There is a time in a young sports fan’s life, around age 9 or 10, when they determine their favorite team.
Sometimes this affinity becomes an infatuation and the youngster’s mood is ruled by the result of the team’s last game. The team’s logo is emblazoned on bedroom walls and nearly every piece of clothing they own. On their nightstand is a biography of the team’s star purchased through a school book sale. And an aunt or uncle becomes their favorite because they, too, love their team.
Most grow out of this extreme fandom as school, work, family and other responsibilities take precedence. For others, however, the team becomes a lifelong infatuation.
For Kevin Cunningham, his team became his life, the good and the bad. He’s written “Home Ice: Confessions of a Blackhawks Fan” (University of Iowa Press; 179 pages; $18), a memoir and history of his team.
Cunningham acquired a deep knowledge of the Blackhawks over the past 40 years, from its stars to its bruisers, as well as its management and owners. Of particular note is Cunningham’s reaction to Blackhawks owner Bill Wirtz’ death. “I didn’t know a single fan who wished him dead or one who mourned him. His passing even failed to evoke nostalgia,” Cunningham writes.
At times it’s an uncomfortable relationship where details of some of players’ lives surpass anything ever appearing in newspaper headlines. And that’s what some Blackhawks fans have been seeking since the team’s Stanley Cup winners of 2010, 2013 and 2015.
It’s taken a fan to lead us where so far no Blackhawks beat writer or columnist has dared go, as Sam Smith did 25 years ago with “The Jordan Rules,” a bestselling behind-the-scenes story of Michael Jordan’s Chicago Bulls.
The memoir portion of “Home Ice” doesn’t always match the Blackhawks’ performance, especially the years of the 2010s. Life doesn’t happen that way. And the humor of Cunningham’s younger days slowly fades as his life becomes more complex.
As with those young fans who don’t grow out of their passion, often people can’t see past the infatuation. Cunningham writes about the gifts he’s received over the years: “The paint-by-numbers kit, like the table hockey game, foreshadowed the ways others would identify me with hockey. The sport in essence became an aspect of my personality.
For male friends wary of showing emotion and female friends reluctant to show too much interest, for co-workers and classmates and mere acquaintances, to say nothing of the none-of-the-aboves roped into attending one of my birthday parties, hockey served the vital social role of providing others with ideas for gifts.”
There’s much more to Cunningham than hockey and the Blackhawks, which prove a distraction from what really matters.
For what fan after their team wins a championship doesn’t ask, “What’s next?”
— Peoria Journal Star Executive Editor Dennis Anderson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @dennisedit.