“If Americans don’t fall in love with soccer after this, well, maybe they never will,” said Jim Litke, the sports columnist for the Associated Press, after the US women’s soccer team defeated Brazil in a dramatic comeback in the quarterfinal of the 2011 FIFA Women’s World Cup earlier this month. (They lost the final in a hard-fought nail biter.) The fact is, women’s soccer is a transient phenomenon for most sports fans in the United States. Every four years a squad of twenty-one of America’s best players give it their all, excite the crowds and typically walk away having performed very well. They’ve never finished the tournament in less than third place in its twenty-year history and on two occasions, the team walked away champions. Unlike their male counterparts, who have to play third fiddle to superior play in Europe and Latin America, women in America are arguably the best at soccer in the world. Yet a short time after the tournament ends, the women fade back into obscurity for the next four years as the American fair-weather love affair with soccer continues. But now a newish professional team aims to turn this occasional flirtation into a long-term commitment for Chicago fans. Read the rest of this entry »
By Scoop Jackson
It’s Year 103 of the Drought and by the initial look of things, nothing’s changed. It’s cold, raining, damp, wind blowing… perfect baseball weather for opening day on the North Side. Baseball’s “other” worst team has come to visit, but the place is still packed.
Like Carnival off the Lake.
For the fairweathered, non-diehard, quasi-apathetic Cubs fan, this is simply the best time of the year. It’s when Wrigley Field turns into the Playboy Mansion East. When some of the most beautiful women this side of South America—or LA, depending on who’s asking and who’s telling the stories—migrate to one place for the next five months, treating the national pastime like Fast Times at Cooley High.
When everyone gets to enjoy Wrigley Field for the “second best” thing it is known for: Welcome to the best pickup venue in sports. Period.
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As he explains the ancient Gaelic sport of hurling, Colm Egan spits on his hands, rubbing them over the leather-covered cork ball, the size of a baseball, called a sliotar. Behind him, a few men in brightly colored jerseys unwrap long metal poles to set up as end posts on opposite sides of the field, setting down bags of full-coverage helmets and wooden bats with flat paddles at the end.
“It’s an honest game,” he says, explaining that the only thing that keeps players from truly hurting each other in the fast-paced sport, which involves heavy wooden bats called hurleys and no protective padding, is the players’ honor. “There’s not a lot of rules.”
Each Sunday until May 8, Chicago’s Gaelic Athletic Association (G.A.A.) will be holding informal hurling games for all skill levels, hoping to recruit more Chicagoans to the game before the league’s season starts up on May 15. They’ll provide the equipment, the team and, of course, the instruction.
Egan, 42, first picked up a hurley as a 5-year-old in County Tipperary, Ireland, where hurling is the national sport and the local G.A.A. forms the basis of almost all social activity. Last year’s entirely amateur national championships in Ireland attracted 84,000 spectators. Read the rest of this entry »
Although Chicago is a superior city in most respects, I suspect that Minneapolis, a much colder, snowier town, is actually a place where more people enjoy the winter. This is because residents of the Twin Cities, with their strong Scandinavian heritage, know how to embrace the season, donning cheerful woolen clothing and diving into cold-weather fun like sledding, skating and snowball fights, followed by large quantities of glögg.
Here in the Windy City, most people dress in black and view winter as something to survive, not celebrate. They see it as a series of hassles and indignities: freezing el platforms, slushy sidewalks, salt-choked air and parking spots selfishly reserved with old furniture.
Not me. I’ve got a two-pronged strategy to make the most out of cold weather. The first is indoor coziness and/or winter denial: gastropubs, rock clubs and hot tubs; Hala Kahiki and the Garfield Park Conservatory. As I type this, I’m sitting in the ninth-floor winter garden of the Harold Washington Library, surrounded by leafy trees and ivy-covered walls. Read the rest of this entry »
Photo: Jonathan L. Green
As I make my way through the crowd I am accosted by a petite woman wearing a banana costume and thigh-high fishnets, shouting at me to put all my money on her. She is The Banana Split, and she has come to dominate.
“Potassium gives you strength,” she says, with steely determination. “And I’m full of potassium.”
The Banana Split (a.k.a. Nicole Richwalsky) has a hard night ahead of her. She’ll be competing against such dangerous adversaries as Malice in Wonderland, Babraham Lincoln and Gaga Gunshow to see who will be crowned champion in the eighth title bout of the Chicago League of Lady Arm Wrestlers.
“I’ll do whatever it takes to win,” says two-time CLLAW champion Strawberry Shivcake (or Ellen Wohlberg, 9 to 5). “Whether it’s illegal, stabbing someone, killing someone, bribing someone; bribes never hurt…”
Indeed, the matches haven’t even started yet when CLLAW 7′s reigning champ, The Killer Bee, gets shivved by Strawberry (natch) in the middle of the introductions.
“I’ve killed The Killer Bee’s manager a couple of times,” remarks Strawberry. “And The Bee ‘Nancy Kerrigan-ed’ The Cutting Edge last time.”
