Should the McCaskeys sell the Bears?

hawks.jpg

Chicago Blackhawks fans John Dubinski, center, and Mario Fulco, right, celebrate the Hawks 1st period goal against the Minnesota Wild at the United Center. (Tribune photo by E. Jason Wambsgans / January 5, 2010)

Now comes a deep philosophical exploration of the meaning of "fan."
Should you be a fan of a team just because it's from your hometown? Or
should you be a fan only of winning teams?

Cubs fans are unrivaled examples of the former, shamelessly ladling out
fealty to losers year after year. An example of the latter are fans who
drift from team to team, even out-of-town teams, rooting only for the
champs. The former value loyalty, the latter excellence.

This is a question for the ages, but now more than ever for Chicagoans
who, at last, have a team worthy of respect and admiration -- the Chicago Blackhawks.
Now the best pro sports team in town, the Blackhawks are a welcome
refuge for Chicagoans who shamelessly have tolerated years of
suffocating mediocrity and failure that have characterized Chicago's
other pro teams. Should fans who have stuck through thin and thin with the Blackhawks
now welcome aboard newcomers as fully credentialed fans? Is it bush
league to abandon losing teams to ride on the backs of winners? Or is
it bush league to mindlessly stick with losers? Loyalty or excellence?
Faithfulness or supremacy?

For years, the Blackhawks were an embarrassment to a venerable National Hockey League
franchise. A fan base that had filled the stadium year after year
dwindled to a core of loyalists. Season ticket holders were fading
away. Rocky Wirtz, taking it over after the death of his father, Bill,
turned it all around in the time it takes for the Cubs
to throw away another season. Now the team again is filling the stadium
and, I presume, making money. And with more television appearances, it
is attracting a new set of fans. Including me.

I watched my son play hockey as a kid, but I haven't followed the
sport. Now, I've become a fan, putting me in the group of nomad fans
whose loyalties are bent toward winners. I feel no uneasiness about
becoming a Blackhawks fan. Not after the way I've been treated by the Chicago Bears. And to be evenhanded, by the White Sox and the Bulls, who continue to disappoint.

Over the weekend, I watched the Blackhawks win two exciting away games
and have become enthralled with not just the team, but also with the
game. If you're a fan of fast-break basketball, you'll love hockey
breakaways. Watch hockey for 10 minutes, then switch to basketball.
You'll swear that basketball is played in slow motion. Soccer is a
version of hockey, but seems like so much pointless kicking a ball
around a field. Hockey is not for multitaskers, I've discovered; look
away for a moment and you'll miss a score.

For what it's worth, the Blackhawks have my endorsement because it's
both a hometown team and an excellent one. I suggest that disappointed
Bears fans also turn their attention to hockey, if not the least to
show sports owners that fielding crummy teams year after year has
consequences.

Wirtz has done more than revitalize a moribund franchise. He has
demonstrated that ownership matters. Wirtz has proved that Chicagoans
need not tolerate endless years of uninspired, undistinguished teams.
Whatever magic he has worked, he should tutor the city's other
family-owned franchise, the Bears. If he could do it in a year or two,
why hasn't the McCaskey family been able to do it in decades?

Maybe it's time for the McCaskeys to sell. A couple of years ago,
Forbes magazine estimated the team's worth at $1.1 billion, a tidy sum
that could make millionaires out of not a few family members residing
on the fringes of the ownership while Virginia McCaskey and her son Michael run things. Forbes places it as the ninth-richest franchise in the NFL,
in the league's second-largest market. Surely, like the White Sox, it
can't plead that it needs more fan support to field better teams.


Mrs. McCaskey is a fine woman, dedicated to many of the same causes I
espouse. But it's a worn-out franchise, shackled by sentiment and
bypassed by a league full of creative owners and managers. Ownership
won't understand as long as Bears fans believe that hometown loyalty is
more important than excellence. It may come as a shock to some sports
team owners, but you can be a successful team and make money at the
same time.
This column also appeared in the Chicago Tribune. Be sure to vote there.

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