9 Things Every Chicago Sports Fan Must Do Before They Die
New York can say what they will, and they will because, dear God, they like to hear themselves talk.
Los Angeles will chirp every so often as well, but they’ll be late to the conversation like they are for every game. And then they’ll leave early.
In Chicago, we love our sports. We love our teams. We love the divide that runs east-west like a Great Wall of Hate between Cubs and Sox fans.
Chicago breeds a special kind of sports fan.
To truly embrace this, many things need to be experienced. With everything our teams and the rivalries have to offer, certain things must be done. Here's a list of everything Chicago sports fans must do at least once.
Tailgate at a Bears Game...in December
We truly know how to tailgate. From dogs and burgers to steak and pork chops, we have serious tailgating skill. We bring grills and heaters. We're armed with battery powered thermal warming socks.
Tailgating at Soldier Field is a time-honored tradition. There is no whining about cold. There's no comments about the snow or ice or sleet or combination of the three. It's just a good time.
It's not just about huddling around and trying to stay warm either. There are TVs to watch the pregame. There are trunks opened to reveal retractable bars, which are chock full of everything you can imagine.
But mostly, it's about the basics. While the temperature may reach negative numbers, you can always hear someone yell—"Who needs a cold one!"
Runner Up: Stay warm in a bar, cab to the game and sit with the diehard fans up high in the stadium. Sit back and take in the history, the stories and great heckles no one hears but their friends.
Go Tailgate at Lambeau
Our sworn enemies to the north are actually incredibly hospitable. I had the privilege of attending the Bears-Packers season opener in 2009. I attended with three Packer fans. Yep, trepidation was abundant.
We showed up woefully unprepared—all we had was vodka, tonic and two cases of beer. Yes, there were four of us, and one guy was the designated driver.
As game time drew near, we were a bit more sloshed than we intended, but that happens when you drink vodka and beer.
Heading up to the stadium, we came across a guy with meat—a lot of meat. They were packing up. We inquired about said meat, throwing out some random dollar amount.
His response: "Bears fan's money is no good here." His next move was to literally throw the meat from the plate—really good tenderloin by the way—to us.
Long story short, Bears vs. Packers is all about the rivalry. Don't fraternize during the game. But before and after, it's all about respect and the love the game.
Every Chicago fan needs to step inside Lambeau. You just do. And you know you do.
Runner Up: Head to Will's Northwoods Inn. It's a big-time Packer bar. Go in full Bear gear.
Sit Near the Glass at a Blackhawks Game
Hockey isn't nearly as popular as it should be, and the speed of the game is something that needs to be experienced.
The United Center is no Chicago Stadium. When Chicago fans realized the new stadium didn't echo and shake like the old one, they know there was only one thing to do—get louder. And boy did they. Not always PG, it's almost always funny and to the point.
From the glass, you can feel the speed, the power of a check and the unreal smack of the puck when they meet. Even for those who aren't the biggest fans this is something every Chicago fan needs to do.
Runner Up: Go to Rockford and visit Blackhawk's birthplace. In 1832, Chief Blackhawk tried to take back the land he and his Sauk tribe were driven from.
Blackhawk proved to be too much for the Illinois soldiers. The US Army was brought and eventually defeated the Sauk, capturing Chief Blackhawk. What happened next you read on your own. It's not the proudest of moments in American history.
Bottomline: Chief Blackhawk was a courageous warrior whose name should be known and understood—it's not simply a hockey teams' moniker.
Had Chief Blackhawk not tried to reclaim his tribe's land, Chicago would have been a part of Wisconsin. It was only after the defeat of the Sauk that the Illinois border was pushed 60 miles north.
Sit in the Bleachers at a Cub Game...in the Summer
No other park in the US has the history that Wrigley does. That alone makes it a must-see, must-do. The fact that it's like a party for every home game? That has to be experienced... with an Old Style, of course.
Though they do have the fruity cocktails if you, like my wife, like that sort of thing.
Hope the opposite team hits a homerun. Just watch the reaction when the fan does the obligatory throw back. It's such a great moment. It's our "I don't want your crap" moment. We truly relish it.
The women of the bleachers aren't too shabby either. From traditional jerseys to homemade midriff-baring tops—it is a wonderful thing to be in the bleachers at Wrigley in the summer.
Runner Up: Hit one of the myriad of rooftops now available. It ain't the ballpark, but it's a great view. And you can say you've done it.
Go to a Bulls Game in Detroit
You still hate him don't you? I do. Oh my God, do I hate Bill Laimbeer.
The Piston aren't very good these days, and the city is going through a hell most of us can only imagine. They hate us too. To go to a Bulls-Pistons games is the polar opposite of attending a Bears-Packers game.
They have real hate for us, just as we have for them. It resonates.
This is what makes the rivalry so awesome. Going to Detroit, you get to hear the rude and nasty comments. If you go with your significant other, she's toast. Look up synonyms for a brother worker, and I don't mean madam.
Hearing the Bulls fans get that loud in another team's stadium? That's just awesome. It's so demoralizing for them that you have to giggle.
Runner Up: Head to Indiana. For a docile people, they can get down right nasty. It's the Reggie Miller affect.
