The last World Series Rene Van Hulle will ever see

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. — They went on their first date to a Valentine’s Day dance a few years after the Chicago Cubs lost the 1945 World Series. In the seven decades between that night and this one, Rene and Helene Van Hulle raised four kids, losing one of them a decade ago. They moved from the North Side to the suburbs, finally ending up here, in a small apartment with yellow walls, in their respective recliners, waiting on another World Series game to begin. She’s 83, and he’s 88. He’s on oxygen all the time, dying, in the care of a hospice nurse. This is the last World Series he’ll ever see.

When the doctors placed him in hospice care, essentially sending him home to die about a year ago, he asked his girls if they’d take him back down to Wrigleyville, to see the place where he grew up. That trip brought back so many memories, the World Series season of 1938, and 1945 when all the men were coming back from the war. Driving his block, he still remembered the houses where his friends, nearly all of them dead now, grew up, and where they’d play. He remembered the old German bar, where his mom would help fry fish on Fridays.

Even Helene learned some new things.

“Did you play baseball?” she asked.

He nodded.

“What position?” she asked.

“Left.”

“Left what?”

He grinned.

“Left out,” he said, making fun of his own complete lack of talent.

Over and over, they bring up Rene Jr., their son who died in 2007. He was beloved in the Chicago gay community, an activist and leader, and they’d often go hang out at the bar where he worked. Tonight, their daughter Laurie is wearing one of her brother’s sweaters, turquoise and worn — her good luck charm when the Cubs play. Rene Jr.’s name is spoken with love and a touch of regret; he loved the Cubs more than any of them. But, for a few minutes at a time as his name is said aloud, their son and brother is with them. They can hear his voice describing seeing the green field for the first time, after only seeing Wrigley on a black and white TV.
Rene Van Hulle is watching this Cubs’ World Series run with his wife and daughters. Courtesy of Wright Thompson
The nurse is sitting back watching, stunned, because she has been seeing Rene for months and this is the most upbeat and energetic he has been. That’s the greatest gift the Cubs gave so many people around the city Friday night. Who knows how many great days Rene’s family will have with him? Tonight, he was laughing and cracking jokes, the same sharp and quick man they’ve know all their lives. The game woke something in him, something that doesn’t come out much anymore.

This acrobatic, 1-handed catch has us convinced Jordan Taylor is the Broncos’ best player

My favorite player on the Denver Broncos’ roster isn’t Von Miller, although he’s a close second. It isn’t Bradley Roby either, though he’s a lot of fun, too. It’s not Demaryius Thomas, and it isn’t new quarterback Mark “Butt Fumble” Sanchez.

Former Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning is also a huge Jordan Taylor fan. Taylor, who spent last season on Denver’s practice squad, was Manning’s primary target as he worked his way back from injury.

Taylor, despite being on the practice squad, still played a significant role in the team’s playoff run and Super Bowl 50 win.

“I wanted to get back out to the stadium field and throw a little bit, so I grabbed Jordan,” Manning said about preparing for Denver’s win over the San Diego Chargers in Week 17. “We won, so we did it versus Pittsburgh, versus New England and we’ll be out there Super Bowl Sunday.”

Taylor, ever the professional and characteristically humble, said via the Broncos website that he doesn’t even really know how he made today’s catch.

Turner was a central figure in the Miami Dolphins bullying scandal of 2012 while working as the Dolphins’ offensive line coach. An independent report found Turner was at least aware of ongoing teasing in the locker room about lineman Jonathan Martin’s supposed sexuality, and in some cases complicit in it.

Turner was aware of the running “joke” that Player A was gay, and on at least one occasion, he participated in the taunting. Around Christmas 2012, Coach Turner gave the offensive linemen gift bags that included a variety of stocking stuffers. The gifts included inflatable female dolls for all of the offensive linemen except Player A, who received a male “blow-up” doll. [Jonathan] Martin and another player reported that they were surprised Coach Turner did this; Martin further said that he was offended that Turner had endorsed the humiliating treatment of Player A by participating in it. Incognito and others agreed that this incident with Coach Turner occurred. When interviewed, Turner was asked if he gave Player A a male blow-up doll. He replied, ‘I can’t remember.’
Turner was eventually fired in the wake of that investigation, which found a “pattern of harassment” in the organization. In 2015, he filed a defamation lawsuit against Ted Wells, the lawyer who led that investigation; he was still making presentations in court about that suit as of June.

No merit to trade rumors for Bears WR Alshon Jeffery

Teams in the market for a veteran wide receiver in advance of the Nov. 1 trade deadline shouldn’t count on Chicago Bears impending free agent Alshon Jeffery as a realistic option.

With Cody Kessler in concussion protocol and not expected to play this week, McCown should step back into the starting gig ahead of Kevin Hogan. The rookie passer made plays with his feet, but was in over his head in the passing game after entering last week’s loss to the Bengals.

Once Kessler is cleared, it will be interesting to see whether Jackson sticks with McCown or continues to give the rookie on-field experience as the Browns look toward the future.

