By Dan Bernstein-
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) If there is any grumbling still going on, I can’t hear it.
It was louder the last time the Blackhawks were in this position, taking the national stage for a shot at their sport’s greatest prize. Anyone paying attention was aware of a lingering, bitter undercurrent cross-cutting the waves of excitement during the Chicago Hockey Restoration of 2009 and 2010, when the hardest of the hard core were struggling to make peace with success.
The 8,000 or so 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 had made a deeper, more dedicated investment, and understandably – if misguidedly — felt entitled to a greater share of the emotional profits.
They fell victim to the same fallacy of finite appreciation and fear of the mainstream that has haunted so many fans of sports teams, musicians, comedians and writers. The disdainful sneers at wide-eyed dilettantes on the concourse were the same ones seen at whatever Lollapalooza stage showcased the latest band to be plucked out of that club in Athens, Georgia where they used to play for the 50 people who were there from the start. The eye-rolls for the still-cheering rookies who didn’t notice the linesman already called the play offsides were no different from those directed at the long line of adoring fans at Comic-Con, waiting to get the hottest graphic novel signed by an author that a year ago was only known in his dormitory at Oberlin.
The ‘Hawks were theirs, dammit. The joy was theirs, too, and not for the late-coming party moths.
Some of the resentment was directed at John McDonough, the former Cubs boss hired by Rocky Wirtz to rip away years of built-up scar tissue from a calcified franchise and get it moving again. The rapid acceleration to prominence both on the ice and off was enough to rattle some of the lifers, who were disoriented by the predictably effective marketing plan.
“Too Cub,” was one common lament, a derisive poke at self-involved fans more concerned with the atmosphere than the action.
Any lingering discontent was eventually overwhelmed, however. A championship has a way of doing that, dissolving whatever impediment remained to relishing the rare experience of a parade through city streets.
It is undeniably true that another Blackhawks title this year could never recapture the cathartic exultation of 2010, with its sense of arrival and approval, of redemption, and return from exile. But there is something to be said, now, for the more contented, assimilated fandom.
Many of those newbies in the building three years ago have earned some legitimacy. What were unwanted interlopers trespassing in the 300 level are now actual people with names, and are perhaps even friends. Some of the same people asking “What quarter is it?” not too long ago are now the same ones screaming at Don Van Massenhoven to finally make that obvious interference call on David Backes, already.
Speaking personally, some of us can look back to three years ago and would never have known at the time that our wife would ever be correctly exasperated by an ineffective power play, or recognizing and calling out a stupid retaliatory penalty, or that our son would be asking for the newest Bauer Vapors to replace his well-worn (but still entirely useful) CCM Vectors.
This is how good teams are supposed to progress, and how solid fan bases weave together naturally.
There will always be enough silliness on the fringes to be the targets of our healthy disdain, whether it be the drooling dolts mugging for the cameras behind the TV pregame set, the cringe-inducing media fanboys and fangirls who see nothing wrong with their unabashed, unprofessional ‘Hawks homerism, the brutes still cheering pointless fights, or the next bit of useless information from Pierre McGuire.
The last Stanley Cup Final was about more than that year’s team, both burdened and enhanced by history and forced modernity. The ultimate result was deeper and more resonant because of that, and can never be duplicated.
This one would be the next step, though: a maturing, evolving hockey city growing comfortable in its own skin.
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.