Sunday, June 13, 2010

My Kind of Town, Except ...

By Bryan Gruley

My friends keep congratulating me on the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup. I’m a hockey player and I live in Chicago, so I must be celebrating, right?
Actually, no.

I’ve lived in Chicago for five years. I love it. Love the city, the restaurants, the parks, the music, the theaters, even the L train. I do not love the sports teams.
I can’t. Because it’s all about the pain.

I’m from Detroit. Although I left for good in 1987, I still root for the hockey Red Wings, the baseball Tigers, the basketball Pistons, and the (barely) football Lions. For 18 years in Washington, D.C., I didn’t think about adopting the Washington Redskins, the Baltimore Orioles, the Washington Capitals, or whatever Washington’s basketball team was named then.

When we moved to Chicago to a house a few blocks from Wrigley Field, it was tempting to do as the Romans do and become a Cubs fan (though the Romans did rule the world before their decline). And the Bears were on their way to a Super Bowl, so why not cheer for them? I’ve always liked their helmets, anyway.

I know friends and family who trade allegiances like stocks and bonds. One of my brothers-in-law is a college football fan who attended Central Michigan University. No national titles likely there, so he attached himself to the University of Michigan. Then he moved to Colorado just as the Buffaloes were getting good, and he’d switch his loyalty back and forth between Michigan and Colorado, depending on who was ranked higher. Now that both suck, he’s probably looking at Colorado State.

I can read the box scores and figure out which bandwagon to jump on. But I don’t. Maybe I’m old-fashioned. Maybe I have an irrational fear of joining new clubs. Maybe I see the ruined city that once was my home, and I cling to those teams because they’re the best of what remains. Or maybe I just like those classic uniforms, with the winged wheel and the Olde English D.

Chicago fans, as much as anyone, should understand. It’s been more than a century since the Cubs last won the World Series, 24 years since the Super Bowl was Chicago’s. Eighty-eight years passed before the Sox finally won the Series again.

And now, the Blackhawks have brought the Stanley Cup back for the first time since John F. Kennedy was president.

I’m sure Hawks fans would have liked a few more Cups sprinkled in over the last 49 years. But how much sweeter this one must be for all the pain and frustration of those barren decades. I know a few Chicagoans who gave up on the Hawks. I admire the ones who stayed true.

Even the ones who yell that moronic “Detroit Sucks” cheer.

In Detroit, the Pistons are terrible and the Lions—with exactly one post-season win in the last 53 years--are the Lions. The Tigers lost their division on the last day of last season. The Red Wings exited the NHL playoffs before they had a shot at the Hawks.

For a Detroit fan like me, it’s all pain. But if I walked away from it—got myself a Bulls T-shirt or learned that silly Bears fight song—I’d be cheating not just my hometown, but myself.

Helicopters whup-whapped over our house last week, following the Stanley Cup as Hawks players and fans took it on a pub crawl. It hurt a little to imagine how much fun they were having. But I take solace in knowing that next year, those helicopters will be flying over Detroit.

17 comments:

John said...

Hi, Bryan! I had the pleasure to meet you at Centuries and Sleuths when you were on your book tour, and chatted briefly about hockey. I'm glad that you stick with your home teams; my wife and I lived in the S.F. Bay area for 12 years but never cheered for the locals, it was the Chicago teams or nothing! I have a hard time, as well, with fly-by-night sports "fans" who blow with the prevailing wind. However, as far as your last sentence goes, don't hold your breath :-)
Go Blackhawks!!!

Dana King said...

I've lived all over, and my allegiances to Pittsburgh teams have remained secure. During my three years in Chicago, it was easy for me to adopt the White Sox and Bears, since they rarely played Pittsburgh teams, being in the other league/conference. I rooted casually for the Black hawks, same deal. They could win 80 games a year as far as I was concerned, just lose the two against Pittsburgh.

You're right, "Detroit sucks" is a moronic cheer. I have family in Detroit, my wife is from Flint, and I've spent some great times in the greater Detroit area. Detroit most definitely does not suck.

However, as any Penguins fan can tell you, the Red Wings do.

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