So how did I spend my Game 6?
In my lifetime I've experienced ten* championships between Chicago's five major sports teams; six from the Bulls, one apiece from the Bears and White Sox, and now two from my beloved Blackhawks. (I gave up on the Cubs at age nine and I haven't looked back.) Unlike the previous nine I spent the Hawks' second title in four years in the city, as opposed to my native southwest suburbs. To elaborate:
I watched Game 6 of the 2010 Finals at a restaurant called Cabana Charlie's. My father and I wanted to see the game in a sports bar setting, and with Tilted Kilt and Buffalo Wild Wings packed shoulder to shoulder, we settled on Charlie's. The restaurant itself was a pale imitator of Jimmy Buffett's Cheeseburger in Paradise franchise, with a friendly, palm-tree exterior protecting its soulless, ersatz center. The only TVs were in the bar, and we snagged the last table with a view with 15 minutes before game time.
My family had dined at Cabana Charlie's once or twice before; the burgers were adequate but somewhat overpriced. It was never as loud or energetic, however as it was that magical night in June 2010. The bar erupted for every Hawks goal and fell silent for every Flyers lamp-lighter. I recall the confused jubilance as Patrick Kane slipped it past Michael Leighton in overtime; the buzzer went off, we cheered, but nobody could tell what happened. The replay confirmed our greatest hopes, and when the Stanley Cup was carried onto the ice about a third of the bar (including myself) cried.
Fast forward to June 2013. I had never been anywhere near the mayhem that accompanies a Chicago sports title. The Bulls riots in the early '90s made national news, but that would be the most extreme example. I stormed the north quad at Illinois State when the Bears won the 2006 NFC title, but it didn't compare to the full-fledged White Sox riot from 15 months earlier, before I transferred. Cabana Charlie's shuttered their doors earlier this year --I don't think they ever turned a profit-- so even if I had a fallback, the option wasn't there. Hook, line or sinker I would spend the clinching game somewhere in the city.
My improv commitments complicated matters. As mentioned in past blogs, I belong to a charity organization called Funny Bones, where we do game-oriented improv for sick children in nearby hospitals. We have a monthly meeting/rehearsal the last Monday of each month, and with the Hawks up three game to two and Game 6 set for that evening, I had no choice but to miss the first period. Luckily, said meeting at the Ronald McDonald House in River North, so I accomplished half of my goal right there.
Earlier that day, my dear friend Andy invited me over to his apartment to watch the game. I told him I'd meet up after Funny Bones. Driving from River North to Old Town wasn't much a challenge; finding parking was another story. Every bar and grill within walking distance was packed, and the lack of street parking indicated that. Eventually I bit the bullet and spent $13 to park in the garage adjacent to Piper's Alley (home of Second City), than ran down the street to Andy's place. At that point, the second period was almost over and the game was tied at one. Listening to the action on my car radio was not quenching my thirst.
I plopped down on Andy's couch just as the second intermission wrapped. I nearly choked on the last part of my Subway sandwich when Boston scored their second goal midway through the period. My heart sank as I feared another tidal shift in the series. I was withdrawn to the possibly of a Game 7 until the last 1:20 of the third period. Corey Crawford was pulled and an extra defenseman brought in, which usually screams desperation. I was hoping against hope for another overtime thriller, just like three years earlier. Out of the blue, Toews fed the puck to Bryan Bickell, who slipped it past Tuukka Rask, and the game was suddenly tied. I screamed with ecstasy.
The action halted for a minute or so while everyone --TD Garden, every bar in Chicago, yours truly-- could catch their breath. I had just sat down when Dave Bolland clinched it, a mere 17 seconds after the previous goal. I screamed again, loud enough to make the apartment rattle a little, than bear-hugged Andy. The last 59 seconds of the game, complete with Boston's feeble attempt at a backhander against Crawford, was just icing on the cake. In 2007 I feared the Hawks had been irreversibly run into the ground, much like the Cubs were in the '50s and '60s. Now they had won two Stanley Cups in my lifetime. Like 2010, I cried when the Cup was carried to the ice. It was just too much.
Of course, I can't forget the pandemonium in the streets. I walked down North Avenue to see if any of the bars were getting trashed, but the post-game celebration was surprisingly mannered and mostly well-behaved. Prior to leaving Andy's apartment, I watched news footage of a helicopter hovering above the corner and Clark and Addison, where the real chaos was happening. You would think half the city was celebrating in the streets, reveling shoulder-to-shoulder as the bars and clubs poured out. In a weird twist of fate, my independent improv team was supposed to play at Mullen's on Clark that night, but the show was cancelled for the Hawks game. I was reminded of that odd twist of fate as Mullen's bright green awning glowed in the noisy dark, a beacon in the joyous ataxia. I was tempted to drive up to Wrigleyville, but I was more content to stop by the United Center on my long drive home, where a smaller but equally boisterous crowd had formed a circle of cars around the stadium lot.
And that is how I spent my Game 6.
*11 if you include the 1998 Chicago Fire, but really, let's not.