You’ll hear Chicago sports fans described in a lot of ways. “Passionate.” “Dedicated.” “Loyal.” There’s no question their teams mean a lot to them.
When it comes to fans of two of those teams, the Chicago Cubs and the Chicago Blackhawks, you’ll also hear the word “patient.” Because for decades and decades, neither team, as dedicated and skilled as they were, could manage to win their respective championships.
But through all the agonizing near-misses, fans stuck with them and stayed patient. During the past decade, that patience was finally rewarded. These two victories are moments that define Chicago sports.
In October 1908, the Chicago Cubs triumphed over the Detroit Tigers 4-1, winning the World Series.
Then, for more than a century, that was it.
For Cubs fans, it was both painful and uniting. To be a Cubs fan was to hang on with a sense of tortured loyalty and hope, knowing that one day, surely, the Cubs would ascend to the top again. But it was a brutal wait. Sure, sometimes the Cubs played like a team that had no business getting anywhere near the Commissioner’s Trophy. But other times they were so close. Seven World Series losses between 1910 and 1945. A streak of near-misses between 1967 and 1972. A solid collection of post-season appearances post-1984. It was just enough to keep hope alive.
Then 2016 happened.
The Cubs passed 100 wins for the first time since 1935 and earned their highest number of wins since 1910. They got to the World Series for the first time since 1945. And then, coming back from a 3-1 game deficit against the Cleveland Indians, the Cubs won three games in a row, winning the World Series for the first time since 1908, and ending the longest World Series championship drought in history.
The celebration was unlike anything seen in sporting history anywhere, ever. More than 5 million people lined the streets between Wrigley Field and Grant Park to honor the heroes of the hour. It was one of the largest-ever human gatherings—and possibly the largest non-religious gathering… though, to many, Cubs worship had almost become a religion of its own.
Like Cubs fans, being a Blackhawks fan in the latter half of the 20th century was to be a person hanging on in hope. Because after the team won their third Stanley Cup in 1961, they wouldn’t repeat the feat for nearly half a century.
Sure, there were still extraordinary moments in there. Bobby Hull breaking past the 50-goal barrier and receiving a 7-minute standing ovation in return, then making his 600th goal a few years later. The team making the finals in 1992. Denis Savard’s balletic “spin-o-rama” move and record 131 points in the 1987-1988 season.
But it wasn’t until 2010 that the Blackhawks would again take the Cup, in a moment few could have predicted, and few even saw.
It was overtime against the Philadelphia Flyers in Game 6, each team sitting on 3. Blackhawks winger Patrick Kane took the puck from teammate Brian Campbell and raced up the left wall, Flyers defenseman Kimmo Timonen in pursuit. Kane took a weak shot in the direction of the goal, not really expecting the puck to go in.
Then he saw it do just that. It slid perfectly beneath the goalie, into the side of the net. A wonderful, mad, lucky shot—and most importantly, a winning one too.
Thing is, for a few seconds, he was the only one to realize it.
Kane skated around the back of the goal, stick raised high in triumph. As he came around the other side, he threw down his gloves as his teammates spilled onto the ice to greet him.
But the goal light didn’t go on. No one else had seen the puck do its thing. It was too quick, too unexpected. But Kane was certain. And so were Blackhawks fans.
Finally, after 40 seconds, the official review confirmed what Kane already knew. It was a goal. And the Blackhawks’ long wait was finally over, in a moment of extraordinary play.
Header image by Arturo Pardavila III via Flickr, licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0) license.