By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) If I was a decade younger – heck, half a decade younger – I might still be out on Clark Street this morning. Hopefully, not lying in a gutter.
But while my 37-year-old self didn’t crowd surf on any metal barricades, fire off any fireworks or tick off any mounted police, I did still hustle from my place over to Wrigley Field last night to soak in the revelry at the de facto Madhouse on (M)Addison following the Blackhawks’ stunning Stanley Cup championship victory.
And this I know: there were more Blackhawks sweaters and T-shirts being worn at the corner of Clark and Addison than the number that even existed in the entire city four years ago.
And this I know, as well: The Blackhawks now own Chicago. Truly they do.
Earlier this month, I wrote in my weekly Wisch List newspaper column about how during wintertime, Chicago is undoubtedly a Bears town. During summertime, it’s always been a baseball town. And during Michael Jordan’s time, it was a Bulls town.
But during this current time in June 2013, it’s become a Blackhawks town more than anything else. And that really is something.
After all, just recently 670 The Score’s Dan Bernstein wrote about “the 8,000 or so” Blackhawks fans “who cocooned themselves in the United Center for most of the early 21st century to live through the unfortunate coaching regimes of Alpo Suhonen, Brian Sutter, Trent Yawney and Denis Savard.”
That small cocoon, however, has gone on to spawn thousands upon thousands of new fans since the Blackhawks began their charge to the Stanley Cup in 2010 – the franchise’s first NHL championship since 1961 – and they can now be found crawling all over the city. Especially last night.
Three summers ago, the vast majority of Chicagoans had never experienced the thrill of the Cup, and the city became caught up in the Blackhawks’ pursuit of it. Back then, most people who followed the team weren’t really true fans of it, but they certainly enjoyed the championship chase and celebration.
This time around, though, things have felt different to me. From the West Loop to River North to Wrigleyville and well beyond, Chicago in 2013 has seemed much more invested in the Blackhawks as an institution rather than as a mere novelty. In turn, the franchise has been able to strengthen its identity in the city while Chicago’s other pro teams struggle with theirs.
Looking at the city’s sports landscape right now, we see both the Cubs and the White Sox barely resembling MLB teams, let alone contenders. The Bulls showed grit this postseason, but still had many fans gritting their teeth about Derrick Rose’s absence. The Bears, meanwhile, recently said goodbye to the face of their franchise (Brian Urlacher) while saying hello to a new coach that no one really knows anything about (Marc Trestman).
With so much uncertainty, the Blackhawks have skated into the heart of Chicago and stolen it. They also don’t look like an organization that’s going to want to give it back anytime soon.
Last night in Wrigleyville, the Stanley Cup celebration seemed even more crowded and crazy than the scene I saw at the same location three years ago. When I came upon the corner of Clark and Addison, I immediately spotted a guy hoisting a life-size Stanley Cup replica covered in tinfoil above his head. (A Facebook friend warned me to not drink from it.) Behind him, the famous marquee at Wrigley Field flashed repeatedly: “Congratulations Chicago Blackhawks 2013 Stanley Cup Champions.”
All around the neighborhood, people were dancing like they didn’t have to be at work in a few hours, car horns were blasting like cabbies in Manhattan and packs of people were hollering themselves hoarse while ambling past police horses. Beyond the fray, there were even a couple of guys in wheelchairs sitting quietly in Blackhawks sweaters and grinning from ear-to-sear as they shot photos of the crazy scene.
Later on, as I jogged home slapping high fives with random fans all the way, I passed a girl on clad in a Hawks sweater chatting on her cellphone as her friends grabbed her by the sleeve to keep her moving.
“Go Blackhawks!” she shouted at the person on the other end of the line, “I love ya!”
When it comes to the Hawks, Chicago really does too.
If nothing else, Dave Wischnowsky is an Illinois boy. Raised in Bourbonnais, educated at the University of Illinois and bred on sports in the Land of Lincoln, he now resides on Chicago’s North Side, just blocks from Wrigley Field. Formerly a reporter and blogger for the Chicago Tribune, Dave currently writes a syndicated column, The Wisch List, which you can check out via his blog at http://www.wischlist.com. Follow him on Twitter @wischlist and read more of his CBS Chicago blog entries here.