Sports Wednesday

By Jim Coffman

I don't know about you, but I thought those six hand-offs Jay Cutler strung together during his brief appearance in the first quarter of the Bears' final exhibition game at Soldier Field last week were absolute perfection in motion. There just aren't enough superlatives.

But I still think perhaps everyone should simmer down just a bit before anointing the Bears true Super Bowl contenders, no matter how good the quarterback.

Beachwood Bears:
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  • They certainly don't have a Super Bowl-caliber field inside the spaceship/war memorial over by the lake. Tight end Desmond Clark broke it all down in his blog and Brad Biggs copied it into the Sun-Times (with attribution of course) early this week - the Bears and the Chicago Park District have embarrassed themselves yet again by failing to field a field even close to NFL standards.

    This has happened again and again in the past decade and yet nothing ever changes. Clark, who noted that players on the opposing Browns referred to the playing surface as a "cow pasture" and as "the worst field in the league," also revealed that the painting crew had clearly put the Bears' "C" in the wrong place initially and had to try to erase it and then re-paint it. Nice.

    Because the park district, which is responsible for the field, is always going to do this on the cheap - and considering the cutbacks in park programs that are ongoing, cheap is the right way for them to go at this point - the Bears have two choices.

    They can donate the money (and they have the cash for goodness sake - revenues are still strong and they are more than $20 million under the salary cap) to hire Roger Bossard, the widely revered "Sodfather" (I'm not sure who first called him that but it wasn't me) of U.S. Cellular Field who also oversaw the rebuilding of the playing surface at Wrigley Field a few years ago. I'll bet Bossard could fix the turf and train someone to take over for him and maintain it when he returns to the Cell.

    The other option is to put in the Field Turf, the latest in artificial turf. But surely it is clear that trying to ride out the controversy, hoping for a yet another return to the status quo, isn't going to cut it.

    One element of this situation that hasn't yet received a hearing is whether the lousy field played a role in back-up running back Kevin Jones' injury in the pre-season finale. The biggest thing that led to Jones tearing ligaments in his ankle was an unnecessary leap toward the sideline. He was bumped a bit while in the air and came down slightly off kilter. But Jones was also wearing about the longest cleats you're ever going to see (on a dry night in the midst of a dry spell - in other words, a night when he shouldn't have needed them). And when he came down awkwardly on his foot, there was no way it was going to slip and enable him to escape injury. It planted and Jones' body weight did the damage.

    Bears Bits
    Besides Jones, the Bears (this redundancy almost inspired the use of the nickname "Monsters of the Midway," but the Bears never did deserve the moniker - the real Monsters were the great University of Chicago teams in the early 20th Century - the ones who actually played near the Midway Plaisance) are relatively healthy.

    Cornerback Zack Bowman could still be hindered a bit by a hamstring and fellow cornerback Charles Tillman's status is still questionable after a couple off-season surgeries (which resulted from injuries incurred the previous season).

    But the main thing is, coach Lovie Smith guided his team through another pre-season in which no starters suffered injuries that will keep them out of the opener. He does that in part by severely limiting, if not entirely eliminating many of the physical drills that so many other football coaches have actually made centerpieces of training camps down through the years.

    The downside is all of the missed tackles that await us in the first month-plus, missed tackles that seemed to infect the defense last year, and it was a malady that just would not go away. Then again, if enough guys fly to the ball, it's okay if a few of them miss the tackle. And clearly the Bears believe they have enough speed (especially with a healthy Brian Urlacher and a healthy Tommie Harris) to do that.

    One Last Thing
    It is nothing but minor league football. You know that, don't you, college football fanatics? In particular, the best, most prominent teams (the ones that populate the SEC, Big 12 and Pac-10 - sorry Big Ten) are farm teams for the major league - the NFL. And yet, unbelievably large crowds get all worked up about AAA football. It is nothing short of mass hysteria.

    -

    Jim Coffman rounds up the sports weekend in this space every Monday. Except following Labor Day weekend, when he does it on Wednesday. He welcomes your comments.

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