BULLS AFTER ROSE INJURY WAS WORST FATE
There is no second place. There's Derrick Rose collapsing to the court -- untouched! -- and then there's everything else, including Jay Cutler's broken right thumb and whatever medium-sized playoff hopes the Bears had.
Here's the difference between what happened to Rose and what happened to Cutler: If Rose doesn't blow out his knee, the Bulls were going to beat the Miami Heat in the conference finals (seven games, but home-court advantage becomes the difference) and then beat Kobe, Tony Parker or Kevin Durant to win the NBA championship. I'm 80 percent convinced of it.
It wouldn't have been easy. It's not supposed to be. But the combo platter of a finally healthy Rose and a semi-resurgent Carlos Boozer, along with the usual Joakim Noah hyper-effort, and four games in the UC would have been just enough.
Instead, Rose crumples as if someone kneecapped him with a tire iron. And the Bulls' playoff chances crumple with him.
Nothing personal, but the Bears weren't going to win the Super Bowl -- with or without Cutler. Good team, but not a great team. Matt Forte was hurt. Their receiving corps made opposing secondaries yawn. Safety play was inconsistent. I can go on.
Don't get me wrong -- Cutler's loss was devastating. With him, the Bears were 7-3 and playoff shoo-ins. Without him, they were 1-5 and almost unwatchable.
Sure, we would have liked to have seen it play out with Cutler. Things happen during the playoffs. Strange, wonderful, unexpected things.
But depending on the NFC matchups, do you really think the Bears would have beaten the New Orleans Saints? They didn't during the regular season.
No. Yes. No. No.
And if they somehow had reached the Super Bowl, would they have beaten the New England Patriots? Again, that's a big negatori.
But look at the bright side.
No more Caleb Hanie.
BEARS AFTER CUTLER INJURY WAS WORST FATE
Quantifying and comparing disappointment is tricky. Do we go back and check police records after each Bears loss following Jay Cutler's injury last fall? Bar tabs? Attendance at Overeaters Anonymous meetings?
I do know how it feels right now as the Bulls' season appears to be coming to a premature end. I know that had someone told us a little more than a week ago that this would happen, it would be very hard to fathom.
But I also remember the helpless freefall the Bears experienced after beginning their season 7-3, then losing their next five and falling out of playoff contention after their quarterback broke the thumb on his playing hand.
Though the disappointment over the Bulls' current state is palpable, the shock after Derrick Rose went down with an ACL tear was rather quickly replaced by the reality that any title hopes were all but over.
With the Bears, the agony was strung out over six long, hideous weeks.
At first, there were reports that Cutler would be ready for the playoffs, maybe even for the last game of the season if need be. The Bears had a seemingly comfortable cushion at 7-3 and though no one was pretending Caleb Hanie was George Blanda or even Doug Flutie, there was evidence on record to suggest that he could successfully manage the team to a .500 finish, which would have been good enough to make the playoffs.
After Hanie threw three interceptions and two touchdown passes against the Raiders in Oakland in his first NFL start, snapping the Bears' five-game winning streak, there was still the thought that he would come back the following week at home against Kansas City, which came into the game at 4-7 and 2-3 on the road.
But that game would offer up still another punch to the gut after Matt Forte went down with a knee injury, and Hanie tossed up three picks again while getting sacked seven times against a team that had come into the game with 13 sacks total.
There were calls to bring in Donovan McNabb and false hope that Forte would come back (until he and Cutler were placed on injured reserve Dec. 27, after the team's playoff chances were dashed). And each week, there were more stunning blows with serious injuries to Johnny Knox and Brian Urlacher, and as the offense struggled to mount any sort of attack at all.
Disappointing? Like the Bulls, the Bears were not just playoff contenders but looked like a team capable of going a long way. And while hopes in Lake Forest have been quickly revived for next season, there is no dulling the enduring ache of a season that died a slow death.