Friday, June 19, 2015

It Never Gets Old

This year I didn't have to go far to become a part of the Chicago Blackhawks victory celebration, it all started when I hopped on the L...

... and then it turned out the victory parade would roll by the back door to work.

They said somewhere in the neighborhood of two million people showed up in Downtown Chicago yesterday to take part in the celebration, but hiding inside the office popping out when I heard that the parade was a few blocks away, I only encountered a fraction of them. My colleagues who ventured out at lunch told me they witnessed several drunk people (at noon), throwing up. My son who was with some friends a few blocks away smelled pot smoke. But everyone who I encountered behaved themselves, just happy to be a part of history, and to catch a glimpse of their heroes in the red Indian head sweaters, and the Stanley Cup.

There's something unique about that thirty five pound chunk of metal which since 1925 has been the prize de jure of the National Hockey League. Unlike other trophies in professional sports, there is only one Stanley Cup, they don't cast a new one every year. That means every team who wins the championship has to give it up the following year, unless of course they win it again. That hasn't happened since the Detroit Red Wings won it in consecutive years in 1997 and 1998.

The Stanley Cup pre-dates the NHL by 25 years. The Cup, pictured at the bottom center of the photograph below, was donated by the Governor General of Canada, Lord Stanley.

The Montreal Hockey Club, first winners of the Stanley Cup, 1893

If it's not immediately recognizable, that's because of the seven tiers that have been added to accommodate the names of each player on every team that has won the Cup. Each player also gets to spend a day with the Cup. Usually they choose to share the Stanley Cup with their home town, which given the international character of the game, could be at any corner of the world.

If it could, the Stanley Cup would have lots of stories to tell. It no doubt made the rounds at watering holes around the city immediately after the Hawks won their third championship in six years. Before it appeared in Chicago's Loop yesterday, Jonathan Toews, the captain of the Blackhawks, shared it with the residents of  Miserecordia, a local institution in my neighborhood that serves people with developmental disabilities. Thousands of Chicagoans will take the opportunity to see and even lay hands on the Cup in the following weeks as it calls this city its temporary home,

Thursday was the fourth time I laid eyes on the Stanley Cup. The first time was in 1992 at the old Chicago Stadium where I saw it hoisted by Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, and the rest of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Two years later I saw it carried by Mark Messier at the New York Rangers Championship Parade on Lower Broadway in New York City. I wouldn't see it again until 2010 when Patrick Kane hoisted it aboard a double-decker bus on its way to Tribune Tower and the first Blackhawk championship celebration not in my lifetime, but certainly in my memory. This year it was Patrick Sharp, Brent Seabrook, Duncan Keith and his young son, who had the honor of accompanying the Cup through the streets of Chicago, en route to the official rally at Soldier Field.

There were lots of downtown workers who grumbled about the inconvenience surrounding the event. The poor behavior of a small percentage of individuals who showed up, mostly teenagers and young adults, confirmed in some their worst feelings about sports and sports fans. Some folks even expressed outrage that a meaningless event such as a sports championship could capture the imagination of so many people, when there are so many other pressing issues in the world.

They could all be right. On the other hand, aside from the end of a war, I can't think of a single event that can bring together so many people of different backgrounds, for no other reason than pure joy and celebration. In a clip that went viral, on the night of the championship, a local news reporter looking for someone to interview encountered an African American man wearing a Blackhawks tee shirt. He asked the man how he felt and the response was "You know how awesome they are? They got black people loving hockey, ain't that something?"

On Facebook, a friend expressed how much he wished his dad were still alive so he could enjoy the Blackhawks championship. On several occasions on this site, I've expressed the same feelings about my dad who above all other sports, loved hockey, and passed that love along to me. For three times in the last six years, I have thought long and hard about my late father and how happy he would be with this team and their success.

And as has been my tradition after these three championships, after the game on Monday ended I looked up to the sky, raised a glass of good Czech beer, and toasted my dad by saying:

"Nazdravy Tati."

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