“One day, in the not-too-distant future, Chicago hockey fans won’t have their skin crawl or their blood curdle whenever someone mentions the year 1961.”
They don’t win Stanley Cups in Chicago. Not lately, at least—if your definition of “lately” can be broadened to include most of the past five decades.
In Chicago, the Stanley Cup is something everyone else wins. The only time it passes through town is if Chris Chelios brings it home with him as a member of the Red Wings, to show off.
Bobby Hull led the last Blackhawks team to the Cup, and when he did, Bobby had hair—real hair. Son Brett, who’s into his fourth year of retirement, wasn’t even born yet.
But don’t get too cocky, Red Wings fans. Don’t get too smug in your little Hockeytown.
You’ve been there. You’ve been over 40 years into a Cup-less drought, so wipe those smirks off your faces.
The number 61 has some magic to it, in the world of sports.
61, as in the number of home runs Roger Maris hit, breaking Babe Ruth’s single season record. Done in 1961.
John F. Kennedy was three months into his presidency when the Blackhawks last won hockey’s Holy Grail—in ’61.
It wasn’t all that long ago when the year 1955 had a ghoulish, infamous meaning for Red Wings fans. And players.
1955—the last Stanley Cup won in Detroit. By Gordie Howe and company.
A young Gordie Howe, no less.
Howe was 69 years old when the Red Wings finally broke through in 1997, some 42 years after Gordie, Ted Lindsay, Terry Sawchuk, Johnny Wilson, and the gang skated the Cup into the dressing room.
There was no pomp and circumstance in those days, for winning the Stanley Cup.
“They brought a table out to center ice, put the Cup on it, and [NHL President] Clarence Campbell would hand it to the captain,” Lindsay told me a few years ago. “Then you skated it into the dressing room, and Mr. Adams expected you to do it again the next year.”
That would be Jack Adams, the chubby, bulbous-nosed tyrant who ran the Red Wings, first as coach, then as general manager.
Eventually, Adams would trade Lindsay, as punishment for daring to try to organize a players union.
That Red Wings Cup in 1955 gave birth to a tradition, thanks to captain Teddy Lindsay.
“I just thought that the fans deserved a look at the Cup before we took it into the dressing room,” Lindsay explained to me. “So, on a whim more or less, I took it and started to skate around the ice with it, showing it to the fans.
“I did it before Mr. Adams, or anyone else, could stop me,” Lindsay added with that famous scarred, crooked grin of his.
So the next time you see a team captain parade the Stanley Cup around the rink, held high over his head, you can thank Ted Lindsay.
Bobby Hull no doubt took a turn around the ice with the Cup in 1961.
Fewer and fewer people are remaining alive who can remember it.
In professional, team sports, 48 years without a championship is both incomprehensible and unacceptable. And demoralizing.
When the Red Wings were being dumped out of the 1996 conference finals in Colorado, the fans in Denver taunted the visitors from Detroit. It didn’t take much.
All they had to do was hold up poster board with the year “1955” painted onto it, blood red. And several of them did.
It was all that needed to be said.
The ’97 team put an end to all that nonsense, and in doing so, one Original Six team became the NHL’s longest-running slapstick act.
The Chicago Blackhawks, coming to a hockey rink near you!
Five of the Original Six brethren have Stanley Cups won since 1961.
Detroit. Montreal. Boston. Toronto. Even the stinking New York Rangers, who went 54 years (1940-94) between Cups.
The Blackhawks are the cheese that stands alone. A big, rotting gob of Limburger.
The Red Wings are everything the Blackhawks, and every other NHL franchise for that matter, would like to be.
This season, the Blackhawks, led by young, spectacular talent like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, gave the Red Wings a run for their money for Central Division supremacy—for about half a season.
Still, it was half a season longer than the Blackhawks can usually manage.
So it will be Detroit-Chicago for the right to play in the Cup Finals.
Motor vs. Windy. Depression vs. Recession. Coney dogs vs. Deep dish pizza.
Feast vs. Famine.
Chicago sports, once you get past Michael Jordan, isn’t exactly awash with success.
The White Sox stumbled upon a World Series title in 2005, the team’s first in over 80 years.
The Cubs? 101 years and counting.
Makes the Blackhawks’ 1961 Stanley Cup look like a dynasty.
The Bears? No championships since 1985—the last one before that, in 1963.
And that’s pretty much it.
But not for much longer.
This year’s Blackhawks, with Kane and Toews and company, have the makings of a Cup-winning outfit.
But not today.
The Red Wings had the Blackhawks nipping at their heels around the holidays. Looming was a home-and-home set—December 30 and New Year’s Day. First in Detroit, then in Chicago. For the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field.
The Red Wings enjoy little challenges like that during the regular season. Keeps them interested.
In Detroit, the Red Wings hogtied the ‘Hawks, 4-0. Two days later, playing outside in the snow at Wrigley, the Red Wings beat them again, 6-4.
The Blackhawks weren’t really heard from again, when it came to who might win the division.
It’ll be more of the same in the conference finals. The Red Wings, scared to death by the Anaheim Ducks, are duly awakened after their first round lullaby with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Much will be made of this matchup, because of its Original Six roots. The league office likely needs drool cups.
But it will be much ado about nothing.
The Blackhawks aren’t ready yet to topple the Red Wings. Their time isn’t here, yet.
But it’s coming.
One day, in the not-too-distant future, Chicago hockey fans won’t have their skin crawl or their blood curdle whenever someone mentions the year 1961.
When Bobby Hull had hair.