By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) Blackhawks President John McDonough understands the difference between history and trivia.
It was a subtle undercurrent last night amid the manufactured gravitas of the Marian Hossa 1000-game ceremony, but the team’s top executive used the opportunity to continue to do what he has done since getting the job: keep everything focused on winning championships.
I’m not sure how many fans appreciated his casual reference to Hossa still having more important aspirations this year, but the painting of him hoisting the Stanley Cup – given to him, per McDonough, to commemorate the greatest moment of his career — was a stark reminder of what all this is ultimately about.
The trumped-up pregame party was signature McDonough on display. Even while maximizing a relatively mundane statistical accomplishment (280 players have done it) for the purposes of mawkish stagecraft, he was still able to use it to keep the NHL title top of mind for anyone caring to pay attention.
Some fans are uncomfortable trying to reconcile this reality with their currently giddy euphoria over the record-setting start. Anybody daring to point out that larger accomplishments loom is derided for trying to spoil the fun, quickly getting the “No Pare La Fiesta” message. It’s a peculiar thing, this apparent emotional fragility, especially considering that the franchise is not far removed from its own parade, and that “One Goal” has been a marketing mantra, with its message obvious.
The last Chicago team with an unprecedented start to the season went out of their way to embrace the higher expectations brought on by their success, not worried for a second that any fleeting happiness could be undermined by confronting the truth.
The 1996 Bulls began the season 41-3, en route to 72 wins. Along the way, and amid the Beatles-in-America kind of attention they attracted, both Scottie Pippen and Ron Harper were fond of saying “It don’t mean a thing without the ring.” They were smart enough to copyright the slogan, even, monetizing it on hats and t-shirts as the playoffs were set to begin. No fear, their excitement over less meaningful games tempered by context, and full awareness of how disappointing anything less than ultimate victory would be after setting a record. Their own version of “One Goal.”
Blackhawks fans should revel similarly in the higher stakes created by their team’s explosion out of the lockout. There is no reason for any current thrills to be lessened one iota by the focus on the championship, when that singularity of purpose is what validates and galvanizes everything else. It is the principle of existence for professional sports teams at the highest levels, and particularly in the largest markets.
The players know this. The coach knows it. The subtext of last night’s brief speech by McDonough was that he knows it, too.
Just as he knew it in 2009, when the two of us talked during a game at the United Center. The arena thrummed with energy that night, and it was something palpable well beyond just that of long-starved fans relishing the ‘Hawks’ restoration. In voices raised to be audible above the din, we discussed how far the franchise had come so fast. I marveled, while he demurred.
“Look at all this,” I told him, making a sweeping gesture to indicate the whole tableau of filled seats, intensely-shared emotion and riveting on-ice action that had been dormant for so long. “You should be very proud of yourself.”
The always-affable McDonough turned serious, his eyes narrowing as he responded.
“We haven’t done anything yet.”
Dan Bernstein joined the station as a reporter/anchor in 1995, and has been the co-host of Boers and Bernstein since 1999. Read more of Bernstein’s columns, or follow him on Twitter: @dan_bernstein.
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