Oh hi! I’m Jiggly. And it’s a Tuesday.
The Fire didn’t play this week, thus leaving them in a state of limbo. They are currently a playoff team, which is nice; but they still haven’t played like a convincing playoff team yet. That won’t really matter for a while as MLS as a whole has taken a break for the League’s Cup. Personally, I have no real interest in this, but it’s really the only thing on that’s playing at a reasonable time (Yes, there’s World Cup games at around 8 or 9 every other day, but it’s almost never the teams I want to watch). The only really interesting thing that happened this past week was Messi’s goal and I’ve already spoken way too much about that guy (Although, I do believe that whatever scab that wrote his first goal is a hack and should be ashamed of themselves).
So what am I gonna talk about? Well, I got a couple things that have been clattering around in my head lately surrounding the Fire. You can wait until next week for something maybe a bit more relevant to current Fire events, or you can read it and have a fun time. Your choice.
My first “social media” where I really felt like I could talk about the Chicago Fire was BigSoccer. I joined when I was in high school and enjoyed complaining about the team alongside all of the other old dudes. While I’d since moved on to Twitter, Discord, and am even trying out TikTok as a platform to talk about the Fire, I’m still pretty damn active on BigSoccer. And today, the day I’m writing this column, I found a new thread started by a student researcher from the University of Massachusetts. I don’t know if they were majoring in sociology or anthropology, but they were asking for responses to a survey on rivalries. Since BigSoccer had been a tool for these researchers for almost a decade when it came to gathering information on soccer fans, they wanted members of the Chicago Fire forums to offer their thoughts on who the Fire’s biggest rivals were.
I know how hard it is for a student to get responses for a project, even if it’s one as successful as this one, so I made sure to offer my thoughts. The survey itself seemed like it was geared towards much more serious rivalries like Celtic/Rangers, Alabama/Auburn, or Red Sox/Yankees. There were some members of the forum that mentioned that they or a family member had such strong feelings towards other teams in other sports, but there was nothing really there for the Fire. The ensuing conversation brought about the question: Who are the true rivals of the Chicago Fire?
Traditionally, I think that the Fire have three main rivals: Columbus Crew, New England Revolution, and LA Galaxy. I grew up hating these teams, even repeating some pretty terrible things about some opposing players for an embarrassingly long period of my life. They’re things that are definitely not okay to say that I still hear from some older fans today because it’s just something that becomes a part of how you view the other team. But as time has gone on, many of these teams have passed the Fire in the league. When the Fire left the Western Conference, the Galaxy continued to improve and while they’ve had hiccups, they’re still the darlings of MLS. The Revs had their time as the Fire’s fiercest rivals in the mid 00’s, constantly showing up in the playoffs, but expansion created more diversity in the Eastern Conference and the two teams went their separate ways (both teams struggling with making the playoffs helped, too). And Columbus, who I’ve always viewed as the Fire’s biggest and most constant rivals, have a new, much more local rival in FC Cincinnati. They’re all gone now.
But the funniest thing about these old rivalries is that they’ve transformed from a heated hatred, complete with a few fights in parking lots, to a tentative friendship between supporters. While these are some old rivalries, like a Bears/Packers or an Original Six matchup, the difference is that older MLS fans are honestly just happy that the league has survived this long and know that success somewhere is success everywhere (except in some cases). A majority of the Fire fan base has actually offered help to a lot of these opposing fans in disputes with their clubs’ front offices. Back around 2012, there was a “Support the Fort” movement in New England as fans protested the lack of investment in the club from owner Robert Kraft. And just this season, we’ve seen protests from Galaxy supporters’ groups against Chris Klein that actually led to his sacking. Fire fans, while finding it fun to see a rival struggling on the pitch, still believed that these rivals deserved the dignity of being heard by those in power. Fire fans have dealt with their own battles and have even been asked for advice from these other groups for help. None so needed as #SaveTheCrew.
I wasn’t lying when I said I truly believe that Columbus has always been the Fire’s biggest rival. It’s local, just a bus ride away for over 20 years. In the early days, it was truly a battle of giants, as both teams really were near the top of the league. I grew up with an aversion to the color yellow, which was incredibly difficult when I ended up at a high school where our main colors were blue and gold, and I didn’t have anything gold for the day we needed to wear the same color. But when Anthony Precourt threatened to move the Crew from Columbus to Austin, I wanted to be a part of the group going out there to support them. Because while I want the Fire to win every time they play them, they need to exist in order for that to happen.
