5 Decades Of Chicago Sports: The 2010's

Rick Gregg
June 13, 2018 - 8:39 am

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CHICAGO (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- A dynasty on ice; a fairy tale on hardwood; a charmed career cut short; and a party a century in the making - here’s a look at the 2010's in Chicago sports.

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Chicago Blackhawks

Joel Quenneville’s Blackhawks reached the Western Conference Finals in 2009 and then signed free agent star Marian Hossa to a long-term contract in the summer, so the 2009-10 season dawned with high expectations.  The Hawks would meet them.  They set a franchise record with 52 wins.  They won their division for the first time in 17 seasons.  They fought through Nashville in six games, Vancouver in six games, and San Jose in a sweep to reach the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1992.

And when Patrick Kane’s shot 4:06 into overtime of Game 6 literally got lost in the net behind Philadelphia goalie Michael Leighton, the Blackhawks had captured the Cup for the first time since 1961.

Two days after the Cup win, an alleged two-million people attended the championship parade and rally on Michigan Avenue.

Jonathan Toews won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and later, Duncan Keith would take the Norris Trophy as the league’s top defenseman.

The Hawks were forced to dismantle part of the team due to salary concerns, and as a result were forced out of the playoffs in the first round in both 2011 and 2012. 

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But in 2013, the Blackhawks would return to the Cup final - beating Minnesota in five games, coming back from a 3-games-to-1 deficit to defeat Detroit in overtime of a Game 7 in round two, and taking out the defending champion LA Kings in double-overtime of Western Conference Finals Game 5 thanks to a Patrick Kane hat trick.

They’d bring the Cup home with perhaps the most famous sequence in team history. Trailing the Bruins 2-1 in Game 6, in Boston, Bryan Bickell scored to tie the game with just 66 seconds remaining.  And 17 seconds later Dave Bolland scored again - the game and series-winning goal.  Patrick Kane took the Conn Smythe trophy this time around, and this time the rally came in Grant Park.

The Blackhawks took the Kings to the limit in the 2014 Western Conference Final, but fell, in overtime, at home.  Duncan Keith did win his second Norris Trophy.

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But in 2015, not only did the Blackhawks win the Cup again - they won it on home ice, beating Tampa Bay 2-0 in the Game 6 clincher. 

This time, Duncan Keith took the Conn Smythe trophy - and the subsequent rally was held at Soldier Field.

Aging and salary cap attrition led the Blackhawks to first-round playoff exits in both 2016 and 2017, though they did win the Central Division in 2017.  In 2018 the team bottomed out - finishing seventh in the division and losing stars Marian Hossa and Corey Crawford to injuries.  Hossa’s skin condition ended his career; Crawford hopes to return next year.

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Chicago Cubs

It might be the sports story of the millennium so far.  The Cubs, finally ending a 108-year-long World Series drought and bringing the Commissioner’s Trophy to the North Side.

But it didn’t happen right away, and it wasn’t easy to get there.

When the decade began, Lou Piniella was still the Cub manager.  But he wouldn’t make it through the year - the team’s downfall since back-to-back division championships in ‘07 and ‘08, plus his mother’s failing health, led Piniella to resign in August of 2010.  Mike Quade succeeded him as the Cubs began a streak of five straight fifth-place finishes in the division.

The turnaround began after the 2011 season, when owner Tom Ricketts hired Theo Epstein away from Boston as President of Baseball Operations.  Epstein had ended the Red Sox’ 86-year World Series drought and immediately got to work on quenching Cub fans’ thirst.  He brought friend and then-Padres GM Jed Hoyer over as General Manager, hired scouting guru Jason McLeod from San Diego as well, and fired Quade - replacing him with Dale Sveum. 

In December, the Cubs traded for Anthony Rizzo.  In June 2012, they drafted Albert Almora sixth-overall.  In July, they traded for Kyle Hendricks.  In June 2013, they drafted Kris Bryant second-overall.  In July, they traded for Jake Arrieta, Pedro Strop and Carl Edwards Junior.  In 2014 the Cubs changed managers to Rick Renteria, drafted Kyle Schwarber, traded for Addison Russell, and after the season began a Wrigley Field beautification project that’s still ongoing.

Days later, one of the most significant off-seasons in baseball history began with the team firing Rick Renteria in order to hire the newly-available Joe Maddon. 

