tclakin

Making a Case for the Blackhawks

In Uncategorized on May 18, 2009 at 1:44 pm
Greatest logo in sports

Greatest logo in sports

Even though my beloved Bruins are out of the Cup chase (bleep you, Scott Walker), I’m not yet ready to close the door on hockey for the summer. It’s just too good a sport to turn your back on while there are still meaningful games to be played. So, what it comes down to is this: I need another team to root for. Fortunately there is a team left that I’ve always had a thing for, ever since I was young, and I’m fully prepared to throw my energy (albeit limited) behind said team.

That team is the Chicago Blackhawks. 

And why not? The Blackhawks come fully armed with an arsenal of good qualities that make them a worthwhile team to follow. Awesome city, great fans, a tradition of physical play. The Blackhawks are an easy team to like. But I almost wish they weren’t. 

I’m a little worried because, whenever entering into a fan relationship (call it fantercourse) with a team that does not hail from your city of residence, you have to be extremely careful about not becoming the worst sports fan of all – the Bandwagon Fan.

The dreaded pink hat

The dreaded pink hat

The Bandwagon Fan is easily recognizable. The first sign of a BF is their frontrunning tendency. The BF is a casual fan, at best, with no childhood loyalty to his hometown team, so he latches on to a team that is currently popular (ie, a winner). BF’s are always frontrunners, leaping on the back of any team coming off a championship or a great season (see: post-2oo4 Red Sox fans, mid-90’s Cowboys fans, or Michael Jordan-era Bulls fans [although, I really can’t blame them and may/may  not have been one…]). 

Another sign of a BF is a distinct lack of knowledge about the sport he is bandwagoning within. BF’s tend to engage in cursory conversations about the sport at hand but when pressed, reveal their true colors. For instance:

BF: Hey, the Sox look pretty good this week!

Real Fan: Yeah, they’ll be alright but to be honest, I’m still trying to get over the Bruins loss. That felt like 2003 all over again. The ghost of Aaron Boone. 

BF: Yeah….wait, who is Aaron Boone?

And that is exactly what is so wrong about Bandwagon Fans – they enjoy the fruits of success without first experiencing the pain of defeat. And not only do BF’s enjoy victory, they pretend to enjoy it just as much as all the real fans. BF’s are the kings of faux passion, talking endlessly about how nervous they are during games and how they can’t sleep after losses. They buy all the team gear they can find, layering it and flaunting their “fan-ness” at any opportunity: I love this team! See: Look how many t-shirt jerseys I have! That kinda thing. The true BF purchases shirt after shirt and hat after hat, all in order to disguise the fact that he knows next to nothing about the team he is pretending to be so passionate about. The ironic thing is that all their new gear – none of it faded, or creased, or greasy – only serves as a giant red flag of indentification, revealing them in all their fake fan glory as a superficial, sort of pathetic, definitely embarassing Bandwagon Fan. 

Not the kind of thing you – or I – want to be. 

So, as I seriously consider throwing myself behind the Blackhawks, I’ve had to put a lot of thought into this Bandwagon thing. I mean, they are in the Western Conference Finals, in serious contention for a Stanley Cup. Does that make me a frontrunner? Historically no, because in the key category – championships – the Hawks have suffered even longer than the Bruins (the last Blackhawks Stanley Cup came in 1960-61). So, at least I’m not grabbing hold of a freshly sewn banner. But, in any case it’s a serious matter which warrants further consideration, so I’ve decided to draw up a little list of Reasons I’m Rooting for the Blackhawks. 

Allow me: 

The City – Chicago is, unquestionably, a great sports city. Between the Hawks, the Bears, the Bulls, and its 2 baseball teams, the Cubs and White Sox, Chicago is home to some of the greatest franchises in sports. The fans are diehards and the teams are well-attended. The city itself is a fun place, too, with tons of stuff to do and a lot of great restaurants. So, all in all, Chicago is bringing a lot to the table. (I mean, it’s no Boston, but then again – what is?)

The Chicago skyline

The Chicago skyline

Chief Black Hawk

Chief Black Hawk

 

The History – The Blackhawks are one of the Original Six NHL teams, along with the Bruins, Rangers, Canadiens, Leafs and Red Wings. This is a must. I would never openly root for a team not among the Original Six – it just wouldn’t feel right. The Blackhawks were founded in 1926 by coffee tycoon Frederic McLaughlin, who originally named the team the Black Hawks, after the 86th Infantry Division with which he served during World War I. The Division had been nicknamed the Black Hawks after famed Sauk Nation Chief, Black Hawk, who is still the only person in history to have an American war named after him (the Black Hawk War of 1832). The Blackhawks won 2 Stanley Cups early on in their history (1933-34, 1937-38) and one more in 1960-61 but currently own the longest Stanley Cup drought in the NHL. Their 48 year failure to win a Cup is rapidly approaching historic lengths, as it is exceeded only by the New York Rangers’ 54 year streak, broken in 1994. During their tenure, the Black Hawks were also the late-career home of the greatest hockey player of all time and Bruins hero, Bobby Orr. 

