college level. Quite a few Chicago-bred basketball players (Anthony Davis, Jabari Parker, Jahlil Okafor, etc) played at the highest level in the NCAA, though far away from home. The city itself got to indulge as well in the miraculous Loyola Final Four run and in Northwestern’s long-awaited debut in the NCAA tournament.
On the turf, the Wildcats also had an unprecedented four bowl seasons in a row and frickin’ Northern Illinois played in the Orange Bowl (still a wow), but only North Central College from nearby Naperville came through in the clutch by winning the Division III National Championship earlier this month.
Yeah, I know, Naperville is far from Chicago culturally and on the Metra as well, but a lot of kids from the city and nearby learn at NCC and this football team represented that base. It was a fun story and a quite impressive performance in the final over D-III powerhouse Wisconsin-Whitewater (shout out the mighty WIAC, which I covered some in another life).
It only happened 10 days ago and we’ve already forgotten about it collectively cause it was D-III, but who are we as Chicago fans to take any national championship for granted nowadays. Salute those kids.
DePaul Basketball Resurrects: This stands to be a possible defining story in 2020, hopefully the Blue Demon men (the women stay competing well, fwiw) can do better than they did in their Big East basketball opener against Seton Hall.
As is, the DePaul men have a 12-2 record and have flirted with the top-25, providing a non-conference run as good as any they’ve had since the late 80s. Former CPS stars Charlie Moore, Markese Jacobs and Devin Gage help power things and Paul Reed and University of Illinois transfer Jalen Coleman-Lands are already among the best Blue Demons in a generation.
This is a team that should (should) make the NCAA tournament and should engender a good bit of rallying goodwill from the city if they compete well against the likes of Villanova, Butler, Marquette and Georgetown. A wide-open opportunity exists for the school under the Red Line in Lincoln Park to take over the whole city once again.
Ryan Bukowiecki covers the Chicago Bears and professional football for WARR