Print and Go Back ESPN.com: BlogsColumns [Print without images]

Wednesday, December 29, 2010
Updated: December 31, 12:50 PM ET
Hawks awe, Cubs toil in 2010

By Jon Greenberg
ESPNChicago.com

Late December is the time to genuflect, and indulgently pretend this year has really been different than any other. How many of us will stop and say, "Man, this year has really flown by, huh?"

Of course, I agree, because I am both self-indulgent and prone to genuflection.

This year has flown by, and like Patrick Kane's Stanley Cup winning goal, it was over before we knew it. One minute you're celebrating the one-year anniversary of the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field, the next you're watching Northwestern and Illinois play "one way" football there.

In between, there were a bunch of bad baseball games at Wrigley as well, but who wants to torture yourself with those memories?

The Blackhawks' Stanley Cup run, from Soupy to Burish (i.e., nuts), was easily the top Chicago sports event of 2010, with this Bears season slowly gaining steam on it.

The best single moment?

Well, it could have been watching the celebration after Kane's goal that no one saw go in. I got to walk on the ice and witness it. How many of you would have paid to be in my shoes?

Or it could have been watching that very unlikely, almost double no-hitter at Wrigley a few days after the Cup was won.

Patrick Kane
Patrick Kane authored Chicago's sports highlight of the year.
Or maybe it was watching the Bears beat the Eagles, or Packers, or Jets. All were memorable wins. The Bears' losses to the Giants and Patriots were remarkable in their utter failure.

There was the time Carlos Zambrano lost it at the Cell and the time Lou Piniella lost it at Wrigley Field, silencing a crowded room with his tears when he retired.

There were the fun Bulls games I witnessed, like watching Derrick Rose and Co. beat the Lakers in person, and all the Rose and Noah heroics I watched at the United Center or on TV. This Bulls team has the mark of something special, minus a shooting guard of course.

I saw Paul Konerko get beaned in the face and refuse to leave the game, and that was pretty cool too. I listened to Ozzie Guillen, and to me, his sidewinding patois is better than any organ music.

If I had to pick a single moment that made me thank the big guys upstairs (my editors -- Keith Sgariglia, Roman Modrowski, etc.) for my job, it might have been Kane's game-tying goal in the first round of the playoffs against Nashville.

It didn't have the flair of Kane's Cup-winner, but it was, in a lot of ways, more important as it turned the series around.

With the series tied at 2-2, the Hawks were seconds from going to seventh-seeded Nashville for a possible elimination game. It was desperation time for the short-handed Hawks, who got to even strength after pulling the goalie, but they didn't play like it. From the left side of the ice, Jonathan Toews' shot bounced off Pekka Rinne's skate right in front of Kane, who was hanging around the right post. Kane calmly scored with 13.6 seconds left to tie at 4-4, and Marian Hossa, the guy who was in the penalty box, scored the game-winner just seconds after skating out of the box. Hossa scored the winner, but Kane performed the miracle and I never doubted the Hawks again after that.

But that still wasn't the top sports moment for me.

No, my personal sports high was buying a yellow Pittsburgh Steelers beanie and putting on my son's head at the hospital the day after he born.

I never had a shared team with a father, never had a bonding moment over a favorite team or player, never cried over a win or a loss. So for me, this moment was the start of something more important, something that will last forever.

Paul Konerko
Paul Konerko refused to leave a game after getting hit by a pitch in September.
And not to worry, I'm not teaching him to reject Chicago teams and be one of those annoying contrarians who live in the suburbs and root for the Packers.

My son already owns a Jay Cutler onesie jersey, a gift from a friend who wrote on the card, "For when he pouts and makes bad decisions."

With that in mind, there were a lot of moments worth remembering in 2010, so let's get to the awards:

Athlete of the Year: Well, it has to be Jonathan Toews, right? The soft-spoken, hard-working Hawk won an Olympic gold medal, a Conn Smythe Award and a Stanley Cup. Toews is a consummate professional and is proficient at a lot of hockey things most of us are clueless about.

After he won the Conn Smythe, I wrote that he was the best winner in hockey, which is more tangible than the "best player" tag. Let's hope the 22-year-old has a few of these left in him.

Runners-up: Derrick Rose, Paul Konerko, Starlin Castro, Julius Peppers, Devin Hester.

