hull-howe

There was a time in my younger years when I would watch Rudy and come away from each viewing believing I could be him.

We already had plenty in common. I was a “five-foot-nothin’, a-hundred-and-nothin'” wanna-be athlete who could hold his own in any team sport simply because of desire and want-to. I would push the limits of my “speck of athletic ability” and would stand up to the many, many doubters who believed bigger, faster, stronger should mean just, go, away to shrimps like myself.

“Why not me?,” I’d say. “Why can’t I be the next Rudy?” I believed it, I really did. I could recite nearly the entire flick and could watch it on loop without ever considering removing the tape from the VCR.

Then, I grew up. I began hating Notre Dame and everything associated with it, just like every human over the age of 12 should. I heard Rudy butcher that famous speech so many times it could make Knute Rockne begin hating himself for even recruiting The Gipper, let alone be motivated to win anything for him. “Rudy sucked at football, and his family should have been imprisoned for even turning him on to that cult that congregates in South Bend. Quit getting killed and focus on getting a degree, idiot,” I began to think.

I gave up the me-against-the-world mentality on the field and transferred it to the professional world, going into the locker room with a pen and pad rather than a uniform, staying in sports full-time the only realistic way I could. If you can’t beat ‘em, write about ‘em. And while I wouldn’t trade my career for anything, that change from ultra-competitive former athlete to behind-the-scenes realist has made me view sports more objectively now rather than with the natural passion – like Rudy – that led me to choose this path in the first place.

And I still haven’t figured out if that’s good, bad or inconsequential.

That doesn’t mean a Blackhawks loss doesn’t sting, or that the 2010 Stanley Cup run didn’t bring me to tears, because it does, and it did. And it surely doesn’t mean that if the ‘Hawks are ever eliminated from this postseason that the words, “It’s OK, Blackhawks! Great season! Let’s get ‘em next year!” will ever come off my keyboard. That’s just insulting.

But you also won’t hear me chanting, “DE-TROIT SUCKS!” while I sit in my seat at the United Center for Game 1 on Wednesday, even though I’ll be enjoying those words coming from the mouths of others. Part of losing a bit of that natural passion that I mentioned above keeps me from doing such things, or from blindly supporting my teams no matter how terrible they perform and getting into fights with the opposition’s fans simply because they’re wearing a different shirt than I, though it does come out of me once in awhile.

That objectivity that comes with my job has me putting aside the hate I grew up having for Detroit and taking a step back to instead appreciate what it means for two Original Six rivals to meet in the playoffs for the last time as conference foes.

This Western Conference semifinal between the Blackhawks and the Red Wings isn’t must-see just because of the rabid fan bases that can barely stand the sight of each other’s iconic logo, or are jealous over the other’s success, no matter how recent or distant, though that’s, of course, a huge part of it. For me, it’s more about NHL realignment leaving us with just two regular-season meetings between these bitter rivals and making sure this potential playoff matchup never happens short of the Stanley Cup Final again.

As it is, with it being possible, this marks only the seventh time in the last 42 years anyone has been able to witness a Chicago-Detroit playoff series. Just the rarity of this occurrence makes it special, in turn making these four, five, six or (gulp) seven games all the more historic. I’ve come to realize that I don’t only respect Detroit for its success as an organization, but also for what its existence has done for the game and how it brings out the passion in Blackhawks and Red Wings fans because of wars waged on the ice over the years.

The longevity is the reason multiple generations of Chicago and Detroit fans have been able to respectfully dislike each other. When I hear “DE-TROIT SUCKS!” throughout this series, or when I see a Red Wings fan stand up and loudly cheer for one of their team’s goals, it’s the history between these great franchises I’ll be thinking about – and how moving forward those things will become more rare.

I hope others share my sentiment of respecting Detroit, no matter how unpopular it may be, and don’t just view this series as another opportunity to trash-talk Red Wings fans. I hope everyone can realize how historic this playoff clash will be, and how you’ll be telling someone years from now about the days you attended Blackhawks games when the Wings visited Chicago more than once per season.

I plan on being one of those people down the road, rambling on about what I witnessed. And even though I may have lost some of the fire and raw emotion that should come with this series, I’m thankful I can appreciate the history that comes with this rivalry – and what we’ll be missing out on in the future.

Let’s go, ‘Hawks.