See DePaul vs. Loyola in Rogers Park
This rivalry used to be something. Some of you have no idea who Alfredrick Hughes, Mark Aguirre or Terry Cummings are. These guys were awesome. These guys were Chicago basketball. These guys were all first-round NBA draft picks.
Back in the 1980s, Chicago was a hotbed for college basketball. Hughes averaged 26.3 PPG and 9.5 RBs in 1985. In 1980, Aguirre averaged 26.8 and 7.6. These are huge numbers.
DePaul went into the tournament in 1980 at 26-1. Loyola went into the 1985 tournament at 24-4, beating Illinois and DePaul on the way.
Chicago basketball was something in the 80s. Rogers Park was different. (It's where the rich folks lived on Good Times.)
With DePaul's Alumni Hall no longer hosting basketball games, you have to go to Loyola's Gentile Center. The stadiums are largely empty now, with only the most diehard of fans in attendance.
But it's something to behold.The players care. It's still a bit of turf war. It matters. Getting back to small school basketball is like a walk back in time and well worth it.
Runner Up: Go see King play Simeon in the Chicago Public League. This rivalry goes back years, hitting its peak in the 90s.
Pay special attention to Simeon's Ben Wilson Stadium. It's named for the No. 1 rated player in the country, Ben Wilson, who was murdered on the streets of Chicago on the eve of his senior season.
Wilson was so good and the crime so senseless his No. 25 was retired Public League wide. Only Derrick Rose for displaying superior skill both on and off the court has been afforded the honor of wearing No. 25.
Go to Comiskey, I Mean the Cell
Just to say you've been there. You can't be a Cub fan and mock the Sox without having been to their park. Hearsay is just that. It has to be experienced to be truly mocked.
That's all I have to say about that.
Runner Up: Go anyway. Visit Antonetta on the second mezzanine.
She's one of the cashiers at the big food stand behind home. In full Cub gear to mirror her full Sox gear, she greeted me with a smile and story.
She is everything we all want to be—happy. I am a better person for having bumped into her. She is well worth the trip. If you go and you see her, tell her Graham says "Darn you for diluting my hatred for the Sox!"
Don't swear in front of her, you'll have to go to the back of the line—no joke. She's a gem.
Spend a Saturday at Arlington
You don't have to be a horse racing fan. You don't have to be someone who hustles to the window to drop a $2 trifecta.
Arlington is the real deal. If you haven't heard the pound of the horses' hooves as they gallop toward the finish, you are missing something. It's like sitting at the glass for a Hawks game, but only, it's so much better.
On July 31, 1985, a small fire started and raged through the entire grandstand, decimating the entire facility. Vowing to rebuild, they did. And it's more beautiful than ever.
I bring my kids to Derby every year. They love it. There is a ton for the kids to do. The flowers and gardens are fantastic.
Bottomline: this is a phenomenal facility that brings some of the greatest athletes in the world to a suburb 20 minutes outside Chicago. This is a must see.
Runner Up: The Kane County Cougars are Single-A affiliate of the the Kansas City Royals. The Royals are too bad to hate.
They have been bad for too long to dislike. They're just, well, the Royals. But Kane County is ours. The food is awesome and the kids are diehard.
Plus, you never know who you're going to see. I saw Raul Ibanez and Alex Rodriquez in Appleton Wisconsin playing for the Timber Rattlers in 1994.
Watch Men's 16 in Softball
This is a Chicago tradition, as it was invented in Chicago in 1887. If you like sports, you must go see a game or two. We have our own 16 in softball Hall of Fame—I'm not kidding.
You can go watch teams like Finger Linkin' Good play Chin Music or the Booze Hounds take on the Scrap Dogs.
Mens' 16-inch softball in Chicago is an amazing tradition that must be experienced. You've got fat guys—one Italian Beef away from a heart attack—playing with and against guys ripped like exercise commercials.
The women in the stands have the most foul mouths you have ever heard, and it is brilliant. No woman backs her man better than a Chicago woman. She will throw down with anyone anywhere.
It's our blessing as their spouses and significant others, and it's our curse. God love 'em.
The 16-inch softball tradition is simply so Chicago. We need to preserve it like never ordering thin crust pizza.
Runner Up: North Avenue Beach Volleyball. Summer lasts around two weeks in Chicago. Take advantage of it. The athletes tearing it up on North Avenue are second to none, and in case you haven't noticed, volleyball uniforms are skimpy.
Take a Moment
This is not meant to delve into the religious, well sort of, because sports can be a religion. We love our teams unconditionally. We worship the greatness.
Basically, we've had some unbelievable people don the uniforms of our City. From Gale Sayers to Ron Santo, Ernie Banks to Walter Payton and Michael Jordan to Stan Mikita.
We've been lucky to have these men to look up to, to believe in and to admire.
We're not going to win every year. (This is not an out for new Cubs' ownership—we expect something soon.)
But even in some of our worst years—(Santo never played in a playoff game, Payton didn't get his Super Bowl touchdown among others)—we have have seen heroes emerge.
I can't imagine a sports fan without dreams. I refuse to believe such a person exists.
I, for one, am thrilled to have this city as my sports back drop. Second City? My ass.
Runner Up: Go rent Brian's Song.