Cubs fans exultant after nail-biting end to championship drought

Grown men and women wept.

Fireworks lit up the sky in both the city and suburbs, while school-aged children gathered on sidewalks long after bedtime to cheer honking cars.

Thousands poured into Wrigleyville, forcing street closures around the ball park and prompting CTA trains to bypass several stops in the area because of crowding.

This is what it looks like when a 108-year-old dream is finally realized.

Chicago erupted late Wednesday night as the Cubs won their first World Series in four generations, ending professional baseball's longest championship drought and giving its long-suffering fan base cause to celebrate. After a century of heartbreak, humiliation and good humor, the North Side faithful enjoyed a moment unlike anything they had experienced since the Theodore Roosevelt administration.

With raised beers and voices, the fans toasted a young, fearless team that never cowered to history. They applauded themselves for a steadfast loyalty that was finally rewarded. And they celebrated a city, which has found a small cause for happiness amid a soaring murder rate.

"First of all I'm going to cry. I'm going to be a babbling 47-year-old baby," said Dan Yunker. "My sons, my daughters and my wife are texting me. This is a huge deal. This is history!"

At Simon's Tavern in Andersonville, a wall-to-wall crowd spent the last innings vacillating between unrestrained joy and dread. Optimists in the crowd, weary from hours of baseball and alcohol, assured the others the Cubs would still win, even as the Cleveland Indians gave cause tor doubt.

As the Cubs made the last out, the bar exploded into screaming, dancing and hugging.

"I feel so wonderful," said Joan Kufrin, 79, of Chicago.

She wore a Cubs hat as she celebrated with her son, Ben, 50, who flew in from Los Angeles for Game 7.

He rattled off the Cubs' past disappointments.

"But not this year!" his mother shouted in a voice hoarse from a strenuous night. "We won the series."

He agreed things had changed.

"It's like there's a tectonic shift in the universe," he said.

To be sure, the city has been enthralled with the Cubs for the past month as the team fought through 17 playoff games and gave its fan base countless thrills along with the occasional scare. Chicago ground to a halt for the winner-take-all Game 7, with malls emptied, streets cleared and restaurants without mounted televisions closing early.

Watch parties popped up in the most unlikely places: people's backyards, liquor stores and even on the South Side, where an enmity toward the North Side is a birthright.

The West Pullman neighborhood on Chicago's South Side is White Sox territory, but the Ray and Joan Kroc Corps Community Center mounted a massive screen in a meeting room where Cubs fans could gather. Only a few were there at the start of the game, but Dexter Fowler's leadoff home run quickly drew a crowd.

"All right, we got a home run already? Yes! Yes! Tee off! Tee off!" said Darryl Wren, an IT specialist.

Wren, wearing a personalized pinstriped jersey, said a Cubs victory would provide a big lift to both sides of town.

"I think most of America is rooting for the Cubs and rightfully so," Wren said. "I'd put this up with the 1985 Bears."

The Cove Lounge in Hyde Park was packed wall-to-wall and erupted when David Ross homered in the sixth inning to extend the Cubs' lead.

Standing on the sidewalk just outside the bar, longtime St. Louis Cardinals fan Stan Fischer said even he had caught Cubs fever.

"When I see a Chicago team in a position to get a title, I'm on their side 100 percent," he said. "The whole city's been lit up, everywhere I've been."

Back on the North Side, Cubs fans flocked to Wrigleyville despite pouring rain, flashes of lightning and the team playing in Cleveland. The neighborhood became so crowded by the sixth inning, police began closing streets around the ballpark and the Red Line began skipping the Addison, Belmont and Sheridan stops.

Among the revelers was Cubs fan Jim Griffin, who drove 8 1/2 hours from Memphis, Tenn., to watch the game with family members at Myron Mixon's Smoke Show, a barbecue restaurant near the stadium. A World Series title, Griffin said, would validate a lifetime of long-suffering fandom.

All those times when they were not in it, those games in July or August when they absolutely had no chance.

"I just had to be here with my friends and family, to be as close to the game as possible," he said. "You can feel the energy and not even the rain is going to stop it."

The restaurant fell silent when the Indians erased a 2-run deficit with the eighth-inning home run. Cubs fans burrowed their faces in their hands, some turned their hats inside out in hopes of a rally and fans outside began to gather around the windowsills to watch the game that once appeared to be sewn up.

A.J. Mason and Erick Hansen, both 23-year-olds from Wrigleyville, were speechless as they watched the remainder of the inning.

"I literally dropped to the ground and got into the fetal position," Hansen said.

The tension heightened when a rain delay was called with the game tied 6-6 in the top of 10th inning.

"I went to the bathroom and I saw a man pull out a rosary and he was literally praying," Mason said. "If that doesn't tell you what this means, I don't know what will."

Amid the raucous celebration, the revelers also paid tribute to Cubs fans who didn't live long enough to witness the moment. They recalled grandparents and parents who took them to games, who taught them both the rules of baseball and that there was more to being a fan than cheering championships.

Amy Peterson brought a framed photograph of her grandfather Larry Bjork to the Gold Coast bar where she watched the game. She grew up listening to Bjork's stories about going to Wrigley Field and paying a quarter to sit in the bleachers.

"I feel like it's only appropriate that he be here with us," said Peterson, who placed the frame on the table next to a doll of Cubs manager Joe Maddon. "Although I'm sure he could not have imagined that this is where he would be watching Game 7 of the World Series."

Over at Wrigley Field, Cecile Blot stood with a piece of blue chalk in her hand and tears in her eyes. She had joined hundreds of other fans in writing messages on the brick wall on the east side of the park. Her contribution: her father's name next to a heart.

A lifelong Cubs fan, her father had died earlier this year and she flew in Wednesday morning from Washington, D.C., to make sure he was part of the celebration.

"It's kind of bittersweet," Blot said. "He would have been really happy. The Cubs are playing so well, he would have been so excited."

The city has not yet released plans for a victory parade, though fans predict it will be another historic party.

"I think even if they found a stadium that could hold 100,000, it would be packed to the gills," said Scott Merz of Oak Park. "There won't be a stadium big enough,"

Chicago Tribune's Jodi Cohen, Matt Walberg, Grace Wong, Nereida Moreno and Stacy St. Clair contributed.

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