Tuesday, September 10, 2013
I suppose I really ought to...
"Kenny Stabler and Freddy Biletnikoff."
That's what I was thinking on the drive home from Naperville Friday night. (Who? Ask your father.) "Except on different teams," I went on.
But that's who Naperville Central quarterback Jake Kolbe and Neuqua Valley wide receiver Mikey Dudek reminded me of in Central's 58-35 victory over the Wildcats.
I also came away thinking that -- if anything -- the two highly-touted seniors are under-rated.
I had been told that Kolbe "throws a rope," and that was no exaggeration. (Hence the comparison to Stabler.) What's more, the Illinois-state bound signal-caller has several good receivers from which to choose, including Ben Andreas and Michael Kolzow. (The Redhawks can also run the ball as they demonstrated in the second half when it was time to eat up the clock.)
In the Tribune, Kolbe was quoted as saying, "It's all about the O-line. They stepped up the whole game. That's why we won."
Now everyone knows that that's what a smart quarterback is supposed to say after a game. "Huh? What? I threw five touchdowns tonight? Credit my lineman!"
But in this case I think it was actually true. As talented as Kolbe is, he sure seemed to have all night to throw. And, come to think of it, Central's defensive line was just as dominating on its side of the ball. They really prevented Neuqua from getting their ground game going.
In fact, Naperville Central seemed to have it all on Friday night: a potent offense that could both run and pass and a defense that, once settled in, pretty much shut down Neuqua in the second half. The Redhawks are as good as any team I've seen this year, including Mount Carmel. I'd be very surprised if they didn't go deep into the playoffs.
As for Dudek, I had seen him play twice last year, against Bolingbrook in the second round of the postseason and Mount Carmel in the semifinals. Although he ran back the opening kick-off for a touchdown against the Caravan, most of the attention last year went to running back Joey Rhattigan. But over the summer I had heard this about the Illinois-bound Dudek:
I could see them using bubble screens more, for easy throws from the quarterback, and then let Dudek use his speed to make plays on the perimeter. He is a NIGHTMARE to bring down in any amount of open space! Heck, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see Dudek line up in the backfield in some packages and see what he can do from there.
Dudek was off the charts, or should I say the field -- literally. He’s super fast, which is well-known, but his leaping ability was most impressive. He made a one-handed leaping catch on a crossing route, in stride, that was jaw-dropping and made the sizable crowd go "ooohh" and "ahhhh." He looked like a super jacked-up video game receiver out there, compared to the defenders.
When I heard this I thought, Yeah, yeah, everybody thinks their players are special. Well, Dudek is special. He put on quite a show Friday night, displaying speed, moves and sure hands just like a certain wide receiver for the Oakland Raiders that I used to watch on TV in the 1970s. The only question I have about Dudek now is, Why didn't Northwestern coach Pat Fitzgerald make a better effort at recruiting him? What the heck am I missing?
But despite Dudek's many circus catches that kept Neuqua in the game until the half, it was clear that Central had the better team. I'll be interested to see where these two squads end up.
"West is best, East is least, but ... North has air conditioning!"
That's what I was thinking on my way over to Niles North, above, on Saturday afternoon for the "Skokie Skirmish" between the home-team Vikings and the visiting Wolves of Niles West. I had heard that little ditty more than once from people who had grown up in the area during the 1970s. (Again with the '70s.)
When I got there I realized that North was also the original Scene of the Crime. I recalled bringing my 2-year-old son there for a football game against Glenbrook South way back in 1992 -- in the rain, no less -- after we first moved up from the city. I was so proud of my son that he could use the Porta Potty by himself, and even though we only stayed for the first half (after which we went out for a Vienna hot dog), I knew I was hooked on this high school football stuff.
It also dawned on me as we were munching on dogs and fries -- soaking wet, mind you -- at Irving's, across the street from Edens Plaza, that in case there was ever any doubt, you do indeed become your father. Ponder that, teenagers!
The game itself -- oh, yeah, that -- was decent enough, ending in a 41-35 victory for Niles West. I didn't stick around for the second half, though, or the ceremonial awarding of the "Skokie Skirmish" trophy to the winner. (I've been living up here for over twenty years now and had never heard of the "Skokie Skirmish" before. Did they just make that up? There sure seemed to be a lot of faux enthusiasm coming from the press box.) The game was delayed for some imaginary lightning and I didn't feel like waiting around forever like I did in Week One at Batavia. Besides, I had another game in which to attend.
"Can't anybody here play this game?"
That's the famous quote from manager Casey Stengel about his hapless 1962 expansion-team New York Mets who lost 120 games, the most since 1899. And that's also what I was thinking as I watched Bartlett lose to Notre Dame, 47-6. I'm sure the Hawks are a much better team than what I saw (they usually are), but the real story for me was how good Notre Dame was. So why aren't these guys getting more press? (Why aren't they getting any press?)
I really went to the game to see the still-uncommitted running back Chris James but ended up watching Notre Dame quarterback Ryan Greene throw five touchdown passes. (Who? That's what I said.) While James finished with about 80 yards and two touchdowns (an off night), the Big Ten prospect seemed to be there primarily as a decoy. Time and again, Greene would fake a hand-off to James -- drawing practically half the Bartlett team -- only to pass or keep the ball himself.
The contest (if you could call it that) quickly became painful to watch and I was grateful when they finally went to a running clock late in the fourth quarter.
So, is Notre Dame that good, or is Bartlett that bad? That was the question I asked myself on the drive home (which was beautiful, by the way, in my ancient convertible with the top down on a late-summer's eve). And I'd have to answer, Yes and no. While Bartlett should improve as the season progresses, I think the Dons are one of the best teams I've seen so far. They face a number of challenging opponents, however, including Nazareth, Marist and Joliet Catholic, in Weeks Six, Seven and Eight. (That should be a heck of a test.) I'm sure I'll attend at least one of those games and probably see them again in the playoffs.
One final, and political, note. (You knew I'd sneak that in, didn't you?)
While I was in the stands in both lily-white Naperville and Streamwood this weekend I was very conscious that I was probably the only Obama-supporter in the stadium. (Do they even let Democrats in DuPage County?) And both times I was positively relieved to find that the tires on my car -- you know, the one with the bumper sticker that reads NOT A REPUBLICAN -- hadn't been slashed while I was in the game.
But when I was in Skokie for the game at Niles North on Saturday I was also cognizant that I was witnessing the New America, a multi-cultural America. The kids there were black, white, brown -- you name it. And the parents in the stands were Asian, Hispanic, Eastern European, Indian -- again, you name it. A friend of mine whose wife used to teach in the Skokie schools once told me that, with the exception of the city of Chicago, the kids in that district speak more different languages at home than any other. And one of the parents of a Niles West player told me that because of all the ethnic diversity at the school they "sure have a great symphony orchestra but only a so-so football team."
What's the moral of this story? I'm not sure. But I think all these nativist tea party Republicans out there who are calling for the GOP to double-down on the white vote are just tilting at windmills. The country is changing -- rapidly and dramatically. It's no longer just boring old white guys like me living in the suburbs with two kids who have been married to the same woman forever. It's all kinds of people with all kinds of lifestyles. And you know what? That's a good thing.
Next: My three games for Week Three.