On the John: Why we root.

On the John

Why we root.

Originally completed June 10, 2010

What is the value of a championship?

I don’t mean for the players. When you watched Patrick Kane whip around the net as, briefly, the only person on the planet who knew the 2010 Stanley Cup Finals were finished… when you witnessed Jonathan Toews hoist the Cup after declining to set fingers on the Campbell Trophy… when you saw Marian Hossa accept the Cup from Toews after watching from the losing side in 2008 and 2009… hot damn, how could you not know how important this was to those guys?

I’m talking about the fans.

I’m talking about the miles of fans who swarmed the streets of Wrigleyville, the Loop, and from my own eyes, Wicker Park.

Yes, let’s talk about Wicker Park for a moment.

This was a great scene. We watched the game at Crust, a pizza joint at Division and Hoyne. Just after the game began, a puck-colored stretched Hummer pulled up on Division – out of the back emerged many Hawks fans, including a man carrying an enormous Hawks flag and wearing a Blackhawks goalie helmet and CHELIOS 7 jersey. The gathering around Small Bar and The Fifty/50 across the street was so large that from our seats in Crust, we heard those crowds reacting to goals before we realized the puck was in.

When the third period ended without a winner, Rob and I decided, yes yes, we’d better watch OT across the street, out on the walk.

We’d hardly toasted our beers when Kane took his man one-on-one and attacked like Derrick Rose. Chaos and confusion among everyone but Kane and his teammates. A trickle of celebration out on Division, nobody sure, nobody sure, but hey… if the Hawks are celebrating… holy crap, Kane just scored! This thing is over! HAWKS BABY! HAWKS!

Horns honking everywhere. Toasts and high-fives, everywhere. A Chicago Water Department truck driving past, flashing its lights. Police officers in the wagon leaning out of their windows to yell celebratory celebrations with people they may have soon been restraining. And of course that song, always that song, and you know what? I finally sang it. Louder and madder than I ever imagined.

Da, duh-da-da, duh-da-da, duh-da-da da-da-da!

We walked east on Division to Wood and hung a left to Milwaukee. Fans were blaring air horns, cheering through bullhorns, and exploding fireworks. The sound of The Song carried on a bullhorn loud as hell and getting closer, until the source passed behind us on Division and we saw it was a fireman on his fire truck.

On Milwaukee now, heading west toward the six corners, every car honking horns and always with at least one fan leaning out of the car… fans hoisting makeshift Cups… strangers high-fiving and posing for pictures… camera phones documenting with video clips…

As you got closer to North-Damen-Milwaukee, the celebration grew louder and happier and sillier still. Fans were singing and cheering, and drumming on newspaper dispensers for their percussion section. Drivers foolish or fearless enough to traverse the intersection found themselves recipients of high-fives from fans on the street. Police blocked off the area when fans overtook it anyhow in a leaping, cheering, champagne-spraying, hand-slapping and hugging Black Hawks hullabaloo, singing We Are the Champions and Celebration and chanting CHI-CA-GO! and DE-TROIT-SUCKS! and HAWKS! HAWKS! HAWKS! HAWKS!

This scene continued, in the streets and in the bars, long into the night. Rob and I went to Cans for a shot and a beer and toasted with many fans, including one guy with LARMER 28 on his back. Hadn’t seen that one in a while, no sir.

******

During the many Hawks-related discussions I’ve had with friends this past month, there was plenty of talk about bandwagoners, and whether or not they were annoying beasts with no right to participate in Hawks celebrations.

My old friend Sammy V, however, wanted to debate the more universal topic of We.

As in, “Who are we playing tonight?” “We have to win this one!” “We’ve always had trouble against small point guards.”

Said Sammy: “As someone who has no intrinsic (let’s say emotional) nor extrinsic (let’s say money) investment in professional sports, I can only enjoy the momentary pride in my city as someone on the outside looking in at players who achieved “their” goal and have excelled as professionals in “their” career. What have I really done to help the Hawks? I can’t stand people that refer to sports teams as “we.” NO, you are NOT part of the team. The Blackhawks need to win and it would be an amazing achievement for the Blackhawks.”

It’s a common argument. And it makes sense. I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the Chicago Bulls, Chicago Bears, Chicago Cubs, or the Northwestern University football program. My days of extreme sports fandom and emotional drainage are behind me; what I enjoy now is the amazing physicality of these athletic feats, the natural drama of a game or a season, and the camaraderie that these games breed in their followers.

So why did I violate my personal rule to “Never enter a mosh pit if you are under 5’10”? Why was I leaping like an idiot in the six corners, happily soaking in the sweat and champagne, shouting into camera phones, allowing myself to be hoisted airward by strangers?

I guess for the same reason that a rocking concert, New Year’s, a wedding, or a street fest can get me dancing. It’s just too much fun! Just too much fun.

I was probably also releasing some of the tension that bottled up after the Bears lost the Super Bowl and the Cubs fell in ’08.

And after being in Indianapolis when the Sox wrapped the Series, it felt good to be on the streets of Chicago for the next bit of sports-crazed madness.

