Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Committed to the Indian?

     What is a bandwagon good for, if not to jump on? As the Blackhawks close in on the Stanley Cup championship, their bandwagon runneth over, and a sizable number of hardcore fans seem to resent the newcomers.
     Are there people who've hopped aboard the Hawks' bandwagon despite not knowing the difference between icing and offsides, between Dustin Byfuglien and Al Secord, between the crease and the slot, or between Jim Cornelison and Wayne Messmer? Sure. And they will probably be screaming the loudest if and when the Hawks bring home the hardware.
     Those fans who long ago "committed to the Indian," in Denis Savard's memorable phrase, should not allow their pleasure to be diminished by the fact that newbies are crashing the party. Inevitably, the Hawks' success is more meaningful to the diehards who have stuck it out through the lean years. But every team in every sport has different levels of fans, ranging from absolutely fanatical to strictly fair-weather. And no one is required to pass a test in order to join in celebrating a championship.
     The real question going forward is how durable Chicago's newfound fascination with the Blackhawks will prove to be. A recent study revealed that only 27 percent of Chicago sports fans follow the Hawks ("following" being defined as attending a game, watching a game on TV, or listening to a game on radio at least once in a year). This compared to 60 percent for the Bears, 55 for the Cubs, 42 for the White Sox, and 36 for the Bulls.
     The answer, of course, will not depend as much on the enlightened leadership of Rocky Wirtz or the marketing savvy of John McDonough as it will depend on the team's performance over a period of years. A lot of self-proclaimed "diehard" Bulls fans left shortly after Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Phil Jackson did, and the Bulls are still seeking to re-establish their relevance.
     For the Hawks, the past several years have produced an almost unbelievable series of successes in every area, both on and off the ice. They had to dig themselves out a hole before they could climb the mountain--and after they have reached the pinnacle, sometime in the next few days, the trick will be to stay there.

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