The “Sting” In My Heart

sting logo

Historically, one of America’s classiest and most recognized soccer clubs. (image: sportslogos.net)

Like many Chicagoans old enough to remember our beloved Sting, OTF’s Robert Suarez faces a dilemma, and comes to a surprising conclusion… 

[On November 17th, 2013, tornadoes and severe storms roared through Northwest Indiana as our correspondent braved the elements to gain a better perspective on life, and to a lesser degree, on the health of the beautiful game today . This missive was dispatched from his “Bobservation” post, located in a remote and undisclosed location.]

It’s cold sitting up here over this rural Indiana cornfield. But my “Bobservation” post is a great place to sit and collect my thoughts without distractions. It’s also a nice spot to watch the crows have their way with the remnants of last summer’s crops, spy the occasional hawk swoop in for a quick meal, or clandestinely admire a wily coyote.

Here on the edge of the woods, nature accords me solitude. Up high in my tower, it seems only natural to evaluate and/or reassess my life. Particularly, at this time of year, I focus inward and find meaning in what otherwise might appear to be a string of random, meaningless, and unconnected events.

Unauthorized image of the Bobservation Post? No, please ignore this.

Unauthorized image of the Bobservation Post? No, please ignore this.

Twelve months ago, like the vast majority of Chicagoans, I was totally oblivious and unconcerned about the existence of Chicago Fire Soccer Club. I suspect I knew more about the club than most in my area, but only in a vague and superficial sense. I was not invested in the Fire at all – financially or emotionally.

However, if I had learned last winter about a possible Chicago Sting revival, I would have been absolutely thrilled. It would have been a dream come true. You see, back in the day, I was a Sting fanatic.

I’m not exactly sure why I felt such indifference to the Fire. It was complicated. Lately though, I’ve been doing some soul-searching to figure it all out. It’s an important process because there are likely several thousand nostalgic Sting fans in Chicagoland who have yet to warm up to the Fire.

Now, as I stare across the cold, barren Indiana corn fields watching powerful, menacing storms approach, I think back to last year and realize how much things have changed for me as a soccer fan. That said, the impending sense of doom I feel in the pit of my stomach has nothing to do with the wails of the civil defense sirens I hear in the background.

The powerful dark clouds on the horizon mirror the difficult emotional struggle I feel within.

The powerful dark clouds on the horizon mirror the difficult emotional struggle I feel within.

Rather, there is something else weighing on my mind this day. It has been building up inside me for a few weeks, ever since I learned there was a possibility (be it ever so slight) the Chicago Sting could be resurrected by the new version of the North American Soccer League.

I must come to grips with the realization that I am sickened by the idea of the Sting reappearing on the Chicago sports scene again. I scold myself for feeling this way and am confused by conflicting emotions. But I am a Fire fan now, and the realization of this truth stings my heart (pun intended).

I want to say my transformation was difficult, but it wasn’t. Rather, I found the whole experience enlightening, encouraging, and enjoyable – but only to the degree that an underperforming Fire squad would permit bouts of enjoyment in 2013.

At the invitation of a young friend, I witnessed perhaps a dozen or so matches at Toyota Park this season. Over that time, I slowly came to an undeniable conclusion: The Fire are indeed worthy heirs to the football legacy known lovingly to a generation of Chicago soccer fans as “Der Sting.”

Stanley Sting!! Sparky is nice but Stanly was just awesome getting a "buzz' out of the crowd.

Stanley Sting! Sparky is nice, but Stanley could really get the crowd “buzzing.” (photo: wikipedia.org)

There is no denying the state of professional soccer is thriving and steadily growing stronger in the United States. I suspect it will soon reach the point of critical mass. Indeed, I was delighted to learn that recent figures indicate total MLS attendance surpassed 6 million for the second consecutive season in 2013.

Major League Soccer has never been in a better financial position and at least a half-dozen cities are clamoring to get into the league. Moreover, Forbes recently released a report that stated the average value of league franchises has risen 175% since 2008.

Although critics can point to  several important problem areas, there is no doubt America’s top professional soccer league is prospering. There is also no doubt that MLS has successfully answered the question of survival.

Granted, MLS “2.0” is a case of three extremely rich men (Anschutz, Hunt, Kraft) doubling-down on their initial failed investment, but credit must also be given to those who managed the league’s turnaround and are currently guiding its ascendancy. They did not drop the ball. They remained committed. They succeeded where others previously failed. I take my hat off to them for a job well done.

