By Dan Bernstein
CBSChicago.com Senior Columnist
(CBS) — Championship get-togethers are a shared delusion.
Millions of people gather in oppressive heat to applaud the introduction of the equipment manager and assistant director of player personnel, watch a video of plays they just saw, and scream “Wooooooooooo!” (white people only, except for Ronnie Wickers). Then everybody goes home. All involved convince themselves it’s a worthwhile endeavor, despite the fact that it always pretty much sucks.
Metra trains teem with suburbanites, among them the usual suspects: bro-hugging frat-boys, girls in skimpy, logoed apparel looking like team-sanctioned hookers, the guy who will pass out an hour before the parade even begins and ruin the rest of the day for his friends, and parents having to remind their children that some of the words that they are hearing are NOT appropriate.
Then they march over to the park and stand there. For hours. Waiting, sweating, “Woooooooooo!”-ing and holding that ideal spot from which to watch inebriated players make asses of themselves.
The parade is fine, all waving and smiling and scraps of paper and comically-inflated attendance figures. It’s the pathetic school assembly that follows that needs a swift re-engineering, at the very least.
For every nice memorable moment there are countless ones to forget. Actually, I can only think of only one episode that was in any way worth the trouble: Paul Konerko awarding a tearful, appreciative Jerry Reinsdorf the World Series ball. Everything else is Kris Versteeg’s cringe-inducing attempt at rapping, Steve Perry trying again to sing, Jack Haley trying to dance, Corey Crawford working blue, Duncan Keith quoting Benito Mussolini, and Dennis Rodman doing anything.
The Bulls’ rallies became perfunctory occasions, the motions always featuring veiled comments indicative of the endless, petty infighting between players, coaches and upper management. Michael Jordan, Phil Jackson and Jerry Krause put on forced smiles long enough to mutter a few platitudes, then got back to their usual grudges and resentments.
These painful affairs come after the real celebrations, once the genuine emotions have already been expressed. We saw Jordan jumping on the scorer’s table or crying while clutching the trophy, champagne splashing off plastic-covered lockers, or any number of jubilant Blackhawks taking their turn with the Stanley Cup, obviously aware of the historic significance. That’s the party that matters.
The rest is pandering. The champion has an executive flatter the fans by making them think they had something to do with winning, local TV newspeople put on jerseys – seemingly because they believe their viewers are stupid, and are probably correct – and then they mispronounce every other player’s name.
And “Sweet Home Chicago,” don’t forget, which is apparently mandatory, the soundtrack to pandering. If Robert Johnson were alive, he would drop dead again. If not immediately, as soon as Jim Belushi showed up. Belushi, it should be noted, is the only person left on the planet who still likes “Sweet Home Chicago.” In fact, the song is a scientifically-proven Belushi-attractant: like a shark sensing blood, Jim Belushi can hear “Sweet Home Chicago” from long distances at the lowest volumes.
I’m not sure what to do about any of this, only that something must be done.
A victorious season charges through months of tension and excitement, with expectations rising along the way. There is the initial understanding that the team is one of the contenders, the inevitable difficulties and questions, then the buildup to the playoffs. Each round draws the ultimate prize closer, and then it is all fulfilled, often suddenly and explosively as it was last week.
And after all the exultation, the final image is phony and manufactured, looking and sounding like an eighth-grade graduation ceremony. Except with more hangovers and f-bombs.
We ask our professional teams to win titles, setting the highest possible standards. We need to apply the same thinking to what happens after they actually do.
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.