Stranger in a strange land

Stranger in a strange land

Friday, June 4, 2010
2:38 AM

By Frankie O
CSNChicago.com

When did everything change? That would be Monday, May 24th. While I was enjoying my Flyers win in the Eastern Conference Finals, the reality soon set in on where they were headed, on a collision course with the local heroes. This Blackhawk team has captured the imagination of all of Chicago and the nations hockey fans. I get it. Theyve captured me also, to a point, I just never thought that point would ever have to be dealt with. Well its here and the weirdness for the guy in the red bow tie is everywhere.

MONDAY 524: The Flyers beat the Canadiens 4-2 to win the Easter Conference Finals in five games. It was the Flyers 3rd playoff series win this year, in the 3rd series that they were not supposed to win. There is something about this team. They dont quit. As Ive told people at the bar many times, if you changed the sweaters of the teams, you would still like your team just as much. As soon as the game ended, I received plenty of texts offering congrats, and the obligatory trash talk. Game on! I also started getting ticket requests. Honestly? Good luck with that.

TUESDAY 525: While minding my business at the bar, I was informed that some of the Hawks were in the dining room, including Patrick Kane. Not one to be shy, I went back to say hello to the boys. Upon reaching the table, which also included Adam Burish and Brian Campbell, Kane kind of gave me a smile and asked who I was rooting for. I let them know that if was anyone else, I would be behind them all the way, like I have been for the last 2 years, but I cant quit on my team. Then I wished them luck and all of the tequila they could drink at the bar! YOUNGBLOOD! The collective response was @&&!!

I love hockey players.

WEDNESDAY 526: After much consternation, I turned down an offer from a very good friend to go to Game 2. It was a very hard thing for me to do, but a decision I felt good about. My buddy is a season ticket holder, who sits with a bunch of other season ticket holders. They have been waiting for this most of their lives. To be invited in to their party, hoping that every one of their hockey dreams was dashed, would be bad form. Now if a fellow Flyers fan had made the offer, then it would have been time to represent!

THURSDAY 527: The anticipation is starting to take over. I just want to get on with this. Its very strange for me to listen to my radio shows, read my papers and watch TV and have everyone bashing my Flyers and talking about how the Finals are going to be a cake-walk for the Hawks. For some reason, this is starting to chafe me. I guess blood is thicker than water, or should I say cheesesteaks are thicker than Italian beefs!

FRIDAY 528: One thing I notice during my day shift is a shortage of Philly fans coming into the bar for the big weekend. I do have my Philly regulars, and that helps, as we dare to dream the dream, but there is safety in numbers and all Im seeing is Cardinal fans who are remarking about all of them tall buildins.
On my weekly Chicago Tribune Live bit, I pick the Flyers in six,(What? Im supposed to back down?) and that goes over well. NOT!!
During the way home, as Im talking to my mother, I have to explain to her that I dont want any Eastern Conference Champions gear. Besides making myself more of a target, thats not the gear I want and if the Flyers lose, do I really want to wear any of that stuff AROUND HERE?! I get enough grief for wearing a red bow tie!

SATURDAY 529: GAME 1! The series finally starts, but its be careful what you wish for. The energy in the bar was incredible. Unfortunately for me, I was the only person in a room of 250 people rooting for the bad guys. Working big Chicago games during the last 15 years is something that makes me love my job as much as I do. This game though, was easily the most difficult. We were playing that Chelsea Dagger song at ear-splitting levels to celebrate each Hawk goal, and that seemed to happen about every 5 minutes. I especially enjoyed seeing folks in their new Hawks gear that they bought that day. Nothing like a true fan! Am I bitter? I dont know about that, but losing sucks, and having to get your nose rubbed in it makes it worse. If were going to lose, I hope its quick, and preferably not as excruciating as this game, which the Flyers had every chance to win. I did have two guys come in at the very end of the night wearing Flyers hats though, and at least I left knowing that I wasnt alone. Do I have any beer at my house?

