Oct 18, 2021

Sky Town is Title Town

Sky Town is Title Town
(USA Today Sports)

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Good morning, frents!

Leading a Chicago sports newsletter with something other than a Bears-Packers result? I can't say I saw this coming.

Then again, the key word in "news" is "new" and what we saw at Soldier Field on Sunday wasn't.

But what went down a couple of long outlet passes away at Wintrust was. So let's start with your world champion Chicago Sky, shall we?

Sunday's results
Sky 80, Mercury 74
Packers 24, Bears 14

Today's schedule
No games

The Sky are 2021 WNBA champions

The story of the 2021 Chicago Sky began in late January with the free-agent signing of Naperville native Candace Parker.

It ended on Sunday with Parker and teammates lifting the title trophy at Wintrust Arena after a furious comeback keyed an 80-74 win over the Phoenix Mercury in Game 4 of the WNBA Finals.

Mission accomplished.

And game forever changed for the Sky and the Chicago sports scene

Here's the thing I kept coming back to on Sunday night: We've never seen anything like the celebration scene following the Sky's win.

Oh, we've seen plenty of titles. The Bulls, Hawks, Sox, Cubs and even the Bears (that one time 36 years ago) have taken care of that.

But none of those teams were made up of one-half the population that hasn't seen themselves reflected on our championship courts and fields.

The history of Chicago sports and women's success in the professional ranks is a thin one. Opportunities have been few and far between and they certainly haven't come with the attention of this Sky championship run. The team helped the WNBA set rating records during the regular season and Sunday's clincher was broadcast on ESPN.

Both WNBA Finals games in Chicago were sold out with over 10,000 people at Wintrust and presumably thousands more who would've gone if there were additional seats. Sky merch and jerseys are sure to fly off the shelves once the WNBA gets around to properly stocking it.

It hasn't been an easy road for the Sky in Chicago.

The franchise was announced in 2005 as one of the league's few franchises not attached to the city's NBA team. With no Sky players to speak of at the time, the league had a hot young rookie named Diana Taurasi show up at the Adler Planetarium announcement to attract television cameras.

Without that tie to the Bulls, the Sky didn't have a familiar or big venue to play (they started at the UIC Pavillion) or the marketing juice of one of the NBA's most savvy departments. Throw in decades of entrenched loyalties to existing pro teams and colleges as well as the preconceived notions from less open-minded fans (I'm trying to put that as nicely as possible) and it's a wonder the Sky franchise even survived to see a scene like Sunday's.

But a winner changes everything and this year's Sky team revealed one of the lesser-touted truths about Chicago sports fans.

We might love baseball in the summer and football in the fall, but we love packing a gym to watch a good basketball team as much as anything else. Whether it's the Bulls dynasty or the Ray Meyer DePaul squads or a great high school team we will show out to support a good basketball team with star power that works together.

The signing of Parker was the game-changer in that it brought out media that traditionally wouldn't pay attention to Sky. She appeared on magazine covers, did big television shows and even inspired us to tackle her famous order at Portillo's.

But none of it might have ultimately mattered if the talented team that needed that last push over the hump didn't respond as well.

It was a bumpy season. The Sky mixed long winning and losing streaks to finish 16-16, a record that put them in a position to battle through two single-elimination playoff games. They did that and then there was seemingly no stopping them. The Sky plowed through a No. 1-seeded Connecticut team in the semifinals before taking down Taurasi and Brittany Griner — two of the best players in league history — in the WNBA Finals.

Along the way, the casual Chicago sports fan was introduced to Kahleah Copper, Courtney Vandersloot, Allie Quigley, Stefanie Dolson, Azura Stevens and more. Each of those players brought their own stories and skillsets, employing each for the good of the team as it made history.

Admit it: It was nice to see a Chicago team rise above adversity and fulfill its expectations after sitting through a half-decade of playoff disappointments since the Cubs World Series.

The full impact of this team will take years to fully see. The Sky will still have to battle some of the roadblocks mentioned earlier and it'll take some work to stay on top given the ages of some players.

But 16 years after the franchise was born, the Sky can finally call themselves champions and look forward to a future with the new fans whose interest was piqued these past few weeks.

Sky Town is Title Town.

