I don’t consider myself a “Chicago sports fan” it just so happens that a majority of my favorite teams play in Chicago.
That’s a fact not a lot of people understand. Even in Rockford, where I grew up (which is NOT a suburb of Chicago), the general population of sports fans considered themselves to be fans of Chicago sports and that was basically it. There’s even a restaurant in the city named “Old Chicago” that is decked out in Chicago sports memorabilia.
So most of the people I grew up around were Chicago sports fans. It was either Bears-Cubs-Bulls-Blackhawks, Bears-White Sox-Bulls-Blackhawks, or Bears-Cubs-Bulls-Idontcare (not a lot of hockey fans in the area until recently).
But, as I said before, I’m not a Chicago sports fan. I realized this even more a few months ago when I argued with one of the aforementioned Chicago sports fans over whether it was OK or not for Jack Skille to announce he was rooting for the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game.
Skille was more in Madison, Wis., and naturally grew up a Packers fan. The fan I argued with said that Skille should want the Bears to win because “the city” was behind the Blackhawks during their Stanley Cup run so he should do the same for the Bears’ Super Bowl run. I thought that was silly because A) It would make him a bad fan for neglecting the team he grew up rooting for and B) Who cares if he lives and works in Chicago? (People forget that what he does is a job).
The points ended up becoming moot. The Bears lost the game and Skille got traded (For reasons other than the fact that he liked the Packers, one would assume. Namely, he wasn’t very good at hockey).
But that disagreement made me realize I think quite a bit differently than city fans. There are quite a few people who think you should root for Chicago sports to win regardless, even some who think Cubs fans should root for the White Sox in the World Series and vice-versa. The idea of that seems unfathomable to me.
The reason I’m bringing all of this up is because, growing up and living around Chicago sports fans, I can’t imagine the excitement that is being felt right now. Let’s break things down:
1. The Chicago Bears just completed an incredible season in which they came within one game of reaching the Super Bowl.
2. The Chicago Blackhawks are (barely) back in the playoffs just 10 months after setting the city on fire by winning the Stanley Cup.
3. The Chicago Bulls are the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference, have the presumptive NBA MVP and have suddenly become a heavy favorite to at LEAST make it to the NBA Finals.
4. The Cubs and White Sox, regardless of expectations, are playing at the beginning of the season with hope of making the playoffs.
OK, that last one wasn’t as exciting, but you get my point.
As I said before, I’m not a Chicago sports fan. The reason is because I’m a Green Bay Packers fan and I hate the Cubs with every fiber of my being. But I’m pretty darn close to one, and I can sense that the excitement level that city and its fans are feeling right now might be at an all-time high, or at least as high as it’s been in the past 20 years.
Of course, most of this excitement is because of the Bulls and Blackhawks, and upon doing some actual research, I was surprised to see that over the past 20 years, the two teams have actually been in the playoffs together twice, including the past two years.
However, a closer look shows that there was not a single time in those nine instances where BOTH teams had a ton of optimism. The 1991-92 season probably came the closest since the ‘Hawks made a surprising run to the NBA Finals while Jordan & Co., were tearing things up, but from what I understand, there was little optimism the ‘Hawks would stand a chance against Mario Lemieux and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
So why am I bringing this all up? Isn’t this year basically the same as those other nine instances. We have the favorite (Bulls), and the team that stumbled into the playoffs and many people expect to get bounced early (Blackhawks). Last year, those roles were reversed.
But don’t let seedings fool you. The Blackhawks may have snuck in and face a tough challenge with Vancouver, but there’s plenty of optimism, based around last year’s run and general playoff dominance against the Canucks, that another long run could be had.
Likewise, hockey is the one sport where seedings are basically irrelevant. Eight seeds beat one seeds WAY more often than in basketball. In fact, since the current playoff format was adopted in 1994, nine 8 seeds have won in the first round, that’s basically one-third of the time.
It happened last year, and last season’s Eastern Conference Finals even featured the 8 seed (Montreal) vs. the 7 seed (Philadelphia).
Chicago fans know this and they’re perhaps more confident than any 8 seed’s fans have ever been. But it’s with good reason. They know the history.
The Madhouse on Madison is going to be absolutely rocking over the next two months, as both teams can hopefully make long runs. It’s one of those rare instances I’ve written about so many times that we need to enjoy. Optimism in Chicago is unthinkably high, and we may be experiencing a sports high in this city that will never happen again.
Can you imagine what the United Center will be like if it’s hosting NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Finals games around virtually the same time?
I can. And I can’t wait to see if it happens.