Street Smart Chicago

The One-Man Gang: How Jay Berwanger of the University of Chicago became America’s first Heisman Trophy winner

Chicago History, Hyde Park, Sports No Comments »

By Martin Northway

He lives on in crackling 1930s football footage: a running back in a long, Homeric dash ranging from sideline to sideline, on a field so muddy water stands in visible pools; he is a speeding human gyroscope, maintaining his balance while he evades and breaks tackles. Every defender seems to have a shot, yet he crashes into the end zone.

Comparisons of John Jacob “Jay” Berwanger with other football players fail. Legendary sports broadcaster Red Barber called him simply “the greatest college player I ever saw.” Late former President and onetime Michigan star Gerald Ford bragged about his scar from tackling Jay Berwanger in 1934.

The famous Red Grange said Berwanger had a “faraway look” allowing him to see downfield and rapidly adjust. Grange also said Berwanger could hit a hole closing on him, drumming his feet lightly, freezing tacklers before slashing through.

In fall 1935, the star back of the University of Chicago Maroons was selected as the first recipient of what came to be known as the Heisman Trophy. “Seventy-five years later, Jay Berwanger still receives positive publicity,” says Brian Cooper, Dubuque newspaper editor and sports author, writer of a forthcoming biography of Berwanger. “Not just because he was the first Heisman recipient but because [of] how he played the game—tenacious and tireless, and playing both ways every game”—and “how he lived his entire life.” Read the rest of this entry »

A River Runs, um, Near It: Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters courts those who have been called

Lincoln Park, Sports No Comments »

Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters’ walls are covered in fluorescent green rabbit fur, feathers and glittery silver tinsel—these materials used for fly tying seem like decorations for a drag queen’s dream supply store. A corner of the shop is dedicated to fishing poles, which line the walls like pool cues. Wading jackets, Merino wool socks and general apparel occupy a room of their own. But this store does not lie next to one of Chicago’s rivers or even the lake—the store sits at 1279 North Clybourn, just a few blocks away from the remains of Cabrini Green.

Andy Kurkulis, the owner of Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters, is very much aware of the store’s unconventional location. “It’s a very unique store,” he says, “It’s different than most of them out there in Chicago. We don’t have a big famous river or beach where we fish but we have two great airports. So we pretty much travel everywhere and fish for everything.” Read the rest of this entry »

411: Water Logging

Green, Sports No Comments »

Chuck Mutscheller says when he was in college at a small liberal arts school in Minnesota, he paddled to and from his classes. Mutscheller is the communications director for Openlands, a nonprofit that advocates for the conservation of natural and open spaces, and while he doesn’t paddle to work nowadays, he says it’s still easy to get out on the water, even in the big city. Openlands’ Paddle-A-Trail event, which started in June and continues through Labor Day, makes paddling accessible and fun for oldtimers like Mutscheller as well as newbies by encouraging paddlers to contribute to its online WaterLog database. The database allows paddlers to share the upsides, downsides, and upside-downsides of their kayaking and canoeing outings in the Chicago area. Openlands hopes sharing information about log jams and water levels as well as water trails and rental stores will improve the paddling experience and remind Chicagoans they can find nature in the waterways they drive over every day. “It’s a pretty unique experience in that when you’re on the water, even though you’re in the midst of a busy metropolitan region, it’s quiet,” says Mutscheller. “What it really lacks is the din of everyday life.” (Ella Christoph)

Knocked Off his Perch: Jumbo Jimmy just wants to keep fishing

News etc., Politics, Sports No Comments »

Photo: Tom Palmisano

I’m in search of fishermen as I walk along the lakefront in the early morning, watching the blue-gold waves echo the light breeze that would disappear as the sun rose higher. I want to discover the hidden stories behind the men who wake up at two in the morning to get to the lake by four, as attracted to the peace and cool of the late-night-early-morning lake as the fish they catch.

