The Promised Land

How can we comprehend the true meaning of those sporting nirvanas finally achieved that always seemed just out of reach?

Until the early hours of Thursday morning – Chicago Cubs were the worst franchise in American sporting history. 71 years had passed since their last World Series appearance, 108 years since their last World Series Triumph. When the World Series was last won by the Cubs, World War I was yet to begin, Edward VII was King of England and the oldest living person in Britain had just celebrated her 4th birthday – this was a long losing streak.

Unlike the sport we enjoy in Britain, where power often lies in the hand of those with the biggest pockets, US sport prides itself on equality. All the ‘Big Four’ League – NFL (American Football), NBA (Basketball), NHL (Ice Hockey) and MLB (Baseball), employ draft systems whereby the lowest ranked teams the previous season get first pick of the best new talent for the upcoming season in the hope that they’ll stop being so bad. The Chicago Cubs didn’t stop being so bad – no other side in the ‘Big Four’ leagues come close to a drought as long as the Cubs.

Longest Current Droughts in the Big 4 American Leagues.

TeamLeagueSeasons
Chicago Cubs*MLB107
Cleveland IndiansMLB68
Sacramento KingsNBA65
Detroit LionsNFL58
Atlanta HawksNBA58
Texas RangersMLB56
Houston AstrosMLB55

 

*On Thursday morning however, history was changed. 108 years of pain was over as by overcoming the Cleveland Indians 8-7 in the final game of the 7 match World Series, the Indians themselves claimed top spot on one of American Sports most unwanted lists.

Throughout Chicago, the city was overcome with elation as the curse of Billy the Goat, placed on the team by a fan during their most recent World Series defeat in 1945, was lifted. This was however, as beautifully portrayed in a Wright Thompson piece for ESPN, a night of complex emotion. Much like with Stockholm Syndrome whereby hostages express positive feelings towards their captors, the curse for the Cubs has become such a part of the clubs identity it will be hard for fans to relinquish it – a victory will never taste so sweet again.

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The day of the finale was one of reflection in Chicago. With 108 years of history about to be ended, many spent the day thinking about the 108 years of failure before them and the loved ones who had come and gone with it. One the walls of Wrigley Field, the Cubs home ground, many congregated to write messages to loved ones and names of loved ones who were no longer around for the special day. ‘This one is for you, Dad’ one read. As Thompson wrote in his piece, ‘each name represented an unfulfilled dream.’

Sports fans, more than most, have many an unfulfilled dream. Only a select few reach the promised land, and even when you’re there you want more. On Wednesday night, hours before the Cubs won the World Series I attended a Spurs Champions League game, a competition I and fellow Leeds fans had been longing for a place in ever since we were last knocked out of it, 15 years ago. And yet, to Spurs fans, this greatly coveted and cherished honour wasn’t so greatly coveted and cherished. Losing 1-0, the stadium half emptied. Success is all relative. The promised land is not the important thing, but the journey that may or may not lead there.

One of those Cubs supporters who went to Wrigley Field to write on the walls, was Mary Beth Talhami; she wrote “Mom, thank you for teaching us to believe in ourselves, love and the Cubs. Enjoy your view from the ultimate skybox.” Her mother, Ginny Iversen had died just 6 days before, after game 2 of the World Series, having lived for 94 years as a fanatical Cubs supporter. She passed away wrapped in her beloved Cubs blanket.

Mary Beth went to her local bar to watch the game. With the game tantalisingly poised at 6-6 a rain break further elongated the wait, but then, upon resumption, the Cubs hit two further runs and closed the game out to end the longest drought in sport. While the city erupted, time stood still for Mary Beth, with the timing of her mother’s passing this was about far more than a game of baseball. Looking towards her mother in the sky, with victory shot raised in the air, it all hit home. As the emotion of the last few hours and the last 6 days set in, all Mary Beth could do was sob and shake. As time passed she steadied herself, and still looking to the sky, saw off the shot.

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108 years were over, 94 years were over, it was all over.