Cubbies and Blackhawks and Bears, Oh My!!!
My apologies for the predictable and oh so cliched title, but once I thought of it, my brain would not allow me to write anything else. So now you can all have that in your head, if you take nothing else away from this one.
It occurred to me recently that I’ve yet to write anything on my favorite thing second only to writing, which is sports. While the fact that not everyone revolves their schedule around major sporting events has crossed my radar screen in the past, i.e. “Oh, the Cubs are in the playoffs?” or “Do the Bears play tonight?” it really hit home the other day when I was talking to my co-workers about the Kentucky Derby and they had NO IDEA what I was talking about. None. Now, I realize horse racing isn’t the most popular sport, and I freely admit that I don’t follow it at all unless it’s the Triple Crown or I happen to be at Arlington Park — but to have never heard of the Derby? For most of my adult life, I’ve made sure that I have no plans that day so I can watch the coverage all day, picking out the best story (and there always is one) and on that day, at least, the race is “The most exciting two minutes in sports!” for me. (I’m also the sloppiest, most sentimental sports fan you’ve ever seen, but more on that later.) So someone not even knowing what is was was just so completely foreign to me; I couldn’t comprehend. Of course, they also didn’t know who Poison or Motley Crue was — so maybe it’s their perception that’s faulty?
We are sports fanatics. We’re the people who you don’t bother to call on Sunday during football season and who become apoplectic with anger and shock when our families try to plan things on these days. We’re the ones who watch a ton of TV, but don’t know anything about “Lost” or Dr. McDreamy or “24″ because our TV might as well have two channels — whatever game is on or ESPN. Our entertainment revolves around sports — we don’t go out much, and that’s just fine, because we always have something to “do.” The Cubs are on, or the Hawks are playing, NASCAR fits nicely into the end of football season, or it’s March Madness, or almost March Madness, or it’s the Bowl season. In a pinch, golf or tennis will even work, but that’s a sad day in my book.
Anyhoo, my point is, we’re the crazy sports people. Amazing, as between the two of us we have the coordination of a spastic blind puppy, but it is what it is.
I’ve never been able to completely explain why I’ve come to near tears at missing a Bears game because I had a wedding shower, or faultless irritation at not being able to watch the Cubs clinch a playoff spot. By the by — I think this popped into my head because this morning I talked to my sister, who found out today that should the Hawks/Red Wings series go to six games, game six will be on her wedding night. I’m not upset about this in the least — we do have SOME of our priorities straight. When one of our closest friends got married the night of the first game of the World Series when the White Sox were in it — while it might have killed Tony a little inside, he never said it — he didn’t step foot into the bar one time so as not to miss any part of the wedding of one of our closest friends and out of respect for him. There’s important, and then there’s life changing events, and we try not to confuse the two.
While I’ve definitely become more of a sports fan since Tony and I have been together, it’s always kind of been there. I think it’s the memories, and the possibilities of more to be made. I remember my first Cubs game — my parents took me and my sister and my mom insisted we needed warmer clothes, which we, including my father, refused. Duh, Mom, it’s like 75 degrees out. And I remember crying because I was freezing, and huddling in what probably amounted to a $40 sweatshirt because the sun went down and hey, you know what? It WAS cold. (This also sticks out in my mind because my mom’s still mad about it. And because it would not be the last time I cried over a Cubs game.) I remember going to the old Chicago Stadium with my dad, and banging on the walls and stomping on the floor during the National Anthem, not realizing at the time that “Remember the Roar” would be something I could say I was there for, or that I was making a memory that would still bring tears to my eyes twenty years later. I just knew, as a kid, that my chest and my heart and my head was so full of that amazing, screaming sound that I couldn’t concentrate on anything else.
I remember my Junkyard Dogs poster, and I remember sitting on my living room floor on a Sunday as a kid, eating roast beef and Doritos, and watching Walter Payton. And I remember going to Platteville, and meeting Dan Hampton and some of my other idols, (you know what I DON’T remember? Where I put that freaking autograph book. Way to go, spaz.) There’s videos of me interviewing my sister, saying, “You don’t want to be a cheerleader! I’m Walter Payton! Don’t you want to be Jim McMahon!?” I remember crying at my Aunt Betty’s house in 89 when the Cubs went to the playoffs, not only because they won but because I felt bad for the other team. I still hate it when the camera pans to the losing teams’ faces, no matter how ecstatic I am when my team wins.
Tony has his memories, too. He remembers when he was about eight, when he rolled his dirty, beat up ball down the dugout to Tony LaRussa and LaRussa rolled a shiny, brand new autographed one back to him. He remembers being thirteen and having just bought a Cincinatti hat. And then wearing that hat randomly in Florida, where he ran into the one and only Pete Rose, and then, shaking in his adolescent boots, asking Pete Rose to autograph it, which he did. He remembers betting his mom a quarter on the basketball games, and always losing. (To this day, I don’t allow him to bet with his mother on important games.) He remembers the Bears edging the Vikings out of a playoff spot and his friend, a Vikes fan, kicking him out of his house, and he remembers going to games and baseball card shows with his dad. He still has all those baseball cards, and still finds joy at opening a brand new pack, wondering what will be inside.