Check out the title t-shirt collection at BreakingT

"We stayed together. It was a microcosm of our season, where you go down and you keep pushing. By the end of it, the crowd took over, our players stayed together and you started to see who we were. I never doubted for a minute that we were going to win that game." — Sky coach James Wade

Packers 24, Bears 14

Same as it ever was

Aaron Rodgers Green Bay Packer Chicago Bears
(USA Today Sports)

OK, we can talk about the Bears now.

The main headline coming out of the Packers' methodical and familiar 24-14 win at Soldier Field is Aaron Rodgers rushing for the game-sealing touchdown and telling fans in the corner of the end zone that he's always owned us.

Rodgers said the response was spurred by a woman flipping him the double bird, which actually involves one more finger than the number of Super Bowl titles the Packers have won with No. 12 under center.

But no, I'm not bitter.

Sunday's loss would've been more upsetting if it weren't so predictable. Darnell Mooney's touchdown with 8:44 left cut Green Bay's lead to three and was there anyone watching who didn't know what would happen next?

Rodgers and the Packers responded with a 75-yard touchdown drive that ended with the quarterback scrambling in from six and creating a highlight that should lead the lengthy reel of Rodgers highlights "owning" the Bears. (I don't think I'll ever get used to the sight of the Packers wearing green at Soldier Field. Let's not do that again.)

Sunday's result made the Packers' 20th in the last 23 games against the Bears and ran Rodgers' record in the series to 22-5. If that was indeed his last game in Chicago while wearing a Packers uniform, it was a triumphant one.

But like I said, it was a predictable result and now the 3-3 Bears have to focus on the season's remaining 11 games.

A trip to Tampa Bay awaits next Sunday and it's hard to imagine the Bears hanging with Tom Brady and the Bucs' high-powered offense.

It's hard to imagine the Bears hanging with any team capable of scoring more than 21 points a game, a characteristic that's in high abundance among the teams on the Bears' remaining schedule.

Remember the preseason when Matt Nagy assured us that his vaunted offensive system was finally starting to come together in year 4 and that the big rewards were just around the corner?

Shocker of shockers: I guess that's not happening.

Actually, if you needed one coach to score on his team's opening drive, you might pick Nagy, who has shown a decent ability at scripting an opening effort, particularly at home.

The Bears went eight plays for 80 yards on their opening drive and I'd be lying if I said I didn't allow myself to picture a walk over Green Bay on a beautiful fall afternoon in Chicago.

But it's never easy with Nagy against good teams, particularly against a Packers team he's now 1-6 against. Despite Khalil Herbert's impressive performance (19 carries for 97 yards and a touchdown) and the absence of Jaire Alexander and Kevin King in Green Bay's secondary, the offense struggled until the second scoring drive midway through the fourth.

Justin Fields was hampered by both playcalling and a bad no-call by officiating on an interception he thought was a free play. But if we're being honest, he also had issues with his release times and decision making (though his ability to scramble got him out of a couple of jams).

Four games into his tenure as a starter, it's obvious that Fields has special skills that also need the attention of a special coaching staff. It seems clear that Fields is not going to get that from Matt Nagy and Co. and if the staff can't start showing some real results quickly, their job security will and should dominate conversation from Halloween on.

The good news, though, is that Rodgers' ownership comes with an expiration date, presumably soon.

It's a shame we can't say the same for the McCaskey's stewardship.

College rundown

  • Northwestern 21, Rutgers 7: Ryan Hilinski threw for 267 yards and two TDs as the Wildcats (3-3) got their first Big Ten win.
  • Northern Illinois 34, Bowling Green 26: Jay Ducker carried the ball 33 times for 210 yards, becoming the first Huskie since Jordan Lynch in 2013 to cross the 200-yard mark. Huskies are 5-2 and a perfect 3-0 in the MAC.

  1. Major League Baseball is planning on providing housing for its minor league baseball players, Jeff Passan reports. ESPN
  2. Mark Lazerus on the Hawks approaching the crisis level after just three (horrid) games to start the season. The Athletic
  3. KC Johnson with takeaways from the Bulls' perfect preseason. NBC Sports Chicago
  4. Shades of the Pistons? Diana Taurasi and the rest of the Mercury players skipped out on doing any postgame media after the loss. Yahoo Sports
  5. Chicago baseball's link to the Great Chicago Fire. Daily Herald

Note #1: I mixed up "Friday Night Lights" with "Varsity Blues" in Sunday's newsletter. I regret the error, as well as ever watching either movie.

Note #2: Thanks to everyone who came out to Nisei on Sunday. Would love to do it again sometime soon.

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