If there’s one thing we’ve learned in this title town of ours, with 12 major championships since the Bears last won the Super Bowl 30 years ago, it’s that, in hindsight, victory always seem inevitable. Of course Scottie Pippen is going to lead a bunch of scrubs to start a comeback from a 15-point deficit in the fourth quarter; of course Michael Jordan is going to push off, just a smidge, and hit a game-winning basket at the buzzer; of course A.J. Pierzynski is going to steal first base and trigger a rally and the White Sox’s starting pitchers are going to throw four straight complete games and Paul Konerko is going to hit a grand slam and Juan Uribe is going to make a catch diving into the stands; of course the Blackhawks are going to rally from a 3-1 deficit in games against the Detroit Red Wings, and of course Patrick Kane is going to bury a disappearing puck in the net in overtime. Of course: it had to happen.
The thing about the Cubs’s world championship is that it seemed inevitable from the moment Anthony Rizzo saved that foul ball bobbled by catcher David Ross in the fifth game, with the Cubs down to the Cleveland Indians 3-1. Yet that inevitability never diminished the action from moment to moment. This being the Cubs, one couldn’t take it for granted. We’d been through too many incidents where the inevitable—this is it, it’s going to happen, this is the year!—had somehow been squandered.
I was first infected in 1969, others in 1984. The collapses in 1989 and 1998 were minor by comparison, but then came 2003, and I remember telling my daughters as matter-of-factly as I could, “Well, now you have it, now you’re infected, now you know the Cubs always do something to screw it all up. They will break your heart.” Until this year.
Yet the Cubs never let a fan forget those moments of the past that were lodged in the memory, stuck in the craw, whether it was the black cat at Shea Stadium, or the ball going between Leon Durham’s legs, or the homer by Will Clark off Greg Maddux, or Steve Bartman. More so in the seventh game—and how crushing would that have been?—than in the fifth or sixth, the Cubs always seemed on the verge of throwing it all away.
“We are good,” Joe Maddon insisted on arrival, imposing that mantra on the Cubs last season. And in the end they were too good even to allow their Cubsiness to ruin it. They were a beautiful, charming, above all skilled group of players, and they won our hearts rather than breaking them. TV cameras at one point caught Rizzo in the dugout telling Ross, “I can barely control myself right now. I’m an emotional wreck.” Word later leaked that Jason Heyward, much maligned as a $185 million bust as a free-agent signing last off-season, had rallied his teammates with an emotional, Knute Rockne-style inspiration speech during that rain delay, and the Cubs came out immediately afterward and put the game away.
It was not, as some fans have suggested, the greatest game ever played. Yes, it had drama, and there were back-and-forths, but there were too many miscues for it to be considered a great game. The 1-0 third game, in which the Indians’s Josh Tomlin outpitched Kyle Hendricks 1-0 with the wind blowing out a gale at Wrigley Field, was a much better game of baseball, delicious in its tension.
Yet there’s no denying that, for Cubs fans, the finale was the most satisfying game of all, satisfying for all the dread and angst and bad history it evoked, and for how that team nonetheless dismissed it with its skill and talent and character. They were lovable, yet they were winners. Yes, we had it all.