Nowadays, we’ve got a couple of newer possible rivals. While the older rivals are historical and felt by older fans, a lot of those older fans have moved on, leaving mostly just me and a few other people to attempt to educate newer fans about club history. Those newer fans, especially some in this very organization, have made it known the teams that they hated: New York City FC and St. Louis CITY.
The first is NYCFC who make sense as rivals. Chicago vs New York, one of the great debates. It’s the same sort of reason why the Fire are rivals with the Galaxy, although with maybe a bit less of the background history (There’s so much to talk about with AEG that I can’t get into now). However, there’s been some interesting results between the Fire and NYCFC, like the 2016 Season Opener where Veljko Paunovic’s maiden effort ended with a shootout where the Fire didn’t even feel like they were anywhere close. Or the Final game of the 2020 where the Fire were holding onto any hope that they could reach the playoff, instead falling to the same tragedy that many others have seen: (Taty) Castellanos with a deep drive to left field. And finally, there’s that one Fire win the following season at a near-empty SeatGeek Stadium that I have almost no memory of (for reasons).
Then, of course, there’s what I’ve called “The Downriver Derby” with St. Louis CITY. Admittedly, this rivalry may have been a bit manufactured, but it doesn’t make it any less fun. The two cities have shared sports rivalries, literal municipal rivalries, and even some old-school soccer rivalries. And the first two games between the clubs were so perfect, with a struggling Fire team beating down on a St. Louis team that was top of the Western Conference twice in the same week after firing their coach literally days before. The problem is that these feelings might be a bit one-sided. Our researcher friend might end up finding out that Fire fans might hate St. Louis more than they care about us because they’re really trying to be Sporting Kansas City’s rivals. So while it’s fun to see some of the banter, the fun will probably end the moment that they get just one win on the Fire. It’s kinda like how “Burrowhead” was a thing for literally one week before Patrick Mahomes immediately put an end to the Bengals’ streak in the AFC Championship game this year.
In the end, it’s almost like no one cares anymore. The Fire have been coached by Ezra Hendrickson, Brian McBride has started at striker, and even Taylor Twellman now has the respect of a lot of Fire fans. In fact, he’s one of the few major analysts to still talk about the Chicago Fire and how they should be better than they are. A lot of these guys have been vocal advocates and witnesses to the Fire’s dominance from the old days. They remember when these rivalries were genuinely heated and the team was good enough to show up for those games. Nowadays, the Fire don’t really have those kind of rivals anymore. I had the Brimstone Cup sitting in my room all winter and I haven’t mentioned Dallas once in this segment. And that should tell you a lot about how much more the trophy matters more than the rivalry. The team just hasn’t been competitive enough, the games aren’t wild enough, and the league has just changed so much. There’s no team that can be that villain for Fire fans in the way that we all want there to be.
But there is one villain. The front office. In the fashion shown by how Fire fans have gone out of their way to even support their rivals because we all know what it feels like to have an FO that feels opposed to the club’s and the supporters’ core values. Things have been improving, but it’s interesting to see how many people on that BigSoccer forum feel about the FO. It was almost an implicit agreement among those in that thread that spurred this segment that everyone could agree that the only group of people that fans still hold animosity towards are those who led the club down this path. And no matter whether this is reasonable or irrational, it just reminds me of an old Simpsons line that just makes sense: “They’re mortal enemies. Like Fire fans and the Fire FO. Like the Fire and the Fire. Damn Chicago Fire, they ruined the Fire.”
The Love of The Game
My college diploma came in a week or so ago and I finally got it into a frame this weekend. I’m actually planning on hopefully having a small ceremony out in the lot before a game sometime later this season, but even without that, I finally feel like an official college graduate. And while my degree ended up being in Film and Television (with a focus in screenwriting) instead of something like Journalism or, God forbid, Statistics, I still ended up bringing up my experience with sports a lot. I loved talking about how I approach writing characters by almost immediately giving them a team that they or someone in their family supports and how sports is, and probably always will be, the best show on television. If you don’t immediately believe me, think of a great TV show. Something masterfully written, well-paced, wonderful characters that grow throughout. Maybe it’s the classic Breaking Bad or maybe you’re like me and you’re thinking about Avatar: The Last Airbender. Now, as a Chicago Fire fan, rewatch Frank Klopas’ game-winner from the 1998 US Open Cup. Or, as a bonus, Jason Johnson’s 92nd-minute game-winner against Seattle in 2015. Now which made you feel more emotion?
