Thursday, June 9, 2022

Flashback 2010: Hockey diehards can take cue from this opera buff

Harry Caray's owner Grant DePorter, right, with hockey player Patrick Kane.

     It's flattering to have your work remembered. Even when Facebook first has to spur the recollection.  
     "I shared a pithy comment of yours 12 years ago and it just popped up on my Facebook feed," social media prompted one reader to write this week.
     I read the comment, and was surprised. The line almost sounded like a comedy bit. "Did I write that?" I replied. "I have no memory." Then promptly set out in search for the quote, finding a fun column, posted below. It was back in a time when the column covered a full page, in several sections, and included a joke at the end.
      Though there is inevitably mitigation that comes from all honors and praise, which are accepted at one's peril. As you'll see if you make it to the end. Humility often comes, not by choice, but unnecessity.


     "Patrick Kane is in the restaurant," says G
rant DePorter, checking his BlackBerry as we file into FBI headquarters.
     I quickly try to assemble my features into an expression of enthusiasm, but don't do it fast enough, apparently, because Grant, who as managing partner of Harry Caray's has an eye for detail, detects a certain blankness.
     "You do know who Patrick Kane is?" he says, narrowing his gaze.
     "Sure!" I bluster, immediately deploying my Emergency Sports Conversation Algorithm (a logic tree that works like this: 1. What team is currently in the news? The Blackhawks! 2. What player on that team is currently being celebrated?
     "Of course," I bluster. "He's the guy who lost his teeth."
     "No," says Grant, with a hint of frost. "That's Duncan Keith. Patrick Kane is one of the biggest stars on the team. He went to Harry's after the Cubs game. So did Jonathan Toews — the captain — Brian Campbell and Adam Burish. They walked in, one after the other."
     "Wow!" I say. "Exciting!"


     I would never mention this embarrassing exchange, but Richard Roeper's column Wednesday commented on the bandwagon syndrome — how a team, such as the Blackhawks, nearing the championship will spur fair-weather fans and Johnny-come-latelies to try to muscle in on the glory, and how longtime fans tend to resent that because these newbies have not suffered through years of waiting and hoping and thus haven't earned the right to savor this moment of pending triumph.
     Or so the thinking goes.   
Blackhawks players Patrick Kane, left
 and Jonathan Toews at Harry Caray's.
     It is a curious outlook. When I took 100 Sun-Times readers to the Lyric Opera last fall, we made a point of bringing people who had never been to the opera before. Not so I could harangue them at intermission: "Oh sure, you're enjoying 'The Merry Widow' now, but where were you that grim winter of '94 when we were enduring Berg's 'Wozzeck?'"
     No, I was happy to introduce them to something I love, and eager for them to have a good time.
     Why aren't sports fans that way? It isn't as if hockey is a limited resource, isn't as if others nibbling at the hockey pie means less for you.
     Reading Rich's column — where he rightly concluded that all should happily "enjoy the ride" — sparked the hope that I might actually score a few sports pride points. If hockey fans are contemptuous of those who hurry to join the party now that the Blackhawks are in the finals (starting Saturday against Philadelphia, if all this is news to you), then it stands to reason that they must approve of — perhaps even respect and admire — we stout souls who didn't follow the Blackhawks before and aren't about to start now, championship or no.
     Sadly, it doesn't work like that.
     "They'll hate you either way," laughed the wife of a die-hard fan. "They hate you if you jump on the bandwagon, but they hate you if you're indifferent, too."
     That sounds about right. For the record, I am not indifferent. The Blackhawks seem a fine group of young fellows, and I certainly hope they win Stanley's Cup, for the glory of their fans and for the Greater Chicago Metroplex. I'd still rather weed in the hot sun than watch a hockey game, but then I'm sure most hockey fans would rather strip the paint off an old bench than spend five hours watching "Tristan und Isolde." To each his own.
     If this irks you, consider all the reportage and analysis and ballyhoo that this paper will dedicate to the Blackhawks over the coming weeks. And what do those who don't know Patrick Kane from Kane County get? Just this one little column, whispering that it's all right, you needn't feel guilty. You are not alone.


     Yes, I know it's "Stanley Cup" not "Stanley's Cup." It was a joke.


     Grant and I were at the FBI for a class. It seemed a piquant detail.


From Bob Nickman:

     If you're not into sports, guys think you're less of a man unless you can account for your time in activities equally masculine. When they ask, "Wanna go see the game?" I reply, "I can't. I gotta go put a transmission in a stripper's car."

            —Originally published in the Sun-Times, May 28, 2010

Editor's note: If you're wondering what the inevitable mitigation was, let me point it out: it wasn't my line. The comments he remembered was me quoting someone else. Oh, and the Blackhawks defeated the Flyers to win the Stanley Cup in 2010. I had to check Wikipedia to find out.