I see just one fishing pole hanging out of the back of a bike next to a sign that reveals I am a day, not just a few hours, too late for the fishermen. “Governor Quinn,” it reads, “Take July perch closure down! No perch, no vote! Teens can’t perch fish in July. 16, 17, 18. But they can shoot. Signed by: Fellowship of Fishing Club.”

“Jumbo Jimmy” Baczek sits on a bench by his bike proselytizing to passersby. “I woke up this morning at two o’clock, can’t go perch fishing, got pissed off, and made myself a sign,” he says. Read the rest of this entry »

411: The Epic Struggle, Continued

Sports No Comments »

Photo: Axel Heimken, International Handball Federation

So you finally decided to get really into the World Cup, and that’s all you’ve watched, talked about and dreamed of for the last month and a half. But it’s over, and now you’re asking yourself: how can I feign, and then acquire, a deep passion for Euro-centric sports that take place in less-than-four-year cycles? Without resorting to cricket? Have no fear, handball is here. Literally. This Saturday, Poland and Germany, ranked fourth and fifth internationally, will play on neutral turf at the UIC Pavilion. Olympic handball is like basketball, but you don’t have to dribble and there’s a goal instead of a basket. More importantly, there’s no cap on the number of fouls—“faults”—a player can make each game, which are used strategically to stop the flow of the offense. Lauren Harrington, a spokesperson for USA Team Handball, says it’s going to be a close match, despite Poland losing their captain to an eye injury in a match versus Croatia last week. The “Battle of Chicago” match isn’t just for show, either—it takes place on the 600th anniversary of the Battle of Grunwald. Poland slammed Germany then, but this match is up for grabs. Go early for food, a beer garden, a club match and German and Polish music. July 17th at the UIC Pavilion. Doors open at 10:30am, match starts at 1:05pm. (Ella Christoph)

The World Cup Runneth Over: How to immerse yourself in the beautiful game from 9,000 miles away

Sports No Comments »

By Elias Cepeda

With millions of residents directly from, or descended from, and with at least sporting allegiance to, many different foreign countries, Chicago is a perfect city to get a taste of just how popular soccer is all around the globe come World Cup time. For the next month (June 11-July 11), South Africa hosts thirty-two countries’ teams vying for the title but with all the events going on in Chicago to celebrate the World Cup, you might think it was 1994—when the U.S. hosted and games took place in Chitown—all over again.

Splashy ‘n’ Big
There are more Mexicans in Chicago than in most Mexican cities, and our southern neighbors’ squad—nicknamed El Tri—takes on host-nation South Africa on the tournament’s first day. If you can get away from work downtown for a little bit, check out the full-day viewing party in Daley Plaza. There will be a giant screen to watch the action. It’s free and kid-friendly (see World Cup mascot photo ops). Mexico plays South Africa at 9am and France takes on Uruguay at 1:30pm. Read the rest of this entry »

Sabre Rattling: Getting the thrust of the action at the Midwest Fencing Academy

Sauganash, Sports No Comments »

Elton John’s “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” is playing faintly in the basement of the Polish National Alliance in Sauganash. It’s an odd song to accompany the action in the room. The ceiling is low and wrapped in wires and fluorescent lighting, and kids are running laps. When they finish running, they talk about “South Park,” about Facebook, about the time they spilled an adult’s wine glass in Marcel’s basement.

