Happy anniversary: Williams has Jordan, Sutcliffe to chase

EVEN IN THE CAPTIVE SPORTS CITY, there's sometimes reason to hoist a jigger of cicada-infused Jeppson's Malört and toast a particularly shrewd front-office maneuver.

So what if it normally takes years for the buggy salute to be deserved?

Some Bears fans are already prancing through victory laps over the drafting of Caleb Williams.

That's all fine and dandy until the following paw pricks are considered:

--- The odds of Williams starting all 17 regular-season games this season are less than 3%;

--- The apprentice shufflin' crew could finish anywhere from 4-13 to 13-4 (the Vegas o/u is 8 ½); and,

--- Resolute doom-and-gloomers still can't get past last Oct. 14, when Williams looked more like Vanessa Williams as his visiting USC Trojans were pulverized 48-20 at Notre Dame.

Williams threw three interceptions into that dancin' Irish twilight. USC was 6-0 entering the game. The Trojans limped home 1-5 and ended by salvaging a modest win over Louisville in the Holiday Bowl.


Forty years ago this week, The Rebuild Capital of America might have posted its most astounding two-team daily double ever.

On Wednesday, June 13, 1984, the Cubs acquired Rick Sutcliffe in a trade with Cleveland and suddenly a possible National League pennant was very much on their switch into glide.

Six days later — Tuesday, June 19, 1984 — Rod Thorn and the Bulls drafted Michael Jordan.

According to some myth and lore, Jordan arrived in town for good weeks later, floating alone in a baby boat on the Chicago River. He was found by assistant coach Freddie Carter and two workers from Streets and San and immediately taken to the Bulls' practice facility at Angel Guardian gym.

OF COURSE THAT'S NOT TRUE — but the overwhelming positive vibrations from the arrivals of Sutcliffe and Jordan still linger.

Sutcliffe was the centerpiece in a deal that induced Cubs GM Dallas Green to send away future stars Joe Carter and Mel Hall. It was part salary dump by Cleveland, a ballclub going nowhere. And it was a very serious going-all-in by Green, who had been monitoring “The Red Baron” since his starlet days with the Dodgers.

Sutcliffe was approaching age 28 and off to a nondescript 4-5 start on the south shore of Lake Erie. But Green was also aware of a reason for the big righty's rocky spring:

In early May, he had undergone four straight days of root-canal surgery and lost 15 pounds. His rhythm and strength were steadily returning. If things worked out, he would be a sound Rx for a Cubs starting rotation that was already down Scott Sanderson and Dick Ruthven.

TO SAY THINGS WORKED OUT is like saying Van Halen had a good “1984.”

Sutcliffe went 16-1 for Jim Frey and the Cubs (even better than today's “Montrose Mike” Imanaga). The team was 18-2 in games he started. He won the NL Cy Young. The Cubs won the East by 6 ½ games.

Everything was high tides and green grass until the group's historic meltdown in San Diego during the NL Championship Series. Had modern-day metrics and pitch monitoring been in use, Sutcliffe never would have seen the disastrous seventh inning of the ivy-crunching 6-3 loss in the deciding Game 5.

THE BONES OF THE DRAFTING OF JORDAN have been sifted through at global levels.

To say the Bulls were close to trading the now-mythic No. 3 pick is overstatement.

Thorn and managing partner Jonathan Kovler had a very active interest in Seattle's Jack Sikma. The Clippers were dangling Terry Cummings. A story surfaced more than a decade later — never fully substantiated — that the Rockets were trying to build a package around Ralph Sampson.

After the draft, Thorn told media the Bulls had “a future All-Star” on their roster. Some of the more cynical around the team thought it was a coin toss whether young Mr. Jordan would steer clear of the potholing party culture then bonging both the Bulls and the league.

He did.

All else is now history.

Caleb Williams will hopefully do better with the ghosts of toastable Chicago acquisitions past than he did with the echoes of South Bend last autumn.


As suggested last month, Derrick Gragg has been creatively submarined as athletic director at Northwestern. He'll now fill the new position of VP/athletics strategy and approach. The Wildcats are searching for a fresh A.D. Next on the Evanston scramble list is NU president Michael Schill, the man most responsible for enabling last summer's alleged hazing scandal to turn into a national Magilla. …

ABC/ESPN couldn't have presented a more dronish NBA Finals if Ken Jennings and Melinda Gates had been calling the Celtics-Mavs series. Viewership will clock in at 2020 COVID levels. TV fans will catch a huge break if pontifical frat boy JJ Redick lands the LeBron Lakers job and takes Doris Burke along as an assistant. …

Pyrotechnic authority Jay Mariotti summons a whole lot of Pittsburgh-bred fire in a new column at titled “A Chicago Paper Can't Function When a WNBA Sponsor Subsidizes Coverage.” (To paraphrase the late Roy Leonard, it's not for the whole newspaper family.) …

Mike Mulligan is trying to convince all who'll listen that despite his ongoing annoyance with high-Scrabble teammate Dan Bernstein, he has no plans to retire from WSCR-AM (670). The resource-challenged sports talker tied with “soft oldies” WRME-FM (87.7) for No. 10 in Nielsen Audios released Monday. Craig Karmazin and WMVP-AM (1000) remain too ghostly to be listed. …

And Bruce Spivy, on Rory McIlroy's failure to meet with media after his colossal gag in last weekend's U.S. Open: “He's obviously not getting P.R. advice from Jake Paul.”

Jim O'Donnell's Sports and Media column appears each week on Sunday and Wednesday. Reach him at All communications may be considered for publication.

Article Comments
Guidelines: Keep it civil and on topic; no profanity, vulgarity, slurs or personal attacks. People who harass others or joke about tragedies will be blocked. If a comment violates these standards or our terms of service, click the "flag" link in the lower-right corner of the comment box. To find our more, read our FAQ.