I cannot recall exactly what I expected to find when I arrived at Bridgeview for my first Fire game last spring, but I came with an open mind. In the coming weeks, this one time Sting fanatic discovered our game to be in good shape. I eventually came to the conclusion that pro soccer in America has never been in better hands.

I thought my verdict an important one, yet my longtime Sting-loving friends seemed not to care. They spoke the oft-repeated arguments I once used about Major League Soccer. Then, inevitably, our talks would drift back to our memories of the magical 1981 championship season.

The 1981 Sting: Kings of Chicago (image: NASLmemories.blogspot.com)

The 1981 Sting: Sporting Kings of Chicago (image: NASLmemories.blogspot.com)

This, my young friends, is the crux of the problem: Chicago soccer fans old enough to have been invested in the Sting in 1981 witnessed an amazingly talented football club that entertained like no other since.

I understand the varied protests and excuses my Sting fan brethren spout, but I’ve grown tired and weary of hearing why they can’t or won’t support the Fire. Their points are heartfelt and well-intentioned, but they are wrong-headed.

After much thought and consideration, their arguments are summed up by this statement: “When the Fire plays like the Sting did, I might pay to see them.”

This unfair, problematic sentiment effectively ends any further discussion of the matter. Yet despite their obstinacy, I want to share some thoughts with my fellow Sting fans once more because, frankly, they’re important.

I believe the Chicago soccer community is threatened by NASL’s overtures. They worry and concern me, so I must speak up.

Amigos, I willingly concede the Fire would be no match for the 1981 Sting. I cannot imagine the Fire (or any other MLS club for that matter) ever acquiring an offensive juggernaut capable of matching the 84 goals the Sting scored in the 32 games they played during that amazing season.

1981 was truly a magical and transformative year for soccer in Chicago. I can’t help but look back and recall how the Sting were welcomed back home by Chicago’s overjoyed sports fans with an inspiring, over-flowing ticker tape parade. We all beamed with pride knowing our boys had defeated the vaunted New York Cosmos.

10,000 fans greeted the Sting at O'hare airport in the middle of the night and Chicago welcomes our lads home with a ticker tape parade as it celebrates the city's first championship in 30 years.

After their dramatic Soccer Bowl ’81 win over the Cosmos, 10,000 fans greeted the Sting at O’Hare airport in the middle of the night. Chicago welcomed our lads home the following day with a downtown parade to celebrate the city’s first pro sports championship in nearly 20 years. (image: funwhileitlasted.net)

How could I ever forget standing in Daley Plaza, in the “VIP” section within arm’s-length of dignitaries including Mayor Jane Byrne, owner Lee Stern, and so many other honored guests? It stands out as one of the highlights of my life!

Yes, my friends, those were heady days. The Sting would regularly outdraw the Chicago Bulls at the old Chicago Stadium during indoor season and even challenged the Blackhawks in popularity.

I distinctly remember how even casual sports fans knew the phrase “Thunder & Lightning,” a reference to the Sting’s scoring tandem of Karl-Heinz Granitza and Arno Steffenhagen. Chicago’s German attacking duo combined for a remarkable 36 goals and 27 assists in ’81.

A goal-keepers nightmare: Karl Heinz Granitza about to unleash some left footed thunder. I've seldom seen his shot duplicated by anyone - anywhere.

A goalkeeper’s nightmare: Karl-Heinz Granitza unleashing some left-footed thunder. I’ve seldom seen his shot duplicated by anyone, anywhere. (image: NASLmemories.blogspot.com)

Seriously friends, nobody loved the Sting more than me. Let me be clear though: Contrary to the apocryphal tale often repeated among some hardcore, old-school Chicago soccer fans, the Fire did not kill the Sting. And as far as I know, the MLS club has done nothing to tarnish the memory of our “Killer Bees”.

[Whack! Suddenly, something slaps me across the face and I quickly realize a cold, horizontal sheet of icy rain pellets has slammed into the Bobservation post. It's sent a shiver down my back, so please pardon me if I put my hat back on now.]

In fact, it’s been my experience at Toyota Park that supporters of the “Yellow & Black” are often acknowledged and greeted by young and old fans alike. Wearing vintage Sting gear will always elicit a cheerful “Go Sting!” from strangers and is a sure-fire conversation starter.

Toyota Park is the  home of the Chicago Fire, but the spirit of the Sting dwells there as well among those who will never forget the magical summer of 1981.