Least Valuable Chicagoan: The entire roster of the Chicago Cubs, sans Starlin Castro, Sean Marshall, and a few others. The Cubs started the season with a $140 million payroll and never had a winning record. From the Ricketts family to Carlos Zambrano to the woeful middle relievers, this was an embarrassing season to endure. This team drove Lou Piniella to near-insanity, and then to retirement. This pain didn't stop in the postseason, with the team's ham-handed attempt to raise money to re-do Wrigley falling on deaf ears and Todd Ricketts' turn on "Undercover Boss" earning the public's scorn. The only pluses were the debut of Castro and Mike Quade getting a managing gig.

Runners-up: None. Just the Cubs.

Team of the Year: The Cubs! Just kidding, the Blackhawks are another obvious pick. The Stanley Cup team was fun to watch for hockey snobs and newcomers alike, and the personalities in the locker room were as good as it gets in professional sports.

But, and this is a Dustin Byfuglien-sized but, if this Bears team does the impossible and, gulp, wins the Super Bowl, the Bears are the team of the year (I know I'm crossing timelines here, taking the 2009-10 Hawks and 2010-11 Bears), because this is a Bears town, and this team is doing what most thought unthinkable. How many of you had the Bears getting the No. 2 seed in the NFC? So the Blackhawks can take the crown, but don't start flying it home to Canada just yet

.

Metaphor of the Year: As the saying goes, comedy is "tragedy plus time."

Less than two months after the BP oil disaster in the Gulf, the Cubs and White Sox battled for the, yup, BP Cup. At the time, the Cubs were a joke and the White Sox were under .500, just starting their 25-5 run. The BP Cup became a civic embarrassment, not to mention a stupid idea to begin with. This is Major League Baseball, not the Big Ten. Professionals don't want a trophy until the end of the season, and the players were embarrassed by its' existence, openly mocking it. When the White Sox won the Cup, no one wanted to hold it for a picture.

BP Cup
One has to wonder if each member of the White Sox got to spend a day with the BP Cup.
Making matters worse, the Blackhawks brought the Stanley Cup to the inaugural BP Cup series, making our baseball teams look like rank amateurs. During the second series of the rivalry, a couple reporters jokingly told a White Sox executive we wanted to take a media picture with it. He said, "You can have it."

Derrick Rose Moment of the Year: Picking a single play that rises above the others for Chicago's finest athlete isn't easy. And I'm fairly certain there are others that equal or eclipse this one, but Rose's skywalking, two-handed dunk in transition over Suns guard Goran Dragic in January was the one that resonates the most. Youtube it. Aesthetically, it tells you everything you need to know about Rose's absurd athleticism in one quick motion. Rose was fired up, the bench went nuts and I think I saw Vinny Del Negro's hair move.

You get the picture.

Viscerally, Rose is without competition. He's the most exciting athlete we've had in Chicago since Neifi Perez. Or Michael Jordan.

Runners-up: Uncorking a fadeaway against the Lakers, a game-tying three against Rockets, etc.

Play of the Year Not Involving The Blackhawks or Derrick Rose: Mark Buehrle's no-look, between-his-legs glove flip to Paul Konerko on Opening Day was arguably the play of the year in baseball. Buehrle, the aw-shucks starter with a perfect game and a no hitter to his credit, is famous for these freaky plays.

Quote of the Year, Part I: "You like it? You think Cleveland's cool? I never heard anybody say I'm going to Cleveland on vacation. What's so good about Cleveland?"  Joakim Noah

This came after Noah's initial quotes about how much Cleveland sucks, which earned him scorn across Northeast Ohio. Extra credit for making this statement at a podium after a loss in Cleveland.

Quote of the Year, Part II: Reporter: "Did you have one favorite quarterback growing up?"
Jay Cutler (shrugging dismissively): "No."
Jay Cutler, you see, has a way with words.

Quote of the Year, Part III: "You see a guy with a Gucci bag, that's not a guy." -- Ozzie Guillen, who proudly carries Louis Vuitton luggage. Guillen's had funnier quotes, for sure, but this one, made casually to reporters when a beat writer mentioned Guillen carried a Gucci bag in a story, is priceless Ozzie.

Joakim Noah
Joakim Noah didn't make many fans in Cleveland in 2010.
Quote of the Year, Part IV:"Don't want to hit him there. It might pop." Adam Burish on Canuck Sami Salo's testicle injury. (That was Blackhawks reporter Jesse Rogers' contribution.)

