Madhouse on the Mag Mile: Hawks fans flood victory celebration
As he stood and soaked in the chants from 2 million Chicago faithful, all Blackhawks team captain Jonathan Toews could do was shake his head.
"MVP! MVP! MVP!" the crowd shouted.
"Wow," Toews responded. "Wow. This is amazing."
Toews was the final speaker in an unforgettable celebration Friday that found a sea of red Blackhawks jerseys pouring into the Loop and spreading out from the stage at Michigan and Wacker for block upon block. It was all to cheer the team's first Stanley Cup championship in 49 years.
"With every single game we won," Toews finally managed to tell the crowd, "with every single town that we got closer to the Cup, our ultimate goal, you guys got crazier. The city got crazier. And it's escalating right now."
So it was.
A deafening roar greeted Toews and the rest of the Blackhawks as they arrived in a line of double-decker buses to the stage at Michigan and Wacker. As team owner Rocky Wirtz rode past, spontaneous chants of "Thank you, Rocky!" erupted from the crowd.
It was a theme Wirtz would enjoy several times throughout the ceremony. Shouts of "Rock-ee! Rock-ee! Rock-ee!" echoed through the caverns of the city when Wirtz took his turn at the podium early in the ceremony, the crowd again recognizing his feat in turning around a franchise that just a few years ago was considered one of the weakest in all of sports.
Wirtz emphasized to the crowd that the Blackhawks organization had been devoted to the dream of a championship from the time he took over the franchise, and he stressed that the dream isn't over yet.
"The Stanley Cup is now home," he said, "in the place where we want it to stay."
Eventually, the crowd would hear from several Blackhawks players.
Patrick Sharp said, "This is the greatest experience I could have asked for."
In a bit of unfinished business, Dustin Byfuglien passed along a replica WWE championship belt bearing the phrase "Big Boy" to Patrick Kane, explaining that in all the excitement of winning Game 6 Wednesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers, he'd failed to pass the belt along to a key player as was team tradition after every game of the playoffs.
Defenseman Duncan Keith got the biggest laugh of the day when he asked the crowd, "Who knows a good dentist, by the way?" Keith lost seven teeth in a Hawks win over the San Jose Sharks on the road to the Stanley Cup Finals.
Kane also earned a laugh when he alluded to a past incident in which he was accused of hitting a cabdriver. "To all the cabdrivers out there, I love you!" Kane said. He then paid tribute to his teammates. "I couldn't ask for a better group of guys to go through this with."
The ceremony opened with an emotional video introduction featuring highlights from the storied history of Blackhawks hockey. A rousing Jim Cornelison rendition of the national anthem followed, as only Blackhawks fans can experience it. Emcee Ed Olczyk welcomed the crowd, looking out over the cheering throng that stretched out along Michigan Avenue as far as the eye could see.
"I don't think Michigan and Wacker has ever looked as good here as this afternoon," Olczyk began.
Also addressing the crowd were team President John McDonough, Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and Gov. Pat Quinn.
Backstage, players happily posed for photos with fans and members of the Chicago police and fire departments. Players sported sunglasses, no doubt hiding sleepy eyes from two days and nights of revelry since Wednesday's victory. They graciously chatted with fans, signed autographs and laughed.
Oh, and there was the big, silver trophy that fans rushed to touch or at least catch a glimpse of.
Former Hawks greats including Bobby Hull, Denis Savard and Tony Esposito joined the current players and donned their old sweaters. Hawks organist Frank Pellico also sat stage right and entertained the crowd with a few familiar sounds from the United Center.
When booming fireworks and red, black and white ticker tape brought the rally to an end, Elgin resident Jimmy Fulco was nearly speechless.
"This may have been the greatest morning of my life," he said.
Original estimates had anticipated about 350,000 fans, but official city estimates placed the sweaty, smiling multitude of Blackhawks fans at more than 2 million. At times, the huge crowds made it almost impossible to move in places. While some fans grumbled about the location, most took the discomforts in stride.
"There's no place I'd rather be," Tim Tucker of Glen Ellyn said.
The heat had taken a toll on some fans. Chicago fire officials on the scene estimated that more than 100 people were treated for heat-related problems at the rally. For most of the fans, though, a party atmosphere reigned in red.
Some of their props were inflatable. Others were fashioned out of tin foil or papier-mâché. A few had even been raided from parents' china cabinets for a bowl or other item to top off a mascot masterpiece.
The red ocean moved happily toward the rally point at Michigan and Wacker. Air horns blasted with confidence. Several fans spoke about Kane's game winner, the confusion that broke out because only No. 88 knew he had scored the cup-clincher.
Dutch Akers, of Crystal Lake, had been busy since 3 a.m. on Friday. He made a double-sided sign out of cardboard. One side congratulated the Blackhawks on the team's cup run. The other, sprawled out in orange letters, targeted the Flyers' hated defenseman Chris Pronger.
"I would never want him on my team," Akers, 41, said.
His friend, Michael Kasala, 46, of Carpentersville, smiled and laughed. He sported a Stan Mikita sweater. He said he's been waiting for this for a long time.
Akers nodded his head and then rolled up his right sleeve to reveal a tattoo of the Blackhawks logo.
"I bled for the Blackhawks," he said.
Fans of all ages cheered for the team, humming the Blackhawks' unofficial theme, "Chelsea Dagger," while trotting along the downtown sidewalks.
One youngster, 9-year-old Shaw Johnson, said goaltender Antti Niemi was his favorite player, "because he's Finnish and I'm Finnish."
When Niemi was told backstage that his heritage helped secure him a young fan, the goalie, still sporting his playoff beard replied: "That's cool."
Kady Pagano, 20, from Deer Park, admitted crying during the playoffs. She was impatiently jumping up and down on an adrenaline high.
"I'm ready for random hugs and high-fives from people I don't know," she said.
Her friend, Molly Heidtke, 20, also of Deer Park, sported a No. 19 sweater in honor of Toews. She enjoyed the attitude from the Hawks' young leader.
"A good captain should be serious," she declared.
The playoff run could have but didn't ruin the family ties of Tim Alderson. The 56-year-old from Lake Zurich has a brother living in Vancouver, one of the teams vanquished by the Hawks on their road to the Cup. Alderson said Canucks fans have great respect for the Blackhawks franchise "because they are an Original Six," but he did admit Vancouver fans didn't have much love for Byfuglien, who camped out in front of the net and became known as "Buffy, the Luongo Slayer."
Do they hate Byfuglien? "Absolutely," Alderson said.
Steve Orgzula, 66, of Lombard, remembered the 1961 Cup championship. He told young fans to soak up the celebration. Despite having a young team, there's no guarantee the Hawks will return soon to the Finals.
"It may not be for another 49 years," he said.
One big party
The Chicago Mayor's Office of Special Events estimated that about 2 million people attended Friday's celebration for the Chicago Blackhawks. How does that turnout compare to other recent events downtown?
• Chicago White Sox World Series Championship celebration, October 2005: 1.75 million
• Barack Obama's presidential victory speech, Grant Park, November 2008: 250,000
• Chicago Bulls championship rally, Grant Park, June 1998: 250,000
• July 3 fireworks, Grant Park (routinely, until event scrapped this year in favor of three smaller Independence Day events): 1 million
• Taste of Chicago: 6 million over 10 days
Source: Chicago Mayor's Office of Special Events and Daily Herald reporting
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