Commentary

The Chicago fan's bucket list

Originally Published: May 6, 2009
By Scoop Jackson | ESPN.com

At some point, we all know it's going to end. Our lives. As Tom Jones once said, "Every day you live brings you closer to death." Philosophy from Tom Jones, not unusual.

Anyway, if you live, breathe and plan on dying in Chicago (as we all do!), there are certain things you must do before A.R. Leak & Sons come to collect. And of those most imperative things, the first 20 revolve around sports. Yes, there's hearing the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, or walking on the lake during Venetian Night, or eating Harold's chicken, or hearing Frankie Knuckles spin. But as residents of the greatest sports town in the world, we must, at all times, keep our priorities as straight as 6 o'clock. Like we've all been taught in Chicago, "Sports may not be the most important thing in your life, but it will always beat what comes in second."

The hard thing for you is getting all 20 in. Here's my list:

1. Go see the Cubs at Wrigley and the Sox at The Cell on the same day.

Wrigley Field
Scott Boehm/Getty Images Start here and finish at The Cell. Now, that's a great day.

Usually, there are couple of times during the summer when both teams play at home at different times with enough time between games to get from one end of town to the other. Even if you have to take the CTA. (If you want to cross this item off your list this year, you've got two opportunities to catch the Cubs in the day and the Sox at night, so circle July 8 and July 30 on your calendar.)

2. Meet/hear the great Phil Georgeff.

Before he retired from the horse racing game in 1992, Georgeff made Arlington Park and Hawthorne Race Course hallowed grounds. He was Chicago's version of Michael Buffer. His stretch call of "Here they come, spinning out of the turn" was third only to Harry Caray's "Holy cow!" and Jack Brickhouse's "Hey-hey!" in signature phrases. He's one of the greatest voices in all of horse racing. If you can't meet him then visit Arlington or Hawthorne, just to hear one of his classic calls from the archives.

3. See the Blackhawks play in the Stanley Cup finals.

Chicago hasn't won the Cup in 48 years and last played in the finals in 1992. But with the Hawks currently playing in the Western Conference finals and ranking as the youngest team in the NHL (average age 25.5), with a roster built around cornerstones who are 20 and 21 years old (Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, respectively), at some point the Hawks are going to be one of the last two teams standing in the fight for Lord Stanley's Cup. Hopefully, before you die, they will lift hockey's holy grail.

4. Go to a Pro-Am Summer League game at IIT.

Let NYC have the EBC; tricks are for kids. Basketball in the summer in the Chi is not entertainment, it's basketball at the highest level of non-payment. NBA stars come through and are introduced to the city's finest. Get beat and embarrassed by cats who can't make it in the league, and not just by crossovers and dunks. Embarrassment and honor are bestowed in the Pro-Am by points. And there are no nicknames given at the end of a performance. We want everyone to remember your name.

5. See a high school football game at Gately Stadium.

Drive down to 103rd off the Bishop Ford Highway, and on any given Saturday you'll see what PSL football is really about. Legendary for the games that have been played there, Gately is the closest thing to the prep version of Soldier Field that the city can offer. And historically, it's not too far behind in importance.

6. Watch Jennie Finch on the mound.

Forget her looks for a minute, if you can. Watching Finch in the circle is a real thing of beauty. The gold-medal winner will be throwing for the Chicago Bandits again this summer on the campus of Judson University in Elgin.

7. Experience Wrigley at night.

It took decades for them to finally realize baseball could be played after 6 p.m. on the North Side, and once they did -- even though it's only done around 30 times each season -- it's one of the city's most beautiful experiences.

[+] EnlargeBears Fans Tailgating
David Stluka/Getty ImagesTailgating at Soldier Field is an amazing experience -- and it goes to a new level when the Pack is in town.

8. Tailgate at a Packers-Bears game.

Brats, barbecue and brew. That's at every home game, but when the Packers come to town … it reaches a whole 'nother level. There's nothing else like it in the city, probably because the entire city crams itself into Soldier Field's parking lots. Every season, it's without question the city's best party.

9. Watch a day of softball games at Grant Park.

After work during the week, or all day on the weekends, there's nothing like watching Clinchers fly off the bats on one or all of the 16 softball fields that make up the city's own slow-pitch Field of Dreams.

10. Ice-skate at Marina City (R.I.P.) or play hockey on the Midway.

Before the House of Blues and Bin 36 took over the spot, Marina City was one of the greatest joys the city had to offer during the winter. If you experienced it before they replaced the rink with a stage and general admission seating, you know how special Marina City was. But now it's pickup hockey on the strip down 55th Street that separates the University of Chicago from the neighborhood that surrounds it. It's like playing in the Winter Classic. Except you aren't Nikolai Khabibulin.

11. Watch Michael Jordan hoop at Foster Park.

A random weekend visit to this South Side gym can turn into a special treat, because it's the place where MJ still shows and proves that he can't be messed with. Bad finger and all, "$" often runs with a collection of the best players to ever come out of the city. But this isn't the PG-13 Jordan; this is the R-rated version. His words to those who try to guard him are often just as vicious as his jump shot. Keep the kids at home.