In the next few weeks the Cubs signed pitchers Jon Lester and Jason Hammel, along with catcher David Ross, and traded for catcher Miguel Montero, center fielder Dexter Fowler and infielder Tommy LaStella. All would play significant roles as the team climbed from 73 wins to 97 and third place in the division - a surge captured on WBBM, the Home of the Cubs in 2015.

Arrieta, who had thrown a no-hitter earlier in the season, threw a complete game as the Cubs beat Pittsburgh in the Wild Card game for their first playoff win in twelve seasons.  The Cubs then beat the Cardinals three-games-to-one in the National League Divisional Series, clinching a playoff series at Wrigley Field for the first time ever. 

They were swept by the Mets in the National League Championship Series, but Arrieta won the Cy Young Award, Bryant earned Rookie of the Year honors, Maddon was named Manager of the Year, and expectations were high on the North Side.

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The Cubs would meet them.  They added pitcher John Lackey, infielder Ben Zobrist, and outfielder Jason Heyward as free agents in the offseason, and traded shortstop Starlin Castro to the Yankees for reliever Adam Warren.  They also re-signed outfielder Dexter Fowler in a surprise spring training move.  And they took off from there, starting 17-and-5 on their way to 103 wins.  Arrieta threw another no-hitter.  The entire infield started the All-Star Game, with three other Cubs chosen to the squad. In July, the team made a controversial trade for closer Aroldis Chapman, who would save 16 games down the stretch.  And on September 15th, the Cubs clinched their first division title since 2008 - they would eventually win the Central by 17.5 games.

They beat the Giants 3-games-to-1 in the NLDS, coming from three runs down in the ninth inning of the decisive Game Four.

They beat the Dodgers 4-games-to-2 in the NLCS, earning a trip to the World Series for the first time since 1945.

And despite trailing Cleveland 3-games-to-1...despite losing a three-run lead in the eighth inning of Game Seven...despite a rain delay after nine innings...shortly after midnight, Eastern Time, on November 3rd, the Chicago Cubs won the World Series. 

Schwarber singled to start the tenth inning rally. Almora scored on a Zobrist double. Montero drove in Rizzo.  Bryant made the game-ending defensive play. And Hendricks, Lester, Chapman, Edwards and Mike Montgomery combined for the 8-7 win.

Even though the game took place in Ohio, Wrigleyville’s streets immediately became packed with revelers when the game ended, as joyous fans evacuated bars, restaurants and homes to celebrate into the early morning hours.  The next day, millions turned out for a parade from Wrigley Field to Grant Park, where hundreds of thousands waited to celebrate with the victors.

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The Cubs raised their World Series banner before the 2017 Home Opener, but struggled through the first half of the season, with some blaming a championship hangover.  The mid-season acquisitions of pitcher Jose Quintana from the White Sox and catcher Alex Avila from the Tigers helped, and the Cubs eventually won their division.  They even took a five-game NLDS from Washington, leading to an NLCS rematch with Los Angeles.  But the Dodgers won this time in five games, thwarting the possibility of a repeat World Series win.

The Cubs remain a championship contender in 2018, and appear to have a core in place that will keep them near the top of the league for several seasons to come.

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Chicago White Sox

The White Sox hope they’re building a similar core.  To this point, the 2010s have been dismal for them. 

The team opened the decade with a respectable 88-win 2010 season and that off-season added slugger Adam Dunn.  But Dunn only hit .159 with 11 home runs during an inexplicable 2011 season as the Sox sunk back below .500, and manager Ozzie Guillen quit with two games remaining in the year to take the Miami Marlins job.

Fellow White Sox legend Robin Ventura took over as manager in 2012 and guided the Sox to 85 wins despite the loss of top pitcher Mark Buehrle to free agency.  Chris Sale came into his own, winning 17 games in the first of his six straight All-Star seasons.  Jose Quintana made his major league debut and excelled - surprising, since the Sox had added him as a minor league free agent that season.  Philip Humber threw baseball’s 21st perfect game on April 21st, beating the Mariners 4-0.  But even though the White Sox spent 126 days in first place, they missed the playoffs, ending the month of September with ten losses in twelve tries.

