The Chicago Bears will see some unfamiliar faces on the field when the season starts Sunday, September 9th. That's becasue the labor strife between the National Football League and its referees will continue into the regular season. In a memo sent to all 32 NFL teams by the league's executive vice president for football operations, the NFL warned that replacement refs will be used in the first week of the 2012 season.
Let’s all yell a collective hooray! Players and fans can't wait for the real football season to begin in earnest on September 9th at Soldier Field, but the Bears wrap up the pre-season with one final tune-up in Cleveland on Thursday. Here are some key things to watch for in that game:
Key injuries surfacing
Injuries have crept up on the Bears the past few weeks. Rookie Brandon Hardin injured his neck against Washington, severely enough that now he's out for the year. The team is relying on a rookie punter Ryan Quigley to nurse them through this final game until Adam Podlesh can kick. But if Podlesh's hip is still a problem when the season starts, will the Bears go with a rookie in this key role of special teams?
Heaven knows when the injury status of linebacker Brian Urlacher will be known for certain. Right now, Nick Roach is playing the middle of the linebacking corps and Geno Hayes is on the outside. Urlacher’s absence should not phase Roach, though: He is more prepared than he was three years ago filling in for the All-Pro linebacker.
As this baseball season winds down for the Cubs in a transition year, the record is not the focus of President Theo Epstein and General Manger Jed Hoyer. Their eyes are on the changes and the mixture of personnel that will constitute the future of this ball club.
This is not the first time that a General Manager made a deal for a player more than once and ended up at Wrigley Field.
It may sound like a contradiction, but Friday night's pre-season game for the Bears in New York does have some value and a little bit of importance. Up until now, most of these late summer games have been about the players just getting into shape, looking for continuity and trying to stay healthy in the process. Game 3 in the exhibition schedule is actually called the "dress rehearsal" for the regular season. Why? This is the one contest in which you'll see the starters on offense and defense for an extended period on the field.
What is on tap for the starters?
The biggest key to this game: finish without any injuries.
The most enduring question mark throughout the pre-season, heck for the past few years, has been the state of the Bears' offensive line. Not that the Superbowl-defending champ Giants will be showing everything; but one of reasons they'll be wearing another ring is due to the pressure they bring from their defensive front.
Lots of feelings were brought up when the news came down that Augusta National golf course was allowing two women membership to the prestigious club, which hosts the premier PGA event The Masters. Allowing former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore was big news despite the calendar reading 2012.
It may have surprised people that there were still exclusions anywhere, but that has been the right of private membership clubs and organizations. It brought back the stinging feeling I got covering (or least trying to cover) a major golf event more than 25 years ago. The Western Open, at the time, was one of the top events of the PGA tour and was played at Butler National Golf Club in Oak Brook, Illinois. To be perfectly frank, I had stopped thinking about this type of exclusion for quite a while. Most people don’t care or want to hear about it. Sometimes you just shove a negative situation in the back of your mind because it seems to not matter anymore.
If I leave the 2012 Olympic Games moment with any one particular memory, it's of the resounding triumph of America's women. Their excellence coincided with the 40th anniversary of Title IX, which brings an old phrase comes to mind: "You’ve come a long way baby."
Of course, most of the participants probably don’t remember that Virginia Slim’s tag line. But those of us from that generation recall an era where we couldn’t participate in most sports; nor did we have the opportunity to go to college on an athletic scholarship. That's one reason these games mean a lot to women like me. Title IX, which gave women equal rights to earn NCAA scholarships, was signed on June 23, 1972 — one month after I finished high school. There were no athletic scholarships for me or any of the other women in my graduating class.
Compare that the women returning to Chicago after toppling France and earning America a fifth-straight gold medal in Olympic basketball: Chicago Sky players Swin Cash and Sylvia Fowles.
Friday the Chicago Bears leave Bourbonnais, head north and continue pre-season training in Lake Forest, Ill. They hope to have a better showing in game two of the pre-season, against the Washington Redskins Saturday night at Soldier Field. But Bears fans shouldn't get so dramatic about last week’s loss (or wait — they can’t help themselves). So let's be clear: It’s the pre-season; losses don't matter. Let's talk about what does matter.
The Urlacher wild card
Brian Urlacher's knee saga has fans and the media going nuts. The arthroscopic surgery he had Tuesday was apparently to clean out some debris. If that's the case, the expectation is Urlacher should be ready by 2012 season opener. If not, there will be plenty of worried people at Bears headquarters in Lake Forest. That reaction should probably be tempered until at least the season opener. Yesterday Brian met the media and said he has the opener targeted for his return. As to the set back, "It has taken longer then I wanted," said Urlacher.
There's a sign hanging over the visiting bullpen at U.S. Cellular Field that reads, “Get 'R Dunn 396.” The sign points to an impending accomplishment of Adam Dunn's, in his quest to reach 400 career home runs.
Just a year ago many fans were counting Dunn's strike-outs and his lack of power, in the first year of a four-year, $56 million deal. This season the White Sox designated hitter is one of three players on the team enjoying a comeback year. Dunn and teammates Jake Peavy and Alex Rios will all be considered for the honor at the end of the season, but Sox teammate Gordon Beckham believes that Dunn should get the award. "You have to put Adam on top of that list," he said. "[Last season] was extra tough on him and there were a lot of expectations for him…Adam deserves it. “
What has he done so far? Dunn has hit 33 home runs, knocked in 78 RBI and made the American League All-Star team.