By Jason Maholy
Let’s cut right to the chase, Super Bowl LIII is Sunday.
Somewhere between pizza, salsa, beverages, ‘squares,’ stupidly expensive commercials, musical entertainment and general hoopla, a football game between the AFC champion New England Patriots and NFC champion Los Angeles Rams: Part II will be played in Atlanta’s sparkling new Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
While most of the press coverage since the conference championship games has concerned the supposedly controversial manner in which both teams got to the Super Bowl, there are some interesting facts and storylines surrounding the game.
Start with Tom Brady, who will be gunning for his sixth championship ring in nine Super Bowl appearances. Nine trips to the title game. Let that soak in for a second.
That’s as we know eight more Super Bowl appearances than Walter Payton, and also as you may not know nine more than Hall of Famers Steve Largent, Derrick Thomas, Warren Moon, Dan Fouts, Barry Sanders, and two of Chicago’s favorites – Gayle Sayers and Dick Butkus.
Aside from defying the odds in terms of maintaining his health, skills and youthful good looks, Brady will after Sunday have played in a Super Bowl in nine of his 19 NFL seasons. He has been fortunate to play for one of the best franchises in North American professional sports and under one of the best coaches to prowl the sideline, but he has also found success in many of his years – including championship seasons – with a supporting cast that is typically not filled with stars.
Brady is the rare player – the truly great -- that can raise the level of his teammates’ performances. His combination of physical skill and intangibles – competitiveness, intensity and the sheer will to win – makes other players better. Chicago sports fans can relate to this type of player, as we enjoyed the fruits born of Michael Jordan’s greatness to the tune of six NBA titles.
Enjoy it while it lasts, Patriots fans. I wish Brady the best and it will be interesting to see how the twilight years of his career play out, but such a ridiculous level of success for any franchise cannot and will not last forever.
On the mat
High school wrestling will go into the frying pan Feb. 9 and 10 with the Class 2A and 3A regionals, and a slew of grapplers from area schools who have the potential to do major damage in the state series.
Seniors Pat Nolan and Alex Hirschfield of Sandburg, Jacob Dado and Mike Leveille of Marist, and Domenic Zaccone of Stagg will be looking to close out their high school careers with state titles. Nolan, Dado and Zaccone have each medaled multiple times in Champaign, and hopefully two of them will finish with the top prize.
Why two? Well, Nolan and Dado both wrestle at 138. I hope they are placed on opposite sides of the bracket so they have the chance to face each other in the state championship match. We could get a preview, as they could potentially face each other in sectionals prior to the state tournament.
One wrestler we won’t see – and haven’t seen his season, for that matter – is Mia Palumbo of Richards. Palumbo spent this season rehabbing from hip surgery after one of the most amazing campaigns in Illinois high school wrestling history in 2017-18. That year, her freshman season, Palumbo became the first female wrestler to win a match at the state tournament, then raised the bar by winning a second. I for one can’t wait to see Mia on the mat again, trying to make more history next season.
I mentioned Michael Jordan earlier. Good times, those were, on Chicago’s West Side. I hope all you sports fans appreciate not just Jordan’s greatness and the joy it was to watch the best basketball player ever, but being able to root every year for a team that was among the favorites to win the NBA championship.
I say this because what is going on with the Bulls these days is downright nauseating.
The Bulls didn’t have a chance to do anything great this year, but I had hoped that with a young nucleus of guys like Laurie Markkanen, Zach LaVine and Kris Dunn, along with top draft pick Wendell Carter Jr., we’d see some signs of growth and development. It instead appears everyone in the organization is going backwards. From the regression of the team’s top talent to the firing of Fred Hoiberg in favor of Jim Boylen and his archaic offense, to trading for a burnt our former superstar in Carmelo Anthony (who will never do so much as practice with the team), the Bulls are at this point a laughing stock.
The again, it’s be naïve to think this wasn’t all part of the front office’s master plan. Accrue young talent and then tank with the intent to acquire one of the top three picks in the draft isn’t such a bad idea with the team not going anywhere anyway. The problem is, we fans have no reason to trust any plan concocted by John Paxson and Gar Foreman, who have driven the franchise into the ground with their mismanagement of egos, talent and assets.