A taste of Windy City hits town - East Valley Tribune: Sports

A taste of Windy City hits town

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Posted: Thursday, August 21, 2003 12:01 am | Updated: 2:22 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

Bill Holden sits alone at Sluggo's Sports Grill in Mesa, wearing a face that is equal parts pain, patience and hope.

With his right hand he inspects a bottle of Miller Genuine Draft, a less-than-adequate substitute for the Old Style this one-time Chicago watering hole used to offer.

His eyes, Cubby blue, shift alternately between the horde of Diamondbacks fans invading his once-pristine space, and a small, high television screen to which his team has been relegated.

“This is the biggest bandwagon town in the country," Holden says with disgust. “People here don't understand what it means to be a real sports fan."

Holden does, because he is a Cubs fan and a Bears fan — a Chicago-area native who has seen the worst of times with both teams, and little of the best.

This weekend the Mesa resident will be treated to a Windy City doubleheader when the Cubs open a three-game series against the Diamondbacks tonight at Bank One Ballpark and the Bears face the Cardinals in an NFL exhibition game tonight at Sun Devil Stadium.

Based on history, Phoenix's sporting venues will be packed with Chicago transplants, myself included.

“It will feel like I'm home again," said Holden, 55, who has lived in Arizona for 27 years.

Home, to Chicagoans, is a place of mythical proportions — a place that Norman Mailer called "the last of the great American cities." It's where Mayor Richard J. Daley ruled the Democratic Party and where pizza was perfected — where the hot dogs never come with ketchup and fans never switch allegiances.

Maybe that's why Holden and a friend performed the Super Bowl Shuffle on state Route 69 near Prescott when the Bears won the NFC Championship in 1985.

“There was a line of cars that couldn't go anywhere because he had pulled up right next to me and we were blocking both lanes," said Holden, at the time a school teacher.

When Holden's parents died, he inherited $18,000. He used the money to take his students to Chicago for a three-game set at Wrigley Field.

But Holden knows home is also where the heartbreak is.

It's where Walter Payton and Harry Caray died too young, where Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers, Billy Williams and Ernie Banks toiled in vain. Where the Bears have won just one Super Bowl and the Cubs haven't won the Series since Teddy Roosevelt was president.

“If the Cubs ever win the World Series, it will be like a nuclear explosion went off in Chicago," said Holden while watching the North Siders post a 6-0 win over the rival Houston Astros on Wednesday to pull within a half game of first place.

“People there have been waiting for a championship for so long. I still believe it will happen."

The law of averages is on his side. It has been 95 years since the 1908 Cubs edged the Detroit Tigers to claim their last title. But as a pragmatic, fellow Chicago sports fan I find it hard to share Holden's optimism. In my lifetime alone the 1969 club blew a 9 1/2-game, mid-August lead to the Mets; commissioner Peter Ueberroth stole home field advantage (and some say the National League pennant) from the 1984 club because it had no lights to play night baseball; and a couple of decent, but not-so-close teams fell in the first round of the 1989 and 1998 playoffs.

In between, I've seen a whole lot of miserable seasons.

The Bears? Well, there was Jim McMahon's interception in the end zone against Washington that stalled a second Super Bowl drive. There was Sweetness coming up a couple yards short on the last carry of his career. And there was Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb ruining a storybook 2001 season. Historians tell us the name "Chicago" derives from an Indian word for wild onion or skunk. My personal belief: Chi-ca-go is the Blackhawk tribe's phrase for pain and suffering.

But hope sprouts like ivy every year in Chicago. And, amidst all our despair, there's one solace to which we still cling:

At least the Chicago Cardinals left town.

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