Pro Sports in Chicago
You can't talk about Chicago for long without hearing the name of at least one of its storied sports legends: Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Walter "Sweetness" Payton, William "Refrigerator" Perry, Ernie Banks, "Slammin'" Sammy Sosa, "Shoeless" Joe Jackson. Sports fandom runs through the city's veins, win or lose. One of the best ways to experience the true spirit of Chicago is to join its fiercely loyal fans at a game.
Even people who don't know the gridiron from a nine-iron are familiar with "Da Bears," as immortalized in the famous Saturday Night Live skit. Chicago's hard-fought, smash-mouth brand of football has made the Monsters of the Midway the winningest franchise in NFL history; they won their 700th game in 2010. The team made it to the Super Bowl in 2006, eventually losing to the Colts, but after a disappointing 2011 season, general manager Jerry Angelo was fired and Phil Emery took over the reins. Despite a promising 7-1 start to the 2012 season, the Bears narrowly missed the playoffs with a final record of 10-6.
Where They Play : Soldier Field 1410 South Museum Campus Drive, Near South Side
Season : August–December
How to Buy Tickets : Ticketmaster 312/559–1212 www.chicagobears.com
Most Notable Players : Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka, Sid Luckman, Bronko Nagurski, Walter Payton, Gale Sayers
Past Highlights : Jim McMahon's "statement" headbands and eventual Hall of Famer Richard Dent's stellar play helped the team shuffle right up to the Vince Lombardi Trophy after winning Super Bowl XX.
Although the days of Air Jordan, three-peats, and Dennis Rodman in wedding dresses may be firmly in the rearview mirror, the legacy established by winning six championships in eight years has sustained the team's popularity, even through the leaner years that followed. Now, a new squad of fresh faces, led by consensus 2011 MVP Derrick Rose, is looking to put its stamp on the next Bulls dynasty. While Rose missed the entire 2012-2013 season due to an injury, the team still made the Eastern Conference Finals. They lost to the Miami Heat, but five consecutive years of playoff appearances indicate that the Bulls are back in the game for good.
Where They Play : United Center 1901 W. Madison St., near West Side
Season : October–April
How to Buy Tickets : Ticket office 312/455–4000 www.bulls.com
Most Notable Players : Michael Jordan, Dennis Rodman, Scottie Pippen, Toni Kukoc
Past Highlights : The Bulls owned the 1990s, becoming the only team in NBA history to win more than 70 games in a season in 1995–96 with an incredible 72–10 record.
Note : Don't leave the game early to wander this area at night. There's no street parking, so plan to park in a nearby parking lot.
Cubbies fans are certainly loyal, sticking by their "boys in blue" for 102 championship-free years. Some blame the record losing streak on a curse made by Billy Sianis, owner of the Billy Goat Tavern, after he and his ticket-holding goat were booted from Wrigley during Game 4 of the 1945 Cubs–Tigers World Series. The ensuing years have had their share of goats, but with new ownership, a new manager in Mike Quade, and several promising young players, hope springs eternal for the Lovable Losers.
Where They Play : Wrigley Field 1060 W. Addison St., Lakeview
Season : April–September
How to Buy Tickets : Ticket office 773/404–2827 www.chicago.cubs.mlb.com
Most Notable Players : Ernie Banks, Ron Santo, Ryne Sandberg, Sammy Sosa
Past Highlights : "Slammin'" Sammy Sosa played a major role in reawakening Americans' interest in baseball in 1998 as he battled Mark McGwire in a historic chase for the home run record, finishing with 66 home runs.
Note : Take a 90-minute tour of the Friendly Confines for $25 per person.
Chicago White Sox
The South Side favorites won the World Series in 2005, sweeping the Astros in four games. Since then, though, the Sox have made the playoffs only once, when they won the AL Central in 2008. In 2011 manager Ozzie Guillen was replaced by former third baseman Robin Ventura, but so far performance has been uneven. The team spent much of 2012 in first place, only to slide downhill dramatically in the final weeks of the season.
Where They Play : U.S. Cellular Field 333 W. 35th St., South Side
Season : April–September
How to Buy Tickets : Ticket office 312/674–1000 www.whitesox.mlb.com
Most Notable Players : "Shoeless" Joe Jackson, Nellie Fox, Luis Aparicio, Harold Baines, Frank Thomas
Past Highlights : In July 2009 Mark Buehrle, a veteran pitcher who has spent his entire career with the White Sox, notched the second perfect game in the team's history, earning him a congratulatory phone call from President Obama (an avowed Sox fan).
Note : The area around the Cell is sketchy—don't leave valuables in your car, and be careful getting back to your car at night.
Though the Hawks have led the NHL in attendance for the last three seasons, they too were hit by the seemingly citywide championship drought, having failed to win a Stanley Cup since 1961. But that's all changed: four straight years in the playoffs have seen two championships, with the Cup coming back to the Windy City in both 2010 and 2013. Owner Rocky Wirtz, the son of much-maligned owner William "Dollar Bill" Wirtz, deserves credit for changing ownership policies to attract elite talent—and fans—back to the United Center.
Where They Play : United Center 1901 W. Madison St., Near West Side
Season : October–April
How to Buy Tickets : Ticket office 800/745–3000 www.blackhawks.nhl.com
Most Notable Players : Stan Mikita, Pierre Pilote, Bobby Hull, Denis Savard, Tony Esposito
Past Highlights : The Hawks brought the Cup home to Chicago in 2010 on a thrilling sudden-death overtime goal by Patrick Kane to beat the Flyers in Game 6. Even the Chicago Picasso donned a hockey mask in celebration.
Note : There is no street parking near the United Center, so plan to park in a nearby parking lot.
The fledgling WNBA team's 2006 debut ended in last place in the Eastern Conference, but they've improved steadily since then with the help of standout center Sylvia Fowles, just missing the playoffs in 2009. The season runs from June to September at the Allstate Arena, outside Chicago in Rosemont. Allstate Arena, 6920 Mannheim Rd., Rosemont 866/759–9622 www.wnba.com/sky.
The Chicago Fire S.C. (Soccer Club) ended its first season in 1998 by taking home the MLS Cup and the U.S. Open Cup. They were also champs in 2000, 2003, and 2006. Though the team has struggled at home since moving from Soldier Field to their own stadium, Toyota Park, in 2006, they have a distinctive and strong fan base and traditions. The Fire play from April to October. Toyota Park, 7300 W. 71st St., Bridgeview 888/657–3473 www.chicago-fire.com.
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