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Top 12 most significant Chicago sports moments from 2023

As 2023 wraps up, we look back at the best moments from the year

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The new year is here. And 2023 was quite the year for Chicago sports. Outside of the Cubs' interesting late run for the playoffs and Connor Bedard's presence on the Blackhawks, it didn't feel like there were a lot of positive moments.

But we'll look at both the positive and the not-so-positive moments of 2023. If you'd like to check out the most viral moments from 2023, check that out here.

But, without further ado, Here are the top 10 most significant Chicago sports moments of the 2023 year.

Liam Hendriks beats cancer

Eight days into 2023, White Sox closer Liam Hendriks announced he was diagnosed with Stage 4 non-Hodgkins lymphoma, a form of blood cancer.

He was diagnosed and began treatment in December. From December to April, Hendriks underwent four rounds of chemotherapy, with the final round on the same day as the White Sox' home opener on April 3.

In late April, he announced his remission or his cancer-free status. Quickly, in May he began rehabbing for a return to the mound. On May 29, he made a return to the major league mound in the eighth inning of the White Sox' bout against the Los Angeles Angels. He pitched one inning and, unfortunately, allowed two earned runs.

He finished the season with an improved 5.40 ERA from five games. Unfortunately, he required Tommy John surgery in August, ending his season just as it was starting.

Still, he defeated cancer and returned to the mound in a rapid six months. This, undeniably, is one of the year's greatest Chicago sports moments.

White Sox' Liam Hendriks has entered the game for the first time this season after beating cancer. 

Morel walks off over the Sox

The stage? The final game of the Crosstown classic between the Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs.

To this point, the Cubs hadn't won this season series in two years. But, they were up 2-1 on the season series after winning both games against the Sox in July at Guaranteed Rate Field.

On Aug. 16, the Cubs were staring down the barrel of a second-straight loss to the White Sox. Right-hander Gregory Santos entered the game for the White Sox in the bottom of the ninth to try and close things for the South Side.

Down 3-1 with two men on base, Christopher Morel stepped up to the plate to face Santos. Santos got him down in the count, 0-2, to start the at-bat. But a fourth pitch, a 99 mph sinker right down the middle, was eaten up by Morel's bat 411 feet into right-center field.

He jacked the ball over the netting in center field and won the Cubs the game. An improbable home run, Morel did the unthinkable to win the North Side the Crosstown Cup and bring it back to Wrigleyville.

Cubs' Christopher Morel hit a three-run home run in the ninth inning to give the Cubs a 4-3 victory over the White Sox

Blackhawks win draft lottery, draft Connor Bedard

After finishing with the third-fewest number of points (59) from the 2022-23 season, the Chicago Blackhawks owned the third-best odds to win the NHL draft lottery. Their odds stood at 11.5 percent, behind Anaheim (25.5) and Columbus (13.5).

In what felt like a miracle, the Blackhawks won the lottery.

Their win marked the second time in franchise history the Blackhawks won the lottery. The only other time was in 2007. Then, the Blackhawks selected Patrick Kane. They found their next franchise cornerstone with this pick.

The Blackhawks won the 2023 NHL Draft Lottery and have the No. 1 pick in the draft. Kyle Davidson reacts to winning the Lottery

The Blackhawks drafted Connor Bedard of the Regina Pats with the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL draft.

Bedard, then 17, is considered a generational talent in the sport of hockey. He scored 143 points in his final season in the WHL. He became the first WHL player to earn exceptional status to enter the NHL early.

Thus far, he has 15 goals and 17 assists, giving him 32 points in his rookie season.

He's the franchise cornerstone for the Blackhawks. Hopefully, Kyle Davidson and the Blackhawks front office can construct a championship-caliber team around the right-handed center.

The Blackhawks selected Connor Bedard with the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NHL Draft. After being selected, Connor Bedard talked to Darren Pang about his initial reaction to being selected

Jonathan Toews' last game

On April 14, longtime captain and fan-favorite Jonathan Toews played his final game with the Chicago Blackhawks.

