Extra Point

By Mike Fitzgerald

Wednesday, May 21, 1997

A crazy trip:
Cubs win! Bulls lose!?

OH, my aching head.

Three weeks in Chicago will do that to a lad returning to his homeland.

Here is my vacation film, which I will run at fast-forward so you don't fall asleep.

Flying in at sunrise and seeing the Chicago skyline for the first time in a year. Plenty of cold beer. Even colder weather. Snow on May 15th. Neighborhood taverns without windows (One had a pistol hanging on the wall and a sign beneath it reading: We Don't Call 911). Playing golf in freezing rain. The magnificent Art Institute. Off-track horse betting. My 25th high school reunion. The great Mike Royko died. DePaul head basketball coach Joey Meyer fired. A first Holy Communion for one relative. Last rites for another (she survived). Great reunions with so many family members and friends. The best pizza, ribs and Italian beef sandwiches. Watching the White Sox and Cubs actually win -- and bad-boy Albert Belle getting the game-winning RBI in the Sox game. Awesome blues music at historic Kingston Mines. Riding the el. Did I mention 12-ounce Old Styles by the truckload?

OK. Thanks for being polite and not nodding off.

Now for another major highlight of the trip: Da Bulls.

How crazy is the Windy City over its defending champion NBA team?

I saw a nun wearing a Bulls hat at Midway Airport. In my rush to see which suitcases fell into the ocean en route, I didn't stop to ask her name, but I swear it's true.

Later, I read where a group of nuns gather (religiously, I guess you could say) to watch every Bulls playoff game on TV.

THEN there was the story about an elderly woman who knit quilts for each member of the team.

Everywhere you look it's Bulls, Bulls, Bulls.

I saw a young executive-type man walking down Michigan Avenue, smartly dressed in an expensive suit. Nothing unusual about that, right? Except that he was wearing a Bulls hat that featured two sizable horns on the top of it.

Young and old and middle-aged of all races and backgrounds wore Bulls hats, jackets and T-shirts of all shapes and sizes. And that wasn't only on game days.

I was fortunate enough to see the Bulls play the Atlanta Hawks in the second game of the second-round series at the United Center, my first look at the new stadium and the first Bulls game in about 10 years.

The laser-show introduction -- And NOW, your Chicago Bulls! -- brought tears, which prompted my brother to remark: "What the hell is wrong with you?"

My response: "Shaddup and go get two more beers before tip-off."

His response: "OK."

The game was a blast, except that the Bulls actually lost -- the "Fitz Jinx" rearing its ugly head.

The crowd was much more upscale and trendy than the old Chicago Stadium bunch, but it was a treat nonetheless.

SERIOUSLY, Chicago sports fans haven't had much to get excited about except for Michael Jordan and the Bulls for many, many years.

The White Sox, Cubs and Blackhawks have had a few splashes of glory, but nothing as terrific as the Bulls' run of titles -- and another one on the way this season.

One friend said that Jordan should be credited with revitalizing much of the city, especially the near West Side, which used to be the most dangerous and impoverished neighborhood. Jordan's popularity built the United Center and it brought people from the suburbs into the city. A lot of them decided to stay and invest.

Plus, it is sports at its best -- a distraction and relief from the personal day-to-day grind and problems.

The words of one of my favorite poets, Gwendolyn Brooks, perfectly describe Chicagoans' feelings when it comes to Da Bulls:

"City of the out-stuck neck."

Mike Fitzgerald's commentary appears every
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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