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Chicago’s Current Mount Rushmore

English: Brian Urlacher of the Chicago Bears

English: Brian Urlacher of the Chicago Bears (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The city of broad shoulders prides itself on legendary architecture, gorgeous beaches, decadent food, and our professional sports teams and athletes.

The major teams in town, The Cubs, Sox, Bulls, Bears, and Blackhawks have great players on their clubs, but who is the best of the best? 

Evaluating the resumes of the current crop of Second City athletes was difficult and an arduous task, but that is a great thing because that means the pickings weren’t slim, and the city is flush with talented athletes in every sport.

I have comprised four athletes that represent the best the city has to offer who will represent the Mount Rushmore of Chicago.

Brian Urlacher- the Bears linebacker came to Chicago in the 2000 draft out of New Mexico and quickly became a fan favorite making plays en route to winning the Rookie of the Year award.  He holds the record for career tackles made by a Bear, making eight trips to the Pro Bowl and winning the AP Defensive player of the year award in 2005.

The Bears have played the best football the team has seen since the glory days of 1985 with him in the middle of the defensive huddle.  His #54 jersey is seen everywhere in the city and Urlacher became a lock to represent the city after taking the Bears to the Super Bowl during the 2006 season. The Bears are known for their defense and their middle linebackers and Urlacher is destined to join Bill George, Dick Butkus, and Mike Singletary in Canton, Ohio, and the NFL Hall of Fame when his playing career is over.

Paul Konerko- Another veteran to the Chicago sports landscape, Konerko has cemented himself as the best Chicago baseball player in the 21st century.  A bit of a late bloomer who did not experience the love affair that Urlacher had right away.  However, Konerko’s been like a fine wine and aged gracefully as he is currently playing his best baseball at 36 and emerging as a potential Hall of Fame candidate if he continues his career renaissance.

The five-time All-Star has flirted with hitting .400 the first two months of the season as he has led the White Sox into first place in the American League Central.  With more than 400 homeruns as a member of the club and a World Series on his resume the decision to add Konerko to the Mount Rushmore of Chicago is a no-brainer.

Derrick Rose- Unlike the first two stars who had to come to Chicago from college or other organizations, respectively, Rose has been a Chicagoan since birth, winning two state titles at Simeon Academy before his one year at the University of Memphis ended in the championship game vs. Kansas.

Like Urlacher, Rose took home the Rookie of the Year honors after directing the Bulls back into the playoffs.  A lightning quick ascension to the top of the game’s elite has set the optimism sky high for Bulls fans since he donned the Bulls jersey.  An All-Star in just his second season was surpassed when he became the league’s youngest winner of the MVP award in his third season, becoming only the second Bull to win the award.

Rose suffered a torn ACL in his knee during the first round of the NBA playoffs this season, which left the city in a state of sorrow and despair for weeks.  The work ethic and dedication Rose has shown on the court has me convinced that he will regain the explosion and speed that has made him one of the game’s elite players.  The future is still bright for Rose and the Bulls and after signing an extension in the off-season, he will be in his hometown for years to come.

Jonathan Toews- Another young superstar like Rose fills the fourth and final spot on Chicago’s Mount Rushmore.  Toews and Rose represent the next generation of Chicago athletes as Urlacher and Konerko are on the back end of their illustrious careers whereas Rose and Toews are just getting started.  The third overall pick in the NHL draft in 2006 was the runner-up to his teammate, Patrick Kane in rookie of the year honors and won a gold medal at the 2010 Olympics.

However, the single event that qualified Toews for inclusion on this exclusive list is that Toews has done something that Urlacher and Rose are still chasing, that is winning a title in their respective sport.  Toews captained the Blackhawks to the Stanley Cup in 2010 winning the Conn Smythe as the MVP of the postseason in the process.  The 24- year old Center for the Blackhawks signed a long-term extension after winning the Cup and like Rose will have roots in Chicago for the foreseeable future.

Did your favorite make the cut?