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After Rick Hahn took over as General Manager, with Kenny Williams moving up to a vice president role, the Sox stumbled to only 63 wins in 2013.  They bounced back with 73 wins in 2014 and attempted to make a splash that offseason, adding free agents Adam LaRoche, David Robertson and Melky Cabrera and trading for pitcher Jeff Samardzija.  But the team only won three more games in 2015 than the year before.  And while the White Sox started 2016 with a 23-10 record, even the mid-season addition of pitcher James Shields in trade couldn’t stop a slide to an eventual 78-84 finish.

Hahn began a full-scale rebuild that off-season, hiring Rick Renteria as the team’s new manager and trading away both Sale and outfielder Adam Eaton for prospects, including infielder Yoan Moncada and pitchers Lucas Giolito, Reynaldo Lopez and Michael Kopech.  And in the middle of 2017, the Sox traded Quintana to the Cubs for a package headlined by outfielder Eloy Jimenez.  But many of the players acquired in those blockbuster deals remain in the minor leagues, and the major league squad is battling through another losing season.

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Chicago Bears

The Bears started the decade near the top of the world - or at least, the top of the NFL.  With Lovie Smith on the sidelines, Jay Cutler behind center and the heart of the Super Bowl 41 defense still in control, the team opened 2010 with three straight close wins and won seven of their final nine games.  They finished 11-and-5 and won the NFC North, earning a first-round playoff bye in the process.

In the Divisional round, the Bears outlasted Seattle 35-24, as Cutler ran in two touchdowns and threw two more.  That set up an NFC Championship Game meeting with hated rival Green Bay, at Soldier Field.  The Packers scored twice in the first half for a 14-0 lead, and after just one series of the third quarter, Cutler left with a mysterious injury later revealed to be a sprained medial collateral ligament.  Backup Todd Collins played in two series before the Bears turned to third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie. He led two scoring drives, but also threw a pick-six to Green Bay lineman B.J. Raji, and the Bears lost 21-14.  Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs, Julius Peppers and Devin Hester went to the Pro Bowl, while Peppers and Hester were named All-Pros.

Hopes were high for 2011, and the Bears started the season 7-and-3.  But they dropped five in a row late, with a Christmas Day loss to the Packers eliminating the team from playoff contention.  They finished 8-and-8.  Hester was again named an All-Pro; five others, including Briggs and Urlacher, went to the Pro Bowl.

The arrival of receiver Brandon Marshall in trade from the Dolphins reunited Cutler with his favorite target, dating back to their time in Denver.  The duo, plus running back Matt Forte and a defense that ran six interceptions back for touchdowns in the first seven games, got the Bears off to their hottest start since that Super Bowl season.  They were 7-and-1 at the turn.  Then their luck turned - the team dropped five of its next six games, with four of the losses coming by eight points or fewer.  Even with wins in the final two weeks of the year, and a 10-and-6 record, the Bears were left out of the playoffs.

Marshall set franchise single-season records for catches and receiving yards, and was one of four Bears named first-or-second team All-Pros and five Bears named to the Pro Bowl.

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But the day after the season ended, the Bears parted ways with Smith, who had led the team for nine seasons.  Only George Halas and Mike Ditka had served as Bears head coach for longer.

The team hired Marc Trestman to succeed Smith.  Trestman had spent a dozen years as head coach of the CFL’s Montreal Alouettes, and was seen as an offensive guru.  And early, the move seemed to work.  The Bears won three straight shootouts to start the year, helping paper over the off-season loss and eventual retirement of franchise linebacking loss Brian Urlacher.  They wouldn’t lose or win more than two consecutive games the rest of the way, but went into Week Sixteen at 8-and-6 and in first place in the NFC North.  The team could have clinched the division with a win over the Eagles - but was blown out, 54-11, setting up a winner-take-all match with Green Bay in the season finale at Soldier Field.  The back-and-forth game came down to the final minute, when Aaron Rodgers found blown coverage and Randall Cobb from 48 yards away for the game-winning touchdown.

Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte, Tim Jennings and Kyle Long all went to the Pro Bowl, with the first-round lineman Long earning recognition on several all-rookie teams.  And Charles Tillman’s charitable work earned him the NFL’s Walter Payton Man of the Year award.

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But things went downhill in 2014.  The team lost eight of its last ten games and finished 5-and-11.  Only Long and tight end Martellus Bennett received postseason honors.  And Trestman and General Manager Phil Emery were fired the day after the regular season ended.

They were replaced by John Fox and Ryan Pace, respectively.  Fox had over a decade of head coaching success with the Panthers and Broncos, while Pace, who was just 37 at the time, became the youngest GM in the NFL.  The two began a full overhaul of the roster by trading Marshall and letting players like Tillman leave in free agency.

