Everyone knows that, deep down, Chicago is a Bears town. Sure, north and south siders go at each others’ proverbial throats all spring and summer, but once fall hits we’re all friends again. Well, maybe only on Sundays until the baseball season is over, but the point remains. The NFL started with the Chicago Bears. Aside from Michael Jordan, the most sacrosanct figures in Chicago sports are Bears: Payton, Butkus, Ditka, Halas.
But go back to 1994 with me. A 13 year old kid really wants a Starter jacket because, for some insane reason, every teenager wanted a Starter jacket in 1994. Preferably a Chicago Bulls jacket. He’s at the store to pick up some winter clothes with his mom, and there are Bulls jackets and Bears jackets. The Bulls jackets are full priced, which is a vast overspend for a mediocre piece of outerwear. The Bears jackets are available on a big discount. The mom makes it clear that the full priced Bulls jackets are not an option. The boy settles for a Bears jacket. When the boy first starts wearing him to school, he isn’t teased per se, but he’s asked why the heck he’s wearing a Bears’ jacket. There are Bulls jackets all around him. He’s the only one in a Bears’ jacket.
In case you didn’t realize it, the boy was me. And no, I do not feel traumatized by not getting a Bulls starter jacket. However, a mere 20 years ago, the Bears were not Chicago’s first sports priority. The Bears were midway through a horrendously mediocre 1990s, while the Bulls were one of the best teams in basketball even during Michael Jordan’s first retirement, which would end about six months after the Bears jacket purchase. Chicago was a Bulls town. The Bears played second fiddle, at the least.
Again, it appears that the Bears are mired in a run of mediocrity. Having tied their next few years to Jay Cutler, a quarterback unlikely to ever win a meaningful game, Chicago is ripe for a new team to get behind. Sure, the Blackhawks have been and should continue to be awesome, but hockey is something of a niche sport throughout the US, even in Chicago. The Bulls are a good team, but will they ever get past Lebron? Even if they do, does Derrick Rose have it in him to be the media presence that Jordan was? Does he even want that?
Could the door be open for the Cubs to become Chicago’s number one sports team? The Cubs appear to be on the verge of their longest run of competitiveness… well… ever. When the Cubs win a World Series, whether it be this decade or some other, it will be the single biggest sports story of that decade in North America. Wrigley Field is being renovated. The Cubs have the best set of prospects either side of the city has seen in a long time. Some of them, along with Anthony Rizzo and Jake Arrieta, have star potential. All reports I’ve seen indicate that Kris Bryant has the type of personality that, along with his prodigious power, could make him the biggest star in the game. And, quite frankly, I don’t believe that many young White Sox fans are so invested in their team that they wouldn’t flip to the Cubs if the Cubs are a consistent winner and the White Sox aren’t.
Sure, some things work against the Cubs reaching that level of prestige now that weren’t working against the 1990s Bulls. Fantasy football was a game for only the most intense of football fans and sports gamblers then. Now it is played by a huge proportion of sports fans, while fantasy baseball remains a game played by a small number of die hard baseball fans. The NFL and their partners have been more and more successful turning every NFL Sunday into a full day event.
But cities that are baseball towns first, football towns second, do exist, with Boston and St. Louis being the foremost among those. Could Chicago join them? For the first time in a long time, the answer to that question could be yes.