The morning of the game, general manager Kyle Davidson announced the Blackhawks would not be re-signing Toews to the team after his contract finished at the end of the season. That meant Toews would play in his final game in a Blackhawks sweater that night.

At home at the United Center, the Blackhawks fell 5-4 against the Philadelphia Flyers, a fitting opponent, as Toews and the 2010 Blackhawks earned their first of three Stanley Cups over the Flyers.

He scored a goal and nearly scored an overtime winner to lift the Hawks to a win. Unfortunately, they couldn't come out on top for the captain's final game.

"I’m blown away," Toews said after the game. "I really felt almost unworthy of a moment like that. I was just telling Sharpie in the hallway, I hope that guys like him and Duncs and Seabs and Kaner and go down the list, if they were lucky enough to watch the game tonight that they could feel that love from the fans.

"I’ll always be a Blackhawk for the rest of my life. You grow up dreaming of being an NHL hockey player and you idolize your heroes and you live for those big moments and when things like that happen, you realize it’s more than a game. And it makes it all worthwhile. So it’s pretty special."

On Thursday morning, the Blackhawks announced they would not re-sign captain Jonathan Toews. After his final game in the United Center, the Hawks played a tribute video thanking Toews for his time in Chicago.

Craig Counsell hiring

In a stunning offseason move for the Chicago Cubs, the front office decided to hire Milwaukee Brewers manager Craig Counsell and simultaneously relieve David Ross of his duties as the team's skipper.

Not thought to be in the market for a new manager, Jed Hoyer & Co. pulled off the unthinkable, bringing in one of baseball's top minds to manage their team. They signed Counsell to record dollars, inking him to a five-year contract worth $40 million, making him the richest manager in baseball.

Counsell has nine years of experience as a manager, all with the Brewers. He has a 707-625 record leading the team. The Brewers won the NL Central three times over his tenure and made the playoffs five times. The furthest the Brewers ever made it in the postseason under Counsell was the NLCS in 2018.

Now, he has the keys to the Cubs' operations during a rather silent offseason for the North Side.

On Monday, the Cubs introduced new manager Craig Counsell. Counsell talked about what sold him on taking the position with the Cubs

Alan Williams resigns

Chicago Bears defensive coordinator Alan Williams resigned from his position as the team's defensive coordinator under Matt Eberflus on Sept. 20. His untimely departure was met with rumors of criminal activity and involvement with the FBI.

Williams was in the middle of his second season with the Bears as the team's defensive leader. Previously, Williams was the defensive backs coach with Eberflus in Indianapolis with the Colts for four seasons.

He released a full statement citing his health and family issues as a reason for his mid-season departure.

Alan Williams thanked the Bears and cited his health and family as reasons for stepping down from the defensive coordinator position

White Sox fire Rick Hahn, Kenny Williams

The Chicago White Sox decided to relieve then-general manager Rick Hahn and Vice President Kenny Williams of their respective front office duties on Aug. 22.

“This is an incredibly difficult decision for me to make because they are both talented individuals with long-term relationships at the White Sox," said Jerry Reinsdorf, White Sox chairman, in a statement. "Ken is like a son to me, and I will always consider him a member of my family. I want to personally thank Ken and Rick for all they have done for the Chicago White Sox, winning the 2005 World Series and reaching the postseason multiple times during their tenures. I have nothing but the greatest respect for them as people and appreciate the commitment and passion for the White Sox they exhibited over the years.

“Ultimately, the well-worn cliche that professional sports is results-oriented is correct,” Reinsdorf said. “While we have enjoyed successes as an organization and were optimistic heading into the competitive window of this rebuild, this year has proven to be very disappointing for us all on many levels. This has led me to the conclusion that the best decision for the organization moving forward is to make a change in our baseball department leadership."

