Bernstein: Hawks Fans In Strange, New Place
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The sardonic 1972 movie “The Candidate” ends with Robert Redford’s character elected to the Senate after an intense, whirlwind campaign. Upon realizing his victory, he turns to his consultant and asks, earnestly, “What do I do now?”
A Blackhawks fan can be excused for asking the same question as their season opens tonight.
The sad truth of cathartic achievement is inescapable: when something so special is won, something else — something less tangible than an engraved trophy — is lost. The coexisting feelings are heightened when the goal is enormous, long-sought, and reached faster than even optimists imagined.
The velocity of the Hawks’ resurrection was really remarkable, when you think about it. Just two years ago, Denis Savard was fired four games into the season and Joel Quenneville inherited the talented, callow roster. The concurrent improvement in the team’s marketing strategy emboldened hibernating fans to emerge, proudly challenging the city to pay attention to a team (and a sport) long neglected by the mainstream.
The Winter Classic, the emphatic establishment of star players, the full slate of home games on local television, and the rightful reinstatement of exiled broadcaster Pat Foley put an exclamation point on the post-Bill-Wirtz franchise. Quenneville’s steady hand guided a galvanizing burn through the playoffs that ended in the conference-final loss to Detroit.
The Hawks were back. The Hawks were good. The Hawks mattered.
There is no better time to be a fan then when your team is palpably improving, and a reasonable person can envision a title trajectory. That time had come.
And then just one year ago (!), a group fortified by Marian Hossa (and bursting at the salary-cap seams, ominously) began the campaign that would eventually explode into a storm of fluttering red confetti and Chelsea Dagger. The ensuing joy percolated through the summer and followed the Stanley Cup from tavern to tavern, from Winnipeg to Finland.
But the story of the cup itself is that of the fan’s current reality. That thing has been Everywhere — one almost expects that each next picture via email or Facebook contains some friend, acquaintance or family member posing with it.
It is the nature of things that the extraordinary becomes mundane.
(“Come to the World’s Fair! See the Moving Pictures and the Motor-Carriage!”)
And that’s where the sense of “Ok, now what?” begins to color this season. This is a very good team, perhaps an excellent one capable of repeating. But the defiant fandom clinging to both championship dreams and the chip on their shoulder was forever changed after the victory parade.
Indeed, old-line atavists are increasingly resentful of perceived bandwagoners, and self-defeatingly grumble about success and popularity devaluing their cultish emotional equity while pricing them out of of the building.
The franchise has macroeconomic realities, too. The offseason purge of players, while expected by anybody capable of reading, was jarring. The team lost money last year, at times needing emergency infusions of cash to make payroll. Ticket costs will rise, soon and markedly.
In short, reality of being a really good hockey team at the outset of the next season is not as much fun as a once-in-a-lifetime period of big dreams that saw them quickly come true.
It’s time to wake up.