Like the anticipated release of a new Apple product, Chicago Blackhawks fans were out as early as midnight to stake their spots along the streets for the team’s Stanley Cup parade and rally. By the time the parade rolled out of the United Center parking lot, fans lining Congress Parkway looked like a literal red sea being parted by double-decker buses. The crowd gathered along the parade route and at Hutchinson Field in Grant Park was estimated to be over two million strong.
CSN Chicago analyst Pat Foley emceed the festivities, and the Blackhawks kicked off the rally the only way they know how: with Jim Cornelison singing the national anthem. The President’s Trophy, Campbell Cup and Stanley Cup were on full display, as were the Jennings Trophy earned by Corey Crawford and Ray Emery, Jonathan Toews’ Selke Trophy and Patrick Kane’s Conn Smythe Trophy. Governor Pat Quinn, amidst a steady shower of booing, declared it Chicago Blackhawks Day in Illinois, and Mayor Rahm Emanuel greeted the players as they walked onto the stage.
You could tell that the late nights taking Lord Stanley to the city’s clubs were beginning to kick the players in their collective behinds, but they didn’t care. The rally’s highlight wasn’t Duncan Keith channeling his inner William Wallace or Kane trying to recreate his 2010 rally speech. It was Crawford, who’d been given the team’s championship belt by Kane for the team’s MVP of the playoffs, who gave the best speech in the style of Jonathan Quick’s speech last year. In fact, some – including me – will say that Crawford’s speech was actually better.
This was all to honor the Blackhawks’ second Cup in four years, but you could also say it was the team’s thank you to the fans for their support. Six years ago, you wouldn’t have dreamed that a rally of this size was possible because of the unpopularity the Blackhawks felt from hockey fans and sports fans in general. The word “rebirth” is used to describe the resurgence of the franchise. While it’s now gotten to the point that it’s almost a cliché, it’s an accurate description. The Blackhawks used to be something that only those privileged to hold season tickets for the old Chicago Stadium could see, and now the team has turned into a strong presence not only in Chicago but across the country.
For the two million people in the city and the millions more watching on TV and online, today’s rally was a two-way love letter. The fans certainly love their team, and the team loves them just as much.