Monday, June 14, 2010

My Cup Runneth Overtime

It's been five whole days since the Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, so I probably should have written something about it by now. But seeing how it's been 49 years in the making, I don't feel all that delinquent.

On the night they won, Wednesday, June 9, 2010, I was very happy, although like most fans and the Hawks themselves, the uncertainty of Kane's clinching goal stifled the spontaneity of my celebration. And this after the Flyers late tying goal already deflated my impending euphoria.

But though not quite as rapturous as my Pavlovian response system may have liked, the ending was certainly better than a loss that would have brought about Game 7. And for the first time in my lifetime, the Blackhawks are Stanley Cup Champions.

A friend asked me how the Hawks' winning ranks among my sports memories, primarily comprised of now having seen (not in person, except for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Finals) the Bears, Bulls, White Sox and Hawks win the ultimate prize in their respective sports. I'm still waiting on the Cubs, but then so is everyone not around in 1908.

I couldn't readily answer, and really there is no need for comparison. Watching (almost) all the Chicago teams win--and I am a fan of both the Cubs and Sox--has brought tremendous joy and a wonderful diversion from real life. Though the Sox winning their division in 1983 and the Cubs in 1984 were big deals due to their long playoff droughts, the Bears were the first Chicago team I saw win it all, and coupled with the dominance and personality of the 1985 Bears, made for an experience I'll never forget.

I was a huge Bulls fan ever since they drafted Michael Jordan, so was ecstatic when they won their first championship in 1991, but I was living in Los Angeles at the time and thus the celebration felt a bit distant. The subsequent championships were all fantastic, but obviously lost their unique aspect.

Though I honestly like the Cubs and Sox, the Cubs are ingrained a bit deeper. So while I was thrilled when the Sox won the World Series in 2005, I couldn't clearly claim them to be my team. Their win came just after I was released from a job for the first time, so it was an especially nice excuse to celebrate.

As for the Blackhawks, they've always been the only NHL team I cared about, but for a long time, I wasn't really a hockey fan. I never went to a Hawks game in the old Chicago Stadium and though I've gone to a game or two a season for most of the last 15 years, each was usually the only game(s) I saw in a given season.

So no, I have not been a die-hard season ticket holder since 1977, nor someone who ever played hockey (I still don't clearly understand some of the rules).

But what makes the Blackhawks victory so pleasing to me is my admiration for the rapidity of their rise.

Before the season before this one, the Hawks had missed the playoffs--in a league where 16 of 30 teams get in--9 of the previous 10 seasons. They were seemingly the worst franchise not only in hockey, but all of sports.

In the first half of the last decade, I remember regularly bemoaning the idiocy of their business plan to a Hawk-loving colleague. Year after year, they seemed to not try to sign any good free agents, when it seemed to me that the expense would've been easily offset by selling more tickets to each game, making the playoffs (and thus having tons more ticket and broadcast revenue) and having popular players with jerseys to merchandise.

It just didn't make sense to me that they would stay mired in mediocrity.

But then the owner, Bill Wirtz, died in September 2007. His son, Rocky, took over, hired John McDonagh away from the Cubs to serve as President, had some fortunate draft picks (most notably Kane and Toews), signed big name free agents like Brian Campbell and Marian Hossa, and less than three years later are the best team in hockey.

Everything I imagined came true.

Not only did the Hawks win the crown, they sold every seat during the 2009-10 season and tons of jerseys and merchandise. At the victory parade and rally, which I didn't attend, it was a sea of red.

So while the Hawks' winning wasn't the most emotionally rich championship for me, likely more than any other, it meshed with my sense of logic. Do things right and good things will happen. At least once in a lifetime.

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