When they talk about things being bigger in Texas, apparently they did not mean the capacity to enjoy a good debate.
After suggesting Thursday in print and online that Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo after eight starts more than Bears quarterback Rex Grossman did after 14, I half-expected to hear from Mavericks owner Mark Cuban too. Nearly all owners of laptops or Blackberries in the Dallas Metroplex weighed in with their Romo love.
I read so much mail from Cowboy outposts across the state that I fear I'm starting to detect a bit of a Texas accent in the voice in my head.
So y'all can cool it for a while until Grossman and Romo settle this debate at 10 paces in the playoffs.
Here are some letters that did not begin, "Dear Idiot," or demand harsher drug testing for Tribune sports writers.
Will the Bears ever retire Mike Singletary's number? --Jody Davis, Round Lake, Ill.
There are no plans in the works currently but any potential Bears rookie hot shot who wore No. 50 in college might want to come up with an alternative. No Bears player has worn Singletary's signature jersey number since "Samurai Mike" stopped making tackles for the Bears in 1992.
David, Why does it seem like Rex Grossman's back has to be against the wall for him to perform well? He has handled himself extremely well during his down period. I am tired of all the whiners in pro sports; it is refreshing to see someone stand up, take responsibility and work to get better. --Jim Bingley, Wentzville, Mo.
A longtime observer of Bears football who has endured more quarterbacks than Grossman has had birthdays watched him conduct a press conference after the New England loss. The man remarked he had never seen a Bears quarterback any better in facing adversity, handling public pressure or dealing with the external factors that eat up many other quarterbacks of lesser character. Sometimes, maybe Grossman is even too aware of his surroundings, and that contributed to his tentativeness at times this year as he anticipated the consequences of a decision even before he made it. As for why Grossman plays better after nearing rock-bottom, it's something he must overcome if he wants to achieve the consistency that will separate NFL quarterbacks with potential and ones with long, successful careers.
What kind of defensive lineup are we going to see in the playoffs? Do you expect Nathan Vasher, Todd Johnson, and Tank Johnson to be in the lineup? What's their injury status? And while we're talking injuries, how are John Tait and Thomas Jones looking? --Fred Venturini, Carlyle, Calif.
By the time the playoffs start Jan. 14, expect both Johnsons and Vasher to return to the Bears' starting defense if all three are as healthy as they should be by then. Vasher's hamstring continues to improve and he has been missed. Todd Johnson's teammates nicknamed him "Textbook" for a reason, and he provides more stability against the run and more big plays than Chris Harris. Harris can come up with a big hit but Johnson will help the secondary avoid the alignment confusion that could have cost them a touchdown against Tampa Bay on Joey Galloway's 64-yard pass. As for Tank, the biggest impediment between him and the starting lineup might be a judge in Skokie expected to decide Friday whether the Bears defensive tackle's probation violation last week was serious enough to put him behind bars. On the other side of the ball, Tait missed practice again Thursday and no good reason exists to risk playing him Sunday. Jones returned, but could use some rest too once he matches whatever personal goals he and the team have identified are important.
Forgive my ignorance, but what's the downside to declaring Lance Briggs a franchise player? I am sure he doesn't love itsince his salary isn't as bigand his agent obviously hates it, but what's the downside to the Bears? --Andrew, Paris, France
The fear is the ever-present threat of Briggs holding out all but six games so he could earn a portion of his salary, which would destroy any chemistry and impair the playoff hopes of a Bears team that should be Super Bowl contenders again in 2007. Agents and players threatening such action after getting the franchise tag typically try to force trades, another reality the Bears would just as soon avoid. So the downside of tagging Briggs as a franchise player is that it complicates things for a team that likes to avoid complications.
Is Alex Brown's future with the Bears uncertain if Mark Anderson keeps stepping up? --Josh Hendon, Normal, Ill.
Alex Brown's contract runs through the 2009 season and the Bears identified him as a core player in their defense when they extended his deal two years ago. Teams don't like walking away from that kind of long-term investment and Brown has played well enough, especially in spurts he can dominate, to justify the money for a defense so reliant on pressure from the edges. That said, Anderson deserves to keep playing as much as he did against Tampa Bay when he rotated more with Brown than left end Adewale Ogunleye. Ogunleye's contract runs through 2009 too, and the Bears spent even more money on him but he is a team leader and still capable of changing the momentum of a football game. Great defenses need and find room for three dominant outside pass-rushers, and that will be the pleasant challenge for the Bears in the coming years.
What in the name of Clyde "Bulldog" Turner has happened to the Bears' vaunted D these past two weeks? Is Tommie Harris really that important that the defense collapses when he's not on the field? Does his mere presence make everyone else on the D-Line significantly better? If so, I would argue that Harris is even more valuable to the Bears than Brian Urlacher. Furthermore, if Harris comes back at full strength next year, not only should the Bears make him the highest-paid defensive tackle in the league, they should also build him his own private penthouse at Halas Hall. --Hans Lucas, Allen, Texas
Thank you for asking a question that suggests where a Bears defensive tackle should live without a reference to guns, drugs or pit bulls. But if Harris has a penthouse built for him, can the Bears still afford the villa for Lance Briggs? Harris will get paid, handsomely, but the Bears really need to wait to see what kind of player returns from the hamstring surgery. That's just basic NFL due diligence, in the words of GM Jerry Angelo. When healthy, as you point out, Harris indeed has nearly as much value to the defense as Urlacher. He dominates attention from offensive linemen and, if he doesn't, he will dominate in the offensive backfield. The key question now revolves around Harris' health and recovery.
Here we are coming up on a playoff series in Chicago and once again the playing field will probably be a mess. Why is it that the Bears owners will not put in the new FieldTurf? We have a fast team on both sides of the ball so wouldn't this be a advantage all season long and especially in January? --Mark Ludden, Cape Coral, Fla.
The Bears studied all artificial surface options, including FieldTurf, when Soldier Field was rebuilt in 2002 before coming to a consensus on natural grass. The team did add a new synthetic surface to the Walter Payton Center last year, a Polytan surface from Europe used by many professional soccer leagues overseas, that replaced the outdated Astroturf. But no plans exist to tear up the natural stuff, which nobody will complain about if Reggie Bush trips on a chunk of sod in the open field returning a punt in the NFC Championship game.
I fail to see your, and other sportswriters' constant insistence on Tank Johnson somehow being at fault for the events that occurred at the Ice Bar. How would you feel if a friend was murdered and people somehow felt you were to blame? Could Tank have been at home? Sure. But that wasn't a condition of his deactivation by the Bears nor was it ordered by a court or police department. Was he supposed to just sit in his bedroom with the expectation that something horrible could happen if he left his abode? There was no way for Tank to predict what was going to happen. --Marques, Chicago
If you want to ignore the opinions of sports journalists, fine, that's not always such a bad idea depending on the sports journalist. But Tank Johnson himself called the decision to go out that night a bad one and linked it to the ultimate and tragic death of his best friend, Willie Posey. The fact that Johnson realized the connection between his poor judgment and the tragedy that followed went a long way toward the Bears' decision not to cut him and suspend him for only one game. The reason Tank's role in his Posey's death was raised in our coverage Monday morning is because people around the Bears and Johnson had indicated that was the way he was viewing what had transpired. And good for him. The first step in taking control of one's future is taking responsibility for one's past, and Johnson convinced the Bears that he has done that. Fans and supporters of Johnson should stop complaining about the way he is being perceived and be thankful he is still employed by an NFL team after the trouble he has found in the past three years.