MORRISSEY: Blackhawks’ fans cold feat, not feet
BY RICK MORRISSEY Sports Columnist January 5, 2014 10:37PM
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Updated: January 5, 2014 11:32PM
OK, I know why I’m at the United Center. It’s called a job. What are you doing here?
Why would anyone choose to come to a Blackhawks game on a night when temperatures are supposed to dip to 15 to 20 degrees below zero? Sure, there’s the cost of a ticket. You plunk down $200, and you want to get your money’s worth, even if it’s accompanied by official Hawks hypothermia, brought to you by Lexus.
I get it: You want to watch the Hawks play San Jose, a Western Conference rival.
And this can’t be overstated: It’s the defending Stanley Cup champion Hawks.
But the weather forecasters couldn’t have been more direct: Stay home, humans.
So, guy huddling outside the UC two hours before Sunday’s game, what are you thinking as steady gusts send the wind chill to 5 below, which is amateur hour compared with what is to come?
You’re thinking you can’t feel your feet anymore.
“I’ve come all the way from Melbourne, Australia,’’ Warwick Cuthbert says. “I managed to pick a couple of weeks where I could get to six Hawks games and six Bulls games. This is all new to me.’’
By “this,’’ he means Chicago. And a Hawks game. And snow. And the approaching cold that will close schools Monday and make grown men cry for thermal onesies.
Cuthbert, a 37-year-old health-insurance worker, has come to Chicago for a three-week Hawks-Bulls vacation. He got hooked on the Bulls first, watching games on television in Melbourne, and it seemed natural to follow Chicago’s hockey team. His favorite Hawks player is Patrick Sharp because he heard WTMX-FM’s “The Eric and Kathy Show” interview him via the Internet. You know, the world is getting way too small.
Bless Cuthbert for all this, but talk about bad timing. It’s 61 in Melbourne as we speak, with the temperature expected to hit 86 by midweek, not that it’s doing Cuthbert a whole lot of good right now.
“I booked this like a year in advance,’’ he says. “I knew January was a pretty cold time. I’m thinking next time I might come later in March.’’
I notice Hawks season-ticket holder Dan Baran of Roselle nearby. I notice him because he’s wearing a Marian Hossa jersey and no coat. He’s shivering now, and the weather figures to be brutal after the game.
If he doesn’t have a death wish, he has a death-of-cold wish.
What has possessed him?
“It’s the Hawks game,’’ he says in a tone that suggests it’s not the dumbest question in the world but right up there. “I just wanted to get to a game — not that I don’t go to enough.’’
Baran, 28, got a flat tire on the way to the game and soldiered on. Friends, this is the definition of “want-to.’’
“The United Center people, God bless their soul, put on my spare,’’ he says.
When I ask the coat-less Baran to spell his name for me, he immediately understands the gravity of the situation.
“Yeah, so my mom can yell at me later,’’ he says.
When the game starts, the UC is mostly full, which tells you that Hawks fans are hearty folk. Most of the empty seats are in the pricier 100 level, which tells you that the rich prefer watching Lady Mary on “Downton Abbey’’ to 2013 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy finalist Patrick Kane.
I’m aware that the game is being played indoors, where it’s warm. But there’s a shared experience that comes from smirking at the elements. Something about being in this together and knowing that a monster awaits outside.
For the longest time, the game feels like exactly what it is: a contest in early January in a long season. But then the Hawks’ Niklas Hjalmarsson whips a wrist shot past the Sharks’ Alex Stalock to tie the game 1-1 early in the third. Less than three minutes later, Michal Rozsival scores, and it’s bedlam. The Hawks go on to lose 3-2 in a shootout.
Attendance is announced at 21,599, the 250th consecutive sellout for the Hawks, though the weather has cut into the actual number of brave souls who have shown up. Whatever the number is, it’s impressive.
Cuthbert will be on hand for the next five Hawks home games, including a Jan. 19 date with the Bruins, whom they beat for the Stanley Cup last season.
But that’s for another day. There’s Monday in Chicago to ponder.
“The majority I’ll be staying indoors,’’ he says.
Good man. Good fan.