Anyone who watched Goff’s preseason game film with a discerning eye understood the overwhelmed rookie’s mind was still spinning. He simply wasn’t ready from either a pre- or post-snap perspective to push the journeyman starter early in the season.

Offensive coordinator Rob Boras confirmed two weeks ago that Goff has made major strides in his understanding of the offense.

“The easiest way to understand if somebody knows it is when they can regurgitate it back to you,” Boras explained, via the Los Angeles Times. “And he’s able to do that right now and, again, ask some of those questions where you have to, yourself, look up at the sky and try to think ‘OK, that’s a good one,’ and try to give him the right answer.”

Now that Rams are mired in a three-game slump with a quarterback coming off of a brutal four-interception performance at London’s Twickenham Stadium, is it time to consider a change?

We’ll find out next week if Fisher is ready for a glimpse at the future.

Broncos coach Gary Kubiak acknowledged Wednesday that Anderson is undergoing further evaluation because he was feeling pain in his right knee, per Nicki Jhabvala of The Denver Post.

Although Anderson suffered the injury late in the first quarter of Monday night’s game, he returned in fine fashion with 84 more yards on 14 carries the rest of the way.

The multi-week absence is poor timing for Anderson, who is coming off of his best rushing performance of the season.

Bills DT Marcell Dareus suspended 4 games by NFL

The Buffalo Bills cannot seem to catch a break on the defensive side of the ball and the hits kept coming on Tuesday when the NFL announced that nose tackle Marcell Dareus will serve a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

“We are very disappointed Marcell chose to put himself first, before his teammates, coaches and the rest of the organization through his recent actions,” the Bills said in a strongly worded statement. “From ownership down we have made it clear his behavior is unacceptable. We will continue to take the necessary steps to work with him in order that he adheres to the policies set forth by our league. As an organization, we will move forward with our preparations for the start of the 2016 NFL season in Baltimore on September 11.

According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, the suspension is for marijuana use, based on either failed or missed drug tests.

Clay Matthews, James Harrison and Julius Peppers will meet with the NFL to discuss the allegations raised by the Al-Jazeera America report on PEDs, according to ESPN’s Chris Mortensen.

Matthews, Harrison, Peppers and free agent Mike Neal were all informed by the NFL that they will be suspended immediately if they do not personally cooperate by Aug. 25 with the league’s investigation into allegations raised by an Al Jazeera report. Neal originally did not agreed to be interviewed but later changed his mind, according to Dan Graziano of ESPN.

Harrison has agreed to interview only under certain conditions. He wants to limit the questions to the Al-Jazeera report, and also wants to meet with the NFL days after the league’s deadline.

Per the NFLPA, the correct time and place of James Harrison’s proposed interview is 5 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 30, at the #Steelers facility.

Al Jazeera America first raised the allegations in a documentary titled The Dark Side, which shook up the NFL for its implications that Peyton Manning was among those using banned substances to get a leg up on the competition.

Dareus can appeal the suspension, but in an apology he posted on Instagram, he said he would not make excuses and would “allow the process to proceed.”

Jeff Fisher said there were no excuses for the Rams’ loss, but he found one anyway

Carlos Hyde rumbles, 49ers defense dominates Rams. The second game of the Monday night doubleheader was nothing to see … unless you’re a 49ers fan. They pitched the only shutout of the week, embarrassing the Rams 28-0.

New city, same Rams. It’s year five for Jeff Fisher at the helm, and the Rams are still bad. They can’t get out of their way when it comes to penalties (10 last night), the offense is putrid and uninspired, and the coach says there are “no excuses” in the same sentence he offers up an excuse.

The last team to get shutout in Week 1? The St. Louis Rams.

Blaine Gabbert had nearly as many rushing yards as Todd Gurley. On fewer carries too. At least the Rams had 431 yards of punting!

One of the most anticipated matchups of this game was supposed to be Washington’s Josh Norman on Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, but it was one we didn’t get to enjoy. Washington matched Breeland up with Brown instead, and that seemed like a mistake. Brown had 126 yards and two touchdowns with Breeland in coverage.

Brown is the best receiver in the NFL, but he wasn’t the only one stepping up for the Steelers on Monday night. Eli Rogers, who was an undrafted free agent, had one of the more entertaining touchdowns of Week 1, catching a ball that bounced off of his teammate’s hands and into Rogers’ face before he pulled it in for the score.

DeAngelo Williams certainly helped propel the Steelers to victory, racking up 143 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. Much like last season, the Steelers should be fine with Williams filling in during Le’Veon Bell’s three-game suspension.

Roethlisberger ended up throwing one interception and fumbling the ball twice, but he recovered both of his own fumbles, making those mistakes easier to overcome. Kirk Cousins threw two picks, but the bigger problem for Washington was the number of false starts the offense had, which is unusual for a home team.

Cousins’ stat line for this game wasn’t bad, but it doesn’t accurately reflect his performance. He made questionable decisions throughout, including throwing an interception directly into the hands of Ryan Shazier.

