By Ryan Chatelain
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Last October, I was riding back home to Brooklyn on a packed No. 7 train after the Mets' NLCS Game 2 win over the Cubs when a mouthy-yet-sympathetic Mets fan shouted across the car to some people wearing C's on their blue caps: "Trust me, I know what you're going through. I've been there before!"
With all due respect to that gentleman, he hasn't a clue.
Sure, every loyal fan of a pro sports franchise has endured his or her share of torment at some point. But for most, their misery is minor league compared to Cubs fans'.
I know. I've been one since 1984. That was the summer I turned 8 years old. Growing up in the New Orleans area, I started playing Little League that year and began to learn with wonder about the sport. Around that same time, I often found my dad and brother watching the Cubs on WGN, and naturally I joined them.
I fell in love with the Cubs that summer. By the fall, they already had stomped on my heart when they blew a 2-0 lead to the Padres in the NLCS -- then a best-of-five series.
And so it began.
I'm not sure how old that Mets fan on the No. 7 train was, but it's safe to assume he's now seen his favorite team reach the World Series three times and win it once in his lifetime. There has never been a generation of Mets fans who went without seeing a pennant.
Mets fans can't realistically ever utter the words "I'd never thought I see the day" when discussing the World Series.
Meanwhile, for the Cubs' faithful, the suffering has extended up family trees.
My family has gotten off easy. Unlike those fans closer to Chicago, we didn't endure four or five generations of losing before finally witnessing a pennant-clinching party on the pitcher's mound.
"I do think about everybody. I think about the fans and their parents and their grandparents and great-grandparents and everything that's been going on here for a while," Cubs manager Joe Maddon said poignantly after Saturday night's NLCS win over the Dodgers.
I know I instantly thought about my dad, who died 10 years ago, and how I wished we could have been watching Saturday's win together. And I'm sure Cubs fans from Wrigleyville to Kelly's Sports Bar in the East Village -- the unofficial Cubs fan headquarters in NYC -- felt something similar. It wasn't only our own pent-up disappointment and frustration that was exorcised when Anthony Rizzo caught the final out the other night.
Think your team has had it bad? We see your suffering and raise you.
Red Sox fans, you only had to endure a mere 86-year title drought -- and your boys won seven pennants since ours had won their previous one in 1945.
Browns and Lions fans? If you want to compare notes, call us in another half-century.
The Indians, who haven't won a World Series since 1948, are somehow sharing this lovable-losers story line with the Cubs? This is their third World Series appearance in 22 years. Spoiled much?
I grew up a New Orleans Saints fan, too. It took them two decades to reach the postseason, three to win a playoff game and 43 years to win a Super Bowl. And yet rooting for them never quite seemed like the exercise in hopelessness that being a Cubs fan often has.
And don't even get me started on the Yankees fans who have tried to tell me over the years about how rough the '80s were on them.
Some Cubs fans gave into believing -- and blaming -- the Curse of the Billy Goat. As a kid, I thought it was all rather silly. And then one day I finally saw the video of a black cat looping around Ron Santo in a Shea Stadium on-deck circle. Come on! It doesn't get much more on the nose than that!
But finally, as the Cubs prepare to face the Indians in the Fall Classic, things are different. Deep down, we fans felt it since the Cubbies raced out to a 25-6 start this season. Yet we always teetered on the edge of expressing tempered optimism and anticipating the next epic collapse. One hundred eight years of losing -- and black cats and Steve Garvey and Steve Bartman -- will do that to you.
That moment could still come. Trust me, we're all constantly aware of it. And if it does, admittedly, it will be devastating to add another chapter to our sob story, but it won't nullify what the 2016 Cubs have accomplished.
They crashed through what once seemed to be an impenetrable wall. They slayed the baddest goat. They gifted us with a day we thought may never come.
And if the Cubbies do win it all, well, we sure as heck deserve it.
Follow Ryan on Twitter at @ryanchatelain
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