The Windy City’s sports scene is so storied, mythologized, and generally worshipped that any cursory description would be considered an injustice by the legions of fans that populate Chicagoland. This being said, we are limited by word space, so apologies in advance. If you have to know one thing, it’s this: whether you’re arriving here from small-town Texas or New York City, realize that you’re now living in one of the great sports cities of the world, with franchises that have quite literally defined their respective sports.
We’ll start with Da Bears. For those living in a hole, the Chicago Bears are the city’s football team, and one of the two original founding franchises of the NFL (the other being the decidedly less notable Arizona Cardinals). The Bears hold the record for most players in the Hall of Fame, most franchise victories in the NFL, and claim 9 championships (eight pre-merger, one Super Bowl). The team is historically known for their downright terrifying defenses; the 1985 team is often lauded as the greatest in history, as they earned a 15-1 record and proceeded to demolish their postseason opponents by a score of 91-10 on their way to a Super Bowl victory. They also knocked a few quarterbacks unconscious on the way.
For those not especially attracted to such morbid tales, perhaps the most alluring aspect of the Bears is their stadium: Soldier Field, one of America’s great sporting venues, a towering Greco-Roman monument right on the lakefront. A home game in the winter is generally seen as one of the most dangerous, demanding displays of athletic perseverance in the modern world; the field is usually partially iced over, with the players constantly slipping, sliding, and doing anything to thaw their frozen, swollen hands. Unfortunately, Bears tickets are the priciest in town, and will in all likelihood end up setting you back $80. But hey, fun fact: one of the team’s common nicknames, the “Monsters of the Midway,” was actually copped from our very own Maroon football team, which used to practice on the Midway Plaisance on the southern fringe of the main quads.
To the northwest of Soldier Field, near the main hub of downtown, is the United Center, home of the Chicago Bulls. These black-and-red ballers are primarily known for their historic championship run in the 1990s, when they won two separate title three-peats, led by coach Phil Jackson, guard Scottie Pippen, and some guy named Michael Jordan. Since Jordan’s reign over the city (and the sport), the Bulls finally have another superstar: wunderkind point guard Derrick Rose, who grew up in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago’s South Side. Led by MVP Rose, who as a high-school phenomenon used to practice in Ratner, the Bulls have claimed the best record in the NBA for the past two seasons. They currently face a crisis, however, due to Rose tearing the ACL of his left leg in the very first game of last year’s playoffs. Not expected to fully recover until next season, Rose and the Bulls have regrouped and tempered expectations, and most (if not all) championship aspirations have been put on hold. Either way, catching a game is worth the trip, and cheap: your house will often subsidize ticket prices, and the team offers a “Family Fun” package where you can get a 300 level ticket, a hot dog, chips, and a drink all for $25.
If football and basketball aren’t your thing, the ballpark may become your second home. Chicago is home to two wildly popular yet polar opposite baseball clubs: The White Sox and the Cubs. The former play at U.S. Cellular Field, a short Red Line ride from campus, and won the World Series in 2005. Tainted by the Black Sox Scandal of 1919, wherein Sox players were accused of conspiring with gamblers to lose games, the team has since emerged as a powerful force in the American League. The Cubs, on the other hand, are known precisely for their lack of recent (or any) success. One of the two original charter members of the National League, the team has not won a World Series in 103 long, tiresome, torturous years. That’s the longest championship drought of any professional sports team in North America. Luckily, “The Lovable Losers” enjoy a rabid fan base on the North Side, and they play in the second-oldest major-league ballpark: Wrigley Field. Wrigley is a national treasure, partially due to its complete lack of renovation. The park still possesses a hand-turned scoreboard, was the last major league ballpark to have lights installed, and is bounded by an ivy-covered brick wall. Attending a game at Wrigley is often pitched as more religious experience than sports viewing, and there’s no excuse to not see at least one game during your time at the U of C. Tickets, especially for the loserly Cubs, can be as lowly priced as $10.
Last but not least, the Chicago Blackhawks represent the city in the rough-and-tumble arena of of the hockey rink. Like most other Chicago teams (if you hadn’t noticed by now), the Hawks were one of the original six teams in their league, and have won four Stanley Cup championships since being founded in 1926. The most recent came in 2010, when they knocked off the Philadelphia Flyers in a six-game nail-biter of a series. The Hawks, like the Bulls, play at the United Center, and their home games are often distinct for their energetic, profanity-laced crowds, as well as the chanting of The Fratellis’s “Chelsea Dagger” chorus after every goal scored.
All in all, you have a wide variety of options to choose from, and most of them won’t empty your wallet too much. The U of C fields some great teams, but Chicago’s sports scene is on another level. Even if you could care less about the game being played, go ahead and buy a cheap ticket. Just be sure not to offend any of the real fans; the Bears aren’t the only violent people in the stadium.