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?
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.