When I woke up Friday morning, just two days after the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, little did I know what was in store for me. Certainly I thought covering the Hawks parade and rally would be a highlight of the year but to experience it the way that I was able to, was a once in a lifetime event.
It began around 9:30 am, when I arrived at the United Center where the parade was setting up. Double-decker buses were waiting in a parking lot as people assembled for the 10:30 am trip to the rally point at Michigan and Wacker.
First, I took a peek into the rink where so many great memories were made this year. Sitting on the ice like a centerman and two wingers were the Campbell Bowl, the Stanley Cup, and the Conn Smythe Trophy. Just a few pieces of hardware, that’s all. Eventually, the team sat behind them on risers for a picture, but not before Patrick Kane got a call from President Obama. I’m not sure what the conversation was like, but considering Kane’s speech at the rally, I sure hope the CIA was tapping the phone.
Mayor Richard Daley and Governor Pat Quinn also were on hand as the Hawks alumni began to board their bus, then came the players’ families and other front-office personnel. Finally, the current players came out in their red jerseys and boarded the various buses. Each bus had four or five players on it with a couple of bullhorns on each ride to yell at/with the crowd.
I thought I was going to be on a media bus with many other reporters but the Hawks invited a few of us that had covered the team all season to ride on one of the player buses. Best decision they ever made!
The bus that I was on included Dave Bolland, Jordan Hendry, Jasson Cullimore, and Dustin Byfuglien. In front of us was Kris Versteeg, Antti Niemi, Andrew Ladd, and Bryan Bickell. Byfuglien had some wild shades on and the “belt” that he apparently won in Game 5 when he scored the game winner. Off we went.
The moment we left the parking lot the cheering started. It didn’t stop until we got to the rally point. It only got louder. The noise was incredible. This isn’t an arena. It shouldn’t be that loud but it was.
As we made our way down Washington St. more and more fans were seen lining the streets. Watching the players take pictures and videos of the fans taking pictures and videos was quite a site. Then there was a crackle on the c.b. radio. Something happened behind us. The Blues mobile had a flat tire. Oops.
As we approached the Chicago River we went under the bridges near Clinton and Canal. Now, the noise really picked up. For a moment we stopped under the bridge and with the weird acoustics in there the cheering almost sounded like a train coming at us. It was that loud and we had not even reached the loop yet. Next was the river and throngs of people as we headed over Wacker Drive. The confetti started coming as Byfuglien grabbed the bullhorn and started yelling while holding up the belt. We turned on to Michigan Avenue. Mayhem ensued.
The next 15-20 minutes were surreal. With confetti raining down on us and people lining streets and in the windows of all the buildings, the noise became deafening. I tried to do a video interview with Jordan Hendry but we just ended up yelling at each other. I didn’t know until I watched it later what he said and he probably didn’t know what I was asking. It was that loud. I did hear one thing. He said, “I never want this to end.” And I understood why.
And the confetti kept coming. Like rain but flying out of buildings. I could only imagine what it looked like from the helicopters flying above.
Now the scene as we approached the turn onto Wacker Drive was just bedlam. The crowds looked 50 rows deep and the noise never stopped. Bolland was egging them on and they responded. Finally, in a sweltering heat the parade came to a halt and everyone had a chance to catch their collective breath.
I watched the rally from in front of the stage while the highlight package they ran reminded me what a long season it had been. After the rally—which was quite entertaining -- I made my way back to the bus that I had come on. Apparently they had trimmed down the number of buses during the speeches and more people were packed into fewer buses. My bus became the main team bus. 10-12 players must have been on it along with all the coaches and a little silver cup as well. Joel Quenneville came to the top of the double decker holding the Stanley Cup. Nice.
It was packed up there and the Cup made its way up and down the top of that bus. It stopped long enough near the front so I could take a quick picture with it. My year was complete. I sat with Marian Hossa for a few minutes and he told me he couldn’t believe they were chanting his name. Why him, he asked. I told him it was because everyone was so happy for him winning the Cup after two years of losing it. He understood. He said he’s going to take the Cup back to where he grew up and let the kids play some street hockey and the Cup will be the prize.
The buses didn’t go far, just to a local hotel where the team had a nice buffet and I went on my way. Afterall, though it felt like I won the Cup most of the day, I figured it’s time to get back to reality.
On this day it wasn’t about reporting or even being fan, it was about experiencing something that happens in Chicago about every 49 years, though I have a sneaky suspicion it might not take that long for the next one.