As the Cubs made history last postseason, the "W Man" debuted as an unofficial mascot, bonding with fans over talk of curses and superstitions.
The man behind the white mask, Rich Janor, will instead utter a more loaded term when he reunites with the faithful and dons his Cubbie blue bodysuit for the National League division playoffs opening in Washington, D.C.
"Let's repeat," said the Naperville man, who's headed to Game 2 against the Washington Nationals Saturday. "Let's do it again, and try to make this a dynasty."
Cubs fans making the pilgrimage and suburban natives living in D.C. are carrying those high hopes as the team defends its World Series title. These are some of their stories.
The W Man is now something of a celebrity, and as such he will make his anticipated return with a "more sophisticated" costume inspired by the Cubs victory flag and a new sidekick, "Cubby Cowboy," aka Bill Smith. Both are colleagues at Game Day USA, a sports event management business that Janor runs as president and CEO.
Janor and Smith will greet fans outside the Nationals ballpark Saturday and at home games under Wrigley Field's red marquee for the third Cubs postseason in as many years.
And Janor, the head varsity baseball coach at Montini Catholic High School in Lombard, likes their chances.
"The Cubs have been hot," Janor said. "They always seem to peak at the right time."
Enjoying the ride
But don't underestimate the opposing team and their own potential Cinderella story, says Dan Vock, a Carol Stream native and journalist who works in D.C.
"It's going to be hard to beat the storyline from the hometown team, all these recent heartbreaks," Vock says, alluding to the Nats exits in the first round of playoffs in 2012, 2014 and 2016.
"The town has really rallied around them, and they're always talented. They always seem to be on the cusp of something and never quite there, so there's just a lot of stored-up energy, both positive and negative."
Vock can identify with that roller coaster of emotions as a Cubs fan who often cheers on the team each time they play the Nationals.
"I want to enjoy the ride, see how far you can take it," said Vock, who has tickets to Game 1 Friday night. "And it's a really good team, and it's been magical, so you just kind of don't want it to stop."
For Chicagoans in D.C., the Ivy and Coney bar in the city's Shaw neighborhood was the place to watch October baseball last year and feel some nostalgia for home.
After Anthony Rizzo caught the final out that clinched the 2016 World Series, the bar poured through about a case of Malört, a bitter herbal drink synonymous with Chicago bar culture.
"It was just sheer elation. It was an eruption. Tears of happiness," said Adam Fry, the bar's managing member who grew up in Rogers Park. "People who had kept W flags concealed within backpacks, those kind of popped out like confetti. It was just a wave of joy."
Visiting Chicago fans who will hopefully celebrate Cubs victories this weekend can look out for the bar by a 5-foot-tall, throwback Old Style sign newly installed on the building. Inside, memorabilia pays tribute to both the City of Big Shoulders and Detroit.
"We show as much Midwest love as we possibly can," Fry said.
Anything is possible
Ask Sue Cromer what kind of Cubs fan she is and her answer is unequivocal: "Die hard!"
A native of Mount Prospect who lives just outside D.C., Cromer's attending Game 1 thanks to a friend who has Nationals season tickets and who also is reserving her a ticket for Game 5, if needed.
Everyone at work knows she's a huge Cubs fan because her office is decked out with team paraphernalia and pictures of Wrigley.
She always brings her "W" flag to games and often wears Cubs earrings to remind her of a mantra long echoed by fans who kept the faith over more than a century of disappointments.
"Anything is possible," she said.
• Daily Herald staff writer Elena Ferrarin contributed to this report.