A decade after the Jordan era and Sammy Sosa's home run chase, and a lengthy seven years after the last time Stanley Cup playoff fever swept over Chicago, the stars aligned for the Windy City on Saturday. Although neither Red Kerr, Ernie Banks, nor Bobby Hull played Saturday, the day will be remembered for a long time throughout the Chicagoland area.
The Chicago Bulls started off the day traveling to Boston as mere underdogs with the hope of taking advantage of a Kevin Garnett-less Celtic squad in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. That, they did.
Behind a Jordanesque performance from rookie phenom Derrick Rose (36 points in his playoff debut), the Bulls fought adversity for much of the second half after squandering a nine-point halftime lead.
Despite the Bulls troubles on the road this season that saw them 15 games under .500, they preserved in overtime to nick the Celtics for Game 1, just the 7th home loss of the season for the C's. "To go into the home of the defending champs in a playoff game and pull that off, it's quite a surprise," said Chicago sports fan, and blogger Matt Clapp.
The Bulls 105-103 win made more waves than just in Illinois, shocking the NBA world, but it was only the beginning in Chicago.
The full day of Chicago sports continued in the afternoon, as Wrigley Field played host for the Cubs' most nerve-wracking game of the season against the rival St. Louis Cardinals.
Early on, Lou Piniella's tactic of avoiding Albert Pujols, and Ryan Dempster's inability to throw strikes provided 2008's fluke All-Star Ryan Ludwick to capitalize in the third inning, giving his Cards a 3-0 lead early lead on.
The Chicago faithful wouldn't be down too long when fan-favorite and team leader Derrek Lee equalized for the Cubs in the bottom of the fifth with a screaming line drive to the corner in left.
After a catastrophic failure from Neal Cotts, Carlos Marmol preserved a 5-4 lead in the seventh, stranding a pair of runners, although an inning later he blew his first save of the season.
Inability to knock in runs by the Cubs, and poor base running on the Cardinals behalf allowed the game reach the bottom of the 11th when the Cubs most prolific clutch hitter came to the dish, and ended it. Aramis Ramirez knocked a Dennys Reyes pitch a handful of rows into the left center bleachers, his fourth walk-off shot as a Cub.
The win ensures at least a split in the series with the Cards, and for the city of Chicago, Ramirez's blast provided a perfect appetizer to a magical night on ice at the United Center.
The Blackhawks flew into Saturday night's second game with the Calgary Flames on a high from Martin Havlat's sudden death winner in the playoff series' first episode on Thursday night, but a little too high.
The Flames came out on fire with a pair of early goals from captain Jerome Iginla and Adrian Aucoin, putting the Hawks on the ropes early. But with the pressure of Chicagoland sports resting upon their wings, Jonathan Toews scored two of three goals in the second period to reclaim the lead.
The ageless wonder, Nikolai Khabibulin, dominated in net for the Blackhawks, stopping thirty shots on the night to shut out the Flames over the last 43 minutes to preserve the win. The win marked first time in a dozen years that the Hawks have won two games in the playoffs, and sends the series to Calgary up 2-0 when the series resumes Monday night at the Saddledome.
The win at the United Center, coupled with a 2-2 Chicago Fire draw to keep them top of the table in the MLS, and a big win for the White Sox, allowed Chicago's Saturday to ended flawlessly.
So what does this all mean? Was it truly one of the greatest days in Chicago sports lore?
"I mean I'm not gonna say I'm happier than when the Cubs clinched the division for example, but it's the first time I can remember 3 of the teams I root for having such big victories all in the same day."
-Matt Clapp. Sharapova's Thigh
-Matt Clapp. Sharapova's Thigh
"It was a day of excitement, and I was proud to be a Chicago sports fan. I may be a Cubs fan, but I was not sad to see the White Sox represent the city tonight either!" said Jonathan Strok of Arlington Heights, after celebrating at an Illinois State student party to commemorate the occasion.
To sum it up perfectly, Dylan Alexander from Rockford called it "a dream day" amidst his enthusiastic accounts of the Blackhawks capping off the day for Chicago.
Live it up Chicago, savor the glory.
Photo: ESPN- (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)