Historically, followers of the Chicago sports landscape have basically been spoiled. The city has been blessed with storied franchises such as the Bears, the Bulls, the Blackhawks, the Cubs and the White Sox. Notable head coaches like George Halas, Mike Ditka and Phil Jackson came to town and helped bring numerous championships to the city.
Most importantly, Chicago has been fortunate enough to have some of the greatest athletes perform great feats with the Windy City embroidered on their chest. "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, Dick Butkus, Gayle Sayers, Bobby Hull, Ernie Banks and Michael Jordan to name a few.
All of the above mentioned athletes were not only phenomenal game time performers, but outstanding leaders that almost instantly captured the imagination, respect and adoration of the city and all it's dwellers.
Around three weeks ago, I was thinking Chicago is currently without a great sports icon. Both the Cubs and the Sox are without real leadership and are putting a bad product on the baseball diamond. Jay Cutler's seemingly apathetic attitude seems to have drawn more criticism than praise from Bears' fans. Derrick Rose has definitely lost the respect of many in the Bulls' nation for his refusal to play this past season after being medically cleared.
Yes, I know the Blackhawks are in the Stanley Cup finals, but Toews, Kane and Hossa can pretty much walk anonymously through city streets when they aren't wearing their hockey sweaters, helmets and dentures.
I came to the conclusion that Chicago was definitely experiencing an "icon drought." This conclusion was quickly discarded last Sunday when I attended WWE's Payback pay-per-view, live at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Illinois right outside of Chicago.
At this event, as many of you know, CM Punk was due to make his long awaited return to the WWE spotlight after laying low for the past 2 months and accept the challenge of fan favorite Chris Jericho. Being that the Straight Edge Superstar is from Chicago, I definitely expected him to get a warm reception from the hometown crowd, but I wasn't exactly sure how warm it would be.
Punk was coming of an epic heel turn where we saw him challenge beloved WWE icon Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson and the legendary WrestleMania streak of future Hall of Famer The Undertaker. I had no doubt he would find the good graces of the Chicago crowd, but I thought he would have to work for it a little bit.
Boy, was I wrong.
As soon as the first guitar riff of Living Colour's Cult of Personality came through the speakers, the crowd erupted like nothing I've ever seen before. I have witnessed city wide championship celebrations for the Bears, Blackhawks, Bulls and White Sox (sorry Cubbies), and a presidential victory party for the homegrown Barack Obama, and I have never seen a more unified and focused respect for one individual than I saw being displayed for CM Punk.
I really thought the sound team would have to play his entrance music twice because the crowd would not settle down. My nine-year-old daughter was in attendance with me. Going in to the event, she was very anti-CM Punk for his actions towards her beloved Rock. Once the excitement from the crowd entered her bloodstream, she turned to me and said "ok, Dad, I like Punk now!"
That's when it hit me, CM Punk is the greatest sports icon Chicago has right now. That's right, I said it! A WWE wrestler is the top sports figure in Chicago, and why shouldn't he be? Simply by being himself, CM Punk is great role model for the youth.
Besides berating or laying out a few out-of-line fans, the man has walked a very admirable path to the top. No drugs, no alcohol and no scandals. Just good old fashioned hard work, passion and perseverance; the same qualities that we see lacking in many of the more mainstream sports icons.
With Punk, what you see is what you get, and what you give out, you get back. Punk loves his fans just as much as they love them. After he won his incredible match with Chris Jericho, he stood on the barrier for an extended curtain call and pointed out to the crowd as if to say "I did this for you. Without you, I couldn't be me."
In this current "all about me" era in professional sports, that was a very refreshing site to see.
Needless to say, nothing about CM Punk is manufactured. He is true to himself, and therefore true to his fan base, which is very reminiscent of many throwback Chicago sports icons. I'm well aware that if Cutler is able to lead the Bears to a Lombardi trophy next season, or Rose is able to end the Heat's reign, they will pass Punk in the icon category.
But as of right now, CM Punk best exemplifies the heart of this city, and I, for one, appreciate all that he has done.
Follow me on Twitter: @j_c_powell
...and my blog: Conscious Residue