Chicago – The sports town
It’s 8 degrees below zero and a light snowfall is whirling around Soldier Field, but that doesn’t stop the yellow clad beer vendor from hawking his wares with his tried and true sales pitch.
“ICE COLD BEER!”
We’re at an NFL game between home team the Chicago Bears and rivals the Minnesota Vikings. The Bears have had a terrible start to the season, losing every one of their home games so far. To make matters worse, the week before this particular game a video showing fans burning the jersey of the team’s star quarterback, Jay Cutler, went viral, although that doesn’t affect attendance. Soldier Field is, as always, sold out today, and the fans – 60,000 of them – are as fiercely loyal as ever. Many of them can be found in the parking lot enjoying the traditional American pre-match pastime, ‘tailgaters’, which are casual parties featuring portable BBQs and drink coolers, usually dispensed from the back of a car or truck.The atmosphere in the stands starts off somewhat subdued, but as the national anthem reaches its climax, with a perfectly coordinated low-level fly-past from a B52 Stealth Bomber, the cheers are nearly deafening.
Once they’ve started, the fans don’t stop. They tend to make as much noise as possible when the opposing Minnesota team is on the offense, with jumbotrons exhorting everyone to “Be Chicago Loud!” When the Bears manage to achieve their first home victory of the year, 21–13, the cheers soar, before ending in joyous relief – and the fans leave Soldier Field happy and content.
Enormous part of Chicago life
When you arrive at Chicago’s O’Hare airport, it’s immediately clear that sport plays a big part in the culture of the city. Each level of the parking garage bears the name of one of the city’s sports teams. In downtown Chicago team logos are everywhere: On caps, jackets, scarves, t-shirts, and hoodies. Chicago folks are proud of their hometown teams, and wearing their favorite team’s logo on their back is how they show it.
“Sports are an enormous part of life in Chicago and Chicago sports fans are incredibly passionate. It’s a cliché but people always talk about Chicago as a ‘blue-collar’ type of town, meaning we appreciate hard work, toughness, and loyalty. And our sports teams, like the Bears or Bulls, have been hard-nosed, tough teams for most of their history. The fans relate well to that and certainly enjoy watching them,” says Chicago resident Brian Neal, who follows the
You vs the pros
Chicago Sports Museum is located in the Water Tower shopping center in central Chicago. At the interactive exhibition you can try to save Blackhawks Patrick Kane’s shots at the goal, or shoot hoops as Bulls legend Scottie Pippen.
Grab a bite at the game
Chicago is famous for deep-dish pizza and hot dogs, so naturally both are served at all sporting events. If those don’t suit your fancy, United Center has a lot more to choose from: Mexican cooking, hamburgers, deli sandwiches, and gluten-free fast food.
Bulls basketball team and the Bears football team for Rantsports.com.
Chicago is one of just four American cities to have teams in all five major professional sports – American football, baseball, ice hockey, basketball, and soccer. One of the great things about having teams representing all the major sports is that you can pretty much guarantee at least one of them is on some sort of a winning streak.
Sporting News magazine has named Chicago “Best Sports City” three times, most recently in 2010, and there is no doubt the city will take that honor again, because despite some less than stellar results in the past few years, Chicago fans are loyal to a fault.
The Bears faltered in 2014, and if we are honest they are lucky their fans are so devoted, because the last time the Bears won American football's Super Bowl was in 1985.
In the 90s the Bulls dominated basketball, taking six championships, with the legendary Michael ‘Air’ Jordan leading the way. More recently the NHL’s Blackhawks have been the most successful, with two Stanley Cup wins, in 2010 and 2013.
“The order of Chicago sports, as far as popularity goes these days, looks something like this: Bears, Hawks, Bulls, Cubs, and White Sox, from most to least popular,” says Brian Neal.
The fact that the Bears have failed to win a major championship since the 80s doesn’t seem to have affected their popularity. Football remains the biggest sport in the United States and the Bears are still the kings of Chicago.
“As much as you can call Chicago a general sports town, you could get even more specific and call it a Bears town. The Bears are top of the heap among the major sports in Chicago, even when they’re awful, which they were this season. If you can get your hands on tickets, though, no matter how good or bad they are, you’re probably going to go to the game and either cheer for a good performance or let them know that you’re disappointed – which fans did many times this year,” says Brian.
Basketball and hockey share arena
A fifteen-minute subway ride from downtown is where you’ll find the United Center, home to both the Bulls and the Chicago Blackhawks. Outside the arena, many basketball fans stop to take a ‘selfie’ with the Michael Jordan statue, which was erected in 1994 to honor the man many consider to be the greatest basketball player of all time.
Inside the arena, pennants hang from the ceiling commemorating each of the six titles won by the Bulls. And while Jordan was key, it took more firepower on the court to win those pennants – standouts Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc, and Dennis Rodman were among a host of others who made the Bulls such a legend in the sporting world.
Unfortunately, the Bulls’ current lineup is struggling to live up to the glory days. The team’s biggest star, Derrick Rose, has been plagued by injury for the past few seasons, including the current one. Sitting on the bench wearing a beige suit instead of the team uniform, Rose is sorely missed out on the court, where the Bulls are struggling to keep up with the fast-paced visitors from Indiana.
While ball play is the main reason people come to games, an NBA match is not just about basketball. During nearly every break in the action – and there are many breaks – there is always something happening on court. Sometimes the cheerleaders treat the crowd to a dance number, or maybe one of the fans will be given the chance to win a prize by shooting a basket or showing off their best dance moves. Usually it is mascot Benny The Bull – an acrobat in a full-body costume – who gets the fans going with his dancing, stunts, and skits.
On this particular evening Benny is playing to a tough crowd. The fans aren’t really in the mood when the home team is not doing well. The Indiana Pacers win 99–90 and home team coach Tom Thibodeau is disappointed.
“We got beat in every aspect of the game. We’ve got to figure out how to play better here. We just played a low-energy game,” says Coach T at the press conference.
The following day the United Center is packed to the rafters once again. But instead of a polished wooden floor the arena glows instead in light reflecting from the freshly polished ice, as the Blackhawks play host to the Dallas Stars. The difference in energy is remarkable. The Blackhawks are one of the best teams in the NHL and the excitement increases with every goal scored by the home team.
Since 2010’s Stanley Cup the Blackhawks have an established tradition: they celebrate every goal by playing Scottish band The Fratellis’ “Chelsea Dagger”. The loud and proud fans love it, heartily singing along in unison every time it’s played.
“Da da da da da da da da da da da da!”
Tonight’s game ends 6–2 in favor of the Blackhawks, and the crowd show its appreciation with thunderous cheers.
Thomas Pihl from Stockholm is attending his first ever NHL match and says he is incredibly impressed by the atmosphere.
“It was amazing! We were sitting near some old ladies who were all wearing Blackhawks jerseys and they just stood up and screamed. Awesome!” he says.
After just two days in Chicago we have managed to see three games involving three different teams. Each experience has been unique but what they have all had in common is passion and atmosphere.
Brian Neal has an idea why sports fans in chilly Chicago show such intense passion.
“In fair weather cities like San Diego, Miami, and others like that, there’s a lot more to do all year long. In Chicago, Boston, or other cold-weather cities, people love to come home when it’s cold and throw the Bears, Hawks, or Bulls on TV. So in that respect, the weather may play a part in how big and die-hard the fans are. Sports are just a bigger deal here than in some warmer weather cities.” he says.
Text: Måns Eriksson
Find the arena featuring your favorite sport in Chicago on this interactive map:
Published: February 25, 2015
Last edited: May 4, 2016