In A-side/B-side, two Milwaukee Record writers tackle various city issues in an informal, crosstalk style. Insults are hurled, feelings are hurt, and everyone learns something in the end. Maybe.
Tyler Maas: As I’m sure you’re well aware, Vince, Wisconsin is currently in the midst of playoff fever. No, I’m not talking about the NBA Finals, nor am I referencing the possibility of the Major League-like franchise turnaround necessary to get Craig Counsell’s Brewers into even the periphery of the postseason conversation. Rather, a sizable group of people in Milwaukee—and throughout the state, really—are watching the NHL’s final series of the season with a definitive rooting interest for…a team from Chicago. Despite currently trailing the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in the Stanley Cup Finals, the Chicago Blackhawks are the odds-on local favorite. Whether or not they’re chasing the Cup, though, the Hawks have decidedly become Milwaukee’s adopted home team in general over the years.
As I write this, Palomino is flying a Blackhawks flag beside its entrance. While covering the motherfucking Bead & Button Show at the nearby Wisconsin Center, I saw Major Goolsby’s—an eternal supporter of all things Wisconsin sports—proudly advertising its Blackhawks specials prior to game one. Throughout the NHL Playoffs, I’ve seen approximately as many Patrick Kane hockey sweaters being worn in town as I have Carlos Gomez jerseys. Milwaukee is actually among the top five markets for Stanley Cup ratings in the country. Before I go any further, allow me to say that, yes, I fully realize that sports are merely a form of entertainment invented to serve as a momentary distraction from the drudgery of daily life. They’re an escape. Thus, I’ve lost exactly zero winks over this. I’m also well aware that many of these Blackhawks boosters have roots in Illinois, and that they’re the very same people wearing Bears apparel and celebrating the impending Cubs dynasty over Old Styles when the Blackhawks aren’t on the ice. That’s absolutely fine with me. It’s actually welcomed, since it makes things more interesting as a Wisconsin sports fan than the alternative that is Packer Backer autonomy.
What I have a harder time coming to terms with are the dudes donning a Hawks cap and Brewers jersey at the same time. In addition to the actual color-clashing with that misguided wardrobe decision, it’s confusing that some of the most ardent in-state supporters and opponents of Chicago sports make this one exception for a team that hails from a city they usually bemoan on their respective Facebook feeds during other leagues’ seasons. As much as I’d love to have a direct rooting interest in the NHL and as admittedly likable as the Blackhawks are (not to mention that they’re the closest team to where I live), I personally can’t allow my allegiances to cross state lines. You don’t seem to have that same problem, Vince. All judgements aside, can you tell me how you justify cheering for a team from a state you don’t like? Are there some glaring factors I’m overlooking? And most importantly, do you think if you and I start an online petition, we could bring an NHL team to Milwaukee?!
Vince Morales: Think of Chicago as a family down the street. They have the dad who is a colossal dick who coaches your baseball team, the mom who works in the office at school and who is always telling you to stop running in the halls, the son who beats the crap out of you, and, finally, the daughter who is really nice, super cute, and actually thinks you are cool. It doesn’t make sense that someone who makes you feel so good could come from a family that makes you want to build a border outside of Kenosha and toilet paper their house. For Milwaukee and everyone in Wisconsin, the Blackhawks are that cool girl from that shitty family. It doesn’t make sense for us to like her, but we do.
Without an NHL team to call our own (the odds of us ever getting one rank somewhere between Craig Counsell growing facial hair and me ever successfully spelling “Antetokounmpo” without Google), Wisconsin residents are left to choose whomever they damn well please to root for in hockey. Despite Fox Sports Wisconsin’s insistence that the Minnesota Wild are somehow our local team, the Blackhawks are the one that we as a state collectively chose—and we did it a long time ago. The “Not This Year But Last Year Russell Wilson” UW alumni rule states that people in Wisconsin always root for teams that employ former Badgers, and that came into effect here as Badger-slash-Blackhawk legends Chris Chelios and Gary Suter led the blue line for Chicago when many young drinkers were just choosing their teams. That stuff always matters in Wisconsin. And who can forget honorary Madisonite Patrick Kane, who got so drunk on Mifflin Street a few years ago that we all just assumed he went there and we now cheer accordingly? To be honest, he did more to make himself seem like a real Wisconsin student in that one weekend than Russell Wilson ever did. THERE’S NO PRAYING AT MIFFLIN, BRO!
Two Sundays ago, I half-watched the Brewers play a pretty meaningless 17-inning game against the Arizona Diamondbacks in a bar. Even with a win, the Brewers would still have the worst record in all of baseball and would still be in desperate need of a rebuild. As the game wore on, I saw the tension grow among the people in the bar. When the Brewers finally won the game on a Maldonado walk-off home run, the team celebrated at home plate like it mattered and the people in the bar followed suit. They were clinking beer bottles and doing celebratory shots. That’s when I realized it: People in Wisconsin love watching sports and they love drinking while they do it. It doesn’t matter if the team is good or if they have a real, local connection to the team—they just want an excuse to get drunk and cheer for things. This team has a guy who used to play for a college near here? Okay! This basketball guy’s wife’s brother works in Menasha? Sweet! A guy on this team used to play for our team, but we sucked so he left and now he might win his first title? Fine. We’re in. Give us a string and we’ll pull it. Wisconsin loves the entertaining athletic distraction from the drudgery of real life more than anywhere else I’ve ever been. Right now, the Blackhawks are filling that void and you should be okay with that. You should fill it too because, really, what else are you going to do?
Tyler Maas: It’s funny that you bring the UW connection up because I actually had to double-check to confirm Kane didn’t go to Wisconsin. Some people rack up a lifetime of student loans to be a Badger. Others pass out in bars in the early afternoon.
Anyway, you make a lot of excellent points. Deep down, I know you’re right. I should probably just give in and jump headlong into Blackhawks boosting. All that said, I just can’t. Maybe I’m, like, racist against Illinois (geographist?) or whatever, but I simply cannot bring myself to actively support a team based in Chicago. Instead, I’ll preserve my passing interest in hockey by watching a period of a Wild game from time to time, seeking some loose affiliation to the Nashville Predators because they’re the Admirals’ parent club, watching teams in warm-weather regions like Phoenix and metro Miami go woefully under-appreciated by residents, blindly pulling for any Canadian teams in contention once the playoffs roll around, and feeling nothing as I witness a team based less than 100 miles away doing great things.
Ironically, the Chicago Blackhawks might be the main reason Milwaukee doesn’t already have its own NHL franchise (paired with the city’s mid-market standing and, until last week’s arena approval, a sub-par facility). Longtime owner Bill Wirtz reportedly vetoed every attempt for the NHL to expand into Wisconsin, believing it was cutting into a territory rife with Blackhawks fans. Looking around the city these days, maybe Dollar Bill was right.