I picked Chicago Stadium back in the day. Anyone who has been there will instantly know what I'm talking about. Everyone else will know what I'm talking about after you read this story.
Humorous aside: We had to bring in our rough drafts of this story for the Professor to check and to have them peer reviewed. So I gave mine to the kid next to me, he read the first paragraph and turned to me and said, "You went to a Bulls game in 1992?" I replied, "Yeah" He says, "I was 1!!!" (In my head I was saying, "Um, fuck you Junior!")
Anyway, here's the story. Let me know what you think...
The Madhouse On Madison
I was 14 years old the first time that I strode through the gates of the old Chicago Stadium. This was before the Bulls played at the space station called the United Center. Chicago Stadium was old, it was decrepit, it was loud, it was dirty, it was dingy, dark and had a strange musty smell to it. But no one will ever tell me that there was a better stadium in the NBA. It was known as the loudest stadium in professional sports at the time, a distinction it fully lived up to at my first game.
My mother had bought us tickets to the game for my birthday, but since the Bulls were in the middle of their first three-peat, seats were at a premium. So my for my birthday, which is in July, I got to attend a Bulls game in January. A game where Michael Jordan and the Bulls played against the Indiana Pacers.
Walking through the gates for the first time I was amazed at the sheer amount of people trying to get into the same place at the same time. I remember thinking to myself that I might be crushed in the swarm of people trying to get into the stadium. With that kind of crowd comes a lot of noise. Everyone around me was yelling and screaming, calling out to the beer vendors, the hot dog vendors, the guy selling programs, the cops or to their family and friends trying to safely navigate this tsunami of bodies on our way up to our seats.
It took us about twenty minutes to move from the gate to the stairwell, the mob was moving at a snails pace. There I was walking through a sea of jerseys bearing #23, and even a few token #33 jerseys. I remember using this opportunity to point out to my mother that it seemed like every other kid in the world had a Michael Jordan jersey, except of course for me. If I remember correctly she responded with something along the lines of, “All those kids must have jobs.” But finally, we made it to the stairwell and began the slow ascent to the 300 level of Chicago Stadium.
Given the incredible championship run that the Bulls were right in the middle of at the time, tickets were extremely expensive and your average middle class family could only afford to sit in the nosebleed section. So that’s where we were headed, three flights of stairs between me and my first live Bulls game.
When my foot hit the first stair I could already feel the rumble and hear the noise coming from those already inside the stadium. The stadium was old, rickety and in all honesty in disrepair. However, that only seemed to add to the experience. As the crowd cheered inside as they watched the Bulls warming up for the game, the stairwells outside literally shook. As the music system in the stadium played “We Will Rock You” and the fans stomped their feet I found myself somewhat concerned that the ground may fall out from underneath me.
The snails pace continued as we moved through the sea of people, except now as we climbed up the stairs it was more of a wave of people. I do believe that I could have picked my feet up off the ground and I would have been carried safely to the top level by the sheer inertia of all those people.
After about ten minutes we made it to the second level and immediately turned and set about negotiating the last flight of stairs up to the third. When I hit this flight of stairs my feet started to feel like something was pulling on them from beneath me. I could hear a strange noise emanating from my shoes every time I set my foot down and picked it back up again. In short order it dawned on me what it was, I was sticking to the floor. As I said before, Chicago Stadium was famous not only for its volume, but also for its lack of tidiness, and someone had spilled a soda on the ground and now I was going to have to spend the rest of the night listening to that mistake as it had covered the bottoms of my shoes.
Finally, at long last, we made it to the top tier of the stadium. Luckily, the crowd thinned just a little bit up there. Not because the seats hadn’t been sold, but because a good portion of the people that bought seats up there were down in the lower levels trying to find seats that were unoccupied.
We made our way to our seats and sat down. Which was about the most uneventful thing we would do all night. After being seated for about twelve seconds I realized that there were three men behind us who were obviously drunk. These three were not any kind of belligerent drunk, but they were the happy, and seemed as though they were going to provide us with a little extra entertainment throughout the game.
We were so high in the building that if I had run back about 10 rows I would have been able to touch the rafters that supported the roof of the building, and from there it seemed as though the court were a million miles away. I tried to talk to my mother but you couldn’t unless you were yelling at the top of your lungs and the players weren’t even on the court at the time.
Then the whole stadium went dark, every light in the house went out. A deafening roar rose from the crowd. What I had thought was shaking became little more than a shudder as the entire building began to seem as though it were rocking and swaying. Someone once told me that there are no earthquakes in the midwest, to which I could only say, “Clearly you’ve never been to the Madhouse.”.
The lights went dark and the music began to play, then the laser beams began to shoot out from behind the players bench. By this time the music had been effectively drowned out by the roar of the crowd. No one in the entire stadium was seated, everyone was up, clapping and cheering, and roaring. Before it was over I would be hoarse from yelling, but I didn’t know that yet.
The spotlight beamed down onto the first player as the music thumped, and the lights flashed and the announcer came with his name, number 24, Bill Cartwright. The fans in the stands grew even louder. Number 10, B.J. Armstrong. The noise grew even louder, by this time I had my hands over my ears. Number 54, Horace Grant. As I looked up at the championship banner from last season because by this time they had shined another spotlight on it. You could see it moving, indoors, you could see it swaying in the wind. The place was so loud that it moved the air up there. Number 33, Scottie Pippen. Now the volume had risen to the point of complete ridiculousness. The only thing that allowed me to know who was being announced was the name and number on the scoreboard. Nothing, but the roar of the crowd could be heard.
At long last, they came to introducing Michael Jordan. The announcer even waited a few extra seconds to let it sink in to all the fans there that they were about to be treated to a game featuring the greatest basketball player ever. I took my hands off of my ears, I didn’t care if my ear drums burst, I was going to hear every second of this. I saw him stand up, I saw him bend to slap the hand of the players in line, I saw him run to the middle of the court, and I saw him utter a word or two to his teammates and then they all returned to the bench to begin the game. I saw all of this, but I didn’t hear but one thing. The roar. The deafening, monstrous, unmistakeable roar.
That stadium, at that time, with that team was one of the most unforgettable things I have ever witnessed or heard. My mom had a headache for a week, or so she said. As for me, I spent the game in sheer awe and wonder of the entire thing. I walked out of there with dried soda on my shoes but it still felt as though I were walking on air.
I got to see the greatest basketball player ever, on the greatest team ever play and beat the Indiana Pacers 109-100. I saw Michael Jordan score 39 points that night.
They demolished the madhouse in 1995. Where it once stood is now the parking lot for the United Center. Its brand new, its shiny, its clean, its comfortable, and its a marvel of modern engineering. But regardless of what anyone says, its not the Madhouse on Madison. There’s too much missing from it now. It doesn’t shake like Chicago Stadium did, it doesn’t rattle the way Chicago Stadium did, and its no where near as loud as Chicago Stadium was. Its a beautiful palace in which to see a basketball or hockey game.
However, only those who have experienced Chicago Stadium in all its glory know what I’m talking about when I say, I’m thankful to have heard that roar.
I love you Mom...