Started in 2009 as a satellite group of the original CLAW (Charlottesville Lady Arm Wrestlers), the Chicago group has rapidly become one of the top Lady Arm Wrestling groups in the nation. Read the rest of this entry »
For the past twenty years, a dark scourge has thrived in the heart of South Lakeview, mere blocks away from Wrigley Field. This twisted secret society gathers in the shadows nightly: drinking Leinenkugel, eating pickled herring and participating in bizarre rituals involving Muskies and some sort of card game known only as “Sheepshead.” They proudly call themselves Badgers and Cheeseheads. We know them as Packers fans. And yes, they live among us.
Since 1991, Will’s Northwoods Inn (3030 North Racine) has been the go-to Chicago bar for Wisconsinite expatriates and other assorted Green Bay faithful. Packers games have become such an event there that they even host crowds driving down from America’s Dairyland itself.
“If you just go to some bar in Wisconsin, it’s like going to any old bar here in Chicago to watch a Bears game,” explains Will’s GM Kevin Kruse. “But when you come here, it’s wall-to-wall hardcore fans.”
This Sunday marks one of the most anticipated football games in the history of the world (or, at least, the Midwest), as the Green Bay Packers travel to Chicago to face the Bears in a NFC Championship Game for the first time since 1941, and you can guarantee that Will’s Inn will be serving up plenty of beer brats and fried-cheese curds. Read the rest of this entry »
By Martin Northway
He lives on in crackling 1930s football footage: a running back in a long, Homeric dash ranging from sideline to sideline, on a field so muddy water stands in visible pools; he is a speeding human gyroscope, maintaining his balance while he evades and breaks tackles. Every defender seems to have a shot, yet he crashes into the end zone.
Comparisons of John Jacob “Jay” Berwanger with other football players fail. Legendary sports broadcaster Red Barber called him simply “the greatest college player I ever saw.” Late former President and onetime Michigan star Gerald Ford bragged about his scar from tackling Jay Berwanger in 1934.
The famous Red Grange said Berwanger had a “faraway look” allowing him to see downfield and rapidly adjust. Grange also said Berwanger could hit a hole closing on him, drumming his feet lightly, freezing tacklers before slashing through.
In fall 1935, the star back of the University of Chicago Maroons was selected as the first recipient of what came to be known as the Heisman Trophy. “Seventy-five years later, Jay Berwanger still receives positive publicity,” says Brian Cooper, Dubuque newspaper editor and sports author, writer of a forthcoming biography of Berwanger. “Not just because he was the first Heisman recipient but because [of] how he played the game—tenacious and tireless, and playing both ways every game”—and “how he lived his entire life.” Read the rest of this entry »
Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters’ walls are covered in fluorescent green rabbit fur, feathers and glittery silver tinsel—these materials used for fly tying seem like decorations for a drag queen’s dream supply store. A corner of the shop is dedicated to fishing poles, which line the walls like pool cues. Wading jackets, Merino wool socks and general apparel occupy a room of their own. But this store does not lie next to one of Chicago’s rivers or even the lake—the store sits at 1279 North Clybourn, just a few blocks away from the remains of Cabrini Green.
Andy Kurkulis, the owner of Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters, is very much aware of the store’s unconventional location. “It’s a very unique store,” he says, “It’s different than most of them out there in Chicago. We don’t have a big famous river or beach where we fish but we have two great airports. So we pretty much travel everywhere and fish for everything.” Read the rest of this entry »
Chuck Mutscheller says when he was in college at a small liberal arts school in Minnesota, he paddled to and from his classes. Mutscheller is the communications director for Openlands, a nonprofit that advocates for the conservation of natural and open spaces, and while he doesn’t paddle to work nowadays, he says it’s still easy to get out on the water, even in the big city. Openlands’ Paddle-A-Trail event, which started in June and continues through Labor Day, makes paddling accessible and fun for oldtimers like Mutscheller as well as newbies by encouraging paddlers to contribute to its online WaterLog database. The database allows paddlers to share the upsides, downsides, and upside-downsides of their kayaking and canoeing outings in the Chicago area. Openlands hopes sharing information about log jams and water levels as well as water trails and rental stores will improve the paddling experience and remind Chicagoans they can find nature in the waterways they drive over every day. “It’s a pretty unique experience in that when you’re on the water, even though you’re in the midst of a busy metropolitan region, it’s quiet,” says Mutscheller. “What it really lacks is the din of everyday life.” (Ella Christoph)
Photo: Tom Palmisano
I’m in search of fishermen as I walk along the lakefront in the early morning, watching the blue-gold waves echo the light breeze that would disappear as the sun rose higher. I want to discover the hidden stories behind the men who wake up at two in the morning to get to the lake by four, as attracted to the peace and cool of the late-night-early-morning lake as the fish they catch.
I see just one fishing pole hanging out of the back of a bike next to a sign that reveals I am a day, not just a few hours, too late for the fishermen. “Governor Quinn,” it reads, “Take July perch closure down! No perch, no vote! Teens can’t perch fish in July. 16, 17, 18. But they can shoot. Signed by: Fellowship of Fishing Club.”
“Jumbo Jimmy” Baczek sits on a bench by his bike proselytizing to passersby. “I woke up this morning at two o’clock, can’t go perch fishing, got pissed off, and made myself a sign,” he says. Read the rest of this entry »