They streamed into the cemeteries all day Thursday, with relatives and fans draping Cubs’ caps, rally towels and “W’’ flags on tombstones of loved ones throughout the city of Chicago.
There were a dozen baskets of green apples and cases of Budweiser cans and bottles at beloved broadcaster Harry Caray’s gravesite in Des Plaines, and a dozen roses and rally flags at Hall of Famer Ernie Banks’ tombstone at the Graceland Cemetery, a half-mile away from Wrigley Field.
Fans encircled the brick wall outside Wrigley Field, writing the names of relatives who didn’t live long enough to see this, like Jim Murphy, the late owner of Murphy’s Bleachers. They wrote inspirational messages, spiritual passages, or just their own names, proving they were there.
The heartbreak is finally over.
Now, after their team finally won a World Series championship, Chicago Cubs fans are trying to figure out how they’re supposed to act.
The moment the Cubs won the World Series Wednesday night, in one of the most thrilling Game 7s in World Series history, a 35-year-old man actually collapsed at Harry Caray’s restaurant on Kinzie Street, and went into the fetal position.
And wouldn’t move.
He sat there, rocking back and forth, sobbing.
The Cubs, by winning their first World Series in 108 years with their heart-stopping 8-7, 10-inning victory over the Cleveland Indians, had folks doing a lot of strange things, even without the assistance of alcohol.
“Why not, it was the biggest moment in sports history in the world,’’ says Grant DePorter, CEO of the Harry Caray restaurant group, who who watched the game with 87-year-old Dutchie, the widow of Harry Caray. “And that’s an understatement.
“When the Indians tied that game up, the way Dutchie looked, I thought I would have to take her to the hospital. And when they won, she was so elated, she knew that Harry would be buying the biggest round of beers for all of his buddies.”
The Cubs were a team that America fell in love with this summer, and spread throughout the world.
“I think it was one the most charismatic teams they ever built there,’’ says Beth Murphy, owner of Murphy’s Bleachers, who hosted a late-night rooftop party during the NLCS with comedian Bill Murray, singer Eddie Vedder, actor John Cusack and former Cubs star Rick Sutcliffe. “It’s funny to me that everyone keeps saying they are so young, they don’t know about the curse. Well, the 1969 team didn’t know about 1945. The ’84 team didn’t know about 1969. So it’s always been that way.
“To see it happen, now, after all of these years, was really more of a relief, than celebration. You kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. You kept waiting for something bad to happen. And when it didn’t, you really didn’t know what to do.
“It wasn’t until I drove home, watching people driving in circles, blowing their horns, and driving this way and that way, where I said, “Please God, get me home.’ We did it.’’
Really, it was no different than the Cubs, themselves. Their World Series was actually the tamest of their four celebrations, partying harder after clinching the NL Central, winning the Division Series against the San Francisco Giants, and then the NLCS against the Dodgers.
“It was such a relief,’’ Cubs owner Tom Ricketts said. “Really, you think about the Cubs as a member of your family. Like all members of your family, you love them, but sometimes they let you down. And they might let you down for 108 years in a row. And we did.
“But I love the fact when a Cubs’ fan walks into the office, and someone asks when was the last time the Cubs won the World Series, they can say:
It was if everyone tried to break the 108-year drought right along with them. You couldn’t help but fall in love with them. There wasn’t a more joyous place to be than the Cubs’ clubhouse, where every regular-season victory was cherished and the enthusiasm infectious, from 22-year-old All-Star shortstop Addison Russell to 39-year-old backup catcher David Ross.
Ross, with his teammates vowing all year to win a World Series championship for him in his final season, couldn’t even finish his postgame interview, with Anthony Rizzomoving to his right, and Jason Heyward to his left, picking him up carrying him off the field.
“This has been a storybook season for me,’’ said Ross, who became the oldest player to homer in a World Series game, “and I got my happy ending.’’
It was Heyward, the only Cubs player who didn’t produce get a hit, score a run or drive in a run in Game 7, but delivered the biggest moment of the evening.
Heyward, the son of Dartmouth graduates, who struggled all season hitting just .230 with seven homers, and rarely raises his voice, called an impromptu team meeting during the 17-minute rain delay before the 10th inning. It was the first time in his career, he says, he ever did such a thing.
He had just watched closer Aroldis Chapman break down in tears after giving up a stunning two-run, game-tying home run to Rajai Davis in the eighth inning, when the Cubs were just four outs away from victory. He looked at the body language of 23-year-old second baseman Javy Baez, after failing to execute a safety-squeeze. He saw the dejection of his teammates when Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor ranged far into shallow center field, threw out Dexter Fowler, to keep the game tied in the ninth.
“At that moment,’’ Heyward said, “I just had to vent a little bit. I was a little heated. I told them, ‘This is a great team. We won 103 games. We overcame adversity all year. Let’s keep that fire. Here we are boys, let’s reset, and let’s go do this thing.’’
The game resumed in 17 minutes, and about a half hour later, at precisely 12:47 ET, the scoreboard revealed it to the world: Cubs 8, Indians 7.
The Cubs, the first visiting team to ever win a Game 7 in extra innings, were champions of the world.
Harry Caray once uttered those famous words: “Sure as God made green apples, someday the Chicago Cubs are going to be in the World Series.”
They won it, Harry, they really won it, with one of the most passionate groups of close-knit players you’ll ever see.
“I think human beings can accomplish more for each other,’’ says Cubs president Theo Epstein, the ultimate curse buster who also was the architect of the Boston Red Sox’s first World Series championship since 1918, “when they feel connected. Our guys pulled it off. They stayed together. They care about each other. They like each other. They overcame tough circumstances.
“I don’t mean to sound corny, but I think that’s why we won. ’’
Epstein paused, broke into the widest grin the North Side of Chicago has seen in 108 years, and yelled: “I’m going on a bender for a month.’’
Holy cow, hope he doesn’t mind company, because every Cubs’ fan in the world just might be pulling up a bar stool and joining him.
This article was republished with permission from the original publisher, USA Today. Follow Bob Nightengale on Twitter @BNightengale