Prior to the 2007-08 NHL season I didn’t think twice about hockey. It was something that was seen as a nuisance when its highlights came up on Sportscenter. The only thing I knew about hockey was that Wayne Gretzky was some sort of God, the Red Wings were really, really good, and the Blackhawks were horrible.
This is noteworthy because it is rare for me to find someone who cares more about sports on a daily basis than myself. I live and breath with the White Sox, Packers and Bulls, and unabashedly boast that I know more about your favorite team than you do. I receive text messages on my phone informing me about how my favorite teams are doing in every game I’m unable to watch, as well as the latest breaking news, fantasy news, and any other news you can think of on a minute by minute basis.
It’s safe to say that, even as I get older, sports continue to completely indulge every moment of my life.
But I didn’t care about hockey. That was Canada’s sport. It was the sport with a bunch of guys with names I couldn’t pronounce. It had rules I didn’t understand, and I didn’t want anything to do with it.
Plus, the team closest to my hometown was just rated by ESPN the Magazine as the worst franchise in all of professional sports.
But that year, right before the 2007 season began, I decided I might give it a shot. I wanted to become a Blackhawks fan and decided to do some research on the team to become as educated on the team — and the sport — as possible.
I stumbled upon an article on ESPN.com about the Blackhawks that said the franchise might soon be on the rise. It featured three young stars that had been high draft picks who were poised to turn heads in the Windy City.
Their names? Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and Jack Skille.
It took me a couple of weeks to come to grips with the fact that Toews was pronounced “Taves,” but made sure to remember that article as I followed the team throughout the year.
That year’s team was fun to watch and did, in fact, turn some heads. And while it narrowly missed the playoffs, it left pundits sure the team was on the verge of breaking through.
And let’s face it, they were fun to watch. I was hooked.
Fast-forward three years and most know the story. The Hawks improved year after year, Kane and Toews won the hearts of Chicagoans everywhere (Skille is still toiling away in Rockford), Bill Wirtz died, Rocky Wirtz put the team back on TV, and all of a sudden the Blackhawks are the taste of Chicago and one win away from hoisting the Stanley Cup.
Most Chicago sports fans have to go back 12 years to their last title when the Jordan era Bulls made their last hurrah. Fans who mostly care about the Cubs and Bears (as most fans I know do) have to go back 25 years to the 1985 Bears for their last title.
White Sox fans like myself? We’ve been here before. But that doesn’t make it any less sweet.
Unless you live in Los Angeles, Boston or New York, chances are there are only going to be a handful of times you see your favorite team compete for a championship. Chicago basketball fans were lucky enough to see Jordan’s Bulls win six, but as sweet as that was, basketball has always come in behind baseball, football, and yes, even hockey, in the minds of Chicago fans, leaving the city still hungry 12 years later.
Bears fans were on the verge of experiencing the glory just over three years ago, but had their hearts broken. Cubs fans? Nothing even needs to be said about their level of anguish.
But the city can come together once again tonight (or Friday, but hopefully not), as the Blackhawks attempt to complete their transformation from futility to glory. And whether you’re a lifelong fan, a transplant fan or simply someone who jumped on the bandwagon along the way, enjoy it. Enjoy the hell out of it.
Because championship moments are rare, and we never know when we’ll be able to experience it again.