Quote of the Year, Part V: "And another thing I'm going to say. I've won over 1,800 games as a manager, and I'm not a damn dummy. There are only 13 others that have won more games than me, so I guess I think I know what the hell I'm doing." This was the highlight of Lou Piniella's rant about Steve Stone's criticism.

Coach of the Year: Once again, it's Bears vs. Blackhawks. Joel Quenneville should easily get the award for piloting the talented Hawks to the Stanley Cup. Being an NHL coach is an extremely difficult job, between trying to figure out line combinations and juggling goaltenders Antti Niemi and Cristobal Huet.

But how about the job Tough Lovie Smith did this season? Really, it wasn't spectacular, just typically consistent with his approach. Smith's players have always loved him because he treats them "like men," which means he doesn't yell so he looks tough on TV.

Smith is plenty tough behind closed doors and with his job on the line, he's really pushed the right buttons this year. The defense has bounced back from a steady decline thanks to the additions of Julius Peppers and Chris Harris, not to mention a healthy Brian Urlacher, and the offense is good enough under Mike Martz, certainly better than under Ron Turner.

On Jan. 5, Smith stood before a skeptical media at Halas Hall, the people he usually treats like mere annoyances, and actually addressed the fact that his job was up for review.

"I'm excited to remain in my position as head football coach of the Chicago Bears," Smith said. "I think I am remaining in this position because ownership and administration, the powers that be, have confidence we can get the Bears back on top."

I have as much faith in the Bears' "powers that be" as I do in the streets and sanitation department, but it looks like their contractual faith worked out. But Smith has proven that he's here to stay. Tough call, but I'll still go with Quenneville, unless Smith wins the Super Bowl.

Runners-up: Mike Quade, Ozzie Guillen, Illinois basketball assistant Jerrance Howard.

RIP: We'll miss Ron Santo deeply. The late Santo had a gift for connecting with fans, and listening to him on a summer day made Chicago traffic all the more bearable. Sadistically, I liked when the Cubs blew a game, because we'd get Ronnie Unfiltered. Most days, he and Pat Hughes were the best team at Wrigley Field. Santo deserved to see the Cubs win a World Series. He gave his life to the Cubs, and they gave him a life in return. A real baseball marriage.

Tweet of the Year, I: "My fav restaurant in chicago is Chi tung Latte. My least fav Market hands down worst food in the city."

That's from Oney Guillen (@oneyguillen), on March 9. Of course, Kenny Williams, the Sox GM, owns a stake in Market and he was the ire of Oney's displeasure. Things went downhill from there as the middle Guillen child left his job with the organization, became a Twitter celebrity for his free-wheeling ways, and spent most of the season calling out Williams, who was feuding with Ozzie. With that soap opera on hiatus, Guillen erupted this week at Bobby Jenks, who not-so subtly ripped Ozzie Guillen to a Chicago reporter. Oney then called out Jenks for several indiscretions, using very specific information.

Tweet of the Year, II: This one needs a set-up. As last season wound down, Devin Hester, being typically honest, told a reporter that he knew coaches were getting fired and changes were afoot. This turned into a story and all of a sudden, his typically grammatically casual Twitter feed (@D_Hest23) produced a handful of polished gems like this:

"I feel like the media blew my interview out of proportion and that everything I said was reworded or taken the wrong way." "When I am asked, "Will there be changes?" my answer is "yes". What I mean is; there will always be new guys (rookies, trades or coaches)"

Previously, this is the type of discourse that came out of his feed, making it obvious the Bears were responsible for the new Hester:

"Man this redbull taste good with hot wings!"

Personally, I agree. But really, anything goes good with hot wings.

Comeback of the Year: This is a perfect segue, because Hester's return to dominance is where we end. I've written numerous times about Hester's greatness of late, because it's been so impressive to watch, and Hester's success has paralleled with his team's resurgence as NFC power.

As a sportswriter, I don't get to be a fan, but I can say without any hint of remorse that I love watching Hester run with a football like I love watching Rose weave through traffic, Konerko study an opposing pitcher and Alfonso Soriano yank a slider into the bleachers.

As we end another year, it's not always about the destination, it's about the journey. Let's hope Chicago's teams take Hester's lead in 2011 and finish the journey in the end zone, dancing and celebrating.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.