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Sunday, Jun 24, 2018
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Lovie Smith and Joe Maddon lead a deep dish reunion might be a welcome diversion for fans

Provided we all have power, eventually we’ll turn our minds back to games.

Or maybe we won’t. That’s fine, too.

Relief efforts across our state. That’s what matters.

But our sports might be some fun, a diversion.

Story lines galore.

Welcome back, Lovie.

Welcome back, Mike.

Welcome back, Joe Ma and Zo!

Dig in, deep-dish style. Home sweet Chicago. A reunion tour to beat all.

First comes Friday. USF hosts Illinois, and with it former Bucs coach Lovie Smith, now in his second season as head coach of the Fighting Illini after a two-year flop in Tampa Bay.

Full disclosure: Champaign, Ill., home to the Fighting Illini, is not Chicago. A toddlin’ town it isn’t. But Lovie coached the Bears, who are here on Sunday to play the Bucs. It’s all connected, kids. Play along.

Really, it’s bizarre. Think about it. Lovie happens to be in Tampa, where he still has a home, two days before the Bucs begin their delayed season against the Bears.

Yes, the same Lovie who, last time I checked, hired Jason Licht as Bucs GM, hired Dirk Koetter as Bucs offensive coordinator and drafted Jameis Winston as Bucs quarterback. They’re in and Lovie is out. Funny how it works.

It will not be a sentimental journey for Smith, who still owns a home here.

“I’m just not one of those touchy-feely guys,” Lovie said.

I’m not touchy-feely either, especially after Lovie rolled out an 8-24 record in two seasons as Bucs coach.

What are we supposed to do, take a trip down memory lane? Lovie signing Josh McCown, Anthony Collins and Michael Johnson? 2-14, 0-8 at home, his first season? The collapse at Washington? The death-drop collapse in 2015, four straight losses to seal Lovie’s fate?

On the other hand, he didn’t draft Roberto Aguayo. Lovie did draft Mike Evans. And Kwon Alexander. And he tanked the final game of the 2014 season to get a crack at Jameis. If you want to credit Licht for all that, well, Lovie hired him. If Licht deserves all the credit, I guess he deserves all the blame for bad free-agnt signings under Lovie.

Also back will be former Bucs star Hardy Nickerson, who coaches for Lovie at Illinois, as he did with the Bucs, and former Bucs cornerback Donnie Abraham, whose son Devin is a USF defensive back.

Old home week.

Lovie is trying to build something at Illinois, the place where head coaching careers go to die, and even if he isn’t touchy-feely, a win against No. 22 USF and Charlie Strong would be a major step for a program that went 3-9 in Smith’s first season.

Sunday surely matters for current Bears starting quarterback Mike Glennon, who turned down the Bucs monied offer to be Jameis’ back-up for a chance at a starting job in Chicago. Glennon was never going to be the guy here, and he won’t be the guy in Chicago, either, once the Bears turn to rookie Mitch Trubisky. It’s Big Mike’s lot in life.

Glennon did a decent job in the Bears’ season-opener, a loss to the Falcons. He led the Bears down near the goal line at the end, a chance to win, but he didn’t get it done and took a sack to finish it off. Big Mike still can’t move. He’s still not one of those guys. He makes plays, but not enough to win. Sound familiar?

Glennon didn’t draft Roberto Aguayo, either.

By the way, Aguayo won’t be present. He joined the Bears after the Bucs dumped him, but didn’t make the Chicago roster. The Bucs dodged that one.

And there is next Tuesday, when Joe Maddon returns to Tropicana Field for the first time with the world champion Chicago Cubs.

More wine!

The Cubs, who have had a ragged title defense to this point, are trying to make the playoffs for the third consecutive season under Maddon, while the Rays are on the outside looking in in their make-believe pursuit of a wild card. Wonder if they’ll ever be a winner again post-Maddon. It’s a real question.

It will be good to see Maddon. Part of him never left Tampa Bay. He still has a home here. And there’s Ben Zobrist, Gentle Ben, and Cubs closer Wade Davis, who has been spectacular since he was traded away from Tampa Bay.

Unlike Lovie, Joe Ma will be touchy-feely. You know he will.

A diversion for fans if they choose to take it. I understand if they don’t. There are more important things. We just went through one. We’re still going through one. But this could be fun. Unless, of course, Lovie, Mike and Jo Ma win. It’s the chance you take when  sit at this table.

Deep, deep dish.

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