Caught in the stressful monotony of the Christmas season, tied up with tidings and good cheer and festivities and the same five fucking songs on 93.9 LITE-FM, I caught myself muttering under my breath the words of my favorite holiday jingle with the bitterness that comes with getting older.
In the spirit of nostalgia, I put on an old Blackhawks TV special from 11 years ago: the Chicago Blackhawks Sing-Along Holiday Album. The words came back to me instantaneously.
It starts with a sprinkle of holiday bells, and a cheerful choir starts the chorus to the absolutely insufferable hit “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.”
“You might think there’s no such thing as—”
Then, all of a sudden … hark! The angels have arrived, in the form of former Blackhawks defenseman John Scott, who cuts off our graceful singers by off-key shouting his name. There’s an uncomfortable few beats of silence from the track, and John Scott stares dead into the camera with a PR-perfect smile on his face, before stumbling over the final lines:
“As for me and grandpa, we believe”
He spins, and grins at the camera, momentarily having fun.
It’s corny. And it’s been stuck in my head for 11 years.
There’s a lot to be said about the old Blackhawks TV, but it can be summed up in a word: fun. These videos had production values that pushed the limits on early 21st century technology and looked like they cost $20 to make — with half of the budget evidently spent on costumes from Goodwill bins.
I recently went down the rabbit hole of these videos (Vox Media is laying us off, there’s no hockey on, and it’s February — I have nothing better to do) in an attempt to figure out what the hell went wrong here. These 2020 videos aren’t cutting it anymore. Where’s the entertainment? The character? And why does it seem all of the Blackhawks budget is going into YouTube transition slides instead of bribing draft picks?
Where’s all that good ole fashioned love for the game?
I started my investigation with an all-time classic— Blackhawks at the Movies, circa 2013.
Minus seeing Sheldon Brookbank (jump scare), this video was a real classic. The voiceover, green screens, and Spirit Halloween costumes make the video marketable, but the best part are the performances. They’re thought out, clearly based on personality and looks (Patrick Kane as a young Anakin Skywalker is oddly fitting), and it isn’t too curated— the editors put in the corniest possible takes. Just watch Corey Crawford look the camera dead in the eye and try and act like Jacob, the werewolf from Twilight. You know that 22-year-old intern was like, “Alright, this is the one.”
But the best part was seeing players with personality. They fell into three types:
- The Jonathan Toewses of the world, who are clearly being forced but at least they’re pretending to put up with it
- The John Scotts and Brian Campbells, who look genuinely thrilled just to be there
- The Marian Hossas, who have no idea what’s going on and could hradly be bothered to figure it out.
It was wonderful. It was glorious. You could actually see chemistry, and could make educated guesses about locker room compatibilities.
I mean, remember this? They even let us look into their hotel rooms, their road trip lives, and we knew confidently which players were “best friends.”
Best of all, there was diversity in content. I also looked through the more recent Blackhawks TV coverage, which was predominantly game highlights or pre/post-game interviews. We have a few ads masquerading as comedy (hello, Patrick Kane’s Chevy, which I’m sure he drives regularly) but we see much less “behind-the-scenes” content, and very little in recent years.
An ‘80s throwback with Savard and Kirby Dach makes an effort, but with players given only a few seconds to speak or act, in an ultra-professional, glossy-edited end product, it feels superficial. I’m not saying the Hawks should bring in some amateur videographers with an iPhone to shoot their new footage to get that 2010s feel, but I do miss the feeling that this stuff isn’t made by a 40-person marketing team.
I know what you’re thinking: this is a piece written by a hater. But the reason I’m writing it is because I think an integral part of rebuilding is getting fans — new and old alike — to become familiar with your team and attached to some of your players.
It’s admittedly hard to do, especially with where the Blackhawks currently are. The roster is full of 30-year-olds on one-year contracts and the team is at the bottom of the standings. It’s frustrating watching players put on costumes when they could be watching game footage or eating spinach or whatever it is they do behind the scenes now — we wouldn’t know, we aren’t allowed to see that content anymore.
But the real reason I’m writing this is because watching these videos bring me back to a time in which I cared about this team.
And that sounds harsh to say, but hear me out. I’m clearly a big Blackhawks fan. We make very little money compared to the tremendous amount of labor and time it takes to write these pieces, and we all do it because we love this team.
But this is the team, and the organization I really love:
The organization that let a five-year-old screw around in their locker room after a practice.
(Another classic. I’m sure Brian Campbell loved a five-year-old asking him if his wife likes him for his money or his looks.)
And the organization that wasn’t afraid to point out their players’ flaws:
And as I rewatch these clips, and I catch myself laughing, I can’t help but wonder how much nostalgia plays a role. They were good back then, and less media-trained. Yes, there were other things going on with this organization while all this videos were being made. But let’s work with the assumption that the people in charge of making these videos had no affiliation with any of those events.
I just hope that, as this rebuild happens, the Blackhawks do so with integrity and a genuine compassion for their players and fans. But I also hope we sometimes put those players in shitty costumes and make them sing and force them to touch tarantulas. I hope we get to know what our players — even the rookies — are like:
But above all else, I hope we remember that these are real people — real kids, even — and I hope we finally get a glimpse of them having fun.