End-of-year lists were never created for readers' entertainment. They were a matter of convenience to soak up newspaper/magazine space and broadcast airtime when the pace of news slowed to a crawl around the holidays.
My list, though, is short and sweet. It means something. Since Chicago sports more typically plunges to the depths rather than soaring to the heights, a top-two ranking is appropriate here: the pair of Comeback Kids of 2010.
By acclamation, their names are Lovie Smith and Patrick Kane.
Bears coach Smith was in far more danger of being pushed off the local athletic map than the 21-year-old Kane, whose future was still almost all ahead of him. But Kane had to do some decent damage-control before he could prosper.
Smith, of course, was all but fired going into this season after missing the playoffs three straight seasons. An seemingly unbending coaching philosophy and endless, excuse-filled platitudes in his media comments made him just about the most unpopular sports figure in Chicago. Smith seemed to get a stay of execution when the Bears began 3-1, but the Jay Cutler nine-sack disaster in the first half against the Giants in the Meadowlands got the wolves nipping right back on the coach's heels again.
Whatever change in strategy and corralling of offensive coordinator Mike Martz's wilder tendencies transpired in the ensuing bye week apparently worked. With only a few blips like the Patriots' dominating win ever since, the Bears take some of the best momentum in the NFL into the playoffs. The success seems to hover around Smith, who will have to capture a Super Bowl to truly win friends and influence people in Chicago.
Meanwhile, Blackhawks winger Kane could play through his carefree, kid-gone-wild personal life so long as he produced on ice. Yet his apparently physical, after-hours confrontation with a Buffalo cabbie and his bare-chested escapade in "Limogate" in Vancouver put a big dent in "Kaner's" image. The latter incident has been going on for a hundred years in all sports, but athletes have to take extra care these days with cell-phone cameras in the possession of everyone they encounter.
After issuing his mea culpas, Kane was all business on the ice during the Stanley Cup run. He was in the right place at the right time in the two most crucial moments of the title chase. He tied it up with an opportune goal during Game 5 of the playoffs against Nashville, the Hawks short-handed and the clocking ticking away to the final seconds. Then, of course, he nailed the tough-angled shot that won it all in Game 6 of the Finals in Philadelphia after the determined Flyers had tied it up and sent the game into overtime. Now his place is secure in team history, and his teammates eagerly await his return from a left-ankle injury to make the Hawks whole again to better position them for another postseason run.
There are other candidates for comeback-kid honors: Cutler, Brian Urlacher and Joakim Noah. Kerry Wood proves you can repeatedly re-invent yourself, return from injuries and ineffectiveness, and indeed come home again. But Lovie and "Kaner" lead the pack. Maybe they'll be good candidates again this time in 2011.