As near as I can tell, I've been a Cub fan for 37 of my 44 years. My first clear memory of the Cubs was Ernie Bank's 500th homer, and by Burt Hooton's no hitter, I was addicted (Interesting side note: I have witnessed three Cub's no-hitters and during two of them, I was bailing out a flooded basement!). Despite living in three states since growing up on the north side, I have remained as true blue to the Cubs as a fan can be.
I was twelve years old during the 1977 season and the first half of the year I was as elated as could be. The Cubs were my heroes, larger than life, and I remember in that era how I would wish not for the Cubs to go to the playoffs, but merely to finish .500. No Internet then, of course, but I would pick up the Tribune and gaze at the stats and standings everyday for at least a couple of hours, just marveling as the Cubs went to 25 games over! It didn't matter that they didn't win that year, or even finish .500 - it was magical!
I was in college in downstate Illinois when they went to the playoffs in 1984. It had been 39 years since the Cubs had won anything and everyone was just going crazy. Students running everywhere in the middle of the night, "Jump" playing from every dorm window, drunken celebration and destruction everywhere. Even the campus police didn't seem to mind and just let it go - "It was a joyous kind of thing" said the police chief.
They almost made it past San Diego but that was the year of the Tiger. Noone was going to beat the Tigers. As special as the season was, they weren't going to win the series that year.
Then came 1989 - Considerably little less special.
1998 - Less special still.
2003 - An interesting year, but still, not the same level of enthusiam.
2007 - Downright anticlimatic - I somehow knew they weren't going anywhere in the playoffs.
And now 2008, somehow made even more exciting with the White Sox, whom I've always kind of ignored, in it too. The unmistakable feeling that this Cub team is the team that could really do it!
Thirty-seven years of being a Cub fan, and beyond that, a full ninety-nine years for fellow Cub fans who have never seen this team win. Imagine, three full generations of fans not experiencing the joy af victory. And now I'm left to wonder...
I'm a consummate Chicago sports fan, with only the White Sox on the outs. I even cheered for the Sting and the Fire! I experienced six Bulls championships and toward the end they seemed to become downright uninteresting. The Bears Superbowl in 1985 was great but somehow unfulfilling. The height of joy would be the Cubs winnning the World Series - nothing else would do.
So, what if the Cubs actually win? Will it still be as meaningful to be a Cub fan? How will it feel if that itch actually gets scratched? Would it be like getting that first kiss from that first amazing girl you ever had a crush on - exciting but maybe a little anticlimatic? How will it feel when the Johnny-Come-Lately's hop on the the bandwagon and become fans? How will it feel to no longer be "The Lovable Losers" and "Long suffering"?
After four short weeks, it may never feel the same to be a Cub fan again. And there is definitely a part of me that fears losing that tradition - the same innocence that was somehow shattered with that first kiss and the knowledge that no kiss after it would ever feel quite the same. The feeling of that itch before it got scratched would forever be gone.
Yeah, this is a year to savor for sure, and I do think they have a legitimate chance at taking it all. I sure hope they do - I wouldn't be any kind of a fan if I didn't. But maybe amid all of it this also a time of reflection upon the past - the possible end of a tradition that has bonded all of us as part of a fraternity of generations of Cub fans in loyalty, faith, and unfulfilled hope.
The younger fans here, I'm sure will not understand this post. But I'm interested to know, especially for the old timers - the ones who once saw .500 as an unimaginably successful season - if, as special as a World Series victory would be, it might be tinged - if just a tad - with a bit of the bittersweet...