SUNDAY 530: Tough to get out of bed. At my age busy nights take their toll, time to get back at it though. One good thing, I dont have to work on a game night again until Game 5, better to suffer at home. I cant believe the Hawks make the Finals and it has to be against the Flyers. When I start my shift, I see my Flyer guys from the night before. Whats your story? I ask. It turns out one of them is Flyer Jeff Carters father. How cool is that? He tells me that the boys arent down and their confidence remains high. Thank you! I needed that. How about a coldie? Then for me, I had a few other fly bys that were kind of cool. Two writers from my hometown paper (The Delaware County Daily Times) came in the bar looking to talk to me. They made a small video thats in the papers website. Check it out! I pick the Flyers in six, AGAIN! Then some radio guys came in. Well not any radio guys, but the popular hosts of the 610WIP afternoon show, Anthony Gargano and Glen Macnow. Ive been listening to and reading these guys for years. In fact Gargano came in looking for me. He is a long-time friend of Jay Marriotti and Jay has been telling both of us for years that we need to meet each other. I guess he thinks all crazy Philly sports guys should meet! Good guys!

Also in was the Kane family. Patrick often comes in with his folks and three sisters. I always enjoy visiting with them. When I went back to the table they were finishing up dessert and Mrs. Kane teased me that I was avoiding them. I would never do that! Of course I shared the inner conflict that wasis marring my life. We all agreed that Game 2 was definitely not going to be as loose as Game 1. The whole time Im wondering if my heart can take more of this.

Mr. Carter left for a couple hours, then came back to enjoy a few cold ones before we closed. I love hockey dads!

MONDAY 531: GAME 2. Spent a nice quiet day with the family, took the kids to see the new Shrek movie. Watching them react to the 3D was hilarious. Game time was spent nervously in front of the TV. I still cant understand why everybodys not a hockey fan. The action in the series has you on the edge of your seat. Well into the second period, you started to get the feeling that whoever scored first was going to have a huge advantage and probably win. I especially thought so as soon as Hossa scored. Then to follow it up 28 seconds later with Ben Eager? Really? The Flyers dominate the third period, but to no avail as Neimi stands on his head. One thing about a Philly team: They are NEVER going to take the easy route! Down 2-0? Been here before. I need more beer! And I know where to find it. It would seem that Im not alone here in my plight, vastly outnumbered, but not alone. After the game as I was taking out the trash, I was skimming through my Monday Tribune and I stumbled on an article that brought a huge smile to my face. Mad River Bar & Grille in the Lakeview neighborhood is a Philly bar. A Flyers bar! If I ever get clearance from the tower, Im there! Theyre going to love This Guy! But definitely after a win, otherwise, it would be too depressing, just like home.

TUESDAY 61: Im still trying to decide, as I open my mail, if the fact that my aunt sent me all sorts of Eastern Conference Champions paraphernalia is a good thing or a good sign. At least I know she cares. All of my co-workers cant wait to say hello and check out my mental state as I come in to start my shift. I still have faith, I tell them. They just smirk and nod their heads at me. For some reason, I dont think, they care! For the love of god, if the Flyers are going to lose, please have it end soon! Its hard to explain, well not if youre a Cubs fan, how you can go from such a positive, euphoric state to utter despair in a matter of days. Never the less, maybe some good can come from it. I played the Philly sympathy angle all night with my customers. It was cathartic and profitable at the same time. Hey! Whatever it takes, Ive got mouths to feed!

WEDNESDAY 62: GAME 3. Because of a commitment I made to my daughter 6 months ago, I had to go the Sox game instead of working my usual Wednesday night shift. I was kind of glad not to have to face all of the Hawks fans at the bar, but then again I did have to watch the Sox. Took her and her friend early so we could catch some BP and walk around the stadium. The left field stands were pretty empty when we got there, just a few others, like us, trying to get a BP home run ball. We didnt have much luck with that, but as he was shagging flies, the Texas Rangers Neftali Feliz gave in to my daughters pleas and threw her a ball. Whatever it takes! Maybe this will be good night after all. I secretly show her that under the Sox jersey Im wearing is a Flyers shirt! Her eyes grew wide. Can I tell anyone? She wanted to know. Nope. Thats our secret. Dont need daddy getting pounded in the stands. After eating a beef sandwich(good) and a grilled polish with onions(very good!) it was time to settle in and watch Gavin Floyd, once again, implode, by the tune of 6 runs in less than three innings. Wheres my phone? My phone was a little behind the live feed, which a large crowd was watching on the concourse at the top of my aisle. The loud cheers out of nowhere told me what the phone was about to. With a tie score to start the third period, I was jonesing to go to the top of the aisle, but the girls were having a great time watching the game, oblivious to the score. Oh, to be young again! Then I heard the cheer, Hawks were up 3-2 in the third. This was not good. Then in what seemed like two seconds while everyone around me was cheering, a girl says, Wait! The Flyers just scored! I love that team! As the constant drizzle started on the 56 degree night, that was my cue to head to shelter, and a flat screen! The girls sat next to some of their other friends who were at the game and had fun in the rain. That while daddy did not belie the fact of his rooting interest with the large group at the top of section 116. Then, the game was over, just as regulation was ending in the hockey game. Time for some pictures along the field and the long walk back to the car. I would let the reaction of the people around me tell me my fate. As we neared the car my phone blew up. Hopefully this could only mean one thing, and it did. This would be a fun ride home. Would you ladies want to get anything on the way home? Daddys buying! I found it much easier watching the game after I got home, already knowing the outcome. What a relief.
THURSDAY 63: A perfect day outside. The mood in the house was fun, as the kids anticipated their last day of the school year on Friday. For their father it might have been the last day of fun that I would have during the hockey season. It was a day full of hope as for what might be. Either way, I know the next week is going to be strange, I just hope its strange in a good way. Never a dull moment!

