Rooting Interest

Rooting Interest

Friday, Jan. 22, 2010
12:35 AM

It happens every year at this time. You know. The winter blahs. The hectic, euphoric rush of the holidays is over and for most of us all of its remnants are put away leaving everything looking bare. (That is unless youre that person in the neighborhood that STILL has their Christmas light up!)

Add to that, the bills are coming in (The Jersey Shore Barbie and Situation Ken cost what?) and we are only two months into the 6 months of Chicago winter, things are starting to look bleak. Of course for me there is also another reason for the bad feelings this time of year. (Isnt there always?) Its the NFL Playoffs. For me theyve always presented the ultimate dilemma. Thats because I realize, once again, that my team is not going to win. That I understood this going in isnt much of a consolation. Its one of the great ironies of life I guess, that someone who is as big a fan of the NFL as I am would be tortured by its ending each year. Isnt that funny? (For all of you Cub fans out there: Zip it! Youve had enough other things, Jordan, to ease your pain!) That I now reside in a city that treats its only Super Bowl win 24 years ago as the second coming makes it only funnier. Doesnt it?

So as I watch the two games on Sunday, it will be with tempered enthusiasm. Dont get me wrong, its my favorite day of football of the year. Im not feeling sorry, I think, jealous, would be the right word. Because, as the fans of the two teams that win on Sunday will find out, being that close will make your head explode. For a fan, there is no rush like your team winning it all, and of all of the sports, I dont think it gets any bigger than the NFL. A win this Sunday puts your team in the Super Bowl and you have two weeks to get ready. It can be the most wonderful two weeks of your rooting life. For someone like me its a dangerous time, as Red would tell Andy, because there is hope. It only figures then, that losing a Super Bowl is the ultimate downer. I would think that would be especially true for three of the four remaining teams.

For as much as a Philadelphia Eagles fan has suffered, over and over, fans of the Jets, Vikings and Saints are right there with them. Ill include the Jets in this even though they have a Super Bowl victory, probably the biggest ever, because it was over forty years ago. A lot of broken dreams in forty years. An Eagles fan can relate. Besides which, in New York, Jets fans are looked down upon. Normally I would find it funny, and also look down on them, and I have, but them being so close has me thinking of how much theyve endured. (Am I getting soft?!) Realistically I would think that this is the end of the line for this years Jets. They remind me of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of Tony Dungy that ran into the Greatest Show on Turf in the 1999 NFC title game. That game was also one that featured the high-powered offense versus the brick wall defense, the tipping point being that the team with the defense didnt have much play out of the QB and could run the ball, sound familiar? That game ended 11-6 in favor of the team with the offense. This Jets team, like that Bucs one is offensively a couple of years away from being the team to beat. (Tampa took 3 more.) So for a Jets team that was 9-7 and basically lucked its way into the playoffs, its been nice, we have some lovely parting gifts. I have a feeling that they will make their presence felt before they leave, but it wont be enough.

On the NFC side is where it gets really interesting. These are two tortured franchises. High praise from an Eagles fan. In Minnesota, theyve lost FOUR Super Bowls. Ouch! Not only that, in 1998, the Vikings were 15-1 and in the title game, at home, and leading with 2:07 left in the game. Their kicker, Gary Anderson had a 38 yard field goal to give them a ten point lead and punch their ticket to the Super Bowl. Of course, he missed it. His only miss all year! Atlanta then proceeded to tie the game and then win it in over-time. Dirty Bird! I wanted to get sick when I watched that. A loss like that put a serious hurt on the psyche of a fan for a long time. The players change, time moves on and the hurt stays. That team never really recovered, good but not good enough, including the infamous 41-0 loss to the Giants in the title game two years later. And did I mention the 4 Super Bowl losses? Or the Hail Mary game against the Cowboys? Can you imagine whats going on in the minds of Vikings fans right now? I can!

On the other side you have the New Orleans Saints. 6 playoff appearances in 43 years! Thats more than broken dreams, its heartbreaking. Why would you be a Saints fan? (I know why!) Do you like pain and suffering? Are you in such a Mardi Gras haze that you dont realize whats going on? And who dat could forget the Aints of the early 1980s? Yes this is one team that even a hardened cynic like myself wouldnt have a problem seeing win, theyve earned it. Also I have to mention that on the Saturday night before the 2006 NFC title game between the Saints and Bears was one of the most fun nights Ive had in the bar in my 15 years there. There was a line out the door. Saints fans everywhere! They were singing and dancing, and yes, drinking to their hearts content. It was a sight to behold. And after what they had endured with Katrina, who could blame them? They were happy to be ANYWHERE, let alone watching their team one step from the Super Bowl. We know how that ended, but I had so many of them come back in on Sunday, after what I know as a tough loss, to thank me for how much fun they had. That is something Ill never forget.

