Chicago, IL -
The Blackhawks brought the gleaming silver Stanley Cup to Chicago on Wednesday night, capping a remarkable comeback from irrelevance in a city that was merely looking for the right moment to love its storied hockey team once again.
Three generations of fans had come of age since Chicago's last hockey title. But after the clinching 4-3 overtime victory, they could finally exhale, safe in the knowledge that the Blackhawks are no longer the "Ice Cubs" -- perennial also-rans.
Now there'll be a parade on streets wide enough to handle the crush of bandwagon fans attracted to a winner -- folks who still might not know what "icing" means but are happy to wear the red sweater.
Around the city, horns honked, fireworks flared and fans sang "We Are The Champions" after Patrick Kane scored the winning goal. Outside the WestEnd Bar and Grill at Madison and Ada streets, fans screamed, held posters and waved their hands in the air to Coolio's "Gangsta's Paradise."
"I'm in disbelief; in Chicago sports history I can't believe we actually made it," said an elated D.J. Miller, 32.
In the shadow of Wrigley Field
-- where the Cubs haven't won a title since, well, you know -- jubilant Blackhawks fans spilled into the streets to celebrate as one. Thousands stormed onto Clark Street, which police blocked at Addison to try to contain the party. Others flocked toward United Center
, hanging out car windows and sun roofs, waving flags, high-fiving those on foot.
"I've been going to Hawks games since I was 6; I'm so proud of these guys," said a beaming Tracy Radochonski, 24. "To be so loyal to this team and to have that loyalty rewarded is such a great feeling."
Legions of new fans have tuned in to a Blackhawks brand that just a few years ago was on life support. The aptly named Rocky Wirtz had revived the team he inherited from his penurious father by putting home games on TV, bringing back the legends and stacking the team with talent.
Some newbies were drawn to the Blackhawks after this year's Vancouver Olympics, when six Hawks represented three countries. Others committed after witnessing a national anthem so loud and raucous it could muffle a shotgun blast. Or maybe it was a bloodied Duncan Keith's desire to keep playing after having seven teeth knocked out in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.
President Barack Obama talked smack about the Philadelphia Flyers. Vince Vaughn started showing up behind the United Center glass. Even Michael Jordan attended a game in a No. 23 hockey sweater.
"I've lived here my whole life, born and bred but I didn't start following the Hawks until the last couple of years," said Alex Martinez, 30. "But it still feels good. I'm a Cubs fan, so you know, I don't have a chance to celebrate very often."
In Deerfield, Charles Horn, 52, a longtime season-ticket holder who watched the Hawks lose Game 7 in the 1971 finals, celebrated with a cigar.
"It's like the equivalent of a girlfriend who broke up with me long ago wanting to date me again," Horn said. "That game in '71 has been like a cloud over my head."Stacy St. Clair and Annie Sweeney contributed.
--Joel Hood and Serena Maria Daniels