Here we are again, Cubs fans. On the verge of making history. Last time we were here was back in 2003, when the Cubbies broke a nearly hundred-year postseason loss record, and I went to the best party of my young life.
I was not a sports fan growing up, but I was something of a Cubs fan. I made an annual trip every August to Wrigley Field with my Grandfather. I enjoyed those afternoons, but my interest in the game never stretched beyond them. I wasn’t a scorekeeper or a stathound. I didn’t even care if they won really, because we often left during the 8th, usually on my Grandfather’s calculated risk that a cab could make Union Station in time for the express Metra train back to the suburbs. At best, I fell into the category of fair weather fan, one of the most common and reviled of sports animals.
That fall of ’03, I was a college freshman. One of my first assignments was to attend a screening at the Chicago International Film Festival. Back then, my cinematic tastes leaned heavily towards bullets and boobs, so I chose the least festival-y film I could find. The movie was called Kops, a Swedish comedy about local police officers that bore a passing resemblance to Super Troopers. My friend Wags agreed to go with me, and we headed to the Music Box Theatre in Wrigleyville for the show.
When the movie started, I was only vaguely aware that the Cubs were in a position to make history. If they won their next game — which they were playing that night, Sunday October 5th — it would be their first postseason series victory since 1908. I was only vaguely aware of this because, even as a passing Cubs fan, I knew they were perennial losers, a bedrock certainty that belonged in The Pantheon of Facts between the hilarity of The Three Stooges and Scarlett Johansson’s beauty.
Halfway through the movie, I heard a noise I haven’t heard in a theater before or since: a car horn. It sounded in quick gunfire bursts. Then I heard the cheering. Wags leaned over and said, “I think the Cubs just won.”
After the movie, we exited the theater and saw blue and white fans everywhere. We were less than a mile from Wrigley Field, and everyone seemed to be heading that direction. Which made sense after all; there was a rogue’s gallery of bars stretching along Clark Street. Wags suggested we join the fray and I agreed. He had driven us there after all, so I didn’t think I could protest too much.
As we came upon the intersection of Clark and Addison, underneath the warm glow of the Wrigley Field neon, we found ourselves in the middle of the biggest party I had ever seen. There were people everywhere. So many they had overflowed the bars and sidewalk and crowded into the middle of the street. Cars were trafficjammed for blocks in every direction. If you weren’t cheering, it was because you were drinking. Someone had propped speakers out their second story window and were blasting “You Shook Me All Night Long” by AC/DC into the street. Wags ducked into a bar and returned with several open cans of Budweiser. We camouflaged them with empty McDonald’s cups and drank down a couple of Harry Caray’s favorite brew.
We intended to walk around but didn’t get very far. There were too many drunk idiots screaming at the top of their lungs. Too many suburban Moms and Dads wearing their weekend Cubs gear. Too many girls. It was a great time. The good feeling was infectious. We were surrounded by new old friends, all united in a winner’s high. I couldn’t tell you how long we hung out there, but I was finishing my second beer, and that’s when the cops showed up. Not Kops. Real cops.
Like I said, this was my first real life, holy shit, I’ve-only-seen-parties-like-this-in-the-movies blowout that I had ever attended. That milestone was capped off by watching the Chicago Police break up the biggest party ever. How does that happen, you ask? On horseback, my friend. All of a sudden, there was a row of mounted cops seated above the crowd. Behind them were more officers dressed in riot gear. Falling into line, they created a blue wall that advanced forward. Pushing the crowd back onto the sidewalk where they belonged. It was a calm show of force, and it worked. I wish I could say that we started a riot and burned some shit down, but no. Nothing like that happened. Everyone was too busy have a good time. The Cubs had just broken a 95 year losing streak. No matter how down-and-out you were, nobody in Chicago felt like a loser that night.
The rest of it has faded from my memory, but that feeling of communal celebration is something I’ll never forget. I had done my share of cheering for the hometeam, and I had experienced the swell of an entire ballpark’s energy rise up before. But this was something else. The scale was epic. We were celebrating a moment that had already been recorded into history. Here’s hoping we can feel that way again. Go Cubs.