What would the Cup mean to St. Louis?

Ryan Stieg

Of all the great American sports cities, St. Louis is on the borderline.

There are some who love the city and the passion of its fans, but there are also those who don’t necessarily hate it, but don’t understand the hype and can see the city for its flaws.

I’m right on the borderline myself in my opinion. St. Louis is a great classic historical city, but at the same time, it can be overrated.

I remember the first time I went there, back in 2004 with my dad on a mini road trip. That year, the Cardinals made the World Series for the first time since 1987 and there was a buzz around the area.

Before we took in the Cardinals’ game that night, I remember looking forward to exploring the city itself and it was fun, but the tour was over pretty quickly.

If you’ve never been there, St. Louis has a very pretty, but small downtown, and you’ll have explored almost all of it by lunchtime.

You can check out the Gateway Arch, which is almost mandatory if you go. Sort of like how the Statue of Liberty is to New York, or the Hollywood sign is to Los Angeles. It’s a fun and unique ride up to the top, but once you’ve completed it, you get back to the ground and your first thought will probably be, what do we do now?

St. Louis does a great job of hyping the arch, but not much else. The running joke is that St. Louis loves calling itself the Gateway to the West, which is funny because it suggests that once you leave, you’ll be happier. That’s kind of a strange marketing slogan.

Joking aside, St. Louis does have its charms. The city does love the Cardinals, which I appreciate because I love it when places truly get behind their franchises. As loathsome as Boston fans can be, they’re loyal to the end to their teams.

The problem is Cardinals fans really, really want you to know that they love the team, dubbing themselves The Best Fans in Baseball. I’ve never seen a fan base that is obsessed with telling you how awesome they are, but in a strangely polite Midwestern way.

No city has mastered the humblebrag like St. Louis has. Imagine buying yourself a new truck and you’re excited to show it to your friends. So one of your friends rolls into your driveway in his huge truck, looks at your truck and manages to both compliment you and himself at the same time.

He’ll say something like “That’s a real nice machine there. It looks great. It’s a good starter truck before you get something a little stronger.” In that short span, your friend has made you feel good about your purchase and also declared how much better his truck is than yours. Welcome to St. Louis.

Blues’ fans are different. While a World Series championship would be briefly appreciated by Cards fans, it would soon be chalked up to how awesome the franchise is.

Hockey, though, is another story. A Stanley Cup would mean the world to Blues’ backers. There’s no doubt that St. Louis is a baseball city first and foremost, but the Blues have a loud and passionate fan base that’s impressive to behold in person.

The NHL is the second-most popular sport in a rabid baseball city. St. Louis is one of the rare cities where the NFL was a distant third in popularity when it was there and just another sign that it didn’t really need the Rams in the first place.

When I went to my first Blues game, it was different than other hockey experiences I’d gone through. First off, when my wife and I went, it was March and we were sweating, which was a far cry from attending a Minnesota Wild game.

The second is that the Enterprise Center (previously Scottrade Center) is only half a mile from Busch Stadium, so in late March and April, Cardinals and Blues fans go to two games in one day, which is something that’s difficult to do in other cities.

And third, as I alluded to in a previous column, Blues fans are a group that’s emotionally broken. They’re knowledgeable, loud and passionate, characteristics of all strong fan bases. However, when you talk to a St. Louis fan or overhear them at a Blues game, they’re just waiting for things to collapse.

As a recent ESPN article pointed out, Blues fans didn’t start truly believing they were going to make their first Stanley Cup Finals in 49 years until St. Louis built up a three-goal lead over the Sharks with a little more than four minutes left in the final game.

One of my friends went to a playoff game where the Blues played the archrival Blackhawks in the first round and was overwhelmed by the raucous atmosphere. Seriously, it can get insanely loud in the Enterprise (it might even beam you up! Sorry, bad joke).

However, then he said that even though the Blues were playing well, St. Louis fans weren’t confident enough that they could win until the Blues scored in overtime.

I don’t blame them for thinking that way. Until that win over San Jose, the Blues were that one NHL team that by all logic should’ve won at least one Stanley Cup by now, but somehow always came up short.

In that same ESPN article, there’s a guy who postponed his honeymoon because he thought the Blues would make a deep playoff run in 2014. After all, they racked up 111 points that year. Yeah, they got bounced in the first round by Chicago.

However, this might actually be the year the Blues finish the job because fan expectations were so low during the season. Their playoff hopes were all but eliminated by New Year’s Day as St. Louis was tied with Ottawa for the fewest points in the league, but somehow, the Blues have managed to turn their season around and are one win away from hoisting the Cup. Now all the worrying has turned into cautious optimism.

It really does feel different. After all, the wacky 1980s hit “Gloria” has become the Blues’ victory song, rookie goalie Jordan Binnington has been stellar outside of just one bad game, and the last two games, St. Louis has been clicking as a whole.

Center Ryan O’Reilly has scored three goals in two games and has taken over the team’s leadership role, and so far this series, the Blues have not only earned their first ever win in the Finals, but their first home victory as well.

Everything seems to be coming together at this point, which seemed almost impossible back in January.

Tonight, the Blues will take the ice in Game 6 on their own ice with a chance to complete a quest they’ve been on for more than five decades. If they manage to pull it off, or on Wednesday if Boston pushes the series to Game 7, Blues fans will have a feeling that has eluded them for years.

In “Gloria,” there’s a verse that includes the lines “I think you’ve got to slow down, before you start to blow it. I think you’re headed for a breakdown, so be careful not to show it.”

St. Louis fans will probably be thinking that at the opening puck drop tonight, but by the end of the night, they might no longer be singing the blues, but praising the Blues.

Ryan Stieg can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 252. His email address is rstieg@miningjournal.net.