The Chicago Blackhawks are back, and so are their fans.
Not just in Chicago, displaced Blackhawk fans from around the country, and across the border are flocking "home" to be part of the Madhouse on Madison.
Spotted in a standing room section of the United Centre: a couple of veteran fans from Toronto who made the trek to witness hockey history in Chicago.
For the "committed," this Blackhawks' revival is part Woodstock, part religious experience, and a laugh all the way to the bank for scalpers taking advantage of impassioned fans foregoing college fund savings in order to take in a Hawks home game.
No one in Section 323 of the standing room zone was complaining about the price of a ticket after the Blackhawks beat the Philadelphia Flyers 7-4 in Game 5 on Sunday night, putting the Hawks within a game of their first Stanley Cup victory in nearly five decades.
Such was the bedlam, during a post-game, ice-level interview with winger Kris Versteeg not a word he said could be heard above the din.
One more victory would make this a Blackhawk season for the ages, but this is already a team for all ages. When the Blackhawks score at home, children and teenagers in their crisp, red Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews T-shirts and jerseys are up dancing to the familiar Chelsea Dagger song by the Fratellis, celebrating alongside middle-aged men wearing the sweaters of Hull and Mikita.
The beauty of an Original Six franchise rising up is the sense of renewal. Contend for a Cup and what's old is new. There are Hull, Mikita, Tony Esposito, Ab McDonald and Denis Savard smiling down from an arena suite, a chance for them to shine again, and for fans of a certain age to remember when.
The Blackhawks last won the Stanley Cup by beating the Detroit Red Wings in Game 6 on April 16, 1961. John Diefenbaker was Canada's prime minister and John F. Kennedy was in the White House. The very next day after the Hawks win, President Kennedy invaded Cuba with a band of Cuban exiles and the so-called Bay of Pigs crisis was full on.
Who knew it would also be the start of a crisis of sorts for the Blackhawks 49 years without a Stanley Cup championship.
The young Chicago stars of the day, Bobby Hull and Stan Mikita, similar to Kane and Toews today, thought they would win another Cup title in the 1960s, but didn't put it together. When they should have won, in 1971, a goalie named Ken Dryden and a goal from Jacques Lemaire near centre ice broke Blackhawk hearts. In '73, the Montreal Canadiens again beat Chicago in the final.
Would it ever happen for the Blackhawks? John Stout and Phil Clarke were beginning to wonder. Friends used to tell them "you won't live long enough" to see another championship.
For nearly 35 seasons, Stout and Clarke have witnessed the travails from close range, first as season ticket partners in the old Stadium, and then in the United Centre.
"We've owned these tickets and sat through a lot of lousy hockey,' Clarke says, "but some pretty good hockey, too."
As a child, attending Blackhawks games with his father, Stout remembers the old Stadium as a place to fear.
"My memories were, that this was a very dangerous crowd," Stout says, standing outside a 100-level brew pub, brimming with pre-game anticipation. "A lot of bad language. You could smoke in the old stadium, not inside (the arena) but there was so much smoke in the corridors, the air was blue."
For business reasons, Stout moved to Ottawa in 2005. He is part owner of North Star Air Ltd. and Canoe Frontier Inc., specializing in air charter and paddling trips into remote lakes in northwestern Ontario.
Still, he gets to as many Blackhawks games as he can, a playoff regular on the United Express shuttle from Ottawa. If this series goes to Game 7, Stout would walk to Chicago if there were no alternative.
He fondly remembers games at the Stadium, their season seats in the path of anthem singer Wayne Messmer and the famed organ loft. Players not dressed for the game would sit in this area, and the section more like family than mere fans would tease them about their choice of wardrobe.
Clarke more or less descends from sport royalty in these parts. His grandfather, also named Phil Clarke, was part owner of the Cleveland Indians when they won the 1948 World Series, the Indians of Lou Boudreau, Bob Feller, Larry Doby and Bob Lemon.
When Cubs boss Bill Veeck Sr. passed away, the Clarke family was bequeathed Veeck's front row seats for the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Veeck Jr., the famous huckster as owner of the Chicago White Sox, also once dated Clarke's mother.
I could've been Bill Veeck's kid, laughs Clarke, an investment banker in Chicago. The Hawks theme is One Goal' and now one symbolizes the work left on the table.
One day, the Chicago Cubs will win a World Series again and the city will go crazy for Cubbies.
For now, this is Hawkeytown' and even Michael Jordan shows up at the UC in a Jonathan Toews jersey, waving a rally towel.
If they win it, said one long-suffering Blackhawks fan, I will probably have to go off by myself somewhere and bawl my eyes out. You put so much into this.
And it seems worth it when fans get this much out of it.