Most people, most normal people, would describe this past weekend in Chicago as one of the most exciting and successful in this city’s recent sports history.
Two overachieving teams in the Blackhawks and the Bulls extended their respective playoff series in dramatic fashion with two victories at the United Center within about 17 hours of each other.
My family and I were fortunate to attend both.
I wanted to throw up.
First, I should explain, it’s weird for most sportswriters to attend athletic events as fans. At least most sportswriters I know. We’re impatient. We hate our seats. We don’t know how to cheer or for whom to root, even when it’s painfully obvious like when one team is wearing CHICAGO across their chests. And by the time we relax enough to behave like regular fans, the game is over.
I was in a suite for the Hawks’ game Saturday night, which is totally cool no matter who you are and not something I will ever take for granted. That said, I missed three of the Hawks’ five goals. I couldn’t bring myself to wave a red towel. And I felt as if I crashed a party, too nervous to eat too much lest someone throw me out.
I realize I need help.
Sunday was worse. Now four days after L-Day (that’s layoff for future reference), I arrived at the Bulls game right at tipoff due to sleepy children and rainy day traffic.
Generously, I had been offered a credential which would allow me to say “Hi” to my former colleagues, Bulls employees and a few friends courtside. I entered Gate 3 ½ — the press entrance at the United Center named for its original designation at Chicago Stadium — long after media members had passed through and was immediately surrounded by a gaggle of clowns stumbling through.
For those of you who didn’t know me as a child, this part was extremely traumatic for me. So was the part where I picked up my press pass and another old friend issuing it asked gently what she should write under “Affiliation.”
“Tribune?” she asked softly.
“No,” I said even softer.
“How about Bulls?” I offered.
She shook her head and scrawled “Ind.”
“Independent,” she explained, and off I went up to the 300 section looking – and feeling — like a visitor from Indiana.
Just as I was the night before at the Hawks’ game, I was distracted. I found myself squinting toward the press section, picking out my buddies. I saw K.C. and Brian and Sam. I found Rick and Fred.
Even with my Ind. credential, I was, for the first time in my professional life, an outsider. I felt like a loser skulking around at halftime. I took off my credential and held it because it didn’t feel right to be wearing it as I approached the press table.
The guys hugged me and I hugged them back, my tears spilling onto their sports jackets.
This is going to be harder than I thought.
Would I rather work than leisurely attend a game with my family? Technically, no. And yet I wanted nothing more than to be down there with them, enjoying the early game and lessened deadline pressure, chronicling this wonderful time in Chicago sports.
Back up in the 300s, the fans went wild as the Bulls and Celtics entered their second overtime. A child above us chose to show her joy by screaming at roughly the same pitch as a dog whistle, only this excruciatingly painful to humans.
I slunk down in my seat, looking like an alien who did not realize the game was exciting.
After the Bulls’ victory, as my buddies made their way to the post-game press conference, I left with my family and the masses, wondering if it was a first that the crowd roared as they marched through the concourses.
The sound carried us out of the building.
And very far away.