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Back in Blue

The Blackhawks' No. 1 critic revives his beloved game-day zine for one final issue.
By Jake Malooley
Photograph by Erica Gannett

In the basement of Mark Weinberg’s home in Old Irving Park, the vacant eyes of Republican vice presidential nominee and hockey mom Sarah Palin stare out at him from a computer monitor. Palin’s head, along with a hockey stick and gloves, has been Photoshopped onto the body of a underwear-clad model from Glutes magazine. On the screen next to the Frankensteined photo is a story headlined, THE ‘HOCKEY MOM’ 11-POINT PLAN FOR AMERICA,” which includes lines like “Add Gordie Howe to Mt. Rushmore” and “Update National Film Registry: Citizen Kane out, Happy Gilmore in.” “It’s funny, right?” Weinberg asks, an impish smile taking over his face.

The Playboy -esque Palin centerfold signals the return of the much-missed Blue Line, an irreverent alternative Chicago Blackhawks program Weinberg published with his hockey-wonk cousin Steve Kohn. A pre-game fixture outside Chicago Stadium and later the United Center from 1991 to 1998, Weinberg will again be pushing the zine before the team’s Sunday 12 home opener at the UC.

In a city where bashing the losing Blackhawks has become a perennial pastime, The Blue Line led the charge. Heavily influenced by the biting satire of National Lampoon and Spy magazine, The Blue Line was devoured by fans craving critical perspective on the team beyond the PR bubble of the Hawks’ official day-of-game program, Face-Off. Blackhawks management, of course, famously hated the zine and loathed Weinberg, who made the Hawks’ longtime owner, the late Bill Wirtz, his No. 1 target. Aside from traditional program information like team lineups and stats, a typical Blue Line issue contained scathing editorials on topics like Wirtz’s irksome refusal to televise Hawks games, humorous fake-product advertisements (e.g., “Bill Wirtz’s easy three-step guide to pulling off an incredible real-estate swindle”) and cartoons that portrayed “Dollar Bill” Wirtz as a cheapskate alcoholic and a scheming monopolist whose sole concern was the bottom line.

“Bill Wirtz was the perfect satirical target,” says Weinberg, who self-published a book titled Career Misconduct: The Story of Bill Wirtz’s Greed, Corruption and the Betrayal of Blackhawks’ Fans in 2001. “He was a living caricature of the greedy, exploitative, hard-nosed businessman. One day we’d make fun of his incompetence and the next day we’d make fun of the fact that he managed to pull everyone’s strings to get what he wanted.”

Weinberg’s battles with Wirtz and the Blackhawks weren’t limited to the pages of The Blue Line. Twice he put his law degree from the University of Chicago to good use in suits against the Blackhawks for antitrust violations. Weinberg sued in 1995 for the team’s refusal to give The Blue Line press credentials; in ’97, he represented a group of peanut vendors against Wirtz’s ban on the salty snack inside the UC. (He lost both cases.) Weinberg has also been arrested three times in front of the United Center on charges of obstructing pedestrian traffic—twice while selling the program and once for selling his book. In response, Weinberg took the city to court twice claiming false arrests and won a total of $65,000.

With the death of Bill Wirtz last year and the ceding of the Blackhawks to Wirtz’s son Rocky, who has curried favor with fans by putting the team’s games on TV, Weinberg says he was compelled to make “one last comment on Bill Wirtz’s reign of error.”

The farewell issue includes a mock “Help Choose Bill Wirtz’s Gravestone” contest (option No. 4: TELEVISE THIS, ASSHOLES!), a list of marketing whiz and Hawks president John McDonough’s new promo nights (October 15 is “R. Kelly press-on mole giveaway night”) and a year-by-year Hawks timeline (“2008—NASA space probe detects signs of intelligent life in Blackhawks front office”).

The issue also features a coloring book titled “An Illustrated Guide to the Miracles of Saint Rockwell Wirtz,” a send-up of Rocky’s quest to right the wrongs of his father. “I still think it’s funny,” Weinberg says, “but it’s not nearly as funny as ripping Bill apart night in and night out.”

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