So, with a fairly empty week, I’d like to take just a quick moment to talk about how amazing sports are as television and a part of culture. If you don’t need any more convincing, I’d like to recommend you find a friend or a family member who doesn’t really believe in sports as entertainment or in some way disapproves of sports and the culture surrounding it. Cause I’d like to talk to them for a moment, if you don’t mind.
Hello, friend or family member of a MenInRed97 reader. I’m Jiggly. You may laugh at the name, but I do have a film degree from a prestigious art school, so I hope you’ll give me the chance to talk to you about what I consider to be the most well-written show in the world: Sports.
You know, going back to that Klopas goal or the JJ game-winner I mentioned just before you got here, the thing that always jumps out to me is how surreal those moments are. They’re so incredibly real that it just feels fake. Every time I watch highlights like that, I almost can’t process it as something that actually happened for someone. TikTok and YouTube have been feeding me compilations of old football highlights and the video of Earl Campbell getting his shirt torn off on a blown-up toss play is now drilled into my head. He looks like some sort of superhero bursting through all of those guys.
The thing that so much of film strives for is that feeling of relatability, that reality within it. It’s just that it’s heightened to a state where it can become entertaining. In my opinion, art can only really be affecting if it has some relation to reality. You need to see something you recognize in order to understand something and be changed from it. But, at the same time, those who approach art usually don’t want to be faced with their own boring reality. The drudgery of work, school, even their family. They seek change, something that they can’t get within their normal life. Sports provides that by giving you some dudes running around. It simplifies life and dramatizes it with competition. And while that competition may be surreal or misunderstood by some, it is still just as real as all of Tom Cruise’s stunts (I was going to reference legendary surrealist Luis Buñuel’s film Un Chien Andalou, but I just looked it up and it was an animal’s eye, not the woman’s).
My point is that sports have this level of separation from reality, yet are still fully real. It may feel like a simulation or a simulacrum to those who view it, it is very real. Shohei Ohtani’s bat shouldn’t be making this sound, but it does. Conor Bedard shouldn’t be able to control this little rubber disc with a stick so well, but he does. And you would think that the random nature of reality would keep Messi from scoring an injury time game-winning goal on his debut, but he does it anyway.
That’s the next thing about sports, which is that the entire existence of sports as a concept is somehow comforting. Because no matter if Messi buries that goal or if he sends it out into the parking lot, everyone would feel like everything was built up towards that moment, that what had happened was preordained by everything that came before. It’s a story that you’ve heard before, it makes sense. Sports narratives are so complex, yet so simple. So nebulous, yet so straight-forward. Whether you’re a constant contender like the New England Patriots or a perennial loser like our beloved Chicago Fire, that is a narrative that has built itself in a completely organic and natural way. I am someone who believes in the will of the writer and that even if they made a bad decision in the story from my point of view, I will stand by what they did because that was their choice as a writer. It’s something that no one around here but me cares about, but I will always defend Kei Sasuga’s burning trash fire that is the final seven chapters of Domestic na Kanojo because that is the story that she wanted to tell. And I think that mentality comes from being a sports fan and learning to accept defeat, learning from a young age that things simply won’t always go your way and things may end up messy. It’s okay if things are messy, because that’s just what it was supposed to be.
This leads into the greatest comfort in sports, which is that it just keeps going. There’s the old saying from Cubs fans: “There’s always next year”. The greatest lesson that sports can teach us is that even when you can’t win ‘em all, there’s always another chance to win this one. Whether it’s a rematch or simply another play within the same game, you just gotta focus on what you can do now. It’s a hard lesson to learn and there’s a lot of film that tries to grapple with the idea of “moving on” from some level of trauma, of making peace with it; but I think that there might be something to watching Fire fans approach year after year of suffering. Maybe it can offer someone a look into the strength of those who go on, those who remain after pain. In some ways, as I’ll get to in a second, it may not exactly be the best lesson to tell. But, it’s something that can at least help with allowing these fans to learn how to cope properly with loss.