And then there are the later years … being at The Pub in college when the Cubs clinched and singing and swaying to “Sweet Home Chicago.” Running into our neighbor’s dorm room when Sammy Sosa edged ahead of Mark McGwire in the great home run race. Going to Bulls rallies with high school friends, and then later with college friends, and marveling at all the people who came to see their idols. (Tony was there too, I just didn’t know it at the time.) Waiting in the rain when I was still in high school just to catch a glimpse of John Sally and Dennis Rodman get out of their limo at Crobar. The Superbowl party some friends of ours had, and the joy at seeing the Pack blow it. (This was the same year these friends bought a keg and only about 15 people showed up, and we’d finished it by the end of the game. That may have excaberated the joy, but still.)
I remember bursting into tears when the Cubs didn’t make it to the World Series in ’03. (And being furious at, then furious for Steve Bartman) I remember Tony throwing off his jersey in disgust when Jim Miller got hurt during the playoff game against Philly. I remember the “Miracle Season” when the Bears won back to back games, two touchdowns down with less than three minutes to go. We watched nearly every game that season at our good friends’ first apartment, where we’d stay up until four am and then get up to watch the Bears game. We were at that Cleveland game, the second of the “miracle” wins, and I remember coming back to the car, yelling and screaming “Go Bears” where we ran into the people next to us who were from Cleveland and had left early, assuming the Browns won, joyfully (and most likely drunkenly) telling them THEY LOST.
I remember nearly crying with joy when the Bears made the Superbowl, and then losing my voice screaming when Devin Hester ran back the opening kick. I remember watching my first NASCAR race (Daytona when Dale Earnhardt was killed) and I remember driving back from Indianapolis, with rubber in my hair and dirt on my face, marveling at how fast they go. And I remember being at the Bears/Packers game when it was 6 degrees outside, when everyone told us we were insane to go tailgate, and stomping my feet to keep feeling in them and keeping our beer in the car with the engine running because otherwise it would freeze. I remember going to party in Wrigleyville in ’03, and thinking there can’t be any better place to be. I remember watching the Red Sox come back against the Yankees and crying when they won it. (Cubs, you paying attention??? You can do this too, and make me possibly the happiest person EVER.) And I remember opening day 07, hanging out with my sister and her husband at seven in the morning, looking in anticipation to the year ahead. (Cubs Fail!) I loved seeing the lights on the Sears Tower (yes, Sears Tower, and don’t try to convince me otherwise) when the Bears went to the Superbowl and the city turning red for the Blackhawks.
Or maybe it’s the camaraderie. To me, nothing in the world beats the sound of the National Anthem at a sporting event. Looking around at thousands of people, singing or whistling or screaming, all in the name of America and their favorite team, will get me every time. There is no better way to spend a Sunday morning than at a Bears game; rain, snow, or sunshine, the smell of barbeque and beer and singing of “Bear Down Chicago Bears” will always be one of my favorite places. Everyone’s happy and willing to share — even at the Bears/Packers game, tailgaters will share their beer or hamburgers or tents when it’s raining. I remember going to the Bears playoff game against the Panthers. We lost, but even to me, it didn’t matter all that much, because the experience was so great. I can remember looking at Tony while they were singing the National Anthem, while the fighter jets were flying over and I got that full feeling in my chest again, and thinking, “This might be the happiest I’ve ever been.”
When we saw the Yankees come to Chicago to play the White Sox on September 18th, 2001, I remember people telling us we shouldn’t go, it was still too soon to know what was happening. It was the first series of baseball games the Yankees had played since the attacks. But we went, and hearing that National Anthem, watching the New York Yankees and seeing all of the “I Love New York” and “We Love You” and “We Support You” signs, listening to the near silence during “God Bless America” in the seventh inning, is a memory I’m glad to have. Later that weekend, we saw the first football game played since Sept. 11th — the Bears and the Vikings. It poured. And when I say poured, I mean POURED. But it didn’t matter to the thousands of people that came, waving their flags. I remember they gave out small American flags that day, and every single person there waved them frantically during our National Anthem, screaming and singing and crying in the rain, watching that big flag wave in the middle of the field, because that was something we could do, the only thing we knew to do. We couldn’t fix what was and still is happening. We couldn’t bring back those people who were lost in the Twin Towers or the Pentagon or the flights. But we could, and did, support our team, and, at least in our minds, our country. We could sing along proudly with the guy carrying a boombox, blasting Jimi Hendrix’s version of the anthem through the parking lot. For those hours, we could be happy. We could show our support and our sympathies and our love the only way we knew how.
If you’re not a sports fan, you might not really get this. But I hope you do. I hope it makes it make a little more sense when people like me and Tony say we’re watching the hockey game when you ask if we have plans. To us, that IS plans. But if you are a sports fan, I hope this makes you think of your own memories. May we all have many more to come, and may my dream of the Cubs, Bears, Hawks, and Bulls all winning in the same year finally come through. That, to me, would be a year to remember.