‘Frustrated Athlete’ Jeremy Piven Tells Us What The Cubs’ World Series Win Meant To Him

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The Chicago Cubs are at no shortage of celebrity fans. From Bill Murray and Eddie Vedder being a huge part of the team’s World Series celebration in Cleveland to Vince Vaughn and John Cusack sweating bullets at Wrigley, the Cubbies have arguably the most recognizable fans in baseball.

Hell, we even rolled our eyes at some celebrities jumping on the bandwagon (or pretending they never ditched the team) as the team flirted with destiny, but the celebrity fans who matter most have stuck with the team through it all, and they couldn’t wait to party in Cleveland and Chicago when the curse was finally broken.

Except for Jeremy Piven. Unfortunately for the Chicago native and diehard sports fan, he was filming his new NBA comedy All-Star Weekend in Los Angeles on the night of Game 7. Jamie Foxx’s directorial debut stars Piven and Foxx as obsessed basketball fans trying to meet their idols, and the role is fitting for Piven, as he was obsessed with trying to get to a television on that fateful Wednesday night.

As he told me when we spoke before a zero gravity flight hosted by Pepsi Zero Sugar at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, he got to a TV just in the nick of time, and like all lifelong Cubs fans, he’s still glowing.

Your Cubs finally won it all. Has the glow faded at all?

No. It’s funny, I think about it all the time. The night that they won, I fortunately and unfortunately was shooting a movie, All-Star Weekend with Jamie Foxx, which is about a couple obsessed fans – I’m obsessed with Steph Curry, he’s obsessed with LeBron James, and we’re on our way to the All-Star Game – and that particular night was a night shoot. What can you do? I’m living the dream in that I get to work as an actor, which I love to do and I’m working with Jamie, which is the experience of a lifetime, but there I was getting reports while I’m on the set.

I couldn’t believe it. I was so blissful, the Cubs were up … I saw the very beginning. The bats were going a little silent, but then suddenly it was game on.

How did you react to Rajai Davis’s two-run home run that tied the game?

I’m thinking, we got this. Once I saw the bats were going, I thought we would be okay. I just thought it was a lock because that was the missing piece of the puzzle. Suddenly, one of the crew members whispered in my ear, “It’s tied at 6.” I just thought, what the f*ck. Then, we were just grinding so hard. You lose track of time while you’re filming, and we wrapped and I ran to my trailer to see the score. At that moment they go, “And we’re into our rain delay,” and you’ve never seen anyone so happy for a rain delay in your life.

I’m thinking, the game started five-and-a-half hours ago. It’s already a million o’ clock on the east coast, like, you can’t write this. A hundred and eight years? Talk about earning it. Oh my God, what are these guys like in the clubhouse? There they are in Cleveland, how are they holding it together? I threw my clothes on and ran to a place down the street, this place called Rock & Reilly’s, and I just stood on the street because they have TVs outside there. I stood on the street with my fellow Chicagoans and watched them win the World Series. It was a very incredible and surreal moment.

Did you have time to celebrate?

It was one of the craziest days of my life. I just wrapped a night shoot, and also that morning we were shooting in Chicago for American Express, so I kind of pulled like this weird 24-hour filming day. I was both thrilled and exhausted at the same time. People were buying each other shots and it was incredible. I wish I was in either Cleveland or Chicago at that moment to witness it.

Did you finally go back and watch Game 7 in its entirety?

What’s so crazy is I recorded it and somehow it didn’t stick, so I’ve gotta hunt it down and just kind of relive the whole thing.

You’ve met the team and Joe Maddon before, you’re working with Shaquille O’Neal, you met Walter Payton, and you’re obviously working with athletes on All-Star Weekend. Not to mention the stars who made cameos on Entourage. Are you star struck by athletes?

I do get over-excited. A lot of actors are frustrated athletes. I grew up playing football, and as much as I loved it, obviously, it wasn’t meant to be. It wasn’t my sport. For four years in high school – my high school had over 5,000 people in it – we were in this incredibly tough division, and so a lot of the guys I played with went on to play in college and even the pros. I have a real reference for how good these guys actually are, so that’s one of the reasons why I’m such a big fan. When you see these guys out there doing it, you know what level they have to play at to be the best player on every field they’ve ever walked onto, and then take it to another level to be at that speed to compete in the NFL.

