PHILADELPHIA -- To a man, the Hawks fulfilled their lifetime hockey dreams when they hit Patrick Kane on the other side of the ice with a rugby-type scrum seconds after his Stanley Cup-clinching goal Wednesday night.
Kane had no other choice but to finally solve Michael Leighton with that tough-angle shot through his legs. Not just to reverse some bad momentum that had just swung the Flyers way, but to ensure the Hawks' place in the city's sports landscape for decades to come.
Figure this out. If the Hawks had lost Game 6, then something very Chicago-like took place in a Game 7, a lot of the goodwill and enthusiasm the skyrocketing franchise had built up would have been pricked like a balloon.
Remember, the Hawks had elevated themselves from a poor fifth out of five major local pro franchises just four years ago. They're still the least-indigenous sport to Chicago, as a limited percentage of the populace knows how to skate, and only a tiny portion of that group ever was coordinated enough, motivated enough or affluent enough to play competitive hockey. Compare that to the massive number of us who have swung a bat, shot a basketball or caught a football just goofin' around outside.
Only possession of the Cup itself assures the Hawks equal position with the other franchises and in the limelight. The stirring victory has great timing. If the Bulls land LeBron James, the media will simply collapse on the NBA franchise to examine LBJ's every move. A championship hockey team at least has a good counterweight to LBJ fever, which would inflate the actual level of pro basketball interest. If you recall, at the peak of His Airness' reign, Chicago was called a Michael Jordan town, not an NBA town.
And just around the corner is opening of Bears camp. If there's anything sports-talk radio loves in Chicago is all-Bears, all-the-time, down to the technicalities of the down-and-out. Remember Mike Martz fever a few months back? The Score's Dan McNeil was a happy man ambling about the ice among the celebrating Hawks after the game Wednesday night. Danny Mac is a hockey fan. But that's second to his absolute devotion to the pigskin. Mac once proposed an all-football radio station.
Further helping the Hawks is the crippled state of our two baseball teams. Hawks fever was a salve as both the Sox and Cubs kept sinking, sinking, sinking. That took a lot of needed spotlight over the baseball teams' troubles. Even the Hawks' victory parade and rally takes attention away from the opening of the Sox-Cubs crosstown duel at Wrigley Field Friday.
The Hawks were like the old Avis rent-a-car commercial. They had to try harder. Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are young and telegenic. They'll have staying power. Hockey is here to stay.
But while it's a big deal, the management from Rocky Wirtz, John McDonough and Jay Blunk on down must remember to keep the team accessible. Never, ever sell out the United Center with season tickets no matter how hard the temptation. Sports marketing operates from the philosophy of scarcity of tickets spurring advance sales. Yet hockey interest is not as deep as football and baseball, so the Hawks brass must proceed with care.
The Hawks are by far the best story of the year and probably our best-managed franchise. Wirtz wants it known as one of the elite organizations in all of sports. The affable chairman must take care to keep the high ground his minions have so skillfully attained.