5 Decades Of Chicago Sports: The 2000's

George Ofman
June 01, 2018 - 11:47 am

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Y2K represents the dawn of the current modern era in Chicago sports, where championships are cherished more than attendance or entertainment. 

The first 10 years of the 2000’s featured a long awaited White Sox World Series title, a Bears trip to the Super Bowl, three Cubs playoff appearances, and some serious Bulls luck in the NBA Draft Lottery.

While Derrick Rose gave the Bulls a boost, he was just one of the characters and teams to leave a mark between 2000 and 2009.  There’s Ozzie Guillen, Pat Fitzgerald, Steve Bartman, Patrick Kane, William Ligue and son, the Chicago Sky, Brian Urlacher, Jay Cutler and Devin Hester…

Brian Cassella/Chicago Tribune/MCT/Sipa USA

Chicago Bears

That electrifying moment in Miami, on Feb. 3, 2007 had Bears fans excited about clinching a second Super Bowl title. But the Indianapolis Colts won the game 29-17.

Hester’s one-of-a-kind return touchdown was the highlight of a decade replete with ups and downs, including the drafting of future Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher in 2000. He was named Rookie of the Year, became an eight time pro-bowler and was named Defensive Player of the Year in 2005.

It was a decade in which Mike Brown did the unthinkable: return interceptions for touchdowns in back-to-back overtime games during the 2001 season.

The Bears finished 13 and 3, but lost its only playoff game to the Eagles.

The 2002 season was played in Champaign while Soldier Field was undergoing a face lift. The interim move to Memorial Stadium produced a complete turn-around. The Bears tumbled to 4 and 12. Then there was the return to the newly refurbished Soldier Field, perhaps best described by the New York Times Dave Barboza: “It looks like a U.F.O crashed landed on an ancient ruin; It’s a giant egg in a giant egg cup; It’s like a fat man trying to wedge himself into a skinny man’s shorts.” The record improved, albeit to just 7 and 9 and also got Dick Jauron fired.  Enter Lovie Smith and an era of dominating defense led by the likes of Urlacher, Charles “Peanut” Tillman, Lance Briggs, Tommie Harris and a host of others. The Bears went 5 and 11 his first season, 11 and 5 and a playoff appearance the next, and then 13 and 3 in 2006 - the season they finally made it back to the Super Bowl.

Phil Velasquez/Chicago Tribune/MCT/Sipa USA

After employing numerous quarterbacks with limited success, the Bears made a bold move in May of 2009 trading two first round picks to Denver for Jay Cutler.

Cutler would go on to be a polarizing figure during his run with the Bears. They did not reach the playoffs during his first season.

Photo by TB

Chicago Cubs

But the Cubs reached the playoff three times during the decade, the first time they achieved that feat since the 1930’s. It was a star-crossed period which began with a 65 and 97 season, but by the following year the Cubs improved by 23 games, thanks in part to Sammy Sosa’s 64 homers and astounding 160 RBI. Jon Leiber won 20 games and Kerry Wood fashioned a 12 and 6 season. But changes were on the way. The Cubs lost 95 games again the next season when Don Baylor was replaced as manager and Andy McPhail took over as team president. Enter Jim Hendry who, as general manager, hired Dusty Baker for the 2003 season. He had just led the Giants to the World Series where they lost to the Angels. “In Dusty we trusty” signs emerged at Wrigley Field as Baker led the Cubs to the post season thanks to a talented starting staff including Wood, Mark Prior, Carlos Zambrano and Matt Clement. The Cubs met the favored Braves in an exciting five game series and on Oct. 5 in Atlanta, Moisus Alou and his teammates won the franchise’s first playoff series since winning the World Series in 1908!

Nine days later Alou would play a central role in arguably the most controversial and still talked about event in Cubs history.

The Cubs were just five outs from the World Series, but Mark Prior and the team collapsed from there and Steve Bartman, a lifelong fan who reached out for the ball, became a notorious and vilified figure. The Cubs would lose that game and the next, both at Wrigley Field thus blowing a three games to one lead. Prior vanished from the baseball scene two years later while Wood battled injuries, made a successful transformation to closer and would eventually be traded after the ‘08 season.

Scott Strazzantea/Chicago Tribune/TNS

The 2004 season brought renewed hope and a trade for Nomar Garciapara, but the Cubs collapsed down the stretch and missed the playoffs. And it was a bitter ending to Sosa’s career with the team. He left Wrigley Field during the final game of the season doing so just 13 minutes after the first pitch. He would be traded to the Orioles ending one of the most dominating and controversial runs in team history.  Two more years of Dusty Baker were followed by the colorful and loquacious Lou Pinella who coined the phrase, “Cubby Occurrence.”  He guided the Cubs to back-to-back playoff appearances only they were swept in both series extending their playoff drought to nine straight losses. 

CDM

Chicago White Sox

While the decade produced some exciting times for the Cubs, it produced something the Sox hadn’t experienced in 88 years.

2005 was a glorious time in Sox history, but what followed the World Series title was truly unexpected.

