For many Chicago Bears fans, the best part of the 2020 season was knowing the team’s 5-1 start was a mirage and having their beliefs confirmed by Sunday’s lackadaisical performance in the 21-9 wild-card-round loss to the New Orleans Saints.
“Would you rather win ugly or lose pretty?” quarterback Nick Foles asked in mid-October after an uninspiring victory over the Carolina Panthers.
No one could convince us we were wrong, and the Bears proceeded to lose ugly after Foles’ rhetorical question, with his ineptitude contributing to the crash-and-burn.
But now that the Bears are done, what can Chicago sports fans look forward to over the next nine months before the 2021 opener?
Plenty, including these nine things.
1. The start of the Collin Delia/Malcolm Subban/Kevin Lankinen era
Which of the three Blackhawks goalies will win the job to replace the legendary Corey Crawford? Collin Delia, Malcolm Subban and Kevin Lankinen are the three candidates, and the competition might be ongoing throughout the season. With no exhibition games to gauge their performances, Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton will have to make his initial assessment based on a week or so of practices at Fifth-Third Arena. The fun starts Wednesday against the defending champion Lightning in Tampa, Fla., where we’ll find out who gets first dibs.
2. Pitchers and catchers report
No firm dates have been set for the Chicago Cubs or White Sox, but it should happen at some point in mid- to late February or early March. The Cactus League is still set to begin Feb. 27, though that appears unlikely. Arizona is one of the current coronavirus hot spots, adding to the uncertainty. Watching spring training workouts and games is a grand tradition for vacationing fans, but making reservations will be risky.
3. NBA trade deadline
Chicago Bulls star Zach LaVine ranked fourth in the NBA in scoring on Monday, averaging 27.7 points, and should be one of the more coveted players at the March 25 trade deadline. Bulls boss Arturas Karnisovas has to consider everything, knowing his team is still a few years away from competing in the Eastern Conference. Until then, we can enjoy the energy and improved play by the young Bulls with LaVine as the sole alpha in the lineup.
4. March Madness
After a one-year absence, the NCAA Tournament returns with a twist — an Indiana bubble-type atmosphere with all the games taking place in and around Indianapolis. Illinois and Loyola look like the only sure bets of the locals, with Northwestern fading fast and DePaul stuck in reverse thanks in part to so many COVID-19 cancellations. The Illini have been dominant and disappointing in back-to-back games — and sometimes disappointing and dominant in the same game (just ask Northwestern) — so there’s no telling how they’ll fare come March. Either way, they’re always fascinating to watch.
5. Opening day
April 1 is closer than you think, though everything obviously is written in invisible ink because of the pandemic. The Cubs tentatively begin their season at Wrigley Field against the Pittsburgh Pirates, while the Sox start out the Tony La Russa 2.0 era on the road against the Los Angeles Angels. We’re still waiting on some moves from both teams, but the Sox figure to contend with the Minnesota Twins for the American League Central title, while the salary-shedding Cubs may or may not be in the mix in the watered-down NL Central.
6. NFL draft
Who will the Bears waste their first-round draft pick on? There’ll be plenty of talented players available the draft, scheduled to begin April 29 in Cleveland, and plenty of reason to assume Ryan Pace or a GM to be named later will select the wrong guy with the No. 20 pick. Or maybe the Bears will trade up for a college quarterback to compete with Nick Foles? That always works.
7. The return of Yu Darvish to Wrigley Field
The San Diego Padres come to Wrigley for their one-and-only series May 31-June 2. Hopefully Padres manager Jayce Tingler does the right thing and schedules his rotation in a manner that ensures Yu Darvish a start against his former team. In a perfect world, at least some fans will be allowed inside Wrigley to greet Darvish with some “Yuuuus” when he takes the mound.
8. Ken ‘Hawk’ Harrelson’s Ford Frick Award speech
The 2020 Baseball Hall of Fame ceremonies in Cooperstown, N.Y. were canceled, dad gummit, giving Harrelson more time to work on his speech. The former White Sox announcing legend finally is scheduled to get his due July 24, one day before Hall of Fame induction ceremonies for players Derek Jeter, Larry Walker, Ted Simmons, late union head Marvin Miller and anyone voted into this year’s class. Sit back, relax and strap it down, because you know Harrelson will have a few Hawkisms in his speech.
9. The Field of Dreams game
Last year’s inaugural game at the famous cornfield in Dyersville, Iowa, was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic. But the ghosts of “Shoeless” Joe Jackson and the other members of the 1919 Black Sox are on tap again for the rescheduled game Aug. 12. The Sox will play their originally scheduled opponents, the New York Yankees, who were replaced by the St. Louis Cardinals for a game that wasn’t played in 2020. It could be a battle of the top-two teams in the American League if everything falls into place, and watching a game in a cornfield will be unique. But if you’re planning to drive to Iowa, make sure you get a refundable reservation on your hotel room.