Bell’s death comes after scary concussion background

Last week was a tough one for Chicago Bears fans, or NFL fans in general, with two Bears former players passing away far too young. And sadly, both had their problems with concussions.

The suicide of former defensive back Dave Duerson – a member of the 1985 Super Bowl champs – has been well-publicized. While the extent of his concussion history is somewhat unknown, Duerson himself was concerned enough about the possibility that he decided to have his brain donated for research.

The other former Bears player – another former defensive back – who passed away was Ricky Bell. Bell’s death hasn’t gotten as much publicity in this country, since he spent most of his career in the Canadian Football League. He played three NFL seasons, and most of his time was spent with the Bears.

Bell died Feb. 17 (though it went mostly unreported until this weekend), and the cause of death was not released. He was just 36.

The Winnipeg Sun has a short write-up on Bell, and in it is a pretty chilling tale from a former CFL teammate:

Harold Nash Jr., who played with Bell in the Winnipeg secondary during the 2002 and 2003 seasons, remembers him as a tough competitor.

“This is an unfortunate situation, but I’ve got good memories of Ricky,” Nash said Friday. “Great football player, great person.”

Nash recalled a game against Toronto in which Bell took a head shot from teammate Maurice Kelly when they arrived to make a tackle at the same time. The wobbly Bell wanted to go right back in, so the trainers hid his helmet.

“Ricky found his helmet,” said Nash, now the strength and conditioning coach for the New England Patriots. “Ricky wouldn’t do any of the (concussion) testing. Rick was just, ‘No, I’m not doing the test.’ He finds his helmet, and he lines up in the box. He’s supposed to be out there covering a receiver.

“That was Rick. Rick loved the game. He loved to compete. He was a good team player.”

The part I simply can’t believe is that this was less than a decade ago when this occured. I believe concussion treatment has come a long ways, and I sure hope it’s come a very long ways from incidents like that.

Stories like that prove players can be their own worst enemies. Organizations HAVE to make these guys understand that it’s not about “being a man” and “shaking it off” when it comes to concussions. There’s so much more at stake.

The Jay Cutler rules

I’ve opted to do what so many in the media didn’t on Sunday, and that’s wait a day or two and gather information before saying or writing anything about the Jay Cutler injury.

I realize with Twitter and Facebook, many have a desire to get opinion out there as quickly as possible. But there is a lesson to be learned after watching ESPN analyst after ESPN analyst cover for themselves following critical statements about Chicago Bears QB Jay Cutler and the accusations that he quit on his team.

As I’m sure you’re well aware, Cutler went to the sideline early in the third quarter after what is now being diagnosed as a sprained MCL in his knee. The Chicago Sun-Times is reporting that it’s a Grade II tear. Those grades are on a scale of I, II and III.

I should start by saying that it is absolutely newsworthy when fellow NFL players like Darnell Dockett and Maurice Jones-Drew accuse him of quitting on his team or not giving his all. 

But I’m of the opinion that analysts and pundits should be more responsible. I expect those on ESPN and NFL Network to not act like they work for Fox News or MSNBC. I expect them to think rationally.

Yet immediately after Sunday’s game was over, ex-players now working for ESPN and NFL Network were critical of Cutler, saying that he should play through the pain and not pout on the sidelines without any news whatsoever regarding the severity of the injury or without acknowledging at all that head coach Lovie Smith himself pulled Cutler from that game.

The big reason why these accusations are being floated around was because Cutler isn’t a popular guy. In fact, he might be the least popular player in the NFL. There’s a perception he’s pouts and whines, though despite being the most-sacked QB in the NFL, I don’t recall much whining this year. So when ex-players see an opportunity to pounce on Cutler, they do so.

But after everything that’s happened over the last 48 hours, it feels like Cutler has become a sympathetic figure. Who would have ever thought that?

Many of these analysts backed off their statements on Monday, saying they didn’t “accuse him of faking injury.” ESPN’s Tom Jackson said the Bears should have given him an ice bag or crutches so in the injury looked more obvious, essentially blaming the Bears for what his colleagues were saying. Yeah, he really did say that. Check the link above.

Another former player – ESPN’s Derrick Brooks – criticized Cutler on Sunday for not being tough enough on TV and tweeted this (among others):

HEY there is no medicine for a guy with no guts and heart

He also backed off on Monday, as you’ll see in this video. Now he’s saying he didn’t quit on his team, but he could be a better cheerleader.

So let’s chronicle the Cutler criticisms over the last couple of years:

  • He throws too many interceptions.
  • In 2010, he cuts down on INTs but leaves playoff game with injury, so he’s a quitter.
  • Well, he was really injured. But shouldn’t he be more rah-rah when he is injured? And he looks like he pouts on the sidelines. We’d rather see him giggling and laughing with teammates, despite having been knocked out of the biggest game of his life.

If the next step in the progression is, “We don’t like his hair,” then the Bears might have hope that he can be the next Tom Brady.