Coach returns. “Hey come on. Okay stretching. Starting footwork in two minutes. Why is nobody here?” Attendance is decidedly low on Cinco de Mayo at the Midwest Fencing Academy. Oh well. It gives Coach Hristo Etropolski more one-on-one time with his young fencers. Born in Bulgaria, Coach Hristo began fencing at 13 and now coaches sabre weapon fencing to boys and girls of all ages and skill levels. He’s sent fencers off to full fencing scholarships at Ivy League schools, and he will be taking competitors to the the U.S. Summer National Championships in Atlanta this July. Everything in fencing, Hristo says, “has to do with balance and control.” His coaching style too is one of balance and control: balancing work with fun for the young fencers and controlling each fencer’s progress with individual coaching attention he says are key tenets of his academy. Read the rest of this entry »

Potter’s Fields: The now-real sport of Quidditch thrives on campus

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Quidditch is a full-contact sport. Within fifteen seconds of the opening whistle at Loyola University’s championship match, an athlete had already landed face first in the dirt; at the semifinals the night before, one player had to be taken away in an ambulance. “It’s basically rugby with brooms,” says Bohrs Hoff, a Loyola senior and Quidditch fan. In J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” universe, in which wizarding Britain has the same relationship with Quidditch as Texas has with football, the brooms are for flying on. In this world, they serve as bristling phallic symbols of intimidation. For a made-up game based on a children’s fantasy series, Quidditch is surprisingly badass.

The championship match between the Yarbling Yetis and Team Voldemort marks the triumphant end of Loyola’s first Quidditch season. Though the group is not recognized by the university, enough students play to make up five teams, the biggest of which has sixteen players. They join dozens of other college groups who play a version of the sport adapted from the Potter books and movies. More than sixty spectators have gathered on this wet afternoon to watch the game, and the Yetis are heavily favored. Their cheering section makes a noise between a yodel and a gurgle, presumably the yarble. Read the rest of this entry »

Fantasy Idling: Spending real time in a virtual field of dreams

Sports No Comments »

His 1961 was the ultimate fantasy

Nearing the end of the live online fantasy baseball draft, it seems that Bartolo’s Colon—the team, not its namesake—will have to rely on steady pitching in order to remain competitive throughout the long, imaginary season. Its lineup is a questionable mix of old reliability hopefully poised for a quality twilight year and of young talents not yet maximized by the statistical parameters of this fantasy world. Julio Bourbon and Asdrubal Cabrera highlight the latter group, each 24 years old, and neither likely to shape the triumph or demise of Bartolo’s Colon in 2010. That burden will fall on the veteran presence in this team’s lineup. The importance of leadership qualities in a fantasy clubhouse is debatable, but Bartolo’s Colon will undoubtedly need Derek Lee, Mike Cameron and Vladimir Guerrero to each provide, at a very minimum, a .290/25/90 campaign. “You’re way too old,” Master Batters, a rival team, says of Bartolo’s Colon. Read the rest of this entry »

Fanatic Four: Drowning basketball sorrows in a Spartan fashion

Lakeview, Sports No Comments »

“I can’t believe they’re actually showing this,” exclaims a Michigan State fan perched at a table in the middle of the Lakeview bar The Tin Lizzie, as the obscenely hilarious sex scene from “Team America” distracts everyone from the grim reality soon to return to the television screen. Sporting a green Ghostbusters T-shirt and backwards Michigan State cap, his laughter gives way to tension when the bar’s TVs returns to the evening’s first Final Four contest. Surprisingly, the “hometown” Spartans—this is a decidely partisan bar—trail the underdog Butler Bulldogs 44-37 late in the second half. Nothing steals his eyes from the 32-inch flat screen mounted above a women’s bathroom until a shout of “Fuckin’ man up!” rips through the rigid atmosphere, evoking a shifty glance. After a critical Michigan State rebound with about thirty seconds remaining, a pessimistic outcry—”They’ve still got to make the shot”—is immediately trumped by MSU’s fight song erupting over the bar’s PA system and chants of “Go green!” echoing through the packed bar. Now nervously clutching his headgear, the Spartan fanatic braces for what will be his team’s last opportunity to pull out a win. When it falls short, he and other Tin Lizzie patrons look collectively shocked and perplexed. Obviously not the way they imagined starting off their Saturday nights, but at least he has a backup plan: “How about we not be able to remember this in the morning?!” (Darrel Sangster)