Commentary

Sympathy pains

Cubs fans know how Olympics supporters at Daley Plaza felt Friday

Originally Published: October 2, 2009
By Jon Greenberg | ESPNChicago.com

I guess they can call us the Fourth City.

Sorry, gallows humor. But we're used to that, aren't we?

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Jim Prisching/Getty ImagesThe look of disappointment at Daley Plaza on Friday has been seen before in Chicago.

Chicago is a hustler's town, the great Nelson Algren opined in his book "Chicago: City on the Make," once an outlaw's capital, and at the same time, it's a place for hopeless dreamers and masochists.

As it turned out, this whole process was just a dream, and even our greatest hustlers, from business to politics, couldn't land the prize. All they got was more heartbreak.

When Chicago was eliminated first for the 2016 Olympics, before Madrid and before Tokyo, how many of us dropped our jaws? How many of us thought we had misheard? Weren't we the favorites?

Actually, no, not in some circles. On the popular prediction market Web site Intrade, Chicago was trading at 54 on Thursday and was down to 30 on Friday morning. A massive drop.

When was the last time a Chicago-centric prediction went this wrong? Oh yeah, when everyone said the Cubs were going to win the World Series last year, and in 2004.

Before that? Maybe when they decided to build the 19th-century city almost entirely out of wood.

When's the last time someone spent this much money -- some peg the costs of supporting this bid at around $49.3 million, but it's probably more -- on a sporting event and wound up with nada? Oh yeah, last year's Cubs.

Not to harp on the North Siders, who callously held fans, reporters and two baseball teams at Wrigley Field on Thursday for a foolish rain delay, but there are some resemblances here.

Watching those sad faces downtown, shocked and silent, reminded me of last fall, when I walked the upper deck of Wrigley during the Cubs' Game 2 loss of the divisional series. Fans were staring straight ahead, silent, internally disgusted. It was a sucker punch of epic proportions then. This disappointment isn't so concentrated.

[+] EnlargeCubs fan
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesCubs fans know the pain felt by fans who wanted the 2016 Olympics in Chicago.

Cubs fans live vicariously through the team. The overriding positive feelings I got from the average Chicagoan was that hosting the Olympics would be "cool." It's not quite the same, but if I worked in construction or in the food and beverage business, I would be more crushed now than the average Cubs fan was last year.

But as I said, we're used to it. The 2016 Olympics go down with those Cubs teams, the 1986 Bears, the 1991 Blackhawks as early losers. Heck, even the 2003 Cubs tasted victory before throwing it back up.

So why did it happen? There will be theories of anti-American sentiment still lingering from the Bush administration, or the backlash from such an in-your-face celebrity closing case. Maybe some people didn't like the idea of a disposable stadium, compared to the gleaming symbols of excess we saw in Beijing. Mayor Daley himself derided the Games as a construction project, before yielding to the allure.

Who really knows?

Perhaps those who said people abroad still think of Chicago as Al Capone's hometown and were scared off by prospective tommy-gun fire and usage of the word "dame."

Maybe the IOC voters watched "Public Enemies" on their hotel TV last night and thought it was a documentary.

Maybe they heard that WGN hired "Naughty by Nature" as its morning act to herald the announcement and thought, "Man, they couldn't even get Twista?"

Even the most virulent anti-Olympics folks must have been stung by shock when Chicago was tossed out like yesterday's bagels. People who had opposing views on the idea of the Olympics in Chicago, and in a lot of ways, I was one, thought this city was too corrupt, too saddled with debts and internal strife, from underfunded schools and public transportation, to host this event without major fiscal damage.

"I feel so good about what we did for the city of Chicago," Chicago 2016 chairman Patrick Ryan said on TV from Copenhagen, seemingly choking back tears. "We wanted to bring home the victory, and we didn't." Ryan noted that Chicago benefited from this exposure, and I've heard that has been true in the past from a trade standpoint.

Ryan, the millionaire former insurance executive, is a class act. But I know one person I wouldn't want to be sitting next to on a trans-Atlantic flight. If you've ever watched a Mayor Daley press conference, you know the face. I hope there's a calming movie on the flight. What, "City of God"? Son of a … !

I'm already hearing about trying for the 2020 Games. Please, no. No mas. It's over. We had our chance. When he was running for president, Barack Obama said the same thing. That was his perfect time, this was Chicago's.

You can't deny the poetic symmetry to it all. A president from Chicago who lives just miles away from the prospective center of the Games in Washington Park. A region of the city, the South Side, that needs re-development (though not total gentrification, which has been how every other neighborhood has evolved in the last 20 years). There would have been parallels to the 1893 Chicago World's Fair, the Columbian Exposition, in Jackson Park and on the Midway Plaisance.

As cynical as I was on this whole process, I have to admit it would been pretty cool to see my adopted city on the world stage.

But here's the thing: Chicago isn't going away. The city is awash with tourists, from the United States and abroad. And they should go visit things in the South Side. Take a walk around the University of Chicago, check out the lakeshore down there. Go to a Sox game.

There was a lot of noise made about connected people, not to mention the city and the University of Chicago, buying up land around proposed Olympic venues. Well, they have to do something with it, right?

The city should continue to invest money and infrastructure to make it easier, and more worthwhile, for tourists to visit that part of the city, and more important, for people to live and breathe there. Washington Park and its environs can still be cultivated. The 80,000 seat disposable stadium that was supposed to be built there was then to be turned into an amphitheater. Well, why can't that still happen? Why can't the private donors so eager to throw money at a 17-day sporting event invest in the city itself?

I know what you're thinking: Sounds good, but who's going to pay for it?

Funny, that's what I've been thinking for months.

Chicago isn't a home for losers. We'll never know, though, what we lost or what we gained. At least we played the game.

Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.

Jon Greenberg

Columnist, ESPNChicago.com
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com. He has lived and worked in Chicago since 2003, and is a graduate of Ohio University and the University of Chicago.

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