Want to get your picture taken with a cooked bear?

The Bears-Packers rivalry might have gone too far. Or maybe it hasn’t gone far enough.

A St. Paul bar owner is going to roast a bear to show his support for the Green Bay Packers in today’s NFC championship game against the Chicago Bears.

That’s a pretty interesting story. But what’s even more unusual is that the bear can’t be served to the public because it didn’t meet standards. So all anyone can do is get their picture taken with it. Could make for some good Christmas cards, right?

Defense – not offense – rules the day in NFL

For all of the talk about the NFL being all too kind to offenses, a quick glance at the remaining playoffs teams reveals the contrary.

All four teams left in the NFL postseason are ranked in the top six in scoring defense. And while they might not have the high-powered offenses that draw the biggest ratings, it’s probably no surprise that defensive-minded teams are the ones left standings.

The popular theory is that offense is everywhere. Receivers can get away with everything. You can’t hit the quarterback anymore. All that jazz.

Point being it’s easy for teams to generate offense now. But the teams that stand out are the ones that despite – all of the rules that favor offense – are still able to be sound defensive teams. And I think that applies to the Chicago Bears, Green Bay Packers, New York Jets and Pittsburgh Steelers.

As for my predictions, you’ll find them on D3 of Sunday’s Forum. But in case you missed it, here they are:

Four storied franchises hook up in what should be a couple of pretty good conference championship games.
The New York Jets have been world beaters so far this postseason. After all, when you beat a team like the Jets did last week, there’s no other term that can be used. The New England Patriots had dominated throughout the final eight weeks of the regular season, yet the Jets took down the Super Bowl favorites. However, this is familiar territory for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and I’ll take experience.
And for just the second time in NFL history, the Bears and Packers meet in a playoff game. These two teams split the regular-season series, though the Bears weren’t playing for anything when they met in Week 17 loss to GB.
Bears 27, Packers 21
Steelers 23, Jets 13

Photos and more from Bears-Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium

Chicago Bears lined up on offense.

Outdoor football was everything I thought it would be, and I have the pictures to prove it.

As I mentioned Tuesday morning on this blog, I had a great time at the Chicago Bears-Minnesota Vikings game on Monday night, which was moved to TCF Bank Stadium after the Metrodome’s roof collapsed.

Ultimately, I think the Vikings will get approval for a new stadium. Seems like some momentum could build after the Metrodome’s problems.

There’s no doubt the Vikings made money on Monday night. They wouldn’t spend $700K to clear the field if they weren’t. But I’m sure they didn’t make nearly as much as they normally do for home games.

And my guess is their new stadium will have a roof or a retractable roof. Doesn’t seem to make much sense to have three new outdoors stadiums in the Twin Cities without building one that’s enclosed.

Anyway, here are a few photos from the game. Captions are beneath each photo.

Players warm up prior to Monday's game.

Robbie Gould kicks off to start the game.Chicago Bears lined up on offense.Was this the final time we'll see Brett Favre on a football field?

Was this the final time we'll see Brett Favre on a football field?

TCF proves to be a big hit for fans

In the end, it’s safe to say Monday’s game between the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears went off mostly without a hitch.

Yeah, there was a fan that ran onto the field and had to be restrained by security. And I’m sure all of the snow piling up on the streets led to a couple of accidents going to and from the game. But after attending Monday night’s game, I don’t recall hearing a single person say, “It is too cold. I’m leaving.” Instead, in the fourth quarter, it was, “The Vikings stink. I’m leaving.” Most people filed out with about nine minutes to play after Chicago’s Chris Harris intercepted a Joe Webb pass.

TCF Bank Stadium provided a pretty unique setting for football. For one night, the state became, “The Land of 10,000 Handwarmers.” And I loved it.

Everything about last night’s game felt like something from an NFL Films video. In fact, they had NFL Films videos from the Met Stadium days playing as fans waited for the game to start. You even had the 50 greatest Vikings players honored at halftime.

It didn’t take long before someone in our section decided to go shirtless. I don’t think that guy even waited until kickoff.

And despite the “no alcohol” policy on the University of Minnesota campus, I can assure you there were a few people who had one too many either prior to or during that game last night.

My group got its seats in the upper deck, and we even managed to avoid the bleachers, which was good. It was windy and cold. I won’t lie. I did slip on a facemask from time to time to protect my chin. But I couldn’t be happier about deciding to attend that game.

I’ll post photos as soon as I can. Wanted to get a few quick thoughts out there now while I had time.

Good news: Vikings confident everyone with tickets can attend Monday’s game

There are some encouraging quotes from Minnesota Vikings Chief Marketing Officer Steve LaCroix on the team’s website regarding Monday night’s game against the Chicago Bears, which had to be moved to TCF Bank Stadium after the Metrodome’s roof caved in last weekend.


