Around 3:30 a.m. Thursday morning, after the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908 and I wrote a column about it from Progressive Field, I walked back to my hotel in downtown Cleveland. You may remember that the game was delayed for 20 minutes by rain -- Game 7 was the sort of game that "it was delayed by rain with the score tied in extra innings" is barely in the top 10 of insane things that happened -- and by the time I got out of the park, it was pouring.
I am a lifelong St. Louis Cardinals fan, and, growing up in Central Illinois at the dividing line between Cardinals fans and Cubs fans, I have spent my entire life believing that the Cubs' World Series drought was not a "curse," but in fact the universe bestowing order upon itself. If the delicate balance of this universe were upended by the Cubs' winning the World Series, I feared the earth would careen off its orbit and crash into the sun. I am a professional reporter, and there will be no cheering. But I desperately, profoundly wanted the Cubs to lose that Game 7. It felt central to keeping us all alive.
It was about a mile from the park to my hotel, and I had no umbrella. It took about 15 seconds for me to be drenched. I briefly looked down at my phone. There was a text from my father, the man who raised me in the ways of the Cardinals fan. "I don't believe it. I don't know what to do." I had never seen the man so shaken. And I had a mile to go.
When I finally made it back to my hotel, I peeled off my clothes and crawled into bed. The neighboring room was full of Cubs fans, screaming and shouting and singing "Go Cubs Go" deep into the morning, the happiest anyone has ever been. I pulled my pillow over my head and tried to sleep. There was no use. The party was just beginning.
On Thursday, the city of Chicago is holding the parade to end all parades, their welcoming home of the World Champion Chicago Cubs. This has been a glorious story for the whole country, from Hillary Clinton celebrating to the cast of "Hamilton" singing "Go Cubs Go" to Eddie Vedder crawling around in the dirt like an idiot. Everybody's happy. Everybody's having a great time.
But not Cardinals fans. (And not White Sox fans.) This is a day of reckoning, one in which our years of lording our superiority over the Cubs is thrown back in our face. (Though one is obliged to remind that the Cubs now have eight championships to go to catch the Cardinals.) The Cubs are being feted by everyone: They are the feel-good story in a year that has not made anybody feel very good. And that's great for Cubs fans, and even great for all those sudden Cubs fans showing up in your Facebook feed, the ones who you're pretty sure were claiming they were Royals fans last year and were Red Sox fans a decade ago and couldn't pick Jody Davis out of a lineup. It's a big national holiday.
We Cardinals fans, though, we're having a hard time wrapping our heads around it. Now, obviously, nobody cares what we think, and if you are offended by the notion of a Cardinals fan expressing any thoughts on the Great Cubs Celebration of 2016, that's fine, you can stop reading now. (I'll commend you, actually, on making it this far.) But I do feel an obligation to my fellow Cardinals fans to try to help us through this difficult time. Here is a helpful guide to surviving today, and all future days, in this terrifying new reality.
1. Accept it. Denial gets you nowhere. The Cubs did, in fact, win the World Series, and the earth, in fact, did not crash into the sun. This is what the world is now.
2. Try to be gracious. It's so, so hard. But I did try postgame on Wednesday.
Little afraid Earth is going to careen off axis and crash into sun, but:- Will Leitch (@williamfleitch) November 3, 2016
Congrats to my lifelong Cubs fan friends. What a way to do it.
[deletes "109" Tweet]- Will Leitch (@williamfleitch) November 3, 2016
R.I.P. my sister's shirt. Cheering against the Cubs was almost as fun as rooting for the Cards. That's over now. That's OK. I think it's OK? pic.twitter.com/IWoTHXGNFI- Will Leitch (@williamfleitch) November 3, 2016
(Probably not OK.) (Now we cheer against them as equals.) (Lessers even.) (I'll come to terms.) (Not tonight though.) Alas, I must: #FlyTheW- Will Leitch (@williamfleitch) November 3, 2016
It's going to take a while to wash that #flythew hashtag off my skin.
3. Remember that this nationwide Cubs embrace is a fad. This is why I tried to be happy for all my friends who have been cheering for the Cubs their entire lives, people who have invested much of their lives rooting for this team in vain and were finally rewarded … and snarl at all those people who are suddenly Cubs fans because they have a relative who lives near Chicago and they got real drunk outside Wrigley one time. There are real Cubs fans, and you can be pleased for them. But to most of America, the Cubs are a pet rock. This will pass quickly.
4. Don't be petty. Let them have this. I mean, who couldn't be moved by this?
5. But do not waver. There is a difference between being happy for longtime Cubs fans for having this moment, and being OK with anything like this ever happening again. You must despise the Cubs as much as you did before Wednesday and, if anything, you should try to despise them more. They are the enemy and have always been the enemy. They are just now a much more formidable one.
6. Embrace our new position here. A Cubs fan on Twitter suggested that I consider the new position in the Cardinals-Cubs battle: The Cardinals are the Yankees and the Cubs are the Red Sox. The traditional power now on equal footing with the insurgent, they'll basically just battle each other head-to-head for the next 25 years while most of the rest of the country decides they can't stand either one of them anymore. I'm OK with this if Cubs fans are OK with this.
7. Rise to the challenge. The Cardinals dominated the National League Central essentially for 20 years: No team other than the Cardinals in that division had won the World Series since 1990. (And the NL Central didn't even exist then.) Now the Cubs have won the World Series, the year after they knocked the Cardinals out of the playoffs. This should be a wakeup call for the Cards and their fans, that they can be no complacency, that now the Cardinals must be innovative and vigilant. That St. Louis chose the day after the Cubs World Series to extend the contract of its increasingly embattled manager Mike Matheny until 2020 was not the best sign here, to be honest.
8. Get out there on Opening Day. The Cardinals actually host the Cubs to start the season next year and, as we saw in Cleveland, Cubs fans can make quite the showing on the road. Opening Day is one of the great traditions in St. Louis, and it cannot be taken over by Cubs fans wanting to celebrate their first game at World Champions. Represent, St. Louis.
9. Keep historical perspective. Good for the Cubs. They got a title: Yay for them! They still are eight championships behind the Cardinals. One title does not turn around an entire franchise or erase their history. This is where the Yankees analogy is helpful. The Cardinals are the superior franchise, and the Cubs will have to do a lot more than win one World Series to make up that gap. Do not forget this.
10. Stay away from all popular culture and sports coverage for the next two months. Yeah, let's not kid ourselves: It's going to be tough to ride this storm out. Just remember: In five years, if not sooner, everyone's going to hate the Cubs the way they hate the Red Sox now or, frankly, the way they hate us now. But for the next couple of months? Keep your head down.
Stay safe, Cardinals fans. We can get through this together.