It felt good to celebrate. To sing and cheer in the streets, to clasp hands with strangers, to text EVERYBODY, to gather together, to smile and laugh. Is it silly to personally identify with a sports team? I guess so, but no sillier than to personally identify with a nation or religion.

You settle on your sports team, embrace them, soar with them, crash with them. Ride or die, as the fellow says.

There are problems in professional sports. Of course there are. Too much money, too much hero-worship, too great an emphasis on events not totally worth it.

But these are problems of society, not sports. In the week the Hawks won the Cup, 40 people were killed in a suicide bombing at a wedding in Afghanistan… a 14-year-old Mexican boy was murdered by U.S. border patrolman… the UN placed a fourth round of sanctions on Iran… three World Cup reporters were robbed in South Africa… we added three more casualties to World War II… and Tony Hayward became the new Brownie as oil drowns the Gulf Coast…

All of these stories and many others are More Important than a handsomely paid collection of talented athletes winning an athletic tournament to gain temporary possession of a 34 and ½ pound cup.

And yet if all the world’s unnecessary external problems were solved, we’d still have sports teams and postseasons, and teams would still win championships and fans would still gravitate toward one team over another and Sammy V would still think it silly to refer to someone else’s job as “we.”

We don’t live in that world. There is physical warfare and class warfare and poverty and bombing and famine and Crime and crime and nasty feelings among us. The Leaders are guilty of most of it, and we are guilty for following the leaders.

In all that sadness, all that tragedy, all that impotence, weakness, cowardice, anger, injustice, brutality, and fear, it’s nice to celebrate something once in a while. Like a birthday or Purim or a random date on the calendar like “January 1st.”

Or, even better, charged up athletic events that we’re already enjoying. And since we watch some teams more than others, we will align ourselves with those teams. It’s a sort of penance, I suppose, and more satisfying than annual celebrations. One could cheer every Cup champ every season and applaud their excellence and teamwork, but where would be the fun? The heart? The spirit? The soul?

Most seasons don’t end in victory. Sometimes you spend entire years watching the 2001 Bulls or the 1998 Bears or the 1999 Cubs or the 2004 Blackhawks.

In fact, sometimes you spend entire stretches of years watching the ’99-’04 Bulls, or the ’95-2000 Bears, or the ’90-’97 Cubs or the ’98-’08 Hawks.

I guess sports are more like life in that way. I guess they provide more community than nations, and at least as much meaning as religion.

That’s why we have multiple teams in the same big cities: the people need release. The ’85 Bears, ’90s Bulls, ’05 White Sox, and 2010 Blackhawks sure take the sting off those 102 years and counting at Clark and Addison.

And sometimes, when the wait is too long and you’re missing that good ‘ol fashion communal celebratin’ feelin, you drive to Indianapolis and watch the Butler-Michigan State game at a Butler bar with Butler fans. Or you head to Division Street or the six corners to mosh with Hawks fans after the Hawks have won the god damn Stanley Cup. Sometimes, you just have to celebrate. In this world of ours, it makes no sense not to.

So kick your head back, fly your Hawks flag, grab a bullhorn, and sing it with me:

Da, duh-da-da, duh-da-da, duh-da-da da-da-da…

Copyright 2010, jm silverstein

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3 Replies to “On the John: Why we root.”

  1. Generally liked this. But a few things that bothered me.

    (1) You write “But these are problems of society, not sports.” This struck me as odd way to deflect the conversation about what’s wrong with sports as they exist in our society. First of all, this sentence seems to be making the implicit argument that things we might identify of “problems of society” are features of most or every aspect of that society, which is simply a fallacy. To take just one example, I don’t think all those problems you identified exist in, say, the world of construction workers. Secondly, by writing these off as simply “problems of society” you are ignoring the issue of degree and influence. That is, even if it were true that these problems exist in most of society, they might exist in an exaggerated amount in the world of sport, which is doubly important because sports is such an integral part of the lives of so many of our citizens. I don’t mean to suggest that you needed to get into all the possibly pernicious effects of our uber-capitalist version of professional sports in this article–I find myself here thinking of that Terry Eaglton quote that “It is sport, not religion, which is now the opium of the people.”–but I just found your dismissal of those problems an odd one. Why not just say, “I know there are problems in sports, but…”, or something to that effect.

    (2) Sports can provide “at least as much meaning as religion”? As you well know, I’m no defender of religion generally speaking, but that’s a bold fucking statement, and unless it is given a more thorough defense, it just strikes me as unwarranted hyperbole.

  2. You are correct: the problems of “too much money,” “too much hero-worship,” and “too great an emphasis on events not totally worth it” “exist in an exaggerated amount in the world of sport.” And they obviously don’t exist quite so much in the world of construction workers. (Though I know less about that world than the world of pressional sports.)

    However, the purpose of this essay is not to detail the problems in professional sports but to explore the existence of sports fans, especially “home team” sports fans. I am not dismissing these problems… I’m just not discussing them in detail here.

    And yes, I know your stance on religion… we shall discuss this second bit in person…

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