Toyota Park is the home of the Chicago Fire, but the spirit of the Sting dwells there among those who will never forget the magical summer of ’81. (photo: chicago-fire.com)

My fellow Sting fans, attending a Fire match does not mean you’ve betrayed the Yellow and Black. Quite the opposite, supporting the Fire continues the mission our beloved Sting started, one they most certainly would have accomplished if not for the gross mismanagement of the original NASL.

Old-school Chicago soccer lovers, please don’t punish the Fire for the decades-old mistakes and miscalculations of misguided NASL officials. More importantly, PLEASE do not encourage or assist the new NASL to resurrect the Sting as a second-tier franchise in Chicago. Doing so would only make a mockery of everything the original Sting accomplished.

[Oh, my. The Bobservation post is shaking and creaking in a manner that's making me nervous…more nervous than I thought I'd be about this missive.]

All that said, I suspect Chicago Fire Soccer Club will succeed no matter what we old Sting fans do, but it could still use our support. After all, the club affords those of us who loved and supported the Sting the opportunity – and the honor – to build on the proud legacy the Sting left us, the Chicago soccer community.

The Fire logo may not as distinctive nor as original as the Stings, it has earned our full respect.

The Fire logo may not as distinctive nor as original as the Sting’s, but it has earned our full respect.

[I have now stepped out of the Bobservation post and am literally out on a limb. The analogy is not lost on me as I ask my peers to unite behind the Fire.]

Today, Chicago benefits from a first-rate soccer stadium, an entertaining side, and a knowledgeable and fantastic fan base. Our professional soccer club has a history of honoring and building upon its predecessor’s storied success and high standards. This is the reality in 2013, and it is a testament not only to the young people who work hard to support the Fire, but also to 1981 and the foundation the Sting built.

As the elders of Chicago’s soccer community, we Sting fans deserve to enjoy the fruits of our labor. We should invest our time, our money, and most of all, ourselves in the Fire and MLS. Believe me, we won’t get burned. The same, however, cannot be said of a Chicago expansion team in the current version of the North American Soccer League.

[I’m down now, and running through the woods as I hear a tree crack and buckle under the strain of high winds. Suddenly, I wince and duck as thunder and lightning crack through the atmosphere – right above my head. I begin to worry about a fire breaking out and realize no analogy is necessary.]

Thunder (gulp) and lighting (gulp) .... braving the elements to file this missive.

Thunder (gulp) and lighting (gulp)…Braving the elements to file this missive.

GO FIRE, GO!

OTF contributor Robert Suarez is older than dirt, but slightly smarter. From time to time, Coach Bob mans his “Bobservation Post” high above a rural Indiana corn field, from where he proudly dispatches missives of futbol insight, experience, and opinions via his telegraph (with enhanced morse code, version 2.5). Follow Bob @rxs225

9 thoughts on “The “Sting” In My Heart

  1. “I cannot imagine the Fire (or any other MLS club for that matter) ever acquiring an offensive juggernaut capable of matching the 84 goals the Sting scored in the 32 games they played during that amazing season.”

    It’s sad your imagination doesn’t live in the real world.

    LA Galaxy bested Chicago Sting’s 84-goal season in 1998, scoring 87 goals in the same number of matches (32). Oh, and LA had a higher goal differential (41 v 34) as well, which means they *dominated* competition much more thoroughly than Chicago did.

    And, to their credit, a few other MLS teams got close to 80-ish goal seasons since, which is particularly notable considering MLS permits teams to play for ties, introducing a strategy that would have been disadvantageous to the ’81 Sting and ’98 Galaxy squads and their opponents.

    It is my contention that MLS has more than enough squads in any given year up to the task of putting away the ’81 Sting.

  2. You may be right my friend. But I actually saw the Sting play – I would wager you did not. I have seen them both leagues live and in person. Sorry no comparison. The level of play was beyond compare to anything you see in the MLS – and I love the MLS.

    The Sting, Cosmos, and several other clubs could play with anyone in the world at that time. Realistically, the MLS has no one that can say that – and never has. Hopefully that will change soon – but not yet.

    It’s only my opinion my friend. Your opinion is just as valid. Thanks for the input.

    • Soccer was a much different sport in the 70’s and 80’s than it is today. Before the advent of NASL, few leagues anywhere had the notion to outright buy top-shelf talent from everywhere, regardless of national origin.

      If you want to split hairs, I will gladly admit that the NASL of the mid-to-late-70’s was the best league in the world to play in. Mainly because a) the requirements to field native-born players was laughably low; and b) the money flowed readily.