One of the key differences between Washington and the Steelers Monday night was the ability of each team to convert third and fourth downs. Washington converted just three of 10 third downs, while Pittsburgh converted nine of 14 attempts. The Steelers were perfect on fourth down, converting two of two. Cousins’ decisions on both of Washington’s fourth down attempts prevented conversions. He threw short of the marker on one and ran out of bounds well before the marker on a keeper on another.

The last offensive play for Washington ended in an interception in the end zone by Steelers linebacker James Harrison. It appeared that Harrison maybe didn’t complete the catch, but Washington didn’t challenge the ruling, and it certainly felt like a fitting ending to the game.

Bill Belichick now 4th all-time in wins for an NFL head coach

With a 27-0 win for the New England Patriots over the Houston Texans, Bill Belichick tied Curly Lambeau for the fourth-most wins in NFL history for a head coach.

Belichick, 64, earned career win No. 226 on Thursday with 190 of those coming during his 17-year tenure as the coach of the Patriots. He previously picked up 36 wins with the Cleveland Browns from 1991-95.

“That’s our identity, that’s how we’re built and we’re going to continue to stay that way,” Zimmer said. “Hopefully we can continue to play good defense and hopefully we can continue to run the ball, and we’ll take our shots when we can.”

The Vikings also placed left tackle Matt Kalil on injured reserve with a hip injury. With Teddy Bridgewater, Peterson and Kalil all out of commission, Zimmer said his message to the team remains the same.

“I told them what was going on, and I expect them to perform the way I always expect them to perform,” Zimmer said. “There’s no overriding message.”

Peterson underwent an MRI on Monday to evaluate the extent of a knee injury he suffered on Sunday Night Football in the Vikings’ 17-14 win over the Green Bay Packers, and the tests revealed the torn meniscus. Peterson’s wife said Monday that he was already walking after the injury, and Zimmer initially said it was possible Peterson would play Sunday against the Panthers.

Peterson suffered tears of his ACL and MCL in Week 16 of the 2011 season, and returned to the field for Week 1 in 2012. It was an unusually swift recovery, and Peterson finished the 2012 season with 2,097 rushing yards and 12 touchdowns, which earned him MVP honors.

This injury and the time Peterson will miss during his recovery may affect his future with the Vikings. Zimmer acknowledged that Peterson’s injury could be season-ending, depending on how the surgery goes, which means there’s a chance the 31-year-old won’t be seen in a Vikings uniform again.

Peterson is owed a $6 million roster bonus on March 9, according to The MMQB’s Albert Breer, and if he remains on the roster, he is set to earn a total of $18 million from the Vikings next season. The Vikings can cut Peterson prior to March 9 with no penalty.

Jets, Cardinals caught in penalty vortex that reveals larger trends

Nineteen penalties. Thirteen in the first half alone. Plus another four declined.

In 60 minutes of football Monday night, we saw a total of 23 penalty flags in the Arizona Cardinals’ 28-3 romp over the New York Jets. They came in all shapes and sizes, for both legitimate and questionable reasons. But in sum, they helped convey an inescapable sense of atrocious football on a national stage in a season clouded by an unexpected drop in television ratings.

We’re not going to solve all the NFL’s problems right now, but I think there are a few data points to keep in mind as we absorb this fiasco.

The Cardinals’ all-time leading rusher is Ottis Anderson, who played from 1979 to 1986, with 7,999 yards. Behind him is Johnson’s current position coach, Stump Mitchell, who played from 1981-89 and ran for 4,649 yards. Third is Jim Otis, whose 3,863 yards were accumulated from 1973-78.

Then there was Charley Trippi, who rushed for 3,506 yards from 1947 to 1955. And backs like Johnny Roland, John David Crow, Garrison Hearst, Ernie Nevers and Ollie Matson can’t be forgotten. Fitzgerald said he learned from his former coach and mentor Dennis Green to “never compare,” so he wouldn’t stack Johnson against any of the other Cardinal greats.

“David is special,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s got the makings of an outstanding player.”

No modern-era running back is in Arizona’s top eight for all-time yards. Johnson, who is in only his second NFL season, has the capability to join that group.

Arizona’s last 1,000-yard rusher was Beanie Wells, who ran for 1,047 yards in 2011. Johnson might be the next. On Monday night, he joined Wells as the only Cardinals with three rushing touchdowns in multiple games since the franchise moved to Arizona in 1988, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

If Johnson stays healthy and continues to run like a locomotive, he can become the best Cardinals running back of all time.

“He’s got a lot of God-given ability,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m really fortunate to be able to watch him play. I’ll be able to tell my sons one day I played with him.”

The Jets’ backup made his feelings clear near the end of the third quarter. Moments after Fitzpatrick threw his 11th interception of the season, including his fourth in the red zone, Smith emerged from his seat on the bench, flung his baseball cap about 10 feet and paced anxiously. A minute or so later, he tossed a cup of ice toward the field of play. His body language screamed, “Put me in!” Quite frankly, it was a bush-league display.

Smith chalked it up to “just frustration. We’re not putting up points, we’re not winning the game.” He was either showing up Fitzpatrick or telling the world he wanted to play. Either way, it sent a bad message. But he got his wish.