There is a scene in the 2009 movie “Up In The Air” where George Clooney’s character (Ryan Bingham, a “job termination facilitator” for a human resources company) gives an inspirational speech at a corporate seminar. He stands at a podium in one of those big, sterile hotel conference rooms.
His talk revolves around how the things we love can be burdensome. He compares all of our interpersonal relationships to wearing a heavy backpack—and how all the conversations, negotiations and conflicts of those partnerships can drag a person down, with the straps creating divots in the shoulders.
Now take the Cubs fan’s relationship with the team. Imagine how heavy that backpack was until Wednesday’s Game 7 victory.
It was 108 years of misery. A century-plus of broken promises and unrealized potential. Bad drafts. Weak pitching. Questionable management. Failures in the postseason. And it carried over to derisive mocking at the hands of friends, family members, strangers on the bus, late-night talk show hosts and so on.
And much like the movie, Dexter Fowler hit one ‘up in the air’ and out of Progressive Field. 406 feet to be exact. The backpack felt even lighter after a 5-1 lead. It went back to having the weight of a hundred cinder blocks after nine innings. But Anthony Rizzo, Ben Zobrist, Miguel Montero and C.J. Edwards helped to ensure the Cubs’ eventual cutting of the backpack straps, much like a college basketball team does to the nets after a championship. The Cubs cut down 39,467 consecutive, burdensome days. Their job was complete. The backpack lay in a shambles.
And just like that, the wait - and weight - was history.
Gone was the tired shot of the 1908 Cubs team photo, with the bizarre mascot front and center.
Gone, also, were the losses in the 1910 and 1918 World Series, the latter to Babe Ruth and the Boston Red Sox.
Out of the backpack was the inexplicable loss to the Philadelphia Athletics in Game 4 of the 1929 World Series, where the Cubs led 8-0 in the seventh and ended up losing 10-8. Also vacated: Babe Ruth calling his shot in the 1932 series. And the Cubs failure to capitalize on a 100-win season in 1935. Same goes for Gabby Hartnett’s 1938 “Homer In The Gloamin,” which was a mere regular season footnote after another stinging October loss to the Yankees.
Another backpack casualty was the 1945 World Series. No more carrying around that loss to the Tigers—the last such championship series appearance for the next 71 years. In fact, Sam Sianis’ billy goat may have started to eat away at the backpack a little. Don’t goats eat everything anyway?
The mundane Cubs of the 1950s? Gone. The blotchy College of Coaches era of the early 60s? See you later. No black cats of 1969 tugging on the shoulders anymore, either.
Gone are all the “Completely Useless By September” acronyms, fitting of the 1977 club that had an 8.5 game lead in late June and, somehow, finished 81-81 and 20 games back.
The audio of the Lee Elia tirade of 1983 is silenced. The vision of the ball going through Leon Durham’s legs in 1984 is now opaque. Cubs fans will no longer get chided about Andre Dawson’s MVP effort being wasted on a last place team in 1987. Or how Will Clark’s dominance in the 1989 NLCS led to the Cubs demise.
Does the 0-14 start in 1997 give you chills? Maybe not as much now. Ditto with how the Cubs fell flat against the vaunted Braves pitching staff in the 1998 NLDS.
Steve Bartman and the 2003 Cubs might have set the backpack on fire.
The players who smashed Sammy Sosa’s boom box after the 2004 season –perhaps the same ones who critiqued the team broadcasters after a late-season collapse-- probably took a few whacks at the backpack, too.
Still carrying around that burden of Ted Lilly slamming his glove to the mound in the 2007 NLDS? Don’t worry. It’s been released. Same goes for that James Loney grand slam in 2008 that sent Wrigley Field into a catatonic state.
The 100-loss team in 2012? Theo Epstein helped kick that to the curb as part of the new Cubs Way.
Turn the backpack upside down and shake out the one remaining artifact—the meager NLCS exit in 2015 against the Mets.
The wait is over. The ‘weight’ is a thing of the past, too. No longer are the talks of curses, billy goats, black cats and bad omens. The towels that were used by the Cubs pitching staff a decade ago are now backpack-free, currently used to wipe champagne out of the eyes. No more jabs about priests spraying Holy water on dugouts or freak injuries to prized starting pitchers. Forget about trying to explain the “Eamus Catuli” sign, a yearly numeric chronicle of Cubs failure, to confused onlookers. No more chants of “19-08, clap-clap, clap-clap-clap” in road venues across the country.
The Chicago Cubs are World Series champions, and their fans can finally raise their hands in victory above their sore, tired shoulders.
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