A Rekindled RelationshipHockey is king in Chicago. Everywhere you look these days, you'll see red and black in honor of the Chicago Blackhawks and their quest for the 2010 Stanley Cup. The team hasn't been this deep in the playoffs since the 1991-1992 season when they were swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Stanley Cup Finals. But lately, there's been a divide between the long-time fans and recent bandwagon jumpers. And I must admit, I'm lost somewhere in between the two.
As far back as I can recall, baseball was always my favorite sport. Though they kill me a little bit each day, the Chicago Cubs have always been my team. That's the franchise to which I am most connected. But once upon a time, the Chicago Blackhawks were a close second. Wrigley Field was always my favorite place to visit, but the old Chicago Stadium was number two. I don't remember the exact date, but it must have been around 1980 or 1981, my Dad drove me to the Chicago Stadium for my first professional hockey game. It was the original Madhouse on Madison. The opponents were the old Hartford Whalers. The Blackhawks won, I lost my voice from excessive screaming, and I also increased my vocabulary with a few off-color words. Following a penalty against one of the Blackhawks, the crowd erupted and began chanting, "BS! BS!" Of course, they used the full version of that chant. I remember asking my Dad what they were yelling. He tried his hardest to convince me they were saying, "Blackhawks! Blackhawks!" We both knew better.
The next day, I sprinted down to our basement, put on heavy socks, and slid all over the unfinished floor. I grabbed whatever items could serve as makeshift sticks and pucks and made a hockey rink. I hung my Mom's towels on the walls to as closely resemble the banners that hung from the rafters at the Chicago Stadium as I could. To this day, my Mom still has the clay Blackhawks player I made in my grade school art class. One very cold winter day, I dumped buckets of water on our driveway to make an outdoor rink. My Dad was less than pleased, but eventually found the humor.
But something changed.
Along the way, the Chicago Bears quickly transformed from mediocre to a dominant football team. Mike Ditka, Walter Payton, Jim McMahon and William Perry kept winning on Sunday afternoons. The Blackhawks started to slip. Without a doubt, Super Bowl XX secured the Bears as my new number two. Next, the Bulls started winning during my high school and college years, and the Blackhawks continued to slide.
Even though I wore my Blackhawks sweater (the proper name for a hockey jersey) through high school, the relationship wasn't the same. Eventually, the sweater became too small. I never tossed the sweater. It just found a resting spot with my other sports memoribilia. The Blackhawks started to fade away. Their games weren't on television and, quite honestly, they were simply awful. The Chicago Stadium had a date with the wrecking ball and United Center was built across the street. The Blackhawks were so bad that only a few thousand fans would attend games. Occasionally, I would land free tickets to see the Blackhawks play, but the Cubs were still my team.
Several years passed. Through death, team ownership passed from father to son. All the sins of the past were corrected. Now home games are on television. Excellent draft classes and free agent signings have turned the team into a winner once again. Last year, the Blackhawks started to win. I started watching again, and you know what, it was fun. The Blackhawks reached the Western Conference championship that season. The Detroit Red Wings beat them, but everyone knew they would be back.
And it's nice to be back, too. The Cubs are still number one, and the Bears are second. But, I'm happy to say that hockey is relevant in Chicago again. They won the first game of the Stanley Cup Finals on Saturday night 6-5. It was a sloppy defensive game, they only need three more wins to hoist the Stanley Cup and add a fourth banner to the United Center's rafters. It'll hang right next to the banners from 1934, 1938 and 1961.
Yes, in Chicago we spread our championships apart. Very far apart.