Williams had been with the White Sox since 1992 and had served as an executive vice president since 2011. He was the general manager when the White Sox won the World Series in 2005, snapping an 88-year drought. He held that role from 2001-to-2011, overseeing clubs that went to the playoffs on two different occasions.

Hahn has served as the team’s GM since 2011 and has overseen a rebuild that resulted in back-to-back playoff appearances in 2020 and 2021.

Bears earn No. 1 pick and trade it

Stunningly, the Bears earned the No. 1 draft pick in the 2023 NFL draft by way of a Lovie Smith miracle.

Smith, then head coach of the Houston Texans, led his team to a last week victory over the Indianapolis Colts, moving their record to 3-13-1 and gifting the Bears (3-14) the first pick in the draft.

The Texans' season finale win didn't come without rollercoaster-like thrills. They won the game on a fourth-down touchdown from quarterback Davis Mills to Jordan Akins with under one minute to go in the game. They won, 32-31.

About two months later, general manager Ryan Poles cooked up a trade with the pick. He traded the No. 1 overall pick to the Carolina Panthers in exchange for the No. 9 pick (Darnell Wright), a second-round pick (Tyrique Stevenson), a 2024 first-round pick (No. 1 pick, again), a 2025 second-round pick and wide receiver DJ Moore.

It was a blockbuster trade that not only loaded up the Bears' war chest and gave them a No. 1 wide receiver but proved the Bears' faith in quarterback Justin Fields.

Will their faith remain one year later amid a surefire losing season? Stay tuned.

Patrick Kane trade

As the dynasty era of the Blackhawks winded down, the team did right by Patrick Kane by trading him to the New York Rangers ahead of the 2023 NHL trade deadline. The Blackhawks were, and still are, in the middle of a full-scale rebuild that doesn't fit Kane's goals and timeline of winning another Stanely Cup.

Here's the full three-team trade that sent Kane to his (kinda) hometown team:

  • Blackhawks acquire: Andy Welinski, a second-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft and a fourth-round pick in the 2025 NHL Draft
  • Rangers acquire: Patrick Kane, Cooper Zech
  • Coyotes acquire: Conditional third-round selection in the 2025 NHL Draft

Kane approved the deal and teamed up with former Blackhawks' Artemi Panarin. They failed to reach the Stanley Cup last season. They were eliminated from the first round of the playoffs by the New Jersey Devils.

Recently, Kane signed a one-year prorated deal with the Detroit Red Wings, teaming up with Alex DeBrincat. Here's Kane's statement after being traded back in 2023:

"I’m so thankful for everything the city, the Blackhawks organization, my teammates and the fans have done for me and my family over the last 16 years—the support was constant from day one and Chicago will forever be home for us.

"This has been an emotional time for me and my family, but I feel this decision puts me in the best spot to immediately win another Stanley Cup. This isn’t about me leaving the Blackhawks, but this is an opportunity for me—the Blackhawks did everything they could to put me in a great position and I will forever be grateful. It is bittersweet to leave a place that is so special to me, but I will always carry the memories we made in Chicago.

"I will miss the roar of the United Center, the deafening sound of the anthem and the people of Chicago. Together, we made memories that will last a lifetime like the three Stanley Cup Champions banners that will forever hang at the United Center. I look forward to this next step in my career and will forever be appreciative for all I have received from the Blackhawks and Chicago.”

NASCAR in Chicago

In July 2022, NASCAR announced they added a street series race to their schedule and planned to race in Chicago's downtown setting around Grant Park in July 2023. And they did just that.

“Like the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum, we seized an incredible opportunity to add an unprecedented element to our schedule and take center stage in the heart of another major metropolitan market,” said Ben Kennedy, NASCAR senior vice president of racing development and strategy, in a statement. 