      But by 1981, things changed. Native-born players began making up a much larger portion of rosters than they previously had. And *this* is where the argument for “Chicago Sting’s 1981 team is better than any MLS team” begins to fall apart.

      Because if the native talent was *that* good to compete in a supposedly-superior NASL, then we’d have been posting USMNT victories left and right, up and down, sideways and longways. If the American/Canadian talent pool was that rich – so rich to bolster NASL squads the country over – then native-born Americans would have been exported far and wide to ply their trade in top-tier European leagues, who were beginning themselves to spend big in the early 1980’s.

      But they weren’t. Because they simply weren’t good enough.

      MLS is beginning to export and loan out talent regularly. The American soccer program is much more talented than it was in the late-70’s and early-80’s. And if Americans comprised half of the Chicago Sting’s 1981 roster – and they did – then it stands to reason they were American players of lesser quality than American players today.

      And that’s all I need to stand my ground in assertion that an above-average MLS team could handle the Sting.

      Soccer has evolved. The talent pool has widened and deepened. Fitness is now a science. The average American professional soccer player today is more experienced than the average American professional soccer player from yesteryear.

      Rose-tinted glasses are all well and good when someone wants to make a comparison; I will not deny someone that opportunity. Because we all think our music was the best. We all think kids of our generation were the coolest/most respectful/most intelligent. We all think everything later is a degradation of what came before.

      Except in the era where sport. Nowadays it’s a science. It wasn’t in the NASL’s era. It is now.

      It is inherently – and demonstrably – better in every way.

  3. A NOTE FROM THE EDITOR:

    First, cheers to Coach Bob for a thoughtful, provocative piece. Second, here are a few items of interest:

    – Chicago Sun-Times article on Sting comeback rumors: http://www.suntimes.com/sports/23439967-419/movement-brewing-to-bring-back-the-sting.html

    – MLS Reddit comments thread on Coach Bob’s piece: http://www.reddit.com/r/MLS/comments/1sq1ox/chicago_sting_fan_grapples_with_mixed_feelings/

    – NASL Reddit comments thread on Coach Bob’s piece: http://www.reddit.com/r/NASLSoccer/comments/1spwr0/the_sting_in_my_heart/

    – Also note that Bill Peterson, NASL commissioner, mentioned Chicago (among others) as a potential expansion target earlier this year: http://www.mysanantonio.com/sports/scorpions/article/NASL-commissioner-gives-state-of-the-union-4359407.php

  4. Mr Fenwick! All this time you led me to believe you were a nice young man. Now after reading a few posting on the links you provided I have found you out.

    Apparently you are some kind of a cad. How dare you think for yourself?!

    Seriously, I found some of those “overly serious” posting quite comical. I had no idea you had to take so much crap for voicing your opinion.

    I’m sure glad I don’t have to read that tripe on a regular basis. I much prefer the Bobservation post – the animals I deal with there are much more civil.

    Great job Mr. Fenwick.

  5. Thank you Mr. Fido – a compliment from you is always greatly appreciated.

    Thanks also to Mr. McCall for your contribution to the discussion. I agree with much of what you add but I also disagree on some of the points as well.

    The important issue for me in this piece is that I do NOT argue that the Sting was the greatest team to ever grace an American pitch. My point is that “some” of my fellow Sting fans do not support the Fire because “they” feel the Fire (and maybe the MLS) is a lower level of play than we had in 1981.

    I agree they are looking at things through rose colored glasses. Yet, I know at least 20 to 25 men who reject the Fire specifically (and the MLS generally) exactly for that reason. I can agree with them only to a degree – that being the 1981 Sting would beat the snot out of the 2013 Fire. Of course you may disagree but I have the distinct advantage of having been lucky enough to see both clubs play an entire season.

    You’re a smart young man so I’m sure you understand there is no right or wrong answer to this comparison. It’s one of those fun activities (the hot stove league) – but it’s hard to compare apples to oranges.

    I totally agree with you on your point about American talent – it is much much better today. But that is not surprising and so naturally the college game is much better today as a result. The MLS “may” be a lower level of play but I find it entertaining enough and the fact that so many of the players are American products more than makes up for this “deficiency”.

    No matter what I think there are a thousands of Chicagoans who don’t support the Fire yet. We need to work on them buddy.

    Thanks, again for your intelligent and informative comments. I like hearing a young man’s perspective on things.

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