The decade began with the Sox winning the division title only to lose three straight to Lou Pinella’s Mariners. By 2003 Jerry Manuel’s six-year run as manager ended. His replacement was certainly a surprise; Ozzie Guillen, the team’s former shortstop who had been a coach for the Florida Marlins. Guillen made his presence known with a fiery and sometimes profanity laced diatribe. But he managed to make headlines and so did his team on the field and at the gate. The Sox attendance jumped some 400,000 in 2005 and another 600,000 to nearly three million in 2006.  But the Sox would make only one more playoff appearance in the decade advancing in a one game playoff against the Twins in 2008. They would lose to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays in four games.

On July 23 2009, Mark Buehrle punctuated one of the most thrilling days in Sox history firing a game.

Buehrle’s perfect game was saved thanks to a spectacular catch by outfielder Dwayne Wise.

Charles Cherney/Chicago Tribune/MCT/Sipa USA

Chicago Bulls

On May 20 2008, the Bulls defied the odds and won the draft lottery. Five weeks later they would make a choice that would change their fortunes in more ways than one.

Rose would go on to be named Rookie of the Year and the Bulls would make the playoffs losing a titanic seven game series with the Celtics in which four games were decided in overtime (one in double overtime and another in triple overtime).  Sandwiched around the pick of Rose, the Bulls selected Joakim Noah in 2007 and Taj Gibson in 2009 setting the stage for what appeared to be another run at the NBA title.  Weeks prior to the drafting of Rose, GM John Paxson tried to re-hire Doug Collins as head coach, but Collins removed himself from the list of candidates because he didn’t want to ruin his friendship with Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf. Paxson would turn to Vinnie Del Negro who had no coaching experience and lasted two seasons.

David Trotman-Wilkins/Chicago Tribune/MCT/Sipa USA

The decade picked up from the post Jordan era as the Bulls went 15 and 67 under Tim Floyd and followed that by winning only 21 the next season. Their misery would continue when, after drafting Jay Williams, the guard was involved in a motorcycle accident a year later that would eventually end his career. During those two seasons, Bill Cartwright took over as head coach, but the Bulls languished under his leadership. Then Paxson, who replaced Jerry Krause as GM, hired Scott Skiles to replace Cartwright. He proceeded to engineer a series of good drafts picks that would get the Bulls back in the playoffs for three consecutive seasons. Beginning in the 2003-2004 season the Bulls would also rise to third in league attendance and never finish lower.

Jeff Wheeler/Minneapolis Star Tribune/TNS/Sipa USA

Chicago Blackhawks

Blackhawks attendance became an afterthought through the first half of the decade in which ESPN named the franchise the worst in professional sports in 2004. It was dubious distinction and a mighty drop for a once proud organization. But on Sept. 27, 2007 everything changed. Team owner Bill Wirtz died. While the Blackhawks family was in mourning, their fan base considered it the dawning of a new morning. Stunningly, the seed of power was handed to Rocky, not Peter Wirtz.  Perhaps even more stunning was his choice to the guide the franchise out of the abyss.

Long before this tectonic shake-up, General Manager Dale Tallon was slowly, but surely building the Blackhawks into what would become three-time champions. As a member of the Hawks front office he helped draft Duncan Keith in 2002, Brent Seabrook and Corey Crawford the following season and when he became General Manager in 2005, traded for Patrick Sharp.  In 2006 he selected Jonathan Toews in the first round of the draft and then, the following year, the Hawks had the first pick in the draft for the first time in franchise history.

But Tallon wasn’t done yet. He drafted Nicklas Hjalmarsson in 2008.   Four games into the season, another stunning development: The Tallon fired head coach Denis Savard replacing him with Joel Quenneville.  He would guide the team on a dramatic run making it to the Western Conference Final where the Hawks would lose to the Detroit Red Wings. It was a harbinger of good things to come. But more shakeups continued.  Days after signing Marian Hossa to a long term lucrative deal in July of 2009, Tallon was fired as GM and replaced by Stan Bowman.  The Hawks would go on to win the first of three Stanley Cups over the next six seasons.

College

It was a decade that saw Northwestern suffer a devasting loss when head Football coach Randy Walker died suddenly in June of 2006. One week later Pat Fitzgerald, one of its star players during the 90’s, was named his replacement ushering in a new era of high level football in Evanston.  Bill Carmody was the basketball coach for the entire decade but alas, an NCAA bid continued to elude the Wildcat program.

But Illinois reached the peak of excellence when Bruce Weber led the Fighting Illini to the NCAA Championship game only to lose to North Carolina.

It was also a decade that saw DePaul basketball begin a precipitous slide after joining the Big East conference in 2005. The Blue Demons made the NIT quarterfinals in the 2006-07 season, but have not made a post season appearance since.

Other Teams

The Wolves won the Turner Cup Championship in 2000 and the Calder Cup in 2002 and 2008.  They also appeared in the finals in ’01, ’05 and ’06.  The Fire won the U.S. Open Cup three times and a new franchise emerged in Chicago as the WNBA introduced the Sky in 2005. Dave Cowens was named its coach and General Manager. The Sky played its first season in 2006 going 5 and 29.

The first decade of the 2000s ended with plenty of promise leading to what would be watershed events for the Cubs, Blackhawks, Northwestern and Loyola; hope, despair and more hope for the Bears, Sox and Bulls. And there’s a year and a half left. Perhaps you should consider the Chicago sports glass half full.

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