“This is the ideal setting for the first-ever NASCAR Cup Series street race. The NASCAR Cup Series Next Gen cars and the IMSA machines will race along the shores of Lake Michigan in downtown Chicago, marking a truly historic moment for our sport.” 

NASCAR hosted races at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet from 2001 to 2019, but hasn't hosted a race in the Chicago area since.

Shane Van Gisbergen won the race after it was shortened due to weather conditions. He made history, becoming the second driver to win their debut NASCAR race and the sixth racer born outside of the United States (Australia) to win a NASCAR cup series race.

NASCAR Chicago will return in the summer of 2024.

White Sox player makes LGBTQ history

White Sox minor leaguer Anderson Comas made history in February, becoming the third active minor leaguer to come out as gay. He announced the news with an Instagram post.

The White Sox tweeted out an image of Comas’ post with the message, “We are all so proud of you, Anderson! ❤️?️‍?.”

Moments later, White Sox assistant GM/player development Chris Getz shared a statement on Comas’ announcement.

“Anderson first shared his news with us last year,” Getz said in the statement. “And I was very pleased that he was comfortable sharing with us in player development. I also was happy at the reaction across the organization, which as you would expect was to support, help and congratulate a teammate.”

Chicago sports legends we lost in 2023

Sadly, the city of Chicago lost some sports icons in 2023.

Rocky Wirtz, former principal owner and CEO of the Chicago Blackhawks, died in July. He was 70.

Wirtz, who was also the owner of the Wirtz Corp, which included Breakthru Beverage Group, took over as the owner in 2007 after his father Bill passed away. Rocky was the fifth principal owner in franchise history; his grandfather Arthur purchased a stake of the Blackhawks in 1950 and acquired majority ownership in 1966.

Wirtz immediately revitalized hockey in Chicago, which started by televising home games and spending money, whether it was inside the organization or for the on-ice product. Shortly after he took over, the Blackhawks' popularity exploded, they became a staple in outdoor games, and put together a dynastic run in the salary cap era by winning three Stanley Cups in six years.

During Wirtz's tenure as the chairman, the Blackhawks made the postseason 10 times, won 17 rounds, reached five Conference Finals and won three Stanley Cups.

"Our hearts are very heavy today,” Rocky's son and Blackhawks CEO Danny Wirtz said in a statement. "Our dad was a passionate businessman committed to making Chicago a great place to live, work and visit, but his true love was for his family and close friends. He was a loving father, a devoted husband to Marilyn, a brother, a nephew, an uncle and a doting grandfather to his six remarkable grandchildren. His passing leaves a huge hole in the hearts of many and we will miss him terribly."

In October, one of the most ferocious Bears players in its history, Dick Butkus, died. He was 80.

Over his career, Butkus earned eight Pro Bowl nods, five All-Pro selections and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His No. 51 was retired by the Bears, and he has long been one of the team's most iconic figures.

Before his NFL career, Butkus was a defensive star at the University of Illinois and is one of only two players to have their numbers retired by the university.

"Dick was the ultimate Bear, and one of the greatest players in NFL history. He was Chicago's son. He exuded what our great city is about and, not coincidently, what George Halas looked for in a player: toughness, smarts, instincts, passion and leadership," Bears Chairman George McCaskey said in a statement.

On Jan. 30, Blackhawks legend Bobby Hull died. He was 84.

Hull spent 15 of his 16 NHL seasons in Chicago, where he ranks first in goals (604), third in points (1,153), fifth in assists (549) and sixth in games played (1,036). Over that span, "The Golden Jet" won the Art Ross Trophy three times, the Hart Trophy twice, the Lady Byng Trophy once and was named a first-team NHL All-Star 10 times. 

Hull helped lead the Blackhawks to their third Stanley Cup win in franchise history in 1961, finishing third in the playoffs with 14 points.

Hull was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1983 and had his No. 9 retired by the Blackhawks that same year. His statue, along with Stan Mikita, was unveiled outside the United Center in 2011.

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