This is the second of a four-part series written by fans of the four conference finalists. SI.com's executive editor Ryan Hunt provided insight into how much the Lightning mean to his life. Boomer Esiason discussed his lifelong obsession with the Rangers, and Tennis Hall of Famer Lindsay Davenport revealed her personal connection to the Ducks.
To be a Blackhawks fan now, it’s about more than what happens on the ice. Of course, the team has had a lot of success in recent years, and it’s easy to be a fan now. Much easier than it had been, back when the team struggled, when it was more or less handcuffed its their owner, the late Bill Wirtz. Back then, games were blacked out locally. Ticket prices were pretty ridiculous. They made it hard within the city of Chicago to be a fan. There was a time when wearing a Blackhawks shirt around town would prompt random strangers to yell nasty things about Wirtz at you. Thankfully, we’ve come out of that tunnel. The team is thriving, accessible, and what’s most impressive to me, they’re involved in the community.
Take their What’s Your Goal campaign for example. They reach out to less fortunate fans, and give them an unforgettable experience. But there’s one with defenseman Duncan Keith, where he takes a young fan out for a skate. Cammy, born unable to walk or speak but fully capable of smiling, was strapped to his legs. He skated with her and helped her score a goal. And it’s not just because he’s a friend and my favorite player—and OK, my wife thinks maybe I have a problem with how much I like Keith—but watching that video, I burst out into tears. They’re not just great hockey players, these guys are wonderful human beings.
I’m very fortunate to be able to call some of them, like Keith, friends. We’ll text each other all the time, and it’s not just talk about hockey. We talk about training philosophy. I’m getting ready to fight in the UFC, and so he’ll ask me about that. It kind of blows my mind because when I was a little kid, I looked up to guys like former Blackhawks winger Steve Larmer. In some ways, I like to think of Keith as a new age Larmer, the old iron man who once played 884 consecutive games for the Hawks. Though they play different positions, they share a similar blue-collar attitude and work ethic. Keith’s quiet, reserved, down to earth and a nice guy, but he really busts his ass. It’s a quintessential Chicago point of view. He’d fit right in with some of those teams that played in the old Chicago Stadium.
That place, I remember, was just bonkers. I was fortunate enough to see a couple of games there when I was young—maybe around 10 years old. Being young and impressionable, not really knowing all the rules of hockey or anything like that, Blackhawks games were just an event to go to. The first time, I’m sure they were a friend’s tickets or were won somehow. But I just remember being taken back by the energy in the building. I just remember it being chaotic. The building was visibly old, but there was just something about it. As a kid, I just remember it being a lawless place, kind of a wild, wild west. I saw a lot of fights—mostly in the crowd, in fact.
I couldn’t tell you the Blackhawks played or who won the games I went to growing up. The things that have stuck with me are the smells, the sounds of the people around me. I’ll never forget once, we went to a game and were in some pretty nose-bleedy seats, but there was still another balcony section above ours. I remember seeing a guy a few rows ahead of us, dressed neatly in a suit, get a beer shower from someone in that section above. He obviously had some colorful words for the person who accidentally or purposefully dumped this beer, and then he did what anybody else would’ve done. He marched his way up the stairs and got into a fistfight over it.
The best part, though: he then came back down and watched the rest of the game. Busted up with a fat lip and everything, this guy dressed in a business suit sat back down—covered in beer and bloody—and he watched the rest of the hockey game.