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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank, NBC Chicago Street Team

Being a fan of Chicago sports can sometimes be as character building as walking outside for long distances in January.

With Northwestern’s tournament bubble officially bursting last weekend, baseball getting ready to kick off, and the NHL playoffs commencing the week after, it’s a fine time to revisit the long-suffering dry spells that are Chicago’s very own.

Before reading on, please do remember this George Michael lyric from his Wham! days: “There’s no comfort in the truth, pain is all you’ll find.”

Click here to read the rest of this post on nbcchicago.com.

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank By demolishing their bitter rival, the University of Illinois, on Saturday the Wildcats earned a No. 20 ranking — their highest of the season — in this week’s USA Today Coaches’ poll. The Cats concluded the regular season by becoming just the fifth team in school history to win nine games in a season. Should they win their bowl game (destination announced on Dec. 7th), it will be their first postseason victory since 1949; and the ten win season would join the 1995 Rose Bowl team as the only squads in program history ever to do so. With no real individual statistical standouts, on offense at least, it speaks volumes about Head Coach Pat Fitzgerald’s stressing of defense and playing collectively. Two team statistics certainly catch your eye however; NU’s current 127.7 rushing yards allowed per game is the best single-season average in school history and the Cats were first in the Big Ten (10th nationally) in sacks. They were also 24th out of 117 teams nationwide in scoring defense. A big reason for that is defensive end Corey Wootton, whose 9 sacks and 15 tackles for loss helped him earn a first-team All-Big Ten coaches selection.wootton

“Corey has always been a tremendously talented member of our program, and this honor is well deserved,” head coach (and former two-time National defensive player of the year) Pat Fitzgerald said. “He came to camp this year with the right attitude and he has done a great job in his preparation all season long. He may be our only first-team All-Big Ten guy this year, but I think we have a first-team All-Big Ten football team.” At last week’s press conference Fitz also added, “I have not seen Corey take one play off in practice or in games this year, his efforts on top of his technique and fundamentals have been outstanding.” First year NU defensive coordinator Mike Hankwitz has also done a tremendous job developing Corey.

Possibly validating Fitzgerald’s All-Big Ten team claim, eight additional players were named honorable mention selections: John Gill, Keegan Kennedy, Sherrick McManis (who also finished among national leaders in pass breakups), Eric Peterman, Brad Phillips, Brendan Smith (who combined with Phillips to give the Cats outstanding play at the safety position this year), Tyrell Sutton and Amado Villarreal. The Wildcats final 2008 contest will be a Bowl game to be determined, with the Outback, Alamo or Insight looking the most likely.

For more Chicago Sports Analysis and discussion.

For my Washington Times.com blog “Chicago Blue State.”

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank The St. Louis-bred social philosopher Nelly once told us, “Can’t nobody stop the juice, so baby tell me what’s the use” in his 2002 hit “Hot in Here.” This maxim was true for opposing defenses all season as Illinois quarterback Juice Williams broke the school record for single season total offense with 3,892 combined passing and rushing yards. On his way to breaking the record of Tony Eason –the New England Patriots starting QB in Super Bowl XX- Juice broke single game total offense records for both Memorial Stadium and Michigan Stadium, the latter of which is especially impressive given the rich history of Michigan Wolverines football.juice2willimas1

Unfortunately, the rest of the Fighting Illini didn’t have juice like Williams did on the field. After 2007’s Rose Bowl Champaign campaign, most people in Illini Nation expected a similar encore in 2008. Instead, Illinois finished just 5-7 after getting walloped by #20 Northwestern 27-10 on Saturday. This “earned” them the dubious distinction of being the first team to go from Rose Bowl one year to no bowl the next since (well, Illinois again in) 1984. However that team was sanctioned by the NCAA and allowed no bowl appearance. The last team to legitimately go from Roses to thorns was over 40 years ago. Soon after Juice watched the fans of his rival team storm Ryan Field in celebration, I asked him if expectations were too high in Champaign and if that led to collapse: “I don’t think the pressure really got to us, I think it’s more a matter of not coming out every Saturday and performing like we know we can. We can’t have morale victories out there. We can’t have games where we say we should have won that game, that’s not enough. We’re at the point where we can win games, we just got to go out there and do it.”

Had Illinois won and later secured a bowl berth, it would have been the first time since 1992 that the program procured consecutive bowl game seasons. Juice talked about the pain and disappointment of coming up just short. “It’s like you expect something on Christmas and then you wake up and it’s not there: It’s the type of feeling you have when you realize there’s really nothing more you can do about it…We worked so hard to come out and be successful and to be one game short of being bowl eligible is a feeling that is going to eat at you.”

For more Chicago Sports Analysis and discussion.

For my Washington Times.com blog “Chicago Blue State.”

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Paul M. Banks a.k.a. The Sports Bank

The media has certainly beaten a dead horse concerning the Cubs and 1908. But have you heard much about 1949? It’s the last time the Northwestern Wildcats won a postseason game. With college football bowl bids as plentiful as Amy Winehouse legal infractions these days, it’s quite a streak! Like the “Lovable Losers” in Wrigley Field, they’re another Chicago team that went through an embarrassingly LONG losing spell in the 60s, 70s and part of the 80s. However, in the last 25 years, both the ‘Cats (’05, ’03, ’00, ’96, ’95) and Cubbies (’07, ’03, ’98, ’89, ‘84) have been to the postseason a previously uncharacteristic 5 times!

Is this, the sixth trip, the breakthrough year for both? Many college football experts forecasted Northwestern to be 8-4 this season and their schedule certainly seems to be conducive to obtaining this mark. They looked impressive in week one, as their defense -a unit provoking much skepticism- held Syracuse to just 225 total yards. The Cats gained almost 500 yards of their own on the way to a 30-10 victory. Remember, Illinois went to the Rose Bowl at 9-3 last season, so an NU upset somewhere along the line could actually mean a BCS bid. No, Seriously! The Wildcats are coached by Pat Fitzgerald, a native of suburban Orland Park, and All-American Linebacker/National Defensive player of the year during his playing days at Northwestern. His teams won back-to-back Big Ten titles in 1995 and 1996.

Current star tailback Tyrell Sutton, a Doak Walker Award (best national collegiate running back) candidate, is on pace to become the school’s all-time leading rusher. That feat is quite impressive considering the school’s tailback tradition includes recent or current NFL backs Jason Wright, Damien Anderson, Noah Herron and Darnell Autry.

The final similarity they share with the Cubs is seeing their home field star on the silver screen. Universal Pictures shot the football scenes from the soon-to-be-released movie, “The Express” at Ryan Field. The movie profiles former Syracuse Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis, the first African American to win the prestigious award. Numerous films have featured the Friendly Confines.

You can hear my audio exclusives with Fitzgerald and Sutton, by following the hyper-linked text. They both address the program’s bowl game victory drought. For more Chicago sports analysis and talk go here.

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