- Gene Wojciechowski, Senior Writer
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For the first time in, well, ever, Chicago sports is ruled by no one. The continuum that has stretched from Halas to Urlacher -- and all those in between -- has been broken. There is no definitive, without-a-doubt, unquestioned leader of the Windy City sports empire.
Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher used to be that guy. But that was before his body began to call 911, and he dated Paris, and he got a little frisky with his text messaging to an ex. Plus, the Bears haven't been to the playoffs since 2006.
Before Urlacher, it was Sammy Sosa, the fraud who prima donna'd his way out of Chicago and into baseball oblivion. And before Sosa corked his bat and body, it was, of course, Michael Jordan's city, as well as Jordan's state, nation, world and universe.
Jordan ruled by the magnificence of his personal accomplishments, of his championships, of his flaws, of his endorsements, of his will. He wasn't a creation of Nike, but the company and its advertising agency forged an image that lasted for years. He was a brand: corporate superstar. And Chicago could claim him and all those Grant Park celebrations as its own.
Frank Thomas and Carlton Fisk are in there somewhere. So is Ryne Sandberg. The Fridge. Sweetness. The Punky QB. In fact, just go ahead and put the entire '85 Bears on the list.
For a while, DePaul's Terry Cummings and Mark Aguirre commanded the city's full attention. And few players blotted out the sports sun like Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers.
Stan Mikita. The Golden Jet.
Jerry Sloan. Bob Love.
Ron Santo. Ernie Banks. Billy Williams. Fergie Jenkins.
Hoyt Wilhelm. Nellie Fox. Luis Aparicio. Minnie Minoso.
These were stars. You say their names and you instantly think Chicago. They were the mini-Jordans of their generations.
That's the thing: there has always been someone who dominated Chicago sports. Red Grange. The 1919 Black Sox. Hack Wilson. Rogers Hornsby.
And now? Pause for crickets chirping and tumbleweed blowing across State Street.
Think about it: The two most popular sports figures in town haven't played in more than 30 years. That would be Ron Santo and Mike Ditka. Your other two nominees, Ozzie Guillen (whose prerecorded best-wishes-to-the-Hawks video message got a huge reaction -- cheers and boos -- at the United Center) and Lou Piniella, sit in dugouts, but don't play.
But actual players with enough star wattage to carry the city? Let's see ...
Nothing personal, but we can immediately eliminate anyone from the Fire, the Sky, Loyola and UIC -- too niche-y.
DePaul basketball is at the brink of irrelevance, so wave goodbye to the Blue Demons. And Northwestern has to fight with Illinois and Notre Dame for coverage.
The Hawks have Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, but no Stanley Cup. Yet.
The White Sox have a clubhouse full of pro's pros (Paul Konerko, Mark Buehrle, Jermaine Dye, A.J. Pierzynski), a likely Hall of Famer (Jim Thome) and a possible long-term star (Carlos Quentin), but nobody who transcends the sport.
The Cubs' Carlos Zambrano has the personality and right arm to become a Chicago legend, but only if that arm is holding a World Series trophy. Otherwise, the Cubs are similar to the Sox: a lot of solid, low-maintenance worker bees with talent (Derrek Lee, Ryan Dempster, Aramis Ramirez, Geovany Soto).
If you had to pick a team that owns this town, the Bears' name would be on the mortgage papers. But Urlacher isn't the same Urlacher (nine years in the league can do that to you). That means we're choosing among Matt Forte, Devin Hester, Lance Briggs and Jay Cutler. Cutler hasn't played a down for the Bears yet, so we'll get back to you on that one.
That leaves one legitimate possibility: Bulls rookie point guard Derrick Rose.
Who cares if Rose apparently had his ego surgically removed, or that he's quieter than a Prius? His game is loud enough, isn't it? And if GM John Paxson gets him more help in that pivotal free agent summer of 2010 ...
Yes, this is only Rose's first season. And he could have a sophomore slump. He could get injured. It happens.
Or, he could keep doing what he's doing: getting better, getting knowing nods of approval from veteran NBA players who know the difference between a pretender and a phenom.
It only makes sense that the Chicago-born Rose grew up idolizing Jordan. Now he has the best chance of replacing him.
Who gets your vote for the next ruler of the city? Click here to fill out your ballot.
Gene Wojciechowski is a senior national columnist for ESPN.com and ESPNChicago.com. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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