Earning a Championship as a Fan

Posted: June 25, 2013 in Uncategorized
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By Paul Gaszak, English Faculty

Congratulations to the Chicago Blackhawks on winning the Stanley Cup for the second time in four seasons. It was an exciting playoff run with a thrilling last minute comeback in the Cup-clinching game.

Congratulations to Chicago. We get to celebrate our 9th major pro championship since 1991: Jordan’s Bulls with six, the 2005 Chicago White Sox and their nearly unbeaten run through the playoffs, and now two for this young core of the Blackhawks who are poised to compete for years to come. (Then there’s the Bears and Cubs, who have gone a combined 133 years without a title.)

Congratulations to all of the diehard Blackhawks fans who get to celebrate this title. But, what exactly qualifies someone as a “diehard” fan?

As a Chicagoan, I’ve been rooting hard for the Blackhawks. I watched nearly every Hawks playoff game this year. Before the playoffs, I watched approximately 25 seconds of hockey all season, and that was probably by accident while flipping through channels.

I’m not a huge hockey fan, I never played it, I don’t understand the intricacies and rules; therefore, I treat hockey like many Olympic sports: I will watch when its the sport’s biggest stage – particularly if I have a rooting interest – but my interest wanes at all other times.

My relationship with the Blackhawks doesn’t make me a phony or a bandwagon fan – I’m supporting my hometown team. Many Chicagoans could be classified the same way. As a sports fan, I find that acceptable. It’s not as if we started rooting for a random team in another city just to hopefully support a winning team – THAT’S a bandwagon fan (and describes 95% of the Miami Heat’s fanbase).

But I certainly cannot revel in the Hawks championship the way a diehard fan can, because I don’t satisfy all of these qualities:

Qualities of a Diehard Fan
1. Follow a team very closely (watch many games, know the roster, etc.)
2. Be emotionally invested in wins/losses.
3. Do not flip-flop on allegiance, or identify a team as “one of my favorites”
4. Suffer.

The last one – “suffer” – is perhaps the most important. Teams often have to suffer defeat before winning a championship. Likewise, I believe suffering through the losses and bad times is what makes a title special as a fan.

Real diehard Blackhawks fans satisfy the first three criteria AND suffered through some chunk of years between 1961 and 2010, the gap between the Hawks’ titles.

With the Blackhawks, I have gone through none of the bad times. I hardly paid any attention to hockey prior to 2010. So, I don’t qualify as a diehard. I can cheer and be happy, but I have no right to pound my chest and gloat about “my team” winning it all.

JordanIn contrast, I certainly meet the first three diehard criteria for the Bulls, and I’m a huge fan of basketball in general. I watch an absurd amount of NBA basketball. I’ll watch the regular season and playoffs, and I’ll watch any game even if my beloved Bulls aren’t playing. I even have rooting interests when the Bulls aren’t involved, like in the NBA Finals when I was begging the San Antonio Spurs to beat the now defending champion Miami Heat – perhaps my most hated team ever.

But I didn’t qualify for Bulls diehard status until AFTER Michael Jordan left the team.

I was only 9 when the Bulls won their first title in 1991. I hardly remember it, and I definitely don’t remember the seasons prior to it. I was far more aware and into basketball when the Bulls won their last title when I was 16. However, I did not qualify for diehard status – the Bulls dominated throughout my youth. I grew up not knowing what it looked like to see the Bulls lose. (Michael Jordan’s baseball years don’t count.)

I saw my first live Bulls game the season after Jordan retired the second time. I got to see an awful team led by players like Randy Brown go on to be one of the worst teams in pro sports. Now 15 years later, I’ve cheered relentlessly for the Bulls through all the bad seasons and heartbreaking losses. When the Bulls win again (which I believe they have a chance to do next season with a healthy Derrick Rose) I will lose my mind, and I’ll have every right to do so as a diehard fan, because I’ve now logged my years of suffering with my team, the way Bulls fans older than me did in the years prior to Jordan’s dynasty.

So, while I encourage all of Chicago to cheer on the Hawks and enjoy the championship, I am especially happy for the diehard Hawks fans who after suffering through many bad seasons have now celebrated two Cups in four seasons.

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