The Bears dropped the first three games of Fox’s tenure and finished the season just 6-and-10 in 2015.  They fell further to just 3-and-13 in 2016, with Cutler playing in just five games.  He would be released after the season, and the team would draft quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with the second pick in the 2017 draft.  Still, the Bears finished 5-and-11 in 2017 as they eased Trubisky in.  Fox was fired, but Pace stayed - hiring Kansas City offensive coordinator Matt Nagy as the club’s next head coach.

First round draft picks like linebackers Leonard Floyd and Roquan Smith, and oft-injured receiver Kevin Smith, hope to lead the Bears back to the playoffs in 2018.

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Chicago Bulls

Joakim Noah, Luol Deng, Derrick Rose, and all-rookie team member Taj Gibson formed the backbone of a Bulls team that finished the 2009-2010 season at .500, losing to the Cavaliers in five games in round one of the playoffs.

They would all return for 2010-11, but coach Vinny Del Negro would not.  GM Gar Forman fired Del Negro and hired defensive specialist Tom Thibodeau away from the Boston Celtics bench.  The Bulls also signed free agents Carlos Boozer and Kyle Korver and shot to the top of the NBA, winning a league-best 62 games and surging all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals before running into Lebron James and the Miami Heat.  Still, Thibodeau was named Coach of the Year, Forman shared Executive of the Year honors with Miami’s Pat Riley, and Rose averaged 27 points and better than 7 assists per game to became the youngest MVP in league history, at just 22 years old.

The Bulls drafted Jimmy Butler and the rights to Nikola Mirotic that offseason, and after a lockout sucked 16 games off the 2011-2012 schedule, they again put up the league’s best record.  But in game one of the playoffs, against the Philadelphia 76ers, basketball tragedy struck.  Late in an eventual Bulls win, Rose drove for a layup and injured his left knee on the shot.  He’d be diagnosed with a torn ACL, and the Bulls would lose the series 4-games-to-2.

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Rose missed the entire 2012-13 season, though questions about his possible return dogged the franchise throughout.  Rose was medically cleared to come back in March, but did not, causing friction with the front office and fan base.  Without him, the Bulls still won 45 games and finished second in their division.  They also won a seven-game first-round series with Brooklyn that included a triple-overtime thriller, but succumbed to the Heat in round two.

Rose returned to start the 2013-14 season but lasted only ten games - this time, injuring the meniscus in his right knee and missing the rest of the year.  Despite that loss and the mid-season trade of Deng, the Bulls won 48 games and made the playoffs, though they lost in round one.

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The team reloaded for 2014-15, signing free agent Pau Gasol, waiving Boozer, and bringing Mirotic over from Real Madrid.  Despite Rose missing another 30 games due to injury, the emergence of Jimmy Butler, who led the team in scoring, brought the Bulls 50 wins - but another second-round playoff exit.  And inter-office strife led Forman and vice president John Paxson to fire Thibodeau, hiring Fred Hoiberg as his replacement. 

In the three seasons since, the Bulls have qualified for the playoffs just once.. They traded Rose to New York after the 2015-16 season and let Noah and Gasol walk as free agents.  And after a quick flirtation with ‘Three Alphas’ the next season - Butler, Dwyane Wade and Rajon Rondo - the Bulls began a down-to-the-studs rebuild. 

Butler was traded to Minnesota, Wade was allowed to leave for Cleveland, and Rondo was released.  The Bulls also shipped Mirotic to New Orlenas - after his 2017 preseason fight with Bobby Portis.

The Bulls’ future is in the hands of 2017 first-round choice Lauri Markkanen, Kris Dunn, and Zach Lavine - with Hoiberg leading the way.

College Football

Pat Fitzgerald’s Northwestern Wildcats opened 2010 with a New Year’s Day Outback Bowl loss to Auburn.  They’d lose the TicketCity Bowl and the Meineke Car Care Bowl in the next two seasons, but win the 2013 Gator Bowl over Mississippi State 34-20.  That marked Northwestern’s first Bowl win since the 1949 Rose Bowl.  Offensive weapon Venric Mark and kicker Jeff Budzien would be named first-team All-Americans in that stretch, and linebacker Anthony Walker earned that honor in 2015.

