On June 26, 2013, I was in my apartment when Bryan Bickell scored a tying goal in game six of the Stanley Cup Finals with just over a minute left to play. I hadn’t watched a single game of the playoffs that year and worried that starting at that point would spell doom for the Blackhawks, but I also didn’t want to miss watching them win. I turned on the TV, and, seconds after doing so, saw Dave Bolland strike for the Hawks, putting them up by one and leading to their eventual win. Almost immediately after the final horn sounded, I heard fireworks, cars honking, people cheering in the streets. Never before in my life had I seen anything like it. I wasn’t in Wrigleyville that night, but the photos and videos said it all. Chaos, everywhere. Removed barricades, broken windows, thousands and thousands of fans, drunk on alcohol and bliss, partying in ground zero for Chicago sports fans.
I don’t remember if I texted it to my parents or wrote it in my diary or said it to a roommate, but I do, very clearly, remember saying after that occasion, “The Cubs can NEVER win the World Series. Wrigleyville will burn to the ground.”
Folks, I’m happy to report that I was there when it happened, and the neighborhood still stands.
The past month has unlike anything I’ve ever experienced as a sports fan. I’ve ridden the emotional roller coaster of playoffs plenty of times in the past: the crushing pain and anger of losing when it counted, the soaring elation and ecstasy of winning when it mattered. But nothing was quite like this.
Last Sunday, I was sure it was over. I watched the Tigers play the Cardinals in the World Series in 2006 and watched this scene play out identically a decade earlier: lose the first game, win the second, lose the following three and the series. Down 1-3, I was convinced the Cubs didn’t stand a chance, particularly given that they would need to win three straight games IN Cleveland to bring home the Commissioner’s Trophy. When they managed to pull off a win in Game 5, I felt better, but still not convinced. I didn’t watch one second of Game 6, arguing that I didn’t want to see them lose, and if they didn’t lose, I could watch Wednesday’s game instead. In truth, all of my sports superstitions had resurrected during the World Series. The Cubs had runaway victories when I didn’t watch, but when I did watch, they would only squeak by if they even won at all. I didn’t watch Game 6 because I worried the Cubs would lose if I did.
I had made dinner plans for last Wednesday the Saturday before, when the series still stood at 1-1. Dinner ended up taking place at Warehouse on Fullerton and Southport, a relatively small bar far enough from Wrigleyville to not charge a cover or have a line of people outside waiting to get in. Every customer wore Cubbie blue, every TV showed FOX. When Fowler hit his lead-off home run, the place exploded in excitement. What a way to start a game!
I couldn’t relax until we had a decent lead, at which point my group headed up to Wrigleyville. We had to be there when it happened. An event 108 years in the making: you don’t miss something like that, not if it means something to you. We took an Uber as far north and east as we could go, and then walked from Belmont and Racine to Seminary and Eddy, where the police let us pass through the barricades into Wrigleyville. We watched Chapman blow it through the windows of HVAC, and all of my optimism vanished. When the game went into a rain delay, we left, figuring we’d make it home before the game began. I found myself thinking, without a trace of sarcasm or irony, “Well, there’s always next year.” But it was supposed to this year. Cubs fans have been waiting for next year since 1908. I’d been waiting for next year since I arbitrarily decided I liked Sammy Sosa more than Mark McGwire and thus became a Cubs fan 90 years later. I went to the marathon Mother’s Day game because I wanted to say I had seen the World Series champs play this year. I didn’t want to wait another year, and neither did anyone else (except, perhaps, for Clevelanders.).
When we got to Wellington and Racine, we saw the game had restarted through the windows of Northwoods, and stood outside to watch the top of the 10th. After gaining the lead, we hurried back to Wrigleyville, running the last half mile (don’t tell my podiatrist) to make it to the intersection of Seminary and Eddy once again before the game ended. Police wouldn’t let anyone through the barricades at that point, so we strained on our tip toes to see over the crowds into the windows of HVAC, but you certainly didn’t need a clear view to know what had happened, with fielding from Bryant and a catch from Rizzo to end the game, the series, and the drought.
I wasn’t in Wrigleyville when the Hawks won in 2013 or 2015, so I can’t compare Wednesday night to either of those occasions. But the excitement, the elation, the disbelief, the relief was unlike anything I had ever witnessed, ever. We got onto Clark Street through Cornelia, where the police had stopped preventing people from entering, and got caught up in a crowd of people that puts every Lollapalooza experience I’ve had to shame.
I came into work late on Thursday and barely put in any time on Friday, but I wouldn’t trade anything to take back those hours of PTO. Slightly east of the corner of Randolph and Michigan, I became part of the seventh largest gathering of people in human history on Friday, as I and five million–five million! That’s nearly two times the population of the entire city!–others cheered on the Cubs as they paraded through the North Side down to Grant Park.
I know it’s easy to be cynical about sports: they don’t matter, there are more important things to worry about, it doesn’t mean anything, etc. But I think this World Series run shows why sports do matter. While I’m sure plenty of people in the city didn’t care about the games, and some diehard Sox fans likely actively cheered against the Cubs, the display of citywide unity for something positive was simply inspiring. For weeks on my commutes, not a day went by without seeing someone in Cubs gear. Buildings all around town, from homes to small businesses to Loop high rises, flew W flags. Every skyscraper in the city changed its lights to blue. In a season of negativity and anxiety and hatred and vitriol, Chicago had something to hope for. I don’t think that means nothing. Call it escapism if you want, but I think we were more than overdue for good news to come out of Chicago. For “It’s Gonna Happen” to feel less like a threat or blind optimism, but more like a confident, belief-filled cry. For something to bring people together rather than tear them apart. If it takes a baseball team to make that happen, I think that alone argues for why sports matter.
Go Cubs Go.