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What was that sound? It couldn't be fireworks could it? In the middle of February? Nope, it was the sound of Bears fans' heads exploding.

Okay, okay, there were no reports of actual cranial combustion. But surely the loved ones of a significant contingent of Midway Monster backers had to be wondering if someone had bought a new clock over the weekend . . . because something was ticking.

It was beyond classic that the first Bears free agent signing this off-season (Alex Brown was under contract for next season before signing an extension earlier last week) was the guy so many fans hate so intensely.

Rex Grossman is back and if the time bombs didn't go off over the weekend they almost certainly will at some point this off-season. After all, the Bears front office continues to exhibit a remarkable willingness to antagonize wide swaths of its most devoted followers. Maybe the draft will do it - when the Bears decline to take the best signal-caller available with either of their first two picks. Or maybe it won't be until training camp when some sort of Grossman-related intrigue will roil the waters.

At this point it doesn't appear as though there will be any immediate, widespread response. Grossman-haters have apparently not allowed suppressed frustration to reach explosive levels - nor does there appear to be any sort of move toward organized dissent, like, say, a march on Halas Hall.

* I suppose I should insert at some point that I actually like the fact that the Bears re-signed one of the two Super Bowl-qualifying quarterbacks in franchise history .Grossman has the second-best shot of leading the Bears to the promised playoff land in the coming season (behind the Purdue powerhouse himself, Kyle Orton). No one else has the kind of experience in Ron Turner's system that they do (you remember Ron, right? The second Super Bowl-qualifying offensive coordinator in team history?).

* The Eagles aren't going to trade Donovan McNabb, the free agents aren't good enough and anyone the Bears might take in the draft, even in the first round, won't be ready to lead them to a playoff victory this season. A second-year man won't be ready to lead them to that level next season either.

But why did Grossman have to be the first free-agent signing? Why weren't Jerry Angelo and his staff spending their time on Bernard Berrian or Lance Briggs? Fortunately on Sunday word came through that the Bears had also extended the contract of tight end Desmond Clark. As long as they've taken care of their second-best tight end, they should definitely be good to go.

And now for a short trip through the Wide, Wide World of . . .

* I wouldn't want to be Jim Boylan right about now. How does the Bulls coach possibly decide who gets how much playing time, especially in the backcourt? It starts with who starts. Kirk Hinrich is still the primary point guard. But who is No. 2? Thabo Sefolosha has stepped up of late but he certainly doesn't shoot well enough consistently enough to deserve the starting spot. New arrival Larry Hughes certainly expects to start but you need to play Ben Gordon to score enough to win games, and to showcase Gordon for a potential off-season trade. And you've got to get Chris Duhon minutes. And we'd like to see at least a little of the local guy, Shannon Brown (Proviso East), who also came over from Cleveland.

Oh by the way, can anyone in this group play defense? The Bulls may have scored an amazing 135 points on Friday against the Nuggets, but even more importantly they gave up 110-plus points twice over the weekend (and not surprisingly the second defensive non-effort resulted in a loss to the Rockets). I remember when Hinrich could still play defense, all the way back in the 2006-07 season. I miss those days.

And who starts at forward around center Joakim Noah? Luol Deng probably gets one off the spots but with the arrival of Hughes' 6-10 trade partner Drew Gooden, do you now bench Tyrus Thomas? Thomas still appears to be the only Bull with the sort of transcendent natural talent which, combined with consistent hard work, could make him a star. And what about the team's best shooter, Andres Nocioni?

* Hey Lou, don't turn Bobby Howry into LaTroy Hawkins. You know Howry can get guys out in the eighth inning. He proved that time and time again last year. Why do you want to fool around and fall in love with him as the potential closer? Dusty tried that with Hawkins, of course. You remember, right? And it was all downhill for that eighth inning specialist from there.

* I had a chance to take a close look at the Hawks' wild and woolly victory at the Kings Saturday afternoon. That was the one where the Hawks scored four goals in 4:06 of the second period to seemingly take command (they led 5-1 well into the third) only to temporarily blow it in unbelievable fashion. They allowed the Kings to tie it at 5 with 13 seconds left in the third period. Fortunately, the Hawks pulled it out in OT. The problem was that by sending the game to overtime the Kings, one of the Hawks' rivals for a playoff spot in the Western Conference, earned a point in the standings.

Patrick Sharp flubbed a breakaway that would have almost certainly clinched a regulation-time victory over the Kings. But he knocked in the game winner in overtime after having scored the Hawks' first goal in the first period. Then Sharp scored his 30th and 31st goals of the season in Sunday's 6-3 loss to the defending Stanley Cup champ Ducks. How ridiculous does that still sound by the way, more than six months after Anaheim claimed the championship?

While Sharp has been awesome, Martin Havlat hasn't been nearly good enough. The six-million (a year) dollar man knocked in his 10th goal on Saturday. At the very least, he should have twice that many tallies. The fact the Hawks haven't long since dropped out of playoff contention despite Havlat's struggles is yet more proof that, surprise, rookies Patrick Kane and especially Jonathan Toews are really, really good. Toews scored one and assisted beautifully on another against the Kings, then had three assists against the Ducks.


Jim Coffman brings you the city's best sports round-up in this space every Monday.

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