By Tim Baffoe–
(CBS) Often the losing in Chicago sports wasn’t enough. An extra twist of the screw seemed to occur too many times, with not just watching a favorite team exit the regular season or playoffs early but seeing a similar foe in the league still playing on.
The San Antonio Spurs have 16 straight 50-win seasons (among other amazing merit badges), while the Chicago Bulls had to fire a coach who won 50 games three times in his five years here. How many times did Chicago White Sox fans ask themselves/scream into the ether, “How do the Minnesota Twins keep making the postseason?”
While the Chicago Cubs have navigated more than a century of almost total futility, the rival St. Louis Cardinals — with their insufferable shtick of “baseball the right (but illegal?) way” — have found themselves in the playoffs 11 times in the 21st century alone. With the Chicago Bears still somehow cashing in on the equity of the 1985 season, the New England Patriots have been this generation’s evil-but-persistent juggernaut and the (insert some uncreative insult that actually holds no water) Green Bay Packers have been what your children know as what a real NFL franchise operates as. And in hockey the mantra for so long was “!@#$ing Detroit Red Wings.”
It wasn’t enough here to just not win titles. In coming up (sometimes really super far) short in Chicago sports, there has too many times been a feeling of uncertainty going into the next season — whereas those model franchises, whether they got a title that year or not, knew that they were already contenders before the following season commenced. That disappointment combined with seething jealousy created such a sourness that comes with not just losing a game but raging against the reality that the other jerk who did win was going to keep winning. Because others more successful than you are automatically jerks. And jerks are persistent.
But, finally, Chicago has its jerks. We get to lift our noses at much of the rest of the sports world because we are part of that exclusive club of model franchises. And we can thank the Chicago Blackhawks for that.
I jest, too, when calling these guys “jerks.” They’re never jerks when they’re on your favorite team. (Ask a Patriots fan — he or she will tell you while you try to sandpaper your face.) But even in the case of the Hawks, you get the sense that this winning franchise is composed of players who fans of other teams have a tough time finding a reason to hate. Name a heel on this team. If you really stretched, you might say Daniel Carcillo, who didn’t play most of the season and who has taken up the noble cause of raising awareness of how the game he loves took away his friend’s mind and, ultimately, life.
Hawks fans don’t strike me as Cardinals-esque either. There’s no “Blackhawks Way,” and these fans aren’t the type to finger-wag some hockey morality at others. Actually, Chicago might have one of the more progressive-minded hockey fan bases going, more and more embracing a sleeker, faster (and *gasp* advanced analytical) game over hit counts and big-dude-smashing goonery.
The Blackhawks have three different Conn Smythe winners in six years. All are still on the team. It’s a squad of great familiar, enduring names and faces whose biggest reason for disliking them is that they might party in public harder than those jealous it isn’t them doing so. Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook, Johnny Oduya, Niklas Hjalmarsson and Joel Quenneville — all those names for all this time is nothing short of incredible.
Three Stanley Cup wins in six years. Five conference finals appearances in seven years. That’s dynasty stuff there, in an era of modern sports business that tries its best for parity and no monopolizing of championship rings.
“The Blackhawks became the first team since the the Red Wings (of 1997, 1998 and 2002) to win three titles in six seasons. Making the feat more remarkable is that Chicago has accomplished the feat in the salary cap era that began in 2005 and has made it more difficult to keep teams together. After the Blackhawks’ title in 2010, many key contributors were let go. The Los Angeles Kings (2012 and 2014) are the only other team to win multiple titles since the salary cap was implemented.”
A championship celebration began pretty much after Kane scored with 5:14 left in Monday’s Game 6 to give the Hawks their first two-goal lead of the entire series against the Lightning and lasted into, well, whenever you’re reading this and until your boss sends out a wellness check for you post-parade. But in the summer shadows of that joy has been the whispers of “Salary cap next year some players gotta go what’s gonna happen?” And while buzzkilling like that right now is pretty lame, there’s still a sense that even with whatever business reality faces the Hawks once the hangover sets in, little evidence exists in the Stan Bowman tenure that suggests excellence won’t sustain.
Model franchises figure it out. We have the luxury of taking another satisfying sip of victory wine not to escape some dreadful pending reality but, rather, to enjoy something that should endure.
“We talked about after we won our second one, we said ultimately if you could ever win one here in Chicago that would be the ultimate Stanley Cup,” team president John McDonough said Monday night. “I think they’re going to be celebrating in Chicago the entire summer.
“But we’re not done. We’re not done.”
Doesn’t that make a celebratory feeling an enduring one?
Tim Baffoe is a columnist for CBSChicago.com. Follow Tim on Twitter @TimBaffoe. The views expressed on this page are those of the author, not CBS Local Chicago or our affiliated television and radio stations.