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

Wonky streaks, good fortune over Cavs on the line for Bulls

No matter the metric or the occasion, the only thing definitive about the Bulls over the last two seasons has been their mystifying dominance over the Cleveland Cavaliers in head-to-head matchups.

That, and their fascinating streak of consecutive wins while playing at home on TNT, a streak that could end at 19 games Thursday night when the two teams with varying objectives clash at the United Center.

The Cavaliers are searching to find themselves, along with a light switch that will perhaps alert them to a lost defense over the past several weeks that has been worst in the league since the All-Star break.

The Bulls are searching for consistency, but since it’s probably a little too late in the season for that, they’ll settle for a playoff spot with eight games left.

They’ll take two straight wins for the first time in a month, if they can get it.

They’ll extend a goofy streak, if that’s what things will come down to.

“The big thing is obviously you have to execute very well against this Cleveland team,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said. “You have to go out there with great urgency, great energy. I anticipate them coming in and playing with a ton of energy tomorrow. We’re going to have to match that. We’re going to have to come out and play physical basketball.”

Having a big break between games this late in the season is a rarity, as the Bulls have been off since Sunday evening, but it’s just another weird detail in this weird Bulls experience.

An experience that the mild-mannered Hoiberg has to experience from his couch some nights, such as watching the Miami Heat furiously steal a game in Detroit at the buzzer with a Hasaan Whiteside tip-in to extend a lead over his team to a game, followed by another win Wednesday to put more distance between the two teams.

“I did, actually,” said Hoiberg with a smirk when asked if he’s scoreboard watching and paying attention to the teams ahead of the Bulls in the playoff race.

After being prompted to give his raw emotions when Whiteside’s tip-in occurred, he slipped right back to Robo-Hoiberg—although one can imagine how animated he must’ve been while looking to catch a break from a previous contender for the eighth spot in the Pistons.

“It is what it is,” Hoiberg said. “You have to go out and worry about yourselves at this time of year. It was a great finish for Miami, obviously, the way that game ended. But there’s nothing you can do about that. You’ve got to worry about yourselves and hopefully go out and execute.”

Going 6-1 against the Cavaliers in his two seasons as Bulls coach is probably the biggest feather in his cap, including three wins in all three meetings this go round.

The rhyme or reason doesn’t seem explainable, but Nikola Mirotic seemed to give a few keys to the Bulls’ success over LeBron James’ Cavaliers: Sharing the ball, controlling the glass and getting back on defense.

“Against big teams, we play much better,” Mirotic said. “I don’t know why is the reason for that. We need to find a way to play against everybody like that. It’s on us. We just have to prove it.”

Usually, those tenets seem to work against most teams, not just the supremely talented champions who’ve just lost a grip on first place in the conference.

But their inconsistencies have left the Bulls here with a handful of games left before the April 12th finale.

A win over Cleveland could mean everything, or nothing at all, or something in between.

“Sure, we understand,” Mirotic said. “We’ve been in a very similar situation last year. We didn’t make the playoffs so this year we want to try to make that push. I think we have a good schedule for the last. Very important game tomorrow, huge one. I think we have played very well against Cleveland until now. We have a chance. We need to get out there and play with energy.” 

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