CHICAGO -- As with San Francisco and Cleveland, the goal of the "Leitch Across America" tour is to understand cities and specific areas in ways that are as close to how the locals see them as possible. These trips are learning experiences. Chicago is a sports city that you dive into headfirst: Immersion is the only option.
This week, I went to Wrigley Field, U.S. Cellular Field, Halas Hall, Ryan Field and the United Center, and talked to various Chicago sports luminaries, from Bears play-by-play man Jeff Joniak to Northwestern coach Chris Collins to former Flyin' Illini Kendall Gill to longtime Chicago Sun-Times columnist Richard Roeper. But you almost learn more from drinking and talking with fans of every team -- people desperate to talk to you about their lifelong passion -- than you do from insiders and former players. Coaches, athletes, even owners, they come and go... but the city always remains. It has been another terrific trip.
Because it's the Internet, everything must be ranked. So how does Chicago stack up to our previous two cities? The ranking will come from six categories, each on a scale from 1 to 10. Three categories, because I think they're twice as important, will be worth double.
Facilities (counts double). How great are the arenas/stadiums? Are they centrally located? Are they crazy expensive? How's the beer selection?
History. How many great moments has the city/area provided the sports world? What would we be missing if the city had never existed? How many championships has it won?
Icons. What retired players still have their jerseys worn by everyone? Who are the heroes everyone adores? Are they global icons?
Loyalty (counts double). When the teams are bad, do the fans still come out? Are there sellouts even when the Marlins are in town?
Passion (counts double). How loony are the fans? How devoted are they? If you took sports away from the city, how much would it suffer?
Recent Success. How relevant are the teams right now?
Completely Objective, Catch-All, Make Sure The Final Tally Is Precisely The Number I Want It To Be. I'm basically just doing this one to skew the numbers a bit, if I need to, though I'll give you some BS "intangibles" argument to justify it.
As with San Francisco and Cleveland, we kick it off with an Arguable Assessment of ranking the importance of the local teams to the area. Here's Chicago's ranking:
- Chicago Bears
- Chicago Cubs
- Chicago Bulls
- Chicago Blackhawks
- Chicago White Sox
- Illinois Fighting Illini
- Notre Dame Fighting Irish
- Northwestern Wildcats
- Chicago Fire
- Michigan Wolverines
- Wisconsin Badgers
- DePaul Blue Demons
- Chicago Wolves
Facilities (counts double). I haven't been to Soldier Field since the spaceship landed on it, but I'm told it has stolen some of the ambiance of the place. The United Center is packed but cavernous and remote. U.S. Cellular Field is a better stadium than it is given credit for; it's almost like it's old enough now, built before the wave of new stadiums, that what once felt sort of bland actually stands out as unique now. And Wrigley is Wrigley. Score: 16 (out of 20).
History. The Bartman Play. The Shot/The Flu Game/The Shrug. The Super Bowl Shuffle. The Called Shot. The Konerko/Podsednik World Series homer. (Take your pick.) The Kerry Wood Game. Merkle's Boner. That time Harry Caray slobbered all over Hillary Clinton. Score: 8.
Icons. Michael Jordan. Walter Payton. Ernie Banks. George Halas. DITKA. Bill Veeck. Frank Thomas. Harry Caray. Dick Butkus. Bobby Hull. Ron Santo. Jack Brickhouse. Mike Singletary. Billy Williams. Scottie Pippen. Stan Mikita. Derrick Rose. Gale Sayers. Ryne Sandberg. Red Grange. Joe Jackson. Sid Luckman. Sammy Sosa. The Fridge. Bill Murray. Roger Ebert. Score: 9.
Loyalty (counts double). The Bears could be 5-11 and still have everyone's attention. The Cubs always sell out whether they're any good or not, but that's less "loyalty" than "the desire to be outside in a pretty place." The Blackhawks have earned themselves goodwill for a decade or so with their two Cup wins, and the Bulls even sold out during the Pete Myers/Tim Floyd years. Score: 14 (out of 20).
Passion (counts double). The thing about all the Chicago sports venues is that none of them are particularly loud. There's no place in town where you get that thundering roar that makes you worried the building is going to fall apart. The Cubs have made a billion-dollar business out of catering to the non-passionate, though that's not going to work for that much longer. Bulls fans are more relaxed than intense. Little known fact: 34 percent of Chicagoans have a Bears tattoo somewhere on their bodies. Score: 12 (out of 20).
Recent Success. The Bears should have made the playoffs last year, and the Bulls remain one of the NBA's most unlikely success stories. (And if Derrick Rose ever gets healthy, they'll be super scary.) The Blackhawks have emerged in the last half-decade after nearly 50 years of pain. All that makes up for the messes that are the baseball teams right now. Score: 6.
Completely Objective, Catch-All, Make Sure The Final Tally Is Precisely The Number I Want It To Be Score. The sports teams of Chicago are inextricable from the city itself; as I wrote earlier this week, you can live in New York City and not care about Derek Jeter, but everybody in Chicago has been to Wrigley. It can sweep you away sometime. If I were an athlete and could win a championship in one American city, it'd probably be Chicago. Score: 10.
FINAL SCORE: 75 (out of 100)
This puts our scores so far as:
San Francisco 74
Congratulations, Chicago: You're in first place. Only tens of thousands of cities left to go.
If I missed anything or got anything terribly wrong, please do email me or holler @williamfleitch on Twitter. These can only improve through you. Here's a look at all the stories and podcasts filed from Chicago this week:
- Welcome to Chicago
- The Bulls fans are still riding the high of two decades ago
- More than anything else, this is a Bears town
- The White Sox would like to have a word with you
This concludes the third leg of Leitch Across America. We haven't selected our next destination yet, but it will probably come in September. I'll let you know. Until then: Let's go to the map!