A Chicago Sports Fan: Triumph, Heartbreak, and Deep Dish Pizza
When it comes to sports, you’ll be hard pressed to find a better city than Chicago, Illinois. Of course, it’s all subjective, but popular opinion states Chicago is one of the best. The third most-populous city in the US and five teams represented in the major sports (NBA, MLB, NHL, NFL) cements The Windy City as a sports powerhouse.
This is my first article ever published anywhere of note, let alone in this TJR community, so I suppose I should introduce myself real quick. I’m a 23-year-old former MVP point guard for the Chicago Bulls whose leg really hurts. Actually, no, I’m just a typical 21-year-old college student who likes sports a bit too much. Truth be told, I’m obsessed. From the Bears, to the Bulls, the Blackhawks on to the Cubs, I’m fiercely loyal to my hometown teams. I don’t dislike the White Sox, I just have no rooting interest for them. I bleed Cubbie blue, although with their history, it would be more appropriate to say I cry Cubbie blue. Named after Michael Jordan and Ryne Sandberg, two Hall of Fame Chicago greats, I was groomed to be a sports enthusiast since birth.
Everyone has that first sports memory, an instant where they became hooked. I would say I had one hell of an introduction to Chicago sports as a seven-year-old sitting with my family in our basement. It was 1998, Michael Jordan had led the Chicago Bulls to their sixth NBA Finals appearance in eight years and it was coming down to the wire. I don’t recall much of any details concerning the game itself as it was happening live, but I do recall a point where everything seemed tense. There was just 19 seconds left in game six, with the Bulls looking to clinch their sixth championship of the decade while the Utah Jazz looked to force a game seven. Utah had possession of the ball, nursing a one-point lead, looking to kill the clock and extend their lead. Things didn’t go quite as planned for Utah as Karl Malone battled for position on the block against the Bulls power forward, Dennis Rodman. With his back to the basket, Malone never saw the greatest player in the history of the NBA sneak up behind him and slap the ball out of his hands. As the clock dwindled down, Michael Jordan dribbled the ball ahead to his team’s basket as an arena full of Jazz fans watched in horror and every Bulls fan in Chicago gazed in anticipation. A mere 16 seconds remained on the clock as Jordan calmly gathered himself just past the half court line. Bryon Russell emerged as his one-on-one defender and everyone watching in the world knew what was about to happen. Jordan methodically paced to his right across the floor and got himself a head of steam as he put his head down driving towards the rim, just before stopping on a dime at the free throw line. Russell kept going, skidding to the floor as Jordan rose up with every single eye on him and nailed a jumper to give the Bulls an 87-86 lead and eventually, the dynasty’s sixth championship. I remember feeling jubilated, but not exactly sure why. Everyone around me was celebrating, so it seemed prudent to go ahead and join them. It was late at night, certainly well past my bedtime, but the next thing I knew, I was outside with my family. I heard cheering in the neighborhood as we piled into the car and had a short drive around a couple blocks, taking in the festivities of Chicago as everyone reacted to one of the greatest moments in NBA history. I saw a pair of breasts that night, so thank you, random lady in front of the convenient store, you were the first.
Don’t worry, heartbroken Jazz fans reaching for the bottle; I have had my fair share of anguish. Did I mention I was a Cubs fan? While Michael Jordan and the Bulls created my first sports memory, the Chicago Cubs established themselves as the team closest to my heart and still are to this day. My family has had season tickets for the Cubs ever since I can remember and I lost count the amount of times I have been to Wrigley Field a long time ago. The first Cubs game I really remember watching, live in person, was just three months after the game I just described above. The 1998 National League Wild Card tie-breaker game between my beloved Cubs and San Francisco Giants. Both teams had finished with an 89-73 record and had just one game to determine who would move on in the playoffs. The Cubs jumped out to a commanding 5-0 lead and tried really hard to mess it up, like they usually do, allowing three runs in the ninth, but Wrigley Field stoop up and cheered as they watched the Cubs clinch their first playoff berth, at the time, since 1989. The next thing I knew, my dad had whisked me up from my seat as mobs of people formed all around me celebrating. We had taken public transportation to the game and were to take it back. Luckily, we made our way on to a bus right outside of Wrigley and got real comfy in our seats and the bus remained stagnant for quite a while. Hoards of people surrounded the bus in ecstatic and drunken celebration, no way for the bus to move. The last memory I have of that night is staring out the bus window at the big red “Welcome to Wrigley Field” sign and seeing a Cubs fan atop it, celebrating high above everyone.
I have been to many significant games at Wrigley Field in my short life, thus far. Like 1998, 2002 was a memorable year for me as a Cubs fan. One game that stands out to me was an eerie Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals game. It was the first game played after the sudden and tragic death of St. Louis Cardinals pitcher, Darryl Kile. The Cubs won that game, but the most prevalent memory for me was staring out at the iconic Wrigley Field scoreboard and seeing no numbers, no displays, and no graphics. Just the initials “D.K.” illuminating all night long. There was no music played during the game, it was strange and surreal. The light shining from the initials on the scoreboard still sticks out to me to this day. I attended a Cubs/White Sox game at Comiskey Park that year as well and witnessed Cubs second baseman, Mark Bellhorn, hit home runs from both sides of the plate in one game.
Nothing stands out to me as much as one special day in the summer of 2002. I had one of the greatest days of my life, thanks to the Chicago Cubs. My dad had entered me into a Walgreens Celebrity Bat Kid contest and what do ya’ know? I was chosen. I went to Wrigley during batting practice, got to sit in the dugout and hang out with the players. Autographs from everyone and an extremely memorable and fun conversation with former Cubs pitcher, Kerry Wood was a dream come true for me. I stepped out on to Wrigley Field, just in front of home plate and waved to the camera as my name displayed on the scoreboard. I still have the ball from that day, filled with everyone’s autographs, will always keep it with me. What else? Kerry Wood outdueling Roger Clemens (who was going for win number 300) in 2003 with the help of a three-run home run in the seventh inning from Eric Karros (who had replaced Hee-Seop Choi after he was taken off the field in an ambulance) and witnessing the Cubs win two games against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a double-header to clinch the 2003 National League Central Division championship. And yes, I was even there for the infamous “Bartman game.” A Michael Barrett walk-off double against the Oakland Athletics in 2004 always stood out to me, the crowd was electric. 2008, when the Cubs were the best team in the regular season, I got to see Jim Edmonds hit two home runs in one inning against the White Sox and I remember a playoff game against the Los Angeles Dodgers where the crowd was so deafening, it was literally piercing my ears. I love Chicago Cubs baseball at that level and yearn for it to return, one day, soon.
I could keep going with all of my beloved teams, but we all have places to be. The fantastic Super Bowl run that fell short for the Bears in 2005 and the unbelievable opening kick-off return TD for Devin Hester. The sheer level of ecstasy as I watched Jonathan Toews hoist the Stanley Cup and later on seeing the beautiful Cup in person, as part of the championship parade in downtown Chicago. People often ask me why I love sports so much and I always shrug and laugh it off. Honestly, I’m doing you a favor if I don’t give you a real answer. Do you have a couple of hours? I’ll tell you exactly why, because I could go on and on.