Having grown up watching a lot of losing teams in Chicago, it becomes easy to wonder where certain fans get their eternal optimism. The Eddy Curry-Tyson Chandler dynasty, the Steve Bartman game, the Bears being the Bears ... my childhood consisted of running on MJ fumes and praying Rex Grossman might become a good quarterback.
That's probably why it's so utterly intoxicating to watch the Chicago Blackhawks. During every moment of every game -- pretty much any moment when I'm thinking about the team -- I'm optimistic. I'm hopeful. Every play is just another chance for the 'Hawks to remind me why they're unlike any team I've rooted for in my life.
Sunday night was the latest example, a mind-blowing 5-4 comeback victory over the Dallas Stars that required a lengthy binge of Parks and Rec to smooth over the delirium. It was so resilient, so remarkable that my dad couldn't muster more than a "Those freaking Blackhawks" after the game.
I would've been speechless, too, if I was rooting for any other team. Coming back from 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 and 4-3 deficits to win in overtime is miraculous, after all, and something the Blackhawks had not done in over 45 years. Even in the context of all this group has accomplished, they had never done something like this before.
And yet, whenever this kind of thing happens, I don't necessarily feel that sense of amazement or shock. Even as I was flying off my couch and freaking out my dog with an unexpected series of late-night howls -- first for Corey Crawford's absurdly terrible pass from behind the net, then for the game-winning goal -- it felt like an experience wholly within the realm of what a Blackhawks fan could reasonably expect.
That's a crazy thing to think -- that your team can come back on four different occasions and not lose after tossing the puck into the slot with a wide open net -- but that's how I watch Blackhawks games now. I'm that guy who's at the bar insisting they'll come back when it's a three-goal deficit with six minutes left in the third period.
I didn't used to be that kind of fan, knowing I had narrowly missed out one of the greatest eras of success in sports history (MJ's Bulls) and was instead stuck with Sammy Sosa, Ron Mercer and a hockey team that didn't seem to realize the kind of support it could have.
The Blackhawks have transformed over the past decade, though, and in doing so, they've changed me as a sports fan, too. No longer do I sit around, putting together dream teams in sports video games just so I can feel the thrill of playing with a great team. Part of that is no longer being 13 years old, but it's also a lot easier when you can just choose your favorite team.
That's something certain fans might take for granted, but not me. The biggest star of my childhood, Sosa, is ultimately remembered in Chicago for taking steroids and a major organizational fallout. Derrick Rose was supposed to join his hockey brethren as kings of Chicago, but now that legacy will ultimately be determined on whether he gets enough help to win a title, rather than carries a team to one on his back. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, on other hand, are stars of the highest order. Not that Rose could prevent his injuries, but I'll ultimately remember Chicago's hockey stars as the truly transcendent figures in this city's sports landscape.
Four days ago, the Blackhawks went up on the NHL's biggest stage and made their inevitable comeback, only to fall short in the end. On Sunday, they got behind again -- FOUR TIMES -- but never let up, even in the waning moments when Dallas simply needed to go defensive and hold off a final push.
This is just what these Blackhawks do, and it's ultimately changed the way I watch and enjoy sports. Sometimes it's hard for me to express how grateful I am to have the privilege of calling them my hometown team. Instead, I suppose I'll just thank them for helping me become a better sports fan.