  1. Sorry Neil, but there's not enough money on the planet to get me to sit through an opera.
    I have interest in see fat people screech in Italian, French or wurst of all, German!

    1. Sorry, CS, but you're missing something good...and worthwhile.

      The Cleveland Cultural Gardens are a collection of 33 public gardens, located on what used to be part of John D. Rockefelelr's estate. Each of them honors a different ethnic group, and its immigrants. The Italian garden is spectacular, with stone plazas, fountains, and sculptures. It looks and feels like Rome.

      Once a year, free opera is performed there, on a Sunday evening in July. Thousands of people, not all of them Italians, show up with picnic baskets and wine. It's like a miniature Ravinia. And a wine dealer even dispenses free wine. Free live music and free wine! How can you beat that?

      .We now have to get there hours ahead of time, to secure a good spot. It's well worth it. One of the joys of summer. If you don't mind a dense crowd of affluent opera buffs, even you might like it.

  2. My first opera was Dr. Atomic. I left at intermission. Music should include melody, Dr. Atomic did not. Drama should make you care about the fortunes of the hero. Dr. Atomic did not. If this was opera I wondered about the world view of opera's many passionate fans. Then I saw Wozzeck. The music transported me, the drama was Kafkaesque. I thought it was a masterpiece. A friend who loves opera tells me I am a philistine. You can't account for taste.

  3. I've been a fair-weather fan of the Blackhawks since the Bobby Hull days, and of the Bears, the Bulls, the Fire, etc. since whenever they last succeeded. The only team I've ever really cared about, through thick and thin, is the Chicago National League Baseball Club. Just now, I was wondering whether it is worse to have a season long hope that one's team would succeed only to have that hope dashed in the playoffs, or to have no hope whatsoever that one's team will succeed. I prefer the latter myself, but only in retrospect. If one's sad sack team manages from time to time to conquer the better club, it's like winning a mini World Series every time. Whereas those who would abandon their boyhood love and follow a perennial winner such as the New York Yankees, are condemning themselves to everlasting guilt and shame, whether they know it or not.


  4. I've never been to an opera, but I have also never heard an operatic song performed that I wanted to hear again. Perhaps I would enjoy going to the opera, I do appreciate the talent and dedication of the performers, my ears would just prefer silence. I don't know The Merry Widow from Wozzeck. I didn't bother to look it up.

  5. Being a Chicago sports fan is similar to Opera: There sure seems to be a lot of tragedy....year after year after year....and we do have our share of Drama Queens too. Although it seems like we're getting a rest from that for now.

  6. Yes, it's "Stanley Cup" not "Stanley's Cup."...but I've seen sportswriters call it "Lord Stanley's Cup" in hockey stories.It has also been referred to as The Cup, The Holy Grail, or as Lord Stanley's Mug.

    I first jumped on the Black Hawks' bandwagon (the team did not revert back to the original one-word spelling until the mid-80s) in their championship season of 1960-61. Almost all the road games in the early Sixties were televised on WGN, but my parents said the West Side was too dangerous for me to attend home games.

    I got older and my interest in hockey fell off sharply, as I, too, became captivated and mesmerized by the "hapless Cubs", as they were universally known. I bled Cubbie Blue through thin and thinner, wore the Die-Hard Cub Fan patch,and began going to 30-40-50 games a year, mostly in the bleachers. I survived the collapses of '69, '84, and 2003. I enjoyed their recent successes, but 2016 came at a high cost. I live in Cleveland now, and that meant that either my wife would be miserable after the World Series, or I would. My joy in a Cub triumph was muted a great deal. Why the hell did it have to be against my wife's lifelong team?

    I think it's worse...far worse, to have a winning season and then watch yet another choke in September or October. The older I get, the more fondly I look back at all the hopeless losing seasons, when Wrigley crowds were smaller, supporters fewer in mumber but more passionate, tickets easier to come by, distractiing devices non-existent. and band-wagon newbies rare..The sunshine, the warm breezes, the cold beer, and the wonderful camaraderie among the regulars were actually more important than the final score. If the Cubs won, especially against a favored team. it was a delightful bonus, an unexpected benefit.. If they beat an arch-rival like St. Louis or New York, even better. Those were truly Chicago fun times.

    Someone else, one of the best of the baseball scribes, said it in far fewer words:“You may glory in a team triumphant, but you fall in love with a team in defeat.” ― Roger Kahn, in "The Boys of Summer" (1972)

  7. Actually, I had gotten so used to hearing TV announcers increasingly refer to it as “Lord Stanley’s Cup” that it was really beginning to grate on my nerves and wishing for station standards and practices to intervene on behalf of it’s actual name.


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