CHICAGO CUBS:  (2007:  85-77, NL Central Champions.  Lost to ARZ 3-0 in NLDS)

My favorite moment of the 2007 Cubs season was Lou Piniella’s dirt-kicking tirade on June 2.  In an attempt to deflect attention from the “Slugout in the Dugout”, Piniella picked a fight with third base umpire Mark Wegner after a close play at third base.  After that, the Cubs had one of the best records in the NL and went on to win the NL Central for the first time since 2003.

My least favorite moment was when the Cubs were swept in Florida in the second to last series of the season.  It looked like it was going to be another classic Cubs collapse at the hand of the lowly Florida Marlins, which would have only been fitting, seeing that it was the Marlins who did you know what to you know who in 2003.  The Cubs would go on to win the NL Central in the first game of the next series against the Reds.

Storylines to follow in 2008:

·         The 100 Year Anniversary and the questions and stories that will follow.

·         Will the Cubs have a new owner in 2008?  Sam Zell says it could happen before Opening Day.

·         On the field, the story to follow will be right fielder Kosuke Fukudome’s transition to big league ball.

CHICAGO BEARS:  (2006-07:  13-3, NFC Champions.  2007-08:  7-9, missed playoffs)

My favorite moment was Devin Hester’s return of the opening kick in Super Bowl XLI.  Since then, it’s been all downhill for the Bears who went from NFC Champs to chumps in the blink of an eye.  Hester’s ability gives Bears fans a glimmer of hope, no matter what the situation.

My least favorite moment was when the Bears gave up 34 points in the fourth quarter in a loss to the Detroit Lions.  That was one of two losses to the Lions, who played like world beaters against the Bears.

Storylines to follow in 2008:

·         How will the Bears improve their offense?  The Bears have a tendency not to spend money in the off-season, which is a shame seeing that they need a quarterback, a running back and a big play wide receiver.

·         Will Lance Briggs get that contract extension he craves?  In a sense, he does deserve it because he’s been one of the best players on the team.  However, the Bears have a quality replacement in Jamar Williams and probably could put that $7.2 million into a need area.

·         Will the coordinators return?  Bob Babich is a Lovie Smith guy and he will likely return.  Ron Turner could return only if he burns the John Shoop playbook he used for most of the season.

CHICAGO BULLS:  (2006-07:  49-33; lost in Eastern Conf. semis.  2007: 11-17)

My favorite moment from the Bulls was when they swept the defending NBA champion Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs.  At that time, it looked like the Bulls were ready to take the next step in the post-Jordan era with rising stars Kirk Hinrich, Ben Gordon, and Luol Deng.

My least favorite moment from the Bulls was the NBA Draft.  It would have been easy to pick one of the bad losses or the firing of Scott Skiles, but I was not a happy man on draft night.  The Bulls could have (hypothetically) used a combination of youngsters and their first round pick to acquire a bonafide star like Kevin Garnett or Kobe Bryant.  Instead, they drafted Joakim Noah—who is playing like Tyson Chandler, circa 2004.

Storylines to follow in 2008:

·         Who is going to be coach in the future?  Will Jim Boylan get the job full-time after his stint as the interim head coach?  Will the Bulls bring in a high-profile guy like Larry Brown?  Will Scottie Pippen get a chance to coach in the NBA?

·         Will the Bulls acquire a low-post scorer or the type of go-to-guy they desperately need?

·         Will the Bulls make the proper adjustments and make a run at a playoff spot again?

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS SAUKIS FOOTBALL (2007:  12-2; lost in FCS semi-final)

My favorite moment from Saluki football was the 34-31 come from behind victory against in-state rival Northern Illinois University.  It was the second straight year that SIU came from behind to beat a FBS (formerly Division 1-A) school (they beat Indiana University in 2006).  Down 21, the SIU comeback began with an interception returned for a touchdown and two touchdown passes from Nick Hill.

That prompted a phone call to my friend at NIU who taunted me prior to the game.  The message was simple:  “Earlier you asked ‘What’s a Saluki?’  Well, it just kicked your ass!”

My least favorite moments from the year were SIU’s two losses.  The loss to the then No. 1 ranked University of Northern Iowa was a tough loss, especially since SIU fell six-yards short from what could have been a game winning touchdown.  The loss to Delaware in the FCS semi-final was more painful, having to be there.

Storylines to follow in 2008:

·         Will QB Nick Hill be given another year of eligibility by the NCAA?

·         How will new head coach Dale Lennon implement his system at SIU?

·         How will SIU do in the new look Gateway Football Conference?

SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY MEN’S BASKETBALL (2006-07:  29-7, MVC champs, Sweet 16; 2007-08: 6-6)

My favorite SIU hoops moment was Senior Night at the SIU Arena.  SIU’s 76-69 victory over Evansville served as a great sendoff for senior leaders Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young.  Young scored 17 and Tatum added 15, including his first dunk in front of the Saluki faithful.  Junior forward Randal Falker provided the oxymoron of the year, quietly pouring in 30 points.

I have three least favorite moments; two of them involve road trips that ended in SIU losses against Indiana University in Bloomington, Ind. and Creighton University in the MVC tourney championship game in St. Louis.  The other was the heartbreaking loss in the Sweet 16 against Kansas University.  Coming up a distant fourth was SIU’s loss to Indiana University on Super Saturday in Carbondale.

Storylines to follow in 2008:

·         Can SIU shake off an early 6-6 start to come back and win another Missouri Valley title and make another NCAA tourney appearance?

·         Will seniors Randal Falker and Matt Shaw lead SIU the way that SIU combos Tatum and Young and Darren Brooks and Stetson Hairston have in recent years?

·         Will SIU find consistent guard play with Bryan Mullins, Joshua Bone & company.

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