Finally, I’ve got an old Twitter joke: “Men will sit around and name random athletes for two hours instead of going to therapy.” While the sentiment is right, there is definitely a massive mental health crisis among young men that needs to be addressed, sitting around and naming random athletes can actually lead to healthier coping processes.
So, I haven’t seen the new Barbie movie yet (every theater near me is sold out at the moment), but I’ve heard that there’s a strong storyline within it about how living within a rigid patriarchy not only hurts women, but men as well. As renowned feminist scholar bell hooks has put it: “The first act of violence that patriarchy demands of males is not violence toward women. Instead patriarchy demands of all males that they engage in acts of psychic self-mutilation, that they kill off the emotional parts of themselves. If an individual is not successful in emotionally crippling himself, he can count on patriarchal men to enact rituals of power that will assault his self-esteem.” To put it more simply, men are taught not to feel “negative emotions”. And “emotions” is in quotes because while grief, anxiety, and fear are demanded to be blocked, anger is also a negative emotion. It is one that is not only allowed under these rituals of power, but encouraged. Even positive emotions are frowned upon, as men are convinced by the prevailing societal norms that stoicism is the most important value to be upheld. That emotional blockage is what causes the horrifying actions and outbursts that we see all around us these days, causing more harm to even more people.
As a contrast, though, sports connect men in a way that seemingly nothing else can. Through sports, many men that would otherwise feel rejected, isolated, and estranged by a patriarchal society that denies their ability to feel empathy and closeness with others, can experience all of those repressed emotions within a support structure. I remember once reading an old saying, “Men are only allowed to cry twice in their life: Once when their father dies, and the second time when they watch Field of Dreams.” Maybe the person who came up with that forgot to add when your team wins a championship or loses in the playoffs. Because in moments of celebration and heartbreak within sports, it is one of the few times where men will actually make non-aggressive physical contact with each other. Players hug each other with all their might as they celebrate a goal, fellow fans console each other after a loss. Look out on the terraces and you’ll see a bunch of dudes finally being allowed to be guys: Singing, dancing around, allowing themselves to feel everything that they’ve never been allowed to before. And even past the positive emotions of being around when things go well, it is one of those few times where you can see the facade of the patriarchy drop. More tears have been shed by men in a stadium or an arena than have been shed in churches and hospital rooms. And that connection created through sports allows so many men that would otherwise feel disconnected from others to feel some level of closeness. Wearing the same colors, they are all brothers. I can say this with my own experience that while I grew up seemingly trying my hardest to force myself into that patriarchal role, it was being around the Fire community during these bad years that not only gave me an emotional outlet, but allowed me to realize that that level of vulnerability isn’t weakness. When we all can feel it, it becomes our strength.
So, I hope I’ve done enough to convince the non-sports fan that has been handed this article into believing that sports are actually incredibly cool in concepts outside of “jocks” and “big dudes running around”. And for those of you who hadn’t been convinced of the power of sports, I hope you’ve got a greater appreciation for the good our shared interests provide.
Uncertain Home. The new Chicago Fire training facility project is under fire again. This was going to be a whole segment, but it can really be summarized with: The CHA did nothing with the land for 30+ years. What makes anyone think that they’d do anything now? The Fire’s entrance will bring the organization’s amazing youth outreach programs to the area and has actually gotten the CHA to build at least some of the long-awaited housing developments. And in a Chicago political system this borked up, that’s about the closest thing you can get to a win.
The Darkest Timeline. I promise I’m not just a massive Canadian soccer fan, but Christine Sinclair missing a penalty in the World Cup is proof that we’re on the darkest timeline. Another player, an American, missed a penalty, but I don’t like talking about her.
No Kits. The Urawa Red Ladies in the Women’s Empowerment League in Japan aren’t going to be able to sell their new jerseys in anticipation of the new season. Apparently since the men are still in their season, they’re just not gonna release the new women’s kit to the public. That’s stupid.
My Worship Music. I’ve been listening to more old blues recently. I’m talking 50s, 60s, old stuff. You should all listen to Sister Rosetta Tharpe, who basically created rock and popularized the use of electric guitar.
I love you. And I’ll see you next week.