Has any Chicago sports team in the past half-century had a better season than the 2013 Blackhawks have had?
The question can be asked after the Hawks completed their run to the Stanley Cup with Monday night's dramatic 3-2 victory over the Bruins.
The Hawks needed two goals in 17 seconds, the second by Dave Bolland with 58 seconds left in regulation, to pull this one out.
As a result there are no regrets to regret. There are no Bartmans to complicate matters. There are no Derrick Rose injuries to leave you with a what-if. There is nothing left on the surface of play but hugs and handshakes.
The Hawks' commitment and resolve lasted from the season's first drop of the puck to the very last drop of sweat. In the end, they needed every ounce of everything they had to eliminate the Bruins and now that they have conquered the NHL, all that's left to do is place them into some wider context.
Any champion automatically is equal to others in the record book. Where they belong in the history book is less defined.
Before last night, Chicago's two best sports seasons in my lifetime were the 1985 Bears and 1996 Bulls.
Those Bears were 15-1 in the regular season and outscored three playoff opponents 91-10 on the way to winning Super Bowl XX. Those Bulls set an NBA record with 72 regular-season victories and rendered the postseason a mere formality on the way to the championship.
Two great seasons, indeed, but was either better than the one the Blackhawks just completed?
My goodness, the Hawks set an NHL record by earning at least 1 point in each of their first 24 games (21-0-3). Somehow they proceeded to maintain their focus and sustain their superiority by going on to win the Presidents' Trophy for best regular-season record. Finally they finished the run, the playoffs and the mission by hoisting the Stanley Cup.
Is there much else a team can do beyond recording a great beginning, great middle and great end?
Remember, this is an era when regular-season runners-up, playoff wild cards and other bloom-latelys win championships. One bad day eliminates a Super Bowl favorite, injuries derail a top NBA contender and a goalie can stand on his head to beat a Presidents' Cup winner in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Rarely does a team in any league lead from wire to wire to win a title these days, but that's what the Hawks did. They raised expectations by starting fast and fulfilled them by finishing first.
The Hawks stood up to the challenge of being every other team's target, overcame being down 3-1 to the Red Wings in their playoff series, withstood the Kings' menacing physicality and stared down the balanced Bruins.
Not getting beat when you're the team to beat has become more difficult lately, yet the Hawks managed to survive in a sport where playoff upsets are more the rule than the exception.
So the Hawks prevailed just as the '85 Bears did with Walter Payton, the best football player ever, and the '96 Bulls did with Michael Jordan, the best basketball player ever.
The Hawks don't have the best hockey player ever but they did record one of Chicago's best seasons ever.
The absolute best?
Maybe but that distinction probably still belongs to the '85 Bears, with the '96 Bulls next and then the '13 Hawks.
Who knows, perhaps that assessment is skewed by this NHL season being shortened to 48 games by a labor dispute?
Regardless, if the Stanley Cup itself weren't enough, the Blackhawks accomplished even more just by placing themselves in the company of those Bears and Bulls.