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Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Updated: February 6, 12:47 PM ET
The sad state of Chicago sports

By Scoop Jackson
Page 2

"Pau Gasol to the Lakers for Kwame Brown."

The camel is now in traction. That straw just got heavy. When word of the trade hit Chicago, the city that for the past two years has been in "trade talks" for Gasol, the straw that leveled that proverbial camel felt like a ton of high-carbon steel.

Pau Gasol
Bulls fans will tell you that Pau Gasol was supposed to be in a Bulls uniform, not purple and gold.
Lost in the Super Bowl hype of the past weekend -- and in New York's giant victory -- was the collapse of one of America's great sports cities. This whole thing of having teams playing in the final games of the season (this thing Boston has, even with the Super Bowl loss), this lock on the entire sports world with the promise of holding it down for the next decade -- we, Chicago, were supposed to own this. The World Series titles, the Super Bowl appearances and the possibility and hope of an NBA crown or crowns -- all of it was supposed to go down all at the same time in Chicago. But instead, we've fallen off and out like Rudy Giuliani after a Florida primary.

What happened? How could something with so much hope and promise disappear and bottom-out so fast? How could Boston -- Boston, the city of faux accents, cobblestone streets and Bobby Brown -- snatch our shine like that? How could we let it?

More urgently, when is this pathetic state of professional athletic acedia going to end? Because we in Chicago see no light at the end of this tunnel of darkness that has taken over our existence in the world of sports.

Only two and a half years ago, our "other" baseball team, the White Sox, shook up the baseball world and won the 2005 World Series with the promise of being one of MLB's elite teams for years to come. Last year, the Bears battled (if you want to use that word) the Indianapolis Colts in the Super Bowl. Even with the loss, there was so much promise in them that many football experts -- even non-Bears fans -- felt the team was a lock to be in at least two or three more Super Bowls over the next five years. The Bulls? I will just say this: Eight out of ESPN.com's 18 basketball experts picked them to represent the East in this year's NBA Finals. And again, so many people were in agreement about the promise of the Bulls, the only real argument came from (who else?) Skip Bayless on "First Take."

But look at what has happened since. Never in recent sports history has a city gone from "ready for our close-up" to "outta the picture" so fast. Our upside disappeared like Criss Angel needed an entire city for his act. Whole teams vanished. Millions of local fans have been watching this slow death, waiting for the Sox, the Bears or the Bulls to return to life through collective resuscitation. Then, once we heard this: "Pau Gasol to the Lakers for Kwame Brown" … flat line.

Thomas Jones
Bears fans will tell you that Thomas Jones is wearing the
wrong uniform, too.
"I am an eternal Chicago sports optimist," says Lou Canellis, Chicago sportscaster, host of "Sports Page" on CLTV and college basketball analyst for ESPN. "But it's Armageddon here now. It's sad when you are one of the greatest sports cities in the country and you are relying on a team that hasn't won in 100 years to save you.

"I believe the Bears will be back and that the Cubs will be in the NLCS, but other than that? Maybe that's too much of the fan instead of the reporter in me talking, but even as a die-hard Chicago sports fan, I'm asking myself, 'What in the future do we have to look forward to?'"

Each fall from grace can be traced directly back to management. Contagious ineptness. The Bears' problems began when management decided to let their best offensive player, running back Thomas Jones, go. Irrespective of the Gasol issue, the Bulls' problems began when management allowed that delusional Kobe Bryant trade to hang over the team's head for the first three weeks of the season and wasn't able to sign its two best players, Luol Deng and Ben Gordon, to extensions. The Sox -- let's just say this: Whenever a team like Detroit acquires Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis, the Red Sox win the chip with one of the most talented pitching staffs in the league, Cleveland leapfrogs you in the division, and someone in management says, after not landing Torii Hunter, "We're not going to miss him" -- you don't have to be Sen. Arlen Specter to spot where "Soxgate" began and why it will persist.

And that's just the iceberg's tip.

The Cubs -- even though they did make the postseason last year, and even with the addition of Lou Piniella as the prodigal skipper, and even with spending an absurd amount of money on attaining Alfonso Soriano and retaining Aramis Ramirez and Carlos Zambrano (more than $302 million among the three) -- aren't much better off. Last year, the Cubs, finally detoxed from the self-deceptive dependency they had on Mark Prior and Kerry Wood, and finally with Derrek Lee healthy all season, were propped to run the National League and battle the White Sox for city dominance and the Red Sox for global empathy. And now, one week away from pitchers and catchers showing up for spring training, many see the Cubs slipping into the same Lee Oskar darkness in the NL Central that the Bears did in the NFC North -- even with the addition of the great, unseen Kosuke Fukudome. This year is expected to be just like the past 100. We Cubs fans will just keep waiting; eventually, "next year" will come.

Patrick Kane
Not even superstar in waiting Patrick Kane can shake the Blackhawks from their doldrums.
And even though they have rotted at the bottom of the NHL barrel over the past few years, the Blackhawks -- at one time the most consistently successful franchise in the city -- had begun to show some promise. New coach (Denis Savard); new franchise-saving, 19-year-old, Sidney-Crosby-wannabe/potential superstar (Pat Kane); things were looking promising. But now look at where they sit. They have the second-worst record in the Western Conference. Is it contagious? The sports gods can't be mad at the Hawks, too. Can they?

It has spread to the colleges. Even though the University of Illinois football team overachieved in a weak Big Ten in 2007 (in Chicago, we still dream of how good the Illini could have been had all-city football icon Robert Hughes stayed in state instead of attending Notre Dame). It was just three years ago that the Illini men's basketball team -- which often is adopted by Chicago -- was in the Final Four. That Final Four run was supposed to be one of the best recruiting tools in the recent history of the game in regard to Chicago's stable of high school ballplayers. No one can blame Shaun Livingston for going to the NBA (rumors persist that had he gone to college for one year, U of I would have been his destination), but how do (begin counting … now!) Derrick Rose (Memphis), Patrick Beverly (Arkansas), Jeremy Pargo (Gonzaga), Jon Scheyer (Duke) and Sherron Collins (Kansas) -- and that's just the guards! -- all end up in out-of-state uniforms, and the Illini are left depending on Calvin Brock to save them?

I could go on and on. And on and on. But why? You'll stop reading, and people in Chi would no longer be bashful and would instead bash my head in for airing our dirty laundry to the nation. So I'll stop. Why put myself or the city through this sad state of sorriness any longer. I -- we -- deserve better.

F'get it; I'm moving to Boston.

Scoop Jackson is a columnist for Page 2.