Chicago’s five major sporting franchises spanning the big four sports are undoubtedly some of America’s most iconic teams, having had some of the greatest players, longest droughts, best stadiums, and most passionate fans over the last century and more. It’s impossible to visit the city without seeing the people of Chicago representing their teams, and difficult to enter a bar and not see them in action. Here’s a history lesson on sports in the Windy City.
Until very recently, the Chicago Cubs were iconic for all the wrong reasons. The 71-year National League drought and the 108-year World Series drought are both records in Major League Baseball, and the latter is also a record in all major North American sport. But none of that matters since the North Siders’ curse-breaking, drought-ending World Series victory in 2016. A founding member of the National League in 1876, the team was originally named the White Stockings before several name changes, settling on the Cubs in 1903 and promptly winning back-to-back World Series championships in 1907 and 1908. In 1916, they moved to Wrigley Field, now the second oldest ground in the majors, and continued to regularly win the National League until 1945, when the infamous Curse of the Billy Goat began the droughts. With the thrilling 4-3 Series win over the Cleveland Indians and an exciting young team, the “Loveable Losers” are ready to shake off that name.
Though often in the shadow of their North Side rivals, the White Sox have their own lengthy history and a matching record at World Series level. The Sox began life as the Sioux City Cornhuskers before moving to St. Paul, Minnesota, and finally Chicago in 1900 as the White Stockings, the name previously vacated by the Cubs. Joining the American League, they won their first World Series (against the Cubs) just a few years later in 1906 and their second in 1917. Their name was tainted in 1919 when, despite being heavy favorites, suspicious betting on their opponents and a consequent defeat fueled speculation of a fix. Six players were banned for life in what became known as the Black Sox Scandal. They didn’t win another American League for 40 years, and it took until 2005 for the team to win its third World Series, defeating the Houston Astros in four games.
For those alive in the ’90s, the Chicago Bulls are synonymous with basketball. Founded in 1966, the Bulls were actually the third NBA team started in Chicago, after the defunct Stags and Packers/Zephyrs had left for Baltimore and then Washington. After periods of relative success in the late ’60s and early ’70s and decline thereafter, their fortune turned around when they picked shooting guard Michael Jordan as the third pick of the 1984 draft. He was named Rookie of the Year in his first season as he led the Bulls to the playoffs, and he continued to set records. Joined by Scottie Pippen, the Bulls repeatedly made the playoffs but fell just short. That was until coach Phil Jackson took over, and the Bulls won three consecutive NBA championships in 1991–93, a feat they repeated in 1996–98. Replacing the greatest player the game has ever seen has not proven easy, and the Bulls have been in relative obscurity since—still, memories of ’90s are fresh enough to cling to.
While the Cubs’s first Series win in generations has understandably stolen recent attention and M.J.’s Bulls still live long in memory, Chicago’s National Hockey League franchise has been bringing home the goods with amazing consistency in recent times. The Blackhawks formed in 1926, named for original owner Frederic McLaughlin’s infantry division during WWI. One of the league’s “Original Six,” they won the Stanley Cup three times before the 1967 NHL expansion. After years of stagnation and decline, Rocky Wirtz took over the team in 2007 and soon delivered a remarkable period of success, winning the Stanley Cup three times in six seasons between 2010 and 2015, taking them to a respectable six championships. Among many Blackhawks Hall of Famers, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita stand out as the greatest, while current stars Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are well on their way to legendary status.
Although the Bears’ recent record does not match that of Chicago’s other franchises, their pre-Super Bowl record can certainly claim to be an iconic team over the NFL’s history. As one of only two remaining teams to play in the inaugural season of what would become the NFL, the Bears (known initially as the Decatur Staleys and then the Chicago Staleys) won the second-ever title and won seven more before the merger of the National and American Football Leagues in 1970. The Bears have only won one Super Bowl since then but did it with one of the greatest teams of all time, setting records for sacks, fewest rushing yards allowed, and greatest margin of victory in the process. Combined with their pre-merger record, the Bears are the second most successful team in history and can also claim the most enshrinees in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the most retired jersey numbers, and more victories than any other NFL franchise.