By Dave Wischnowsky –
(CBS) So multitudinous were the Blackhawks fans swarming downtown Chicago on Friday morning that when the gates to Grant Park were opened to let them in, one of my Facebook friends said it looked like a scene out of “World War Z.”
Eat it up, Chicago.
After all, championship celebrations don’t come along like this every year. Except, of course, when they did. Friday’s raucous Blackhawks rally in Grant Park reminded me of Petrillo Band Shell parties past back when Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls turned trophy-hoisting into a summertime tradition.
With that in mind, I thought I’d take you on a trip down basketball memory lane today by sharing these fun Bulls moments from back in the heyday.
Rally No. 1: June 14, 1991
Even before the Bulls had won Game 5 in Los Angeles to clinch their first NBA Championship, politicians back in Chicago were already bickering about where to hold the championship parade.
Mayor Richard M. Daley wanted it held downtown. West Side aldermen, meanwhile, wanted it to go through their wards and past Chicago Stadium.
(Not surprisingly, Daley won.)
In L.A., where the Lakers had staged five championship parades during the 1980s, the Windy City bickering prompted Lakers guard Byron Scott to comment, “Those people are like rookies. It’s like a rookie when he first comes in the league, he doesn’t know how to accept being in the NBA. Those people don’t know how to accept being in the championship series. It’s all new to them. Of course they’re excited, and they have a right to be.”
Chicagoans also became championship parade vets, Byron.
Rally No. 2: June 16, 1992
When the Bulls held their first championship rally in Grant Park, Chicago Police estimated that a whopping 1 million people attended. The second time around, however, the Chicago Tribune noted after the event that, “One Chicago tradition, vastly exaggerated crowd counts, was not upheld. Last year`s police estimate for the Bulls rally was 1 million people. This year’s crowd, which seemed maybe three-fifths as large, was estimated at 40,000 people.”
Whatever the numbers, Will Perdue made the crowd laugh when the Bulls’ backup center mocked himself in his dorky-but-witty way by saying, “The first time was neat. The second time was one heckuva feat. This time I had one helluva seat. The third time will be oh-so-sweet.”
It would be.
Rally No. 3: June 21, 1993
To celebrate the Bulls’ first trio of championships, Saturday Night Live’s “Superfans” portrayed by George Wendt and Rob Smigel brought down the house with the estimated 150,000 fans in Grant Park when they took a swipe at then-Knicks coach Pat Riley’s copyright on the word “three-peat.”
“Don’t count your money too fast, my friend,” Wendt said. “It’s a totally irrelevant phrase. Like we said two years ago, we’re not talking three-peat; we’re talking a minimum eight-peat.”
Wendt and Smigel then showed their “Eight-peat” T-shirts, which featured a championship trophy inscribed with “Da Bulls.”
Smigel added that the shirts would be on sale, with proceeds going to the Superfans’ favorite charity: “The Committee to Reopen Ditka’s.”
Rally No. 4: June 19, 1996
After a two-summer championship hiatus due to Michael Jordan’s retirement, the Bulls and MJ were back in Grant Park in June ’96 to celebrate a fourth NBA title along with the masses thrilled to join them.
As the Associated Press reported, “The rainbow-haired Dancing Rodmans were just a colorful sideshow in a celebration that brought 250,000 fans to Grant Park Tuesday to cheer for the NBA champion Chicago Bulls.”
As each player was introduced, the fans applauded. But once Jordan stepped up, they didn’t wait to hear his name before breaking into a deafening roar.
“When I leave this city and when I leave this earth, there’s one thing that I will know,” Jordan told the crowd. “That I’ve been in a city that truly loves me and I love them.”
Rally No. 5: June 16, 1997
A year after Dennis Rodman was chided for swearing during the rally celebrating the Bulls’ fourth championship, the Bulls’ outlandish forward was tame.
“He said ‘hell’ once,” the AP reported, which also related how, “Phil Jackson spoke for less time than it takes a 24-second clock to expire.”
All in all, the rally was described as a “38-minute, low-key, it’s-another-championship celebration.”
The fact that the rally was held on a Monday might also have tempered the enthusiasm for the event, which Jordan capped by saying, “This championship goes to all the working people here in the city of Chicago who go out every single day and bust their butts to make a living.”
Rally No. 6: June 16, 1998
If the Bulls’ fifth rally carried something of a ho-hum feel, then the sixth championship had a funereal one as beneath a cloud-covered sky, the team celebrated its sixth title in eight years by essentially saying goodbye.
“The fans came looking for an exclamation point,” the Chicago Tribune observed, “but what they received looked suspiciously like a period.”
“One more year!” the crowd chanted, only to hear Scottie Pippen tell them, “It’s been a great run. Thank you for our last dance.” Michael Jordan added, “My heart, my soul and my love has always gone to the city of Chicago. No matter what happens, my heart, my soul and my love will still be in the city of Chicago.”
Jordan, however, also couldn’t resist taking a not-so-veiled shot at Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdor, who had said on national television after the team won Title No. 6 that he only could “hope and pray” Pippen and Jordan would return next year.
At Grant Park, Jordan told the crowd, “Let’s hope and pray that we can have the opportunity once again to share this type of environment with the city of Chicago. I know a lot of people didn’t think we’d end up back in Grant Park this year. Nobody knows if we’re going to be in Grant Park next year.”
They weren’t. But 15 years later, the Blackhawks were again.
And in that regard, the hopes and prayers of Chicago’s hockey fans were indeed answered.
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.