I would like to officially throw my hat into the ring and support the Chicago bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics. I’m sure the president and Oprah are both relieved. I have listened to the arguments from both sides, and my decision really comes down to just two factors. First, in these very tough economic times, no matter the potential risks involved, I don’t think the City of Chicago, the State of Illinois, or the United States as a whole should pass on a chance to stimulate the economy starting almost immediately and continuing for years to come. And second, the Olympics are just plain old cool. I truly just enjoy that every other year, alternating winter and summer, we get to stand behind our athletes and our country and watch with pride events that barely even make the sports page at any other time. Who didn’t watch Michael Phelps at some point during the last Olympic Games in Beijing? And really, no-one even cared that he was caught hitting the bong later on. He is still a 14 time Olympic Gold Medalist. That is cool.
Sure, I could go on and on about the jobs that will be created, the potential benefits to the city’s infrastructure, and the added tax revenues created by ticket, food, and souvenir sales. Not to mention all that hotel revenue. But I will leave all that to Richie Dailey and whatever magic math system he is using. Whether it is 2 billion, 40 billion, or 570 billion, all the different models seem to point to some sort of revenue boost. Don’t forget, these games are seven years away, and a lot can happen in seven years. Yes it is scary and uncertain, and there is a great potential for failure in so many ways. But there is also a great potential for good. Who knows what changes can be made in the next seven years based on the Olympics coming to Chicago. In seven years, my youngest daughter Molly will be 17 and just getting ready to enter her Senior year in high school. In seven years, if President Obama is successfully re-elected in 2012, he will be in the final months of his administration when the Chicago Olympic Games kick off. In seven years, regardless of how our local sports teams do, there could be a championship in the City of Chicago. An Olympic Championship.
The world can change so much in seven years. Back in 2002 President Bush was at the height of his popularity, still garnishing approval from his initial reaction to the September 11th attacks, his approval rating that year stayed between 70% and 80%. At the same time, Illinois State Senator Barack Obama was just looking into the possibility of running for the United States Senate, having lost a bid for the House of Representative two years earlier to the incumbent, Bobby Rush. In 2002, Kelly Clarkson became the first winner of American Idol, beating out the now forgotten Justin Guarini, while Nelly was telling my then 11-year-old daughter Stephanie to take off all her clothes. TV’s top rated show was still Friends and there was no CSI in Miami or New York yet, although Law & Order has already successfully spun off two new series. Spider-Man was the top grossing film of 2002, but Harry Potter was making a ton of money at both the theater and in the book stores.
And of course, since we are talking about what has become the world’s most attended sporting event coming to Chicago, we should take a few moments to reflect back on what the state of Chicago sports was back in 2002. The 2001-2002 season saw the second return of Michael Jordan, only this time he did so as a member of the Washington Wizards, and the Bulls finished the season a dismal 21-61 after drafting hot high school prospects Tyson Chandler and Eddy Curry. Head coach Tim Floyd didn’t even make it to 2002, resigning on Christmas Eve 2001, eventually being replaced by assistant coach Bill Cartwright. That same season, the BlackHawks just managed to squeeze into the playoffs under the guidance of Head Coach Brian Sutter and stars Tony Amonte and Eric Daze. But they were knocked out in the first round by St. Louis. This had been the first playoff appearance for the BlackHawks since 1998, and they would not see another playoff berth for another seven years. The 2002 season for the Chicago Bears would be remembered best as the year of 16 away games. While renovations were being completed on Soldier Field, the Bears played their entire home season in Memorial Stadium out of the University of Illinois down in Champaign-Urbana. Having just come off of a miracle 13-3 season, there were high hopes for the 2002 Bears. But the long commute and injuries plagued the Bears that year, and they finished a miserable 4-12. After only one more year, head coach Dick Jauron was let go.
And of course, that brings us to baseball. Going into the 2002 season, Chicago baseball had gone a combined total of 179 years without a World Series Championship. Neither team fared much better in 2002. The White Sox under manager Jerry Manuel finished 2nd in their division with an 81-81 record, while the Cubs finished next to the bottom with a record of 67-95 under last year manager Don Baylor. The highlight of the Sox year was an All-Star bid for first baseman Paul Konerko, where he hit two doubles to tie the game up in Milwaukee. The game ended in a tie, resulting in Commissioner Bud Selig to create the “This Time it Counts” campaign, where the winning league from the All-Star game gets home field advantage in the World Series. The American League has won every year since.
So here we are, seven years later, and both the Bulls and the BlackHawks made it back to the playoffs this year. The Bears made it back to the Superbowl in January of 2007, losing 29-17 to the Indianapolis Colts. The Cubs missed the World Series by just five outs in the infamous Bartman Ball year of 2003, and won two straight division championships in 2007 and 2008. The White Sox finally ended the Chicago drought by winning the World Series in 2005, and also won their division in 2008. Unfortunately, neither team made the playoffs this year, but in the big picture, the Chicago sports scene has certainly changed over the last seven years.
So now we are just a day away from the big announcement. Will the Olympics be coming to Chicago? In my lifetime I have been blessed to see six world championships with the Chicago Bulls, the 1985 Bears Superbowl, attended both the 2002 and 2003 All-Star games in Milwaukee and here in Chicago. Just this year I got to see Mark Buehrle throw a perfect game, and of course I was in attendance in some form at all four World Series games won by the Sox back in 2005. What a great thing it would be to be able to add the 2016 Olympic Games to that list.