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickASchmidt

Patrick is a diehard Chicago sports fan and an avid college football fan, particularly the SEC.  Patrick is the host of “The Wake-up Call,” a weekly sports show on Sportstownchicago.com every Wednesday morning from 8-10.  View his show’s website here.

New Blood in NHL’s Western Conference

To the casual hockey fan tuning into the second round of the NHL’s Western Conference playoffs they are going to be in for quite the shock when they don’t recognize the teams on the ice.

Where are the Red Wings? The Wings were clipped by Nashville in the first round in a five game series, thereby leaving “Hockey town” turning their attention to Detroit Tigers games earlier than anticipated.

How about the Blackhawks? Yeah, they are gone too. Suffered a defeat at the hands of Mike Smith and the Coyotes in a dramatic six game series that saw four decided in overtime.

Surely the San Jose Sharks are in the second round. Not so fast. Yes, they were done in by the Blues from Saint Louis and their dominant goaltending, leaving the Sharks out of the running for a Cup yet again.

That’s all well and good, but no chance the President’s Trophy winning Vancouver Canucks were knocked out in the first round. Gone the way of the Dodo bird and the Sedin twins and Roberto Luongo are likely making their tee times on the links as this is being read.

The St. Louis Blues, Nashville Predators, Los Angeles Kings, and Phoenix Coyotes are the Final Four in the West. With the exception of Los Angeles, each of these teams is in a small market.

The question is if this is good for the NHL to have so many teams that are unfamiliar to the national audience.

The NHL is desperate for television ratings, which is difficult enough to come by with the likes of Chicago, Detroit, and all of Western Canada watching their respective clubs skate against each other.

Lacking the star power of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Daniel and Henrik Sedin, and Joe Thornton now is a prime time for NHL fans to get introduced to a new crop of burgeoning stars.

If only NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman had an inkling as to market his sport and its top players.

Take a look at the L.A. Kings top line centered by Anze Kopitar who has flown, or shall I say skated under the radar out west for the last few years, but he is a dynamic two way center who is ready for the big stage.

The same can be said for Kings Goalie Jonathan Quick who merely led held the opposition without a goal an NHL high 10 times this year.

Quick represents the strength of the remaining teams in the “Wild West”, and that being each team’s best player is their goalie.

Nashville’s Pekke Rinne, Phoenix’s Mike Smith and Quick were the conferences leader in wins, while the tandem of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott each a goals against average under two.

In fact, Elliott led the league with a face melting 1.56 GAA, and added nine shutouts in only 38 starts. Basically, he pitched a shutout in 25% of his starts. No slouch himself, Halak added six of his own, giving the Blues 16 shutouts over an 82 game schedule.

While the goal scorers and playmakers are home making tee times and watching the playoffs on CNBC and the channel formerly known as Versus, the goalies are doing the dirty work in attempting to get their team one step closer to hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup over their shoulders at the end of the month.

If there is one sports cliché that rings true it is a hot goalie can make up for deficiencies in other areas and carry his team well beyond even the most optimistic fan’s expectations.

Quick, Rinne, Smith, or Elliott may very well be the latest example of that in this years NHL playoffs.

And when one of them do make it to the playoffs, they may have to go up against arguably the best goalie this season, New York Rangers Henrik Lundqvist, or the best of all time, New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur.

Hope you can appreciate the 2-1 games and admire the work of a goalie standing on his head just as much as you would a 6-5 game with no defense.

The new blood merits watching and pay close attention to the way these net minders are dominating the crease.

It will be the deciding factor in who ultimately dons a championship ring this summer.

Follow me on Twitter @PatrickASchmidt

Patrick is a diehard sports fan and former football player from Chicago, the greatest city in the world. The home of deep dish pizza, the greatest skyline in the world, and the best sports fans in America. Patrick has been a fan of the Cubs, Bears, Bulls, and Blackhawks since birth and is an avid college football fan, particularly the SEC. Patrick is the host of “The Wake Up Call”, a weekly sports show on Sportstownchicago.com every Wednesday morning from 8-10. View his show’s website here.

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