Tradition. Honor. Passion.
It's more than just motto, and that was very apparent to anyone walking into the Chicago Fire Fifteenth Anniversary Party, brought to you by Section 8 Chicago and planned by the Fire Anniversary committee. The tradition was displayed all over the Chicago History Museum. Over one hundred scarves from the past and present of the club were proudly presented in the north wing. There was Jersey history, where the shirts of Fire greats across history, including the rare Chicago Sting 15th Anniversary Jersey, were spread on a table. And on the projection screen above the podium, the 1998 MLS Cup Final win versus DC United played.
The honor was evident whenever you met the players, present and past. They were as honored and humbled to meet us, some for the first time, as I was to meet my childhood hero's. I was starstruck for the first half of the party, not daring to speak to any of the former players. But when I did, I was struck how gratitude and genuine thankfulness that we were there to honor them that night.
The passion was felt from all the speakers at the event. Those that grabbed the microphone included Hristo Stoitchkov (with an assist from former Fire head coach Denis Hamlett), Brian McBride, Diego Gutierrez, Piotr Nowak, Fire president Julian Posada, and former captain, Chris Armas.
Frank Klopas, really, the mastermind for the anniversary revival, took the stage and spoke passionately about what playing for the Chicago Fire means to him.
"We never gave up. We never gave up. We were honored to put this Fire jersey on every day. We were proud to represent this great city. And in the short 15 years we've made some history. We've built some tradition."
Klopas continued, "The group of people to my left (referring to the current roster) are as committed to do that, moving forward ... I'm so proud of this new team, of this current Fire team. They know the history, the past of the club. But they're here today to make a new history for the Chicago Fire."
Other people were singled out for their contributions to the club. Phil Anschutz and his wife Nancy were honored for taking a chance on the Chicago team and for later owning most of the league in its darkest hour. Former Fire great and Impact de' Montreal gaffer Jessie March read a message from the first Fire head coach and current manager of the Egyptian national team, Bob Bradley.
The first man of soccer, President of the Chicago Sting, and first ever Chicago Fire season ticket holder Lee Stern was mentioned by several people.
The speech of the night, however, went to the Chicago Fire's first General Manager, Peter Wilt. At times he stumbled over his words. But you could tell it was because he was excited to be there. His emotions got the better of him several times, and by the end there was a hitch in his voice. It was moving to watch.
The First Fan told the story of the club, and what this day, this anniversary means to him.
"15 years ago today, I stood on a stage outdoors at Navy Pier and for the first time, introduced a gathering of media, fans, and curious onlookers." "Ladies and Gentleman, Chicago Fire", Wilt said. "Since then, the team has created a pioneering tradition of excellence by winning the MLS Cup in its inaugural season."
He spoke passionately on the club's motto: Tradition, Honor, Passion. "The team created honor through it's players, coaches, staff, and fans who have represented the club with dedication, leadership, and integrity."
He then spoke about the late Brandon Kitchens and his call to arms "Stand and Deliver". Kitchen's inspiring words have become something akin to Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" for the team and her fans. "Brandon [in the piece] is speaking to all the Fire players and supporters both inside this room and outside. He exhorts you to continue to build on the platform of Tradition, Honor, and Passion. That everyday he, his fellow Fire fans, players, staff and all supporters have helped build for the last 15 years."
After the talking was over, Section 8 Chicago chairman Joel Biden was supposed to present Chicago Fire CF97 challenge coins to the players. Then, in what was lauded as a brilliant audible, Biden decided to let the players exchange the challenge coins with each other; a passing of the torch moment from one group of Fire greats to (hopefully) the next.
But how does such a grand event come about? I asked committee member Ben Burton to talk about it. "When you start a project like this you can see how to make it successful from a high level. But as the date gets closer, the details start to emerge and they all need to be handled properly," Burton said in an email exchange. "There was some immense work done but a few dedicated individuals made sure the event went off without a hitch."
Burton added, "I had so many worries going into the day and so many things had to go right for success, and it all 'fell into place'. I put that in quotes because it was really forced into place by the hard work of a lot of people, but it was a success."
Unfortunately, some people were absent from the night. Jerzy Podrozny, Roman Kosecki, C.J. Brown, current Fire owner Andrew Hauptman, and former Fire owner Phil Anschutz were most noticeably absent but many who could not be there sent messages like Bradley. Tradition, Honor, and Passion were still well represented in the club's past, and present.
Towards the end, Hristo Stoichkov hinted that we'll see everyone come together again for year 20. Hopefully by that time, the trophy cabinet will be more full and the long list of legends will be even longer.