Our teams didn’t win big on the whole, but they entertained us. And they did it against the backdrop of sickness, fear, desperation, vast social protest and a political landscape gone mad. Maybe we can be a bit thankful for that.
Sweet goddess of mercy, it’s almost over.
The Year 2020, that is.
No, the pandemic isn’t through with us. No, the economy hasn’t climbed out of the ditch. Yes, half of us still want to give the other half a knuckle sandwich — and vice versa, of course — and that’s when we’re feeling generous.
Oh, and sports — it’s still a colossal mess, too. Or is it? Games are going on. In fact, they did for much of an awful year. And now, the calendar soon shall turn, and thank goodness for that.
But not yet. First, let’s all take a deep breath and — here, in one space — mark the moment in time that was 2020 on Chicago’s sports scene. It won’t be warm and fuzzy. It won’t be pretty. Why is this starting to feel like the buildup to a punchline about the Bears’ offense?
Our sports scene was beyond volatile, and that’s going by coach and front-office shake-ups alone. Most of our teams didn’t exactly win big — like we needed more disappointment — but, hopefully, they entertained us.
And they did what they did against the backdrop of sickness, fear, desperation, vast social protest and a political landscape gone mad. Maybe we can be a bit thankful for that.
Now, can we just talk some sports? A glance back at 2020 for our teams:
All of us — from coach Matt Nagy to your Aunt Bev — entered the season with a decision to make: Should it be Mitch Trubisky or Nick Foles at quarterback? Aunt Bev didn’t have the final call, but she was prepared to offer her two cents if asked. We all were.
Trubisky kept his job but was yanked for Foles, a former Super Bowl MVP, during a perplexing 5-1 start that prefaced a less-perplexing six-game losing streak. Before the downturn ended, Trubisky had the huddle again and proceeded to do well enough that the question became unavoidable: Should the Bears stick with him?
The defense was good, but not always. The playoff hopes remained alive, but barely. And Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace are on pink-slip watch.
Postseason bubbles in California and Texas went on without a team that never — what’s that word again? — hit. Any postscript has to begin with the failures of Kris Bryant, Javy Baez and other core stars to put the bat on the baseball. Painful to watch.
Rookie manager David Ross nevertheless acquitted himself well, in no small part because his team adhered to COVID-19 protocols more successfully than any other. Pitcher Yu Darvish shed his underachiever’s skin, a major development.
No fans at Wrigley Field? It jarred the senses. And so did the November resignation of architect Theo Epstein, whose shoes have been filled — how well, we’ll see — by Jed Hoyer. Goodbye, Bryant? Back to being bad? And an aside: Does everybody hate Marquee Network?
They beefed up with free agents Yasmani Grandal and Dallas Keuchel and gave center field to mega-prospect Luis Robert. Then they raked like nobody’s business. And they pitched, too: a Lucas Giolito no-hitter adding to the franchise’s forever highlight reel. They also faded late — before an opening-round playoff series loss to the Athletics in SoCal — but still the sultry scent of championship potential lingered in the air.
And then the Sox fired manager Rick Renteria. And then Jerry Reinsdorf power-played his way to hiring Tony La Russa. Chicago asked: Why? But La Russa — a DUI charge dogging his name — became the stern face of the team’s future.
Did we mention Jose Abreu won MVP? He did, indeed.
In October — months after another afterthought of a season ended in an Edmonton bubble — the Hawks announced, Captain Obvious-style, that they were rebuilding. As if being 10th in the West on the January night when Patrick Kane scored his 1,000th point hadn’t made that clear. As if Joel Quenneville’s return to the United Center shortly thereafter hadn’t hammered reality home.
But young Kirby Dach embodied hope for the future. Kane, Jonathan Toews and Duncan Keith skated on because that’s what hockey players do.
Corey Crawford: gone. Front-office stalwart Jim McDonough: long gone. Danny Wirtz became CEO, Stan Bowman (above) added a title and — hello — Jaime Faulkner is president of business operations, the first woman to hold that title in the history of the organization.
At 22-43, they were in too sorry a state to get into the NBA’s free-for-all bubble. Regime change came in April, when Arturas Karnisovas was hired as executive VP of basketball operations. Out-of-his-depth coach Jim Boylen was fired in August, and successor Billy Donovan was brought on — signaling real progress — a month later.
Now, the question: Are Zach LaVine, Lauri Markkanen, Coby White, Wendell Carter Jr. and first-rounder Patrick Williams a legit core to build around?
A new season started Wednesday, with the Bulls facing expectations that ranged from “meh” to “are we still talking about the Bulls?” It’s a truly important time of transition, though. We could say more about 2020, but we’re really trying to avoid mentioning GarPax.
The pre-pandemic trade of Katie Lou Samuelson for Azura Stevens was right on the money. The April draft of Ruthy Hebard landed well, too. The Sky were ready to roll, and they did so — belatedly, of course — when the WNBA finally got cracking in a Bradenton, Florida, bubble. A 10-4 start got fans wondering if this was the year for a run at the title.
But Stevens got hurt. And then Diamond DeShields, the team’s most dynamic player, left the bubble for personal reasons. Any title thoughts went out the window (do bubbles have windows?) and a quick playoff exit was all too predictable.
Still, Courtney Vandersloot became the first WNBA player to average double-digit assists in a season. That alone made it a pretty good year.
The MLS was back. Despite the presence of new head coach Raphael Wicky (above), the same old Fire were back, too. They blew their chance to make it past group play in July’s MLS is Back tournament.
In August came a return to Soldier Field as the Fire’s home turf. The team ended up faring well there, but it never won on the road, was winless in its last six contests and missed out on an expanded playoff format that probably shouldn’t have been missable. That’s the sort of debacle adding “FC” to your name and tinkering with your logo doesn’t make up for.
Striker Robert Beric found the back of the net often in his first Fire season. Forward CJ Sapong left the building and will be missed.
An early-summer return to play at the NWSL Challenge Cup in Utah produced a singular image — of Casey Short, who is African American, on a knee and weeping into a Black Lives Matter shirt — that spoke to athlete protests throughout sports. The Red Stars then advanced to the final, an unexpected boon given coach Rory Dames’ intention to use the event to get younger players experience and develop a Sam Kerr-less attack.
Veteran goalie Alyssa Naeher had another strong year. Defender Sarah Gorden, an Elk Grove native and DePaul alum, stepped up her contributions on the pitch and became a force for good in the community. Forward Savannah McCaskill and midfielder Yuki Nagasato were traded ahead of the expansion draft, kind of a bummer.