TCF Bank Stadium looks ready to rock for Monday Night Football. Associated Press photo

LaCroix is fairly confident that everyone that wants to attend the game and has tickets will be able to do so. Parking sounds like the biggest concern the team has in playing a game at the University of Minnesota campus.

That’s good to hear. Out-of-towners should feel pretty confident that they will be able to get into TCF. It’s still first-come, first-served. So if you want good seats, you better still go early. I heard they might be looking at a little less than 50,000 attending, so standing-room spots hopefully won’t be necessary.

TCF has about 13,000 fewer seats than the Metrodome.

Week 15 picks

Most of my time this week is focused on my fantasy football team, which is still alive in the semifinals of my 16-team league. I’ve racked my brain over whether to start Pierre Garcon or Danny Woodhead (who is WR-eligible in Yahoo) all week and will continue to do so until prior to Sunday’s Colts kickoff at noon. I know Garcon caught two TDs last week, but he lets me down every time I start him.

Anyway, I had a monster week in the picks last week, going 5-0 after nearly forgetting to post any picks. Glad I got some posted. I’m at 35-25 this season. Here you go for this weekend:

  • Dallas by 6 over Washington. Cowboys
  • New York Giants by 3 over Philadelphia. Eagles
  • Cincinnati by 1 over Cleveland. Bengals
  • Miami by 6 1/2 over Buffalo. Bills
  • Oakland by 6 1/2 over Denver. Raiders

In face of stadium dilemma, greed rises from ice-covered stadium

I was completely shocked upon hearing that the Minnesota Vikings are going with a first-come, first-serve scenario when it comes to Monday’s game against the Chicago Bears.

In the Minneapolis Star Tribune story, some season tickets holders are threatening to not renew their season tickets. I can’t blame them.

In a week full of headaches, the Vikings have created another one. This time, Mother Nature can’t get all of the blame.

Obviously, with the 64,000-seat Metrodome out of commission, some fans are going to get left out with the game moving to 51,000-seat TCF Bank Stadium. But this wasn’t the way to figure that out.

Do a ticket lottery. Just tell the fans with the worst seats at the Metrodome that they can’t go because there isn’t room at TCF. Make a decision. But don’t do this.

I’m looking at it from the perspective of out-of-town fans in places like Fargo-Moorhead or even Chicago. What are they supposed to do? Make the cross-state or cross-region drive to the Twin Cities and hope that they can get in?

The problem with the scenarios I gave above is that if some of those people given approval to go to the game opted for refunds instead, the Vikings wouldn’t have a packed house. In a week where they will spend at least $700,000 clearing out a stadium, plus losing out on money made from the sale of beer and having to refund 13,000 ticket holders, somehow the fans are the ones that come out as losers.

The way this has been handled is unfortunate. I know there isn’t a page in the franchise ownership manual for handling a crisis like this, but I would have liked to see the Vikings improvise a little better than this.

So to you F-M fans out there with tickets to Monday’s game, good luck. I hope you’re not left out in the cold.

Football outside? You know you love it!

I have to admit that it just seems right that the Minnesota Vikings will honor their 50th anniversary team with a setting more like the one most of the players in franchise history played in. Of course, that’s ignoring the fact that, to steal a line from the movie “Grumpy Old Men,” it will be “butt cold” outside.


Crews are already working to clear the snow off of TCF Bank Stadium's field. Associated Press photo via the Minneapolis Star Tribune

The Vikings will host the first-place – I sure love saying that – Chicago Bears on Monday night at TCF Bank Stadium on the campus of the University of Minnesota. It was determined on Tuesday that the Metrodome will not be ready to host the team’s home final.

There are so many storylines to follow this week. Will the NFL get a waiver to allow alcohol to be sold at the on-campus stadium that doesn’t allow the sale of it? How can the Vikings handle the fact that the Metrodome seats about 13,000 more people than TCF? Who gets left out in the cold, so to speak?

It’s been a drama-filled season for the Vikings, and once again Brett Favre is in the mix too. Interim coach Leslie Frazier actually said Tuesday that he might play on Monday.

A memorable anniversary, plus NFL picks

It was a whole 25 years ago that an NFL team got together, made a memorable music video, and then went on to win the Super Bowl.

I’m speaking of the 1985 Chicago Bears. It was 25 years ago yesterday that the video was produced.

Hard to imagine a team doing something like that now. But you have to give that Bears team credit. They sure did back it up. The Bears outscored their opponents 91-10 en route to a Super Bowl title.

Week 13 NFL picks

Not a great week for me last week. I went 2-3, putting my season mark picking the spread at 26-24. Need to get some momentum going here.

  • Chiefs by 6 1/2 over Broncos: Chiefs (Yes, I know they got clobbered last time they faced Denver)
  • Chargers by 12 1/2 over Raiders: Raiders
  • Rams by 3 over Cardinals. Rams
  • Falcons by 2 1/2 over Bucs. Falcons
  • Patriots by 3 1/2 over Jets. Patriots