A guest column by Nora Dunn.
Let me say something right off. I am an ex-Cubs fan, and let me tell you why. Because I said so, and what I say goes. I am also a Midwesterner. I have been asked to muse about what that means when it comes to sports and whether fans in the Midwest are different than fans in the West West. And I say yes. Because I said so, and what I say goes.
Long before parents listened to children and explained themselves to children, there was a time when parents let you know who was boss. When you asked a mother or father or older brother to explain why they had come to a certain conclusion, if you dared, they would say, “Because I said so. And what I say goes.” That answer simplified my early life and I’m grateful for it. Some cases have to be closed, and so it goes with the Cubs. They are in a file cabinet as far as I’m concerned, a dusty old metal one in the back of an abandoned warehouse. After growing up on baseball and the Cubs and a history of not only losing but identify with losing and characterizing ourselves as losers, I moved on. Or out. I left the neighborhood. I’m not even passionate about not being a Cubs fan anymore. I have let go to the extent that I have no more feelings at all for the team or its history. I no longer miss them the same way I no longer miss my ex-husbands.
I am a Blackhawks fan. A Bears fan. I have been a Blackhawks fan since I was about ten, which was after the Hawks won the Stanley Cup with Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita. We didn’t win again until I was much older than ten, but I felt that age when Patrick Kane scored that winner. Along with my baseball heroes, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita were the icons of my youth. Kane and Toews are still the icons of my youth because the beauty of being a sports fan is it keeps the child in you alive, even if you now swear like Dennis Farina in Midnight Run. I admit I dropped out of hockey for several years after the expansion, which watered down the teams and extended the season well into spring, when in my world you were no longer skating on ice. But hockey, of all the culturally popular sports, remains for me the most untouched by the crass commercialism that has all but destroyed football, which, as Mike Ditka said, should be played on Sundays and on grass. TV Football announcers are so bland and boring, they are such network shills, that tearing them down during a game has become part of tradition and almost as rewarding as blasting your own players for their bonehead mistakes. TV announcers have mastered the art of making football predictable and don’t have the sense of drama and excitement you get from radio announcers, who are smarter and far more involved. I like listening to radio announcers and I don’t want to look at those guys in the network booth any more than I want to look at the stuffed animals in the Museum of Natural History.
In order to have sports feelings such as these, you probably have to have grown up in Chicago. Maybe you have had to endure years of winters and have indulged at some point in your life in too much whiskey. And if you haven’t experienced much fair weather, you can hardly be accused of being a fair weather fan. Chicagoans show up for wakes, funerals, baptisms, and their teams. Our sports fans are loyal and well versed and not spoiled by winning too many championships. I’m a Bulls fan, too, when I think we can compete. Did I love Michael Jordan? Of course I did. I got to meet him during his prime and it was like being in the presence of an extra terrestrial. I was a rabid Bulls fan when he was our star and I still think he did more for the game than Lebron James and Shaquelle ever could, even though I think they are both great players and good people. Jordan elevated the game, both figuratively and literally, and gave me some of the biggest thrills of my life. And I met Walter Payton, too, when I was doing Saturday Night Live. That was also thrill, but not as much as watching him run was. Will we ever experience anther running back like him or Gayle Sayers? I still could not get Walter to give me a straight answer on why Ditka didn’t let him carry the ball for a touchdown when we won the Superbowl.
Look, I love sports. I attribute that to my father and growing up in Chicago. I’ve lived in Los Angeles, and they don’t love sports the way we love sports. Why? Because I said so and what I say goes.
What makes Chicago fans real for me is that we identify with our team. We aren’t above that. Still, we have our standards. We don’t stand for shitty food at the ballpark. I have never eaten anything worse than a Dodger Dog, nor have I ever experienced fans so mean and sour as the ones in that park in Los Angeles. Of course the real jerks are in the boxes, eating sushi. It’s true that the suburban mentally has seeped into the sports arenas of Chicago, but the core fans, the ones so invested in the meaning of loving a team that they can bitterly divorce it, are in the stands or cheap seats, and the rest of us are watching on TV with our friends, yelling at the refs, berating our players, and deriding the owners and announcers. Real fans get emotionally involved, and in Chicago, we are emotional. We are not a blaze culture. We are tougher and angrier than the dehydrated species in the West that carry water bottles while we carry our groceries.
Of course, none of what I say here is true. What I say here is how I feel. What I say is biased and bitter. But that is what loving your sports teams is about. I identify with being bitter just as I identify with the players themselves. And I laugh about being that way. It’s always best to admit the worse about yourself and accept it. As far as I’m concerned, that lets me off the hook. Because I say so.
Fair weather cities make for fair weather fans, and its no fun watching a game with people who’d rather be watching the Emmy Awards. Less than a thousand fans showed up for the parade after the Kings won The Cup again this year. What a disgrace. Their players probably had to go up to Canada to savor their win. And the movie stars who have abandoned the old glitter that was the Lakers now show up late for the Kings when they are in the playoffs. They probably don’t show up to the set on time and don’t know their lines either. In Chicago there is nothing fashionable about being late. We don’t have the kind of self-esteem that allows for that. We drink on Sunday afternoons and continue drinking into the evening. That prepares us for Monday. We are not above the living of life, especially when it’s a metaphor. We come from a history of writers as well as sports heroes. We understand cruelty and defeat and aren’t afraid to feel it, and express it. Yes, we are different from the West. It takes us longer to tan. And while the west coast is drying up we still have a lot of water, even if fewer of us are putting Scotch in it.
Nora Dunn is a life-long Chicagoan, former Saturday Night Live cast member, movie and stage actress and will appear in the upcoming CW TV series “iZombie.”