Now Playing: Blind Melon – Blind Melon
Those of you who have been fortunate enough to find your respective ways to my corners of the blogosphere know that my team of choice is the one representing the Western Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks have made themselves hard to ignore not only in Chicago, but also in the national hockey press (everyone’s differing opinions of our nation’s hockey coverage notwithstanding…). Whether it’s with a style of hockey that is fantastic to watch or the constant press releases, promotions, public events and Blackhawks Heritage Nights, Chicago’s Original Six franchise has made sure to keep its name in the headlines. This is what all hockey fans, and especially Blackhawks fans whom have been suffering for so long have wanted, right? With the Chicago Blackhawks on the tip of every tongue and on the top of every mind everyone should be spittin’ nickels! Unfortunately, that’s not quite the case.
There has been a “bandwagon backlash” that has so-called “real” Hawks fans calling out people who have taken a recent interest in the team rockin’ West Madison Street in Chicago. Some are jealous that people who “don’t deserve to go” are getting tickets to the playoff games, wearing apparel they picked up on the way to the game that night, and, well I could go on for a while here, so I’ll spare you. I’ve been going to Blackhawks games since I was six years old, living in Milwaukee and taking the train by myself to meet my dad (who commuted to Chicago) to see the Blackhawks at the Chicago Stadium and driving back home the same night.
I’ve had some of the most amazing experiences watching Blackhawks games with my dad (both good and bad games), and Blackhawks hockey will always hold a special place with me because of that. That said, it doesn’t give me, nor any other of the aforementioned “real” Hawks fans the right to gripe and whine about “bandwagoners”. It’s completely foolish. Most of the people spewing this type of rhetoric are people who stood by the team until they got fed up with the way the organ-EYE-zation alienated its fan base and quit consuming the product. Do these people think it’s only OK for those of us who were part of the 5,000 poor saps sitting in the U.C. watching the horse(bleep) Alpo Suhonen teams? (Don’t worry NHL, the announced attendance was always at least 10,000) Lord no. I was there and it SUCKED. Cue an audio clip of the national anthem from 2003 (please don’t) and tell me what you think. The morons like me who watched brutal hockey for all those years and couldn’t give tickets away are not how teams make money. It’s the newer, maybe more casual fans that are buying the merchandise and spending the money to bring their kids who allow the team to do special events and the constant publicity they have engaged in recently. It’s the responsibility of the longer-tenured fans to educate the newer fans and get them really into the sport so that this is not a passing fad.
So this might be a bit of a stretch, but stay with me here. I’m going to assume that you’ve all seen the movie Airheads. It’s easier that way, and if you haven’t seen it, get to Netflix (in a separate browser window, of course) and make that happen. You can thank me later. There’s a quote that is relevant here, delivered by the lead singer: “Do you know what it’s like to be on the bill and to play for 15 minutes and the only people there to see you are the other bands and their girlfriends?” One has to think that playing for the Blackhawks in the “lean years” had to be somewhat akin to this experience, only the Blackhawks were performing for that same crowd as the headliner, not the opener. (Writer’s note: Yes, it may have been easier to refer to the “bleacher bums” from Major League, but I’ve never been known to do things the easy way.) I saw the United Center during the years in which some of us thought that the “A-B-C Line” (Tyler Arnasson, Mark Bell, and Kyle Calder) was the second coming of the mighty M-P-H triumvirate, something from which it could not have been further. It felt like the only people there to see the game were the players’ families, their significant others, and suburban Pee Wee teams that were given tickets and a scoreboard shout-out for winning a tournament in which, for them, the highlight was staying at the new Holidome on the outskirts of Indianapolis. It wasn’t “loud”, it wasn’t “boisterous”, and it certainly wasn’t up to today’s standards. Now imagine you’re a young hockey player, coming from either an intense college hockey atmosphere like Boston University or the University of North Dakota, or London, Ontario where they are just as passionate about their Knights. As nervous as it made you come game time, would you rather play for a crowd that is losing its collective mind in anticipation of puck-drop, or one that has the sole desire to not see the opponent’s goal total hit double digits? I will assume, again, that your answer is the logical one.
So why not embrace the current atmosphere of Blackhawks hockey, bandwagon fans and all, especially when it seems to be inexorably leading to some post-season success, and hopefully to the “One Goal” we’ve all been hearing and talking about? Of course there are fans that haven’t been there before, and some who might not know the intricacies of the long line change in the second period, but isn’t it more fun when the building’s packed and everyone just wants a win? Just think about it: do you really believe the players can tell the difference between the cheers from a jackass with a Hawks tattoo on his arm and “Jager-voice” in the 300 level and the guy at his first game in the penthouse-level suite thanks to a favor from a friend of a friend of a friend? At the risk of shattering some illusions, I’ll tell you no, they can’t. All I ask from the new fans is to be there, and be LOUD. It seems that so far, they have answered the bell in that regard, because outside of the All Star Game in 1991, I can’t recall a louder rendition of the Star Spangled Banner than the one I was fortunate enough to witness this past Saturday at the United Center. And until now, I hadn’t given a second thought as to whether or not any of those in attendance had ever owned a KOHO branded hockey jersey.