Despite tough losses, Chicago trip shows what home is all about

The Bears ripped my heart out and the Lightning shocked the United Center, but this trip home was more than just sports.

Even though I no longer live in the Chicagoland area, the Windy City has a special place in my heart.

In 2012, I moved with my parents from Illinois to Tennessee. It was a scary experience to move to a new state, but it was also nice to get a fresh start on life in a way.

I had just finished my sophomore year in high school, and to be honest, I didn’t do great in school up to that point. That changed when I got to Tennessee, I excelled in my final two years of high school and carried that success (mostly) into college.

But something was always missing.

I longed to go back to Chicago and its suburbs among family and friends. I also yearned for a bucket of Garrett’s popcorn, or a wet Italian beef from Portillo’s, or a deep dish slice from Lou Malnati’s or Pizano’s.

Last weekend I traveled back to Chicago and found those things and so much more. I made pilgrimages back to a few places that held happy memories: Millennium Park, Soldier Field and, of course, the United Center.

Sunday proved to be the crown jewel of the trip. The day started downtown, my dad, cousin and I got into the Millennium Park parking garage about 2 hours before kickoff for the Bears game. We naturally went to Cloud Gate, where I insisted we take a dozen pictures in front of it. Sometimes it’s OK to act like a goofy tourist and appreciate the great things about this city.

After about a 2-mile walk we arrived at Soldier Field. The game itself thrilled all of us, up until Bears wide receiver Kevin White came up 1-yard short of the end zone as time expired and the Bears lost, 38-31, to the Patriots.

But things took a turn for the better.

After the game a longtime friend, James Daniels, invited us down to the family room where we met and talked with him.

Then came a surprise no one in my family will ever forget.

“Do you guys want to take pictures on the field?” Daniels said.

To say we replied enthusiastically would be an understatement. Daniels took us down to the field as promised. We took what felt like more than a dozen photos, most of which were with family and longtime friends.

Afterward, my cousin and I headed up to the United Center for the Blackhawks-Lightning game.

Alexandre Fortin scoring his first career NHL goal and tying the game 1-1 made our section in the 300-level go bananas. Everyone around us high-fived each other and we were all belting out “Chelsea Dagger.”

The second period did not go well with poor Cam Ward being peppered with 33 shots on net. The final frame wasn’t much better, but at least the Blackhawks scored twice and made it interesting.

Despite the outcome, it felt great to be back at the United Center for the first time since 2010.

I felt relief as I boarded the train from Ogilvie back to the suburbs, with a large coffee in hand as the train rumbled down the tracks. Out the window the city’s skyline disappeared into the night sky, bidding me farewell.

It was in that moment, when it all slowed down that I was able to process the weekend and came to a realization.

Chicago is, and always will be, my home.