In honor of blog co-author David Simon Cowell’s last day in his beloved city of Chicago (fear not, PCHA readers: DSC will keep up his rigorous blogging schedule from his new home in an undisclosed foreign land), we turn our appraising eye to the Chicago sports landscape.
How does the capital of Flyover Country, the shining, obese beacon of the American Midwest, compare to Atlanta and the rest of the nation in terms of sports culture?
Allow me, an impartial observer not from these parts but oh-so-familiar with this town’s idiosyncracies, to be your guide.
Chicago is unique as a sports town, in that it’s a major hub for professional sports featuring five franchise across the four major leagues, with media coverage and fan ego to match — yet it retains a decidedly small-town, provincial feel, for better or worse. Fans and media demand that Chicago be taken seriously, that it be considered a sports equal to New York and Boston, yet show a zealous, optimistic homerism not typically found in a sophisticated sports town.
We must judge Chicago entirely on its professional sports landscape, because there are no major college programs in football or basketball. People either root for or against Notre Dame based on proximity, but that’s about it.
Chicago is a mixed bag when it comes to winning teams. The Bulls dominated the ’90s with one of the most impressive, historic runs ever seen in team sports. The Cubs and White Sox are so futile that it’s hard to believe their track record actually exists. The Blackhawks were also miserable for decades until their change in ownership and Stanley Cup victory. The Bears have coasted for longer on one game than any team in sports. They have one championship in the Super Bowl era, and the drift in and out of contention.
Rating: C, thanks only to Michael Jordan
Here’s where Chicago truly stands out. People here LOVE their sports traditions, and take immense pride in them. From the National Anthem at Blackhawks games to Take Me Out to the Ballgame at Wrigley Field, Chicago fans seem to enjoy taking part in these communal rituals as much or more than they enjoy their team winning. The city’s sports franchises also have long histories, tracing back to the early part of the century (or before) — the Blackhawks are an original 6 team, the Bears have been around in some form since 1920, and the baseball teams obviously have long, intricate, World Series-throwing back stories.
Well, they’re passionate, I’ll give them that. They’re also incredible, irrational homers. It’s a unifying trait across all five teams: Chicago fans can’t see what’s right in front of them if that something is negative. They are always convinced their team will win, and will argue to the point of annoyance if you disagree. They particularly hate it when you bring pesky facts to the discussion. Second City fans revere their sports icons, and elevate them to heights at which they don’t really belong (see: Santo, Ron and McMahon, Jim). The boundless optimism is exhausting, but you have to respect the enthusiasm on which it’s based. The city’s fan base also loses points for its half-hearted embrace of the White Sox, who only draw fans in the immediate aftermath of a World Series victory, apparently. Bulls, Cubs and Bears fans have proven to be more resilient in their support and attendance. I also don’t hold it against Cubs fans that their ballpark is constantly overrun by tourists and drunkards.
The Game Experience
Wrigley Field is obviously a gem, though going to Cubs games can be marred by the feeling that baseball is interrupting a frat party. The erstwhile Comiskey Park is the definition of an average ballpark, and gives an average experience of watching a baseball game. The United Center is bland. For the most part, Chicago teams do a solid job of not overwhelming fans with music, pyrotechnics and other distractions. They keep the focus on the games, where it belongs.
Overall Chicago Sports City Rating: a grudging B+ — I personally loathe Chicago sports fans, but I must remain objective in the name of science.