I was genuinely worried I would miss the celebration, if only for a minute.
I watched the Blackhawks claim their second Stanley Cup in four years alone in my apartment, working. Everyone else I knew was huddled at a bar and later entrenched in a surprisingly well-behaved street mob. But I figured it couldn't hurt to see what trouble I could find when I clocked out, so I headed for Six Corners, the main intersection of northwest side Wicker Park, around 11 p.m.
It was Monday night, sure, but Chicago, like all cities, knows nights like this don't come around very often. After all, about 70 percent of this fair metropolis self-identifies as Cubs fans.
Before I could even make it off my porch steps, there was a man biking down my street singing a familiar hook aloud, to everyone and no one all at the same time.
No, the party wasn't over, not even close. If you've never experienced the home team winning a championship, I can confirm a few things : a) everyone is your friend, and because of this everyone gets a high-five, b) police officers transform into surprisingly chill bros so long as you're not doing anything that stupid, c) never is the general population in higher spirits.
I can also confirm "Chelsea Dagger" is a million times less annoying in the immediate aftermath of the Blackhawks hoisting the Stanley Cup. Winning a championship is powerful stuff.
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For a generation of 20- and 30-somethings in Chicagoland, the Blackhawks can still feel like a new thing. There's context here, but it doesn't beat you over the head like the Bears finishing 6-10 for a decade straight. Chicago's hockey past rests only with a strong army of diehards. For everyone else, what Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane and the rest of the 'Hawks are doing amounts to writing their own history.
You can excuse Chicago for not being totally head-over-heels for hockey until, like, 2009. The home games weren't on TV, the team missed the playoffs nine times in a 10-year stretch and there was this guy named Michael Jordan. I don't have any tangible hockey memories growing up, but I do remember adults saying Chicago was a "sleeping giant" of a hockey town, and them being very confident in that assessment.
Go figure, sometimes your elders know what they're talking about. The way Chicago has become fully consumed by the Blackhawks over the last half-decade is remarkable. This might always be a football city, but the Blackhawks are giving that title a real run for its money.
You haven't been able to walk down the streets of Chicago the last six months without seeing the Indian head. It's on flags that fly proudly from every corner bar, it's on the back of your phone cover, it's glued to the T-shirt or hat of (at least) three out of every seven people you meet.
Six years ago, it's a safe bet that even the local sports media didn't know what a power play was. Now you can't turn on the television without hearing a diagnosis of why the Blackhawks' is so futile, without hearing buzzwords like "glove side" and arguments over playing time for third liners.
It's because it feels like there's no precedent for the turnaround of this franchise. The media will tell you it's because of John McDonough, the team President and CEO who left the Cubs for the 'Hawks in 2007. They aren't exactly wrong. But the real reason Chicago has a severe case of hockey fever is because the players that make up this team are a special group. Everything else is secondary.
* * *
The Blackhawks were dismantled after winning the Stanley Cup in 2010, with so much of the depth that keyed their run to the championship shipped off elsewhere because of salary cap issues. After two straight years of hard-fought first-round playoff exits, the 'Hawks were finally able to replenish that depth this season.
It made all the difference. Corey Crawford made everyone forget about Antti Niemi, Bryan Bickell made everyone forget about Dustin Byfuglien, young players like Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad quickly endeared themselves to a ravenous fanbase. But all of the same stars that led the 'Hawks to the Cup in 2010 are still here. They deserve credit ahead of anyone else.
It's hard to imagine that anyone in Chicago has more fun than Patrick Kane. Sometimes that means having to deal with the consequences of getting photographed while oppressively drunk on a college campus like Kane did one year ago, but borderline MVP-level play has a way of making that blow over. Kane is diametrically opposed by captain Jonathan Toews, a star who treats hockey like a job. His nickname is "Captain Serious" and it is very fitting.
Kane and Toews are the two best players on the team and both are homegrown, so it's natural they get so much of the attention. But Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa aren't any less essential.
The 'Hawks were the best team in hockey from the beginning of the season to the end because those six men played like All-Stars almost every night. They were the best team in hockey because the 'Hawks are faster, smarter and more skilled than any opponent. They were the best team in hockey because even when it looked like you could count them out, they'd find a way to rally. Never was this more evident than in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against the Boston Bruins.
* * *
Two goals in 17 seconds. That's the difference between a sad hangover and a happy one, the difference between going to bed after work and drinking on street corners until two in the morning.
There was a man covered in tinfoil dressed as the Stanley Cup running around Wicker Park last night, asking people to kiss his belly. A group of people asked me to take a picture as they posed with a horde of cops watching this madness and allowing it to happen. Alright on three. 1 ... 2 ... 3 ... cops!
Just don't try to buy booze at the Walgreens after 1 a.m., because they were straight sold out of everything other than Bud Lite Lime-A-Rita.
We know sports are the most meaningless thing in the world, until they're not. That's what kept going through my head last night as I watched drunk girls fall over on the street, as I exchanged high-fives with random people I'll never meet again, as I drank champagne right from the bottle while 10 police officers were standing 40 feet away. What else could cause such a massive celebration, such a communal feeling of joy, accomplishment and civic pride?
The drunk, sweaty and deliriously happy drew no boundaries last night. If you were wearing a Blackhawks T-shirt, or just looked happy to be here, you were in the club. It wasn't inclusive. There's something beautiful about people of all ethnicities enjoying a rare moment of shared glory.
This is why we watch, why we spend so much of our precious free time talking and thinking about sports. It might only pay off once every 20 years, and that's if you're lucky, but no one who experiences the immediate aftermath of a title run would say it wasn't worth it.