One of the greatest moments was meeting Walter Payton and having him exceed my expectations, because he was such a fun-loving guy. He was totally present and having a wonderful time. He didn’t know me. I was a working actor and was hosting the Chicago Film Critics’ Awards at the time, and he was just incredibly gracious and I could be really silly with him and he wanted to play. He was like a little kid. In my opinion – and I know I’m biased because I’m from Chicago – he’s the greatest running back of all-time, for many different reasons. You also take into account his size, a guy who’s 5’10 who can move like that, accelerate like that, and also lean into linebackers and stiff arm them, bounce off them, look for contact. What he put together and was able to do, when you go back and look at footage, is just so incredibly entertaining.

Speaking of your Bears, if you can play GM for a day, what do you think they need to do to get it turned around?

God, would that be the ultimate job, to run the Chicago Bears. It’s interesting because you let [Martellus] Bennett go. Things don’t end well with Brian Urlacher. That guy put everything he had into playing with those guys, and I think endings are important. There are a lot of guys that they’ve let go – Brandon Marshall and list goes on and on and on. Look, I think they’re set for the future at running back. [Jordan Howard] is really fantastic. We obviously need to figure out the quarterback situation.

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Do you like what Matt Barkley has been showing on the field with Cutler done for the season? Do you think he deserves an opportunity?

Absolutely! One-thousand percent. He stepped up in those crazy conditions [the snowy victory over San Francisco in Week 13], and by the way, God bless the receivers who are doing their best, look at how many dropped passes he had, where they’re either on the numbers or on the hands. Add those stats in and he’d be up there right now. Why not give that guy a chance and see what can happen? The offensive line looks like they’re getting better, but with a healthy offensive line, you give Barkley a real shot and I think we’ve got a future.

Also, defense is very important. I’d like to see some stars emerge in the linebacking crew and the defensive backfield. Maybe hire Peanut Tillman to coach some of the cornerbacks and safeties. That’s what’s missing a little bit and what really elevated the Bears was their aggressive play on defense. You don’t see as many guys punching the ball out and really going for it like you used to. It’s hard to find a guy like Urlacher, a guy that athletic and big who can dominate, and is also a great leader.

If you look at a guy like Tom Brady – I was lucky enough to meet him a couple times when he made cameos on Entourage – he’s a real personable guy, looks you in the eyes, and remembers everyone’s name. We know that the payroll for the Patriots isn’t necessarily bigger than anyone else. So, what are the variables over there? Obviously, the fish stinks from the head down and Coach Belichick is a brilliant coach, but I think that offensive line wants to kill for Brady. That dynamic and that relationship need to be cultivated. He’s a solid straight-shooter and really wants to win. He’s not a diva, and I think those guys want to kill for him and really protect him.

I look at Barkley and it looks like he has great energy as well. Those are variables that people forget about. Listen, the worst offensive lineman in the NFL is still one of the best offensive linemen that has ever stepped onto any football field, so I feel like anyone’s game can be raised depending on your work ethic, tenacity, hunger, and, truly, how badly you want it. These guys have such a finite amount of time to play. You might as well go balls to the wall and give everything you have, and then laugh about it later. I’m lucky I’m still hopefully getting better as an actor, still trying to go and working hard at it, and if I was a professional actor I’d be retired. These guys are in the prime of their life and have to retire.

But you look at the Bears, there they were, 2-9, in the snow and there are still people out there. Bears fans are so dedicated, they still travel well. I’m proud to be a part of that.

Speaking of endings, were you upset to see the Derrick Rose era come to an end for the Bulls the way it did?

I still think of Derrick Rose as a Chicago Bull, and I watch him with the Knicks and still root for him. He’s one of those guys, like Russell Westbrook, who plays with a chip on his shoulder and you know, at any moment, can take it to another level. Obviously, Derrick’s problem was navigating those injuries and it looks like he’s doing really well. This will sound like I’m such a Monday morning quarterback, but I actually know a little what I’m talking about – it wasn’t his acceleration, it’s how he landed. Because he’s so quick and unpredictable, he would land in these awkward positions, hence these injuries. He was so fast that he’d jump out of his own body. He would do things and people simply couldn’t guard him.

He’s really gotten that all under control, and I think he’s got a lot of game left in him and a lot of fight. He’s never been intimidated, ever. That shows in his play and I think he’s going to be a huge asset for the Knicks. Noah left as well, and that was sad to me because he was just another guy who proved that if you want to work hard and you’re hungry … everyone counted that guy out in the NBA, and he’s doing great. But Jimmy Butler’s brilliant and the [Bulls] have a great team, and they’ll be a force to be reckoned with.