Heartbreakers: Chicago sports give us the adage ‘there’s always next year’

Over the past few years, most of Chicago sports teams have had pretty successful seasons after years of disappointment and letdowns in the early 2000s.

The early 2000s was difficult for fans of any Chicago professional team: the Bears struggled essentially every year until they went to the Super Bowl in 2006; Cubs and White Sox fans dreaded long summers of baseball until the 2005 season when the White Sox won the World Series; the Bulls were one of the worst teams for consecutive years after the departure of Michael Jordan and company; and the Blackhawks were arguably just as bad as the Bulls.

Yet after the White Sox brought home the World Series trophy in 2005, slowly but surely some winning spirit was brought back to Chicago sports teams that desperately needed it.

The Bears lost in the Super Bowl in 2006 to the Indianapolis Colts, then in 2010 went on to win the NFC North division but got bounced out of the playoffs right before the Super Bowl game by their division rivals, the Green Bay Packers.

This encouraged Bears fans to think 2011 would be their year to win the Super Bowl, especially after quarterback Jay Cutler got injured in the NFC championship game versus the Packers.

The 2011 season for the Bears started off a little rocky but after 10 games the Bears were 7-3 and riding high on the success of Cutler’s best season statistically as a Bear and the defense was one of the best in the league.

During one of Cutler’s best games of the season versus the San Diego Chargers, Cutler broke his thumb on his throwing arm and missed the rest of the season. With six games left in their schedule, fans once confident of their chances to make it to the Super Bowl, let alone even the playoffs, were shot down immediately. There was some hope with backup QB Caleb Hanie to at least bring them three wins to get into playoffs but the Bears went 1-5 for the rest of the season and missed the playoffs.

Bear fans were obviously upset and this just led to people moving on to the next sport season, which is basketball. The Chicago Bulls have been in the playoffs since they drafted the hometown hero, Derrick Rose, in 2008. In the first round of the playoffs in Rose’s first two seasons, the Bulls lost both outings.

The 2010-2011 season for the Bulls was such a success for the team that they ended up with the number one overall record of 62-20, Derrick Rose went on to become the youngest player in NBA history to win the Most Valuable Player award, and Bulls head coach Tom Thibodeau won the Coach of the Year award in just his first year as a head coach, capping off an exciting season for the Bulls and give all fans the hope that they could win a championship that year.

The Bulls played the Miami Heat in the conference final series, but the talent of LeBron James and Dwyane Wade was too much for the Bulls and ended their season in five games, moving the Heat into the Finals against the eventual champion Dallas Mavericks. The failure of not getting the Bulls to the Finals put a lot of weight on Rose’s shoulders and he vowed to come back better than ever to lead the Bulls to the championship.

With the following NBA season in jeopardy during the offseason because of the lockout, fans were discouraged that they would not be able to get to see the Bulls make a run for the title. Fortunately, the lockout came to an end in December, yielding a shortened season of 66 games and giving all basketball fans a gift on Christmas Day with the start of the 2011-12 NBA season and primetime opening matchups like Bulls versus the Los Angeles Lakers, a game the Bulls would go on to win to start the season on a winning note.

The curse of the shortened season was that it provided little to no time for rest or practice for the teams to get better. This would come to hit Derrick Rose especially hard because even though the Bulls still became the number one seed in the Eastern Conference, Rose had an injury prone season with several different injuries like turf toe, sprained ankles and back spasms. He missed 27 games but came back to play in time for the first round of the playoffs.

The Bulls would play the eight-seed Philadelphia 76ers and in the first game of the series, Rose injured himself jumping in the final minute and twenty seconds of the game, doing what he does all the time.

The worst-case scenario was announced to the city of Chicago soon after with Rose suffering a torn ACL that would cause him to miss the rest of the postseason, shattering the Bulls hopes of winning a championship this year. The 76ers went on to defeat them in the first round, only the fifth time in NBA history an 8-seeded team defeated a number one ranked team. Very few believed the Sixers had a chance to beat the Bulls until unfortunate events occurred.

“When Derrick Rose was injured I didn’t form an opinion right away. It’s like the blind man with perfect hearing: I think we lost one sense and I figured others would strengthen, that our players would step up,” said Sterling Long, a resident of Chicago and Bulls fan.

Staying with teams housed in the United Center, the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup championship in 2010 and in that following offseason had to dismantle most of the team because of salary cap restrictions.

The next season as reigning champs, the Blackhawks appeared to have lost that championship feel and struggled at times during the season to a point that hockey analysts dubbed it the “Stanley Cup Hangover,” yet on the final day of the regular season negotiated themselves into the playoffs with a sufficient record.

They ended up losing in the first round to rival Vancouver Canucks in seven games, putting an end to the defense of their championship. The 2011-12 Blackhawks had a brighter outlook to the season and were hoping to get back to the Stanley Cup with a few new free-agents signings over the summer.

The Hawks drew the Phoenix Coyotes in the first round and would lose the series in six games (4-2) to end a season that could have potentially put the Hawks back as Stanley Cup contenders.

DePaul’s senior club hockey player and die-hard Blackhawks fan Danny Pietro gave his take on what the team could fix this offseason to get the Hawks back into title contention.

“I think they either need to get a new goalie or [current goalie] Corey Crawford needs to build up confidence,” said Pietro. “I also think they need to become more of a blue collar team that isn’t afraid to hit and block shots.”

With the baseball season just a month into the season, Chicago fans have to rely on the Cubs and White Sox to show and prove that they are not as bad as many experts and even their own fans believe they are. The Cubs have a rich tradition that not many teams in the MLB can claim and even with over 100 years of a title drought, Cub fans still believe in their team no matter the case.

With a new general manager in Theo Epstein, who ended the 86-year championship “curse” for the Boston Red Sox, Cub fans feel that their own curse of the Billy Goat and infamous scapegoat Steve Bartman can come to an end under Epstein, even though it will take time to fix the team they want to win it all.

“I believe that the Cubs will not do well this year and for the next few years will be a rebuilding process,” said Bracken Corbin, a senior Cubs fan. “Cubbies will win one for sure in our lifetime and I think within the next 10-15 years we will win one. In Theo we trust.”

The White Sox were letdown last year after their preseason promotion of “All In,” sparked by their acquisitions of slugger Adam Dunn and the return of the injury-prone ace pitcher Jake Peavy. The Sox failed to live up to expectations with career lows in batting from Dunn and outfielder Alex Rios. They were projected to win the central division of the America League conference, yet finished in third, 16 games behind division champs Detroit Tigers.

This year the Sox were projected to lose 95 games, which clearly upset the White Sox ball club. They got rid of manager Ozzie Guillen, known for his frequent outbursts and foul-mouthed interviews, and replaced him with former White Sox player Robin Ventura, who never held a managerial job in his life.

So the questioning of what the Sox will do this season is understandable with a new manager with no managing experience, but the same players are on the team from last year that was expected to win the division and can very well surprise people in the end of the season.

This past year has been disappointing for the city of Chicago as far as its professional sports teams building up high expectations and then not being able to make playoffs or make deep runs into the postseason. Chicagoans just have to wait another year for their Chicago teams to hopefully reign supreme again.