The transition from cold shoulder to warm embrace is finally, finally complete for Blackhawks legends Stan Mikita and Bobby Hull.
After decades of being snubbed by the organization they brought back to prominence in the 1960s and '70s, the pair finally were honored in a truly fitting way -- with the unveiling of bigger-than-life bronze statues Saturday night outside the United Center.
"This is a timeless reminder that our franchise took another step forward as we honor the two greatest players who have ever worn the Chicago Blackhawks sweater," said Blackhawks president and CEO John McDonough.
And Mikita and Hull couldn't have been more pleased.
Standing on a stage just outside of Gate 3½, under illuminated 40-foot banners featuring their likenesses (which will remain up through Monday) and with hundreds of fans ringing the plaza, Hull spoke from his heart.
"I never, ever thought in 100 years that I'd be standing here tonight," he told the energized crowd. "This is the greatest night of my life."
Added Mikita: "It hasn't sunk in, and I don't know if it ever will."
So now, just a few hundred feet from the statue of the man who meant everything to the Chicago Bulls -- Michael Jordan -- stands an homage to the men who meant everything to the Blackhawks.
"I think a lot of people have become accustomed to the Jordan statue out there and we get to walk by it every day when we come to the rink," Hawks center Patrick Kane said. "Sometimes you can read what he did on the bottom there and it's pretty spectacular. Those guys mean just as much to the Blackhawks organization as Jordan did to the Bulls."
After getting a closer look at the work of husband-and-wife sculptors Julie Rotblatt Amrany and Omri Amrany following the gala, Hull couldn't help but choke up a little … again.
"Won't it be something for people to be able to come along when we're gone and say, 'These guys were a part of one of the greatest organizations in the world -- the Chicago Blackhawks,'" Hull said. "And they played when hockey was hockey."
Mikita is the Hawks' all-time career leader in assists, points and games played and along with Hull helped the team capture the Stanley Cup in 1961.
Hull spent 15 years in a Hawks uniform and ranks first in franchise history in goals and is second in games played and points.
"It's an awesome honor for them and they deserve it, no question," Marian Hossa said. "They're idols for not just players but for the people. It's great to see."
Mikita, who battled oral cancer over the summer, dedicated the night to his birthparents, "who gave me life," and his adopted parents, "who gave me freedom."
In his recently released book, "Forever a Blackhawk," Mikita talked about the unveiling of the statues, saying, "By now, I thought for sure I would be forgotten. Instead, I am still being remembered.
"How lucky can a guy be?"
Probably the better question after witnessing what this pair has meant to the franchise is, how lucky can Blackhawks fans be?Copyright © 2014 Paddock Publications, Inc. All rights reserved.