By Tim Baffoe-
(CBS) It still hurts.
The newly arrived cold hasn’t done much to numb the soreness still felt from that epically bad Chicago Bears season. Firing general manager Phil Emery and coach Marc Trestman was a bit of a temporary pick-me-up, but that buzz has worn off, and we’re left with a hangover of a vague search for two new leaders. The various names swirling compounded with the fear of meeting a new boss that’s the same as the old boss and the realization that the Bears aren’t a quick fix in the near future brings about a new anxiety rather than much relief.
In short, it sucks to be a Chicago football fan right now. But there are pain relievers at hand, fortunately, and they come in the form of the two other teams playing in this city right now.
The Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks both are a tonic for the nerve damage the Bears left in the dead of winter. Like the Bears, both were expected to succeed. Unlike the Bears, both have.
Besides the actual losing the Bears did in 11 of their 16 games, though, it was the way they lost that made it all the worse. They weren’t a victim of bad breaks; they were an under-prepared and out-coached group that weekly found new and underwhelming ways to look like a team that didn’t belong on the field. What’s more is that they were a thoroughly unlikeable bunch. Emery and Trestman’s press conference jargon and gobbledygook lost its shine real quick. Brandon Marshall became the full-on spazz he was no longer supposed to be. Martellus Bennett went from cute and quirky to angry and bothersome. And Jay Cutler, well, was Jay Cutler.
Never before had I ever watched a Bears team that I was spiteful toward. It became sadistic, such that after losses there was a feeling of deservedness — you earned that embarrassment, and it’s damn near satisfying to see you suffer. The toxicity of it all still lingers.
And yet the Bulls and Blackhawks are remedy. An opposite of the awful football in a way that not only are they winning, but they’re also both really fun to watch right now. And it’s the fun that’s helping get the bitterness of the Bears out of our mouths.
Monday night’s Bulls-Rockets matchup was a microcosm of it. The Eastern Conference is so lame that it seems the Bulls are often drawn into playing down to that competition or lack thereof. But when taking on the West, it has made fans’ mouths water for the prospect of the Bulls getting to the 2015 NBA Finals, one that seems more and more likely as the season goes on.
The Bulls scored 62 first-half points last night — a number that last season could have only been accomplished had an opponent literally not walked on the court for a quarter — en route to 114 in the win. Jimmy Butler, an absolute joy to watch this season, took on NBA leading scorer James Harden and won that battle. Newest Bull Pau Gasol had a game-high 27 points and 14 rebounds and continues to just be totally un-Carlos Boozer. To put it in perspective, through 32 games, Gasol has just 17 fewer blocks than Boozer did his entire Bulls career. And Derrick Rose continued to get his groove back with 19 points and nine assists.
Then there was Sunday night’s Blackhawks-Stars game. It certainly wasn’t the dominant effort the Hawks are capable of, but it was a win that showed that even when down and with fans slapping their foreheads — as they did when the Stars led 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 and 4-3 in that game — there’s usually never a feeling that the Hawks don’t got this.
Of course, the team has safety blankets galore. Jonathan Toews is the steady captain who will get his 60-70 points if healthy. Patrick Kane is the destroyer of all things an opponent holds dear. Kris Versteeg had proved all the rightful haters wrong so far before getting dinged up, but fellow left wing Patrick Sharp has returned from injury, was great on Sunday and netted the game winner in OT; he should continue his production and handsome goals. And even besides the really deep roster (including at goalie) and embarrassment of scorers the team has, there’s the added bonus of #TeuvoTime.
The active Chicago sports are kicking ass right now — and in such enjoyable individual game fashion most of the time. The Bears had cluelessness, incompetence, mutiny, little depth and a last-place divisional finish in a season most expected would include the playoffs.
The Bulls have a former MVP getting back to great basketball, another guard with MVP chatter about him and a reigning Defensive Player of the Year in Joakim Noah doing his hyperactive super-troll thing every night, and they’re well on their way to being the likely winner of their conference.
The Blackhawks had five of the first six players elected into the upcoming NHL All-Star Game and have legitimate Stanley Cup Final hopes once again.
And then there are also Tom Thibodeau, Joel Quenneville and two pretty solid front offices.
It still hurts, that stupid ugly Bears season. Just a hell of a lot less when I look at Chicago basketball and hockey.
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow him on Twitter @TimBaffoe.