So I guess you can tell what team Im rooting for. While Im at work, Ill be riveted to the TV and cheering on the game (and my side bets) with everyone else, but Ill also realize how much it means to three fan bases far away from here. I know that for any one of them, two more wins will mean more than winning a game. It will mean an end to a seeming lifetime of suffering. Yeah, Im jealous (and soft!). But, of course, if Indy ends up winning it all, theres going to be a familiar feeling in those three fan bases. Very familiar, trust me. Same as it ever was!

Fast Break Morning Update: Josh Sitton named to Pro Bowl; Blackhawks-Lightning on CSN

Fast Break Morning Update: Josh Sitton named to Pro Bowl; Blackhawks-Lightning on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

CSN will air six Cubs spring training games in 2017

Cubs' Carl Edwards Jr. looks to follow in Mariano Rivera's footsteps

NBA Buzz: With trade deadline looming, Bulls' season at a crossroads

Bears' Josh Sitton finds fourth Pro Bowl most meaningful yet

Report: Cubs preparing to roll the dice with Brett Anderson

Extra incentive fuels Tanner Kero in second stint with Blackhawks

Four top prospects among 19 players invited to White Sox big league camp

NBA Insiders Notebook: Trade rumors heating up

Five B1G-gest things: Indiana wins first game without Anunoby, Michigan 'white collar' no more

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Five Things to Watch: Blackhawks host Lightning tonight on CSN

Watch as the Blackhawks take on the Tampa Bay Lightning tonight on CSN and streaming live on CSNChicago.com. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. with Blackhawks Pregame Live. Then stick around after the final buzzer to watch Blackhawks Postgame Live for highlights and analysis.

Click here to watch the game or download the NBC Sports App, your home for live streaming coverage of the Blackhawks.

Five Things to Watch:

1. Grab the first goal.

The Blackhawks have scored the game's first goal in seven of the last eight games, and of those seven, they've won six of them. Meanwhile, the Lightning have scored the first goal only 17 times in 48 games this season, and are 12-5-1 in those games. They're 9-17-4 when they allow the first goal, so getting out to a lead first will be important against a struggling Lightning team looking for signs of life.

2. Will the floodgates open for Jonathan Toews?

After a four-point game in a 4-2 win over Vancouver, the Blackhawks captain matched his point total over his previous nine games. He's up to 26 points on the season, which is now fifth among Chicago forwards. When Toews has offensive droughts, they usually last longer than they should. But when he gets hot, he gets extremely hot. Perhaps we'll see the floodgates open offensively.

3. A chance for the team lead in scoring.

With an empty-net goal on Sunday, Marian Hossa tied Artem Anisimov for the team-lead with 18 goals. Artemi Panarin is right behind with 17, and Patrick Kane isn't far either at 15. The Blackhawks had four 20-goal scorers last season, and haven't had more than that since the 2013-14 season. They're definitely on pace to hit four, but could they surprass that? Richard Panik, who scored another goal Sunday as well, is fifth with 11 goals while Ryan Hartman has 10. Toews is at eight, but a flurry after a drought could make things interesting.

4. The triplets reunited?

In an effort to jumpstart a struggling offense, Lightning coach Jon Cooper reunited the triplets line of Tyler Johnson, Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat that was so successful during their 2015 playoff run in their latest game, a 5-3 loss to Arizona. It's unclear whether they will begin tonight's game on the same line, but if not, it's worth watching throughout the game whether they do. The Blackhawks have been coming at opponents in waves lately, so Cooper could look to separate the three to distribute the scoring.

5. Take advantage on special teams.

The Lightning have racked up the fifth-most penalty minutes in the league, and own a bottom-10 penalty kill unit at 80.1 percent. The Blackhawks are the second-least penalized team, and have converted on 17.9 percent of their power plays, which sits at 16th. But they haven't scored one on the man advantage in five straight games, going 0-for-9 during that span. Here's a chance to change that.

[SHOP: Gear up, Blackhawks fans!]

- Check out the latest stats and standings to make sure you’re ready for action

- Channel Finder: Make sure you know where to watch

- NBC Sports App FAQ: All your questions answered

- Latest on the Blackhawks: All of the most recent news and notes

- See what Blackhawks fans are talking about before, during and after the game with Blackhawks Pulse