12. Watch or play in the AVP volleyball tournament at Oak Street Beach.

It used to be the only place in Chicago where you'd get to see Karch Kiraly, in person, on sand, doing what God created him to do best. For the serious volleyball player stuck in a city where summers usually last only six weeks, this was the Super Bowl. For the casual or non-volleyball fan: exoticness. For one three-day weekend in Chicago, you get to feel what California and Brazil feel like regularly. The only thing missing: Duran Duran as the house band, singing "Girls On Film."

13. Attend the Proviso West Holiday Tournament.

It's the best Christmas basketball tournament in America. Has been for the past 15 years. The games that have been played in this tournament are some of the greatest games in the city's storied history of high school hoops. Almost every year, you're guaranteed at least one game you'll be talking about 20 years later. The Mark Aguirre vs. Isiah Thomas matchup in '77 (Aguirre scored 35; Isiah won the game at the line in the final seconds); the 2005 game between Glenbrook North and the host school when pre-Duke Jon Scheyer dropped 52 (21 in 75 seconds!); the 1970 championship battle of the two defending state champions, Proviso East and Lyons Township, that went into overtime and still remains the highest-scoring championship game in the tournament's history; the '07 Whitney Young vs. Homewood-Flossmoor 55-53 overtime classic! To be honest, winning here, to some, is considered just as prestigious as winning "state," aka the IHSA state basketball championship.

14. Meet Connie Payton and tell her how much her husband meant to you.

Walter Payton
AP Photo/Red McLendonWalter Payton is definitely in the conversation about Chicago's greatest athletes.

Walter Payton's widow does so many charity events and appearances that it's not far-fetched to think you might run into her at some point. One of the city's unofficial ambassadors, along with Oprah and Michelle Obama, Ms. Payton holds a regal, almost mythical position in the hearts of many Chicagoans because of what her husband gave to the city. Just shaking her hand and saying "Thank you" to her on behalf of "Sweetness" is one of the greatest feelings any Chicagoan can get.

15. Buy a stranger an Old Style at Harry Caray's.

Tradition. Everyone has to do this at least once.

16. Attend the Double Duty Classic at U.S. Cellular Field.

The first Negro League East-West All-Star Game was held in old Comiskey Park 76 years ago. Last season, the White Sox (with the help of everyone from Jackie Robinson's widow, Rachel Robinson, to Sox legend Harold Baines) honored the heritage of the Negro Leagues by hosting a game played by inner-city high school all-stars (one team comprised of players from Chicago, the other of kids from across the country) in honor of Negro League great Ted "Double Duty" Radcliffe. It's the only game of its kind, and the second annual edition will be played July 10.

17. Buy or inherit something from the original Morrie Mages Sports Store.

620 N. LaSalle. That's all you had to say. It was a Chicago landmark, just as famous as the John Hancock Building and Buckingham Fountain. Seven floors of sports. Plus a basement. Bears gear, Blackhawks gear, Cubs, Bulls, Sox, Sting! There was no place in the country like it. It was more than a shopping experience. Bought out by MC Sports in 1987 and now a Sports Authority with a huge Nike ad on the side of building, the apparel cathedral with the hand prints of all Chicago sports heroes on the front of the store was once a must-see destination for anyone living or visiting the city. You either did one or all three things when you went downtown: Walk down State Street, go to Uno's or Gino's Pizzeria, and buy something from Morrie Mages. And if you missed the last one, your trip to Chicago was incomplete.

18. See a Marshall girls high school basketball game.

Marshall has nine state titles. Not even King or Simeon high schools (combined) on the boys side can match the program Dorothy Gaters has built on the West Side of town. More than 900 wins. Ballers including Cappie Pondexter and Adrienne GodBold. The list is too long to unfurl. It's Tennessee-like. You can go all over the country and never witness the type of ball that goes down at Marshall. It's beyond a factory; it's a family. And they ball like this year after year.

19. Lose a friendship arguing over who was the greatest, most influential, beloved sports figure in the city's history not named Jordan.

Names in the argument include Banks, Payton, Ali, Ditka, Butkus, Garnett, Parker, Mikita, Hull, Santo, Maddux, Fisk, Sosa, Guillen, Singletary, Williams, Wilson, Sandberg, Esposito, etc. It's either bound to happen or you have to force it to happen. It's damn near a rite of passage into the sports culture of the city. Before any of you bite the dust, you have to prove a point to your friend (or a collection of friends all at once) that your guy (fill in the blank) meant more to the city than their guy. You have to argue until you bleed or you make one of them lose blood. Either way, you have to walk away and vow that you will never speak to those people again because they are "idiots!" Then wait a week and call them to see if they want to watch a Bulls or Bears game with you.

20. Put yourself in a position to get invited to sing "Take Me Out To The Ball Game" at Wrigley.

C'mon, if Bill Murray can do it, why not you?

Scoop Jackson is a columnist for ESPN.com and ESPNChicago.com.

Scoop Jackson | email

ESPN.com columnist

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