I’ve never seen this many people in one place in my entire life.
Those were my first thoughts as I walked up the steps from Millennium Station to the corner of Randolph Street and Michigan Avenue on the morning of June 11, 2010.
That thought was all I could muster for a few minutes, stunned by the enormity of the crowd in The Loop. The crowd was lined up for blocks, 15 or 20 people deep in most spots. There was barely anywhere to walk. There wasn’t much else to see other than people.
Then another thought jumped to the front of my mind: everyone was wearing Blackhawks gear.
“Of course they were! It was a parade for the Blackhawks Stanley Cup victory!” Yeah, I get that. But in order to fully grasp how crazy it was to see that many hockey fans gathered in one space, you must understand how irrelevant and anonymous the Blackhawks were five years prior.
Here’s an incomplete list of things that were different about Blackhawks fandom only five years before to that massive parade:
- It was virtually impossible to find Blackhawks fan gear outside the United Center or the HawkQuarters store downtown. Local sports stores barely carried anything.
- The only way to watch Blackhawks home games was to be there, because local broadcasts were blacked out.
- The fan convention didn’t exist.
- Every time the Red Wings came to town, Detroit fans would overrun the United Center, similar to the way that Blackhawks fans do in virtually every road arena now.
- Speaking of attendance, Chicago ranked 29th of 30 teams during the 2005-06 season, averaging just 13,318 fans per night.
- Keeping up-to-date on Blackhawks news was extremely difficult because the majority of media outlets (both local and national) mostly ignored the team.
And yet, five years later, The Chicago Tribune estimated two million people crammed The Loop on a sweltering summer morning to watch the Blackhawks parade the Stanley Cup through the city. I don’t have the words to adequately summarize the scope of this transformation — it’s beyond description.
The 2013 and 2015 Stanley Cup victories established Chicago’s dominance of the sport in that decade and cemented their run as one of the greatest the NHL has seen. But that 2010 Cup was different. Not only did it end a 49-year championship drought, but it also vindicated the feelings of a fan base that had been waiting for a team to capture its attention again. It was a reward for sections of the fan base that felt neglected and ignored as the team went from the highs of the early 1990s to the miserable depths of the early 2000s — not to mention an entire season erased by a lockout.
But it was important for the new fans as well. Confirming the Blackhawks’ revival in Chicago — and across the entire sports scene — wasn’t just about mending old fences, it was also about creating a new generation of fans to ensure the Blackhawks would remain a prominent fixture in a city that always adores its sports teams but especially when they’re winning. That Chicago’s lengthy home sellout streak has remained intact through 2020 despite multiple seasons without playoff games is testament to the new foundation the franchise has built.
But so much of that foundation came from the 2010 team, a group that took nearly a decade to assemble before the salary cap broke it apart two weeks after the parade ended. The “One Goal” had been accomplished, though: a Stanley Cup had been captured, firmly placing hockey back on the sports map in Chicago.