The Current Team: Now, this is where things get a little dicey in the Bandwagon department – the 2008-2009 edition of the Blackhawks are a very good team. They have two solid American stars, Patrick Kane and Dustin Byfuglien (pronounced “Bufflin” and not “Byfoogleeyn” as many, myself included, once thought) and a great core group going forward. Kane, the former #1 draft pick, is going to be a superstar. Twenty years old and only in his second NHL season, Kane put up 70 points (10 more than Phil Kessel) this year, improving on his 2007-2008 Calder Memorial Trophy-winning performance. (He also wears #88, which is a sweet hockey number – always a plus). Between Kane, Byfuglien and 21 year-old center Jonathan Toews, the Hawks have a talented young core in place and one legitimately nervous potential bandwagoner.

Can Kane become the new Video Game Roenick?

Can Kane become the new Video Game Roenick?

The Intangibles – The Blackhawks are loaded with intangibles. First of all, their biggest star and best player is American, which is refreshing in a game so often dominated by our neighbors to the North. Secondly, they have one of the greatest logos in American sports. The Blackhawks logo, originally designed by McLaughlin’s wife Irene, has changed little over the years. It is traditional and iconic in a way that many logos today are not, having weathered the recent storm of political correctness that wiped most of the American Indian namesakes off the map of US sport. It is simple and proud, and here’s hoping it doesn’t change any time soon. 

Roenick Dominated NHL 94

Finally, the Chicago Blackhawks’ most important intangible is that they were once home to one of my favorite hockey players of all time and local Boston native, Jeremy Roenick. Roenick was the best – just a tough-as-nails Boston guy who played the right way and had no problem speaking his mind. But Roenick the player had absolutely nothing on Roenick the video game character. He was arguably the best ever. I’m obviously talking about Sega NHL 94 Roenick, also known as the single greatest video game athlete ever not named Bo Jackson. Not only was NHL 94 the best video game in history, but Roenick was the best player in it. Not Little Wayne, not Lemieux, not Hull. Jeremy Roenick ruled the Sega ice and he did so with an iron fist. I can’t even tell you how many Basement Stanley Cups I won with Roenick. How many wrap-arounds I put in. How many slappers I buried from the point. From center ice even. Hell, Video Game Roenick could score from the defensive zone.

Ever since those days of Jeremy Roenick domination, I’ve had a fan crush on the Blackhawks. I’ve followed them from afar for years, wishing them well but never finding enough time to really devote to their cause. I was too young, too wrapped up in other sports. I barely had enough time for the B’s, let alone 2 NHL teams. 

Until now.

Now I’m ready. Now I’ve finally put my full energy into the game of hockey, realizing after all these years what a phenomenal sport it really is. Now I’m ready for a second team to follow.

I’m ready for the Blackhawks.

Obviously they will remain a very distant second to my Bruins, and if the two teams ever play each other, there will be no conflict of interest. I’m a Bruins fan first. But it’s always good to adopt a second team in each professional sport you love. In MLB, my second team is the Atlanta Braves. Every year, I follow the Braves, trying to pick up their players on my fantasy teams and watching their games when they are on tv. My excuse there, of course, is that the Atlanta Braves were originally the Boston Braves, moving to Milwaukee in 1953 and from there to Atlanta in ’66. With the Blackhawks, it’s more of an innate connection that I feel to the team, a lingering pull from my childhood Roenick fanship. 

What a jersey

What a jersey

Obviously I can’t – and won’t – claim to be a Chicago Blackhawks diehard. But from this day forward, I will root for them, giving the team my energy and attention. It’ll be like a fan vacation, like a minor league version of my Bruins passion. It will be refreshing, for sure, not to feel like I have to live and die with the team. If they hoist a Cup, great. If they don’t, it was fun along the way. I’m not going to commit the Cardinal Bandwagon Sin and pretend to care more than I do. There will be no jersey purchases (unless it’s a vintage Roenick #27, of course) and no crazy celebrations in the event of a championship. 

So, as a newly minted fan, do I hope the Blackhawks win a Cup this year?

Actually, no. I don’t.

I hope they have a good series against the Red Wings, learn some lessons along the way, but ultimately lose in the Conference Finals. I hope their young guys gain valuable playoff experience and find out how they react when the lights are brightest, but no, I don’t hope they win. Why? 

Because I’m enjoying all the extra room on the bandwagon.

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