After two subpar seasons the Wildcats picked up ten wins in 2015, though they lost the Outback Bowl to Tennessee.  They won the 2016 Pinstripe Bowl over Pittsburgh and in 2017, the Wildcats ended the season with ten wins and the number-17 ranking in both the Coaches’ and AP polls.  Northwestern also beat Kentucky in the Music City Bowl, 24-23.

Most notably - the Wildcats opened a brand new 260-million dollar lakefront practice facility in April 2018, one that figures to help the Wildcats recruit talent for years to come.

Illinois football reached Bowl games in 2010 under Ron Zook, 2011 with interim head coach Vic Koenning, who took over after Zook’s firing, and in 2014 under Tim Beckman.  Beckman was hired after Zook’s dismissal and lasted three seasons, but was fired just one week before the 2015 season was to begin after allegations that he forced athletes to play through serious injuries and intimidated team doctors and trainers.

Beckman’s offensive coordinator Bill Cubit stepped into the breach and coached the next two seasons.  But in March of 2016 - on his first day on the job - new Illinois Athletic Director Josh Whitman fired Cubit.  Two days later he hired former Bears coach Lovie Smith, who is 5-and-19 in two seasons at the helm.

College Basketball 

In back-to-back seasons this decade, the feel-good story of the NCAA Tournament called the shores of Lake Michigan home.

The honor went to Northwestern in 2017, which reached the Field of 64 for the first time in its history by setting a team record with 24 wins and finishing tied for fifth in the Big Ten. 

The Wildcats finished with a winning record in the Big Ten for the first time in 49 years, highlighted by a buzzer-beating, length-of-the-court pass and layup by Dererk Pardon to beat Michigan on senior night at Welsh-Ryan Arena.  Northwestern beat Vanderbilt in round one of the Tournament, but bowed out to Gonzaga in round two. 

And in 2018, Loyola shocked all of college basketball by surging to the Final Four.  The Ramblers won 32 games and the Missouri Valley Conference title on the way to their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1985.  Porter Moser’s crew - with a healthy spiritual dose from ‘Sister Jean’, the school’s longest and best-known fan - beat Miami, Tennessee, Nevada and Kansas State to win the South Region and earn a trip to San Antonio for the Final Four.  That’s where the magic ran out - despite 17 points from center Cameron Krutwig, Michigan beat Loyola 69-57. 

Krutwig and star Clayton Custer will return next season with a return trip to the dance in mind.

Illinois is on its third coach of the decade.  Bruce Weber led the Illini to the round of 32 in 2011, but was let go in 2012 after nine seasons at the helm and 210 wins, third on Illinois’ all-time leaderboard.  He was replaced by John Groce, who got the Illini back to the round of 32 in 2013 but failed to have a winning Big Ten season over five years in charge.  Brad Underwood took over for the 2017-18 season, and the rebuilding Illini finished 4-and-14 in conference, their worst mark in 19 years.

DePaul got a new downtown arena built in 2017, but failed to reach the postseason at any time in the decade, first under Oliver Purnell and then under Dave Leitao, who returned to the program after previously coaching it in the mid-2000s.  DePaul’s women continue to have success under Doug Bruno.  They have reached the NCAA Tournament in every year of the 2010s, with three Sweet Sixteen appearances and a run of five straight Big East championships.

And finally...

The Chicago Fire have only reached the Major League Soccer postseason twice in the decade, losing in the knockout round both times.  The team’s biggest splash came with the 2017 signing of Bastian Schweinsteiger, best known for his 17 seasons with Bayern Munich and World Cup championship for Germany in 2014.  Nemanja Nikolic and David Accam also starred for the Fire late in the decade.

The Chicago Wolves won four AHL division titles in the decade but did not win, or play for, a Calder Cup.

Dennis Kimetto set a Chicago Marathon course record in 2013.  Other winners on the men’s side include Moses Mosop, Eliud Kipchoge, and in 2017, American Galen Rupp - the first American-born athlete to take the race since 1982.  Florence Kiplgat won the women’s race twice, and Tatyana McFadden won the wheelchair race in seven consecutive years.

And Chicago sports lost several greats in the decade.  Cubs Hall of Famers Ron Santo and Ernie Banks, White Sox star Minnie Minoso, former Bulls GM Jerry Krause, and former Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan are among the greats lost in the 2010s.  So was Eric Brown, a beloved member of the WBBM Sports team, who passed away in 2014.

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