By George Johnson
Special to Page 2

From bad to Wirtz.

"Sad?" says one who has watched this once-proud franchise fall into disrepair, the tragic victim of neglect and poor planning. "It's not sad. It used to be sad. Nobody cares enough to be sad anymore."

Other NHL franchises are poorly run. But for consistently gruesome seasons, the Chicago Blackhawks are a tough act to follow.

Yes, the Original Six Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks of Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Glenn Hall, Pierre Pilote, Keith Magnusson, Iron Mike, Eddie the Eagle, Denis Savard, Doug Wilson, Chris Chelios.

The same.

Blackhawks: Past Five Years
Year Record Points
2006 24-42-13 61
2004 20-43-11-8 59
2003 30-33-13-6 79
2002 41-27-13-1 96
2001 29-40-8-5 71
Last winning season: '01-'02
Last playoff season: '01-'02

Bad drafting. Bad hires. Bad trades. Archaic thinking. Stagnation. And Bob Pulford, doing a pretty fair impersonation of a Madame Tussaud waxwork taken out of the showroom to make room for a newer model, still out on display, overseeing another disasterous season. (Ol' Pully, by the way, has been installed as either coach or co-coach on FIVE separate occasions. Hmmm, notice a pattern developing here?)

There's no truth whatsoever to the slanderous rumor that the Hawks have, in fact, suspended operations. It only seems that way. The biggest paper in town, the Tribune, doesn't send a beat writer on the road anymore. The electronic media has forgotten they exist.

The season-ticket base is around 5,000. That's a rough estimation. Not even Indiana Jones could unearth the actual number.

Watching the Hawks organization now is sort of like seeing Mae West, sagging badly and caked with more mascara than Tammy Faye Bakker, oogling all the beefcake late in her life. From a different time, a bygone sensibility. And sort of creepy. The Wirtz family still won't show games on home TV (which, by the way, now comes in color, not black-and-white), apparently fearful of alienating a fan base that has by now deserted them.

Funny, all the exposure hasn't seemed to hurt the Cubs' attendance any.

These guys come armed with an aim more wayward than Dick Cheney's. One playoff appearance in 10 years. One Stanley Cup in 45. One honest-to-gosh .500 season in eight. The last time they actually won a playoff round, their current coach was playing for the opposition Calgary Flames. That'd be 1996.

The last time they actually selected a player in the entry draft lottery who made an indelible impact on the franchise was Jeremy Roenick. That'd be 1988.

And the nominees are ...
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Last summer, they actually went out and spent money. But who knew that goalie Nikolai Khabibulin (four years, $27 million) would stink the joint out for six weeks, or that Adrian Aucoin (four years, $16 million) would be hurt all the time.

Chicago's a helluva hockey town. But, well, you've got to give them something resembling hockey.

Used to be, at the old Stadium, by that moment of epiphany when Wayne Messmer reached "o'er the la-and of the free …" in his justly famous rendition of the Star Spangled Banner, the 20,000-strong would set up such a mind-mulching din that the whole damn foundation would shake. Even the hairs on the back of the necks of the poodle-sized rats scurrying around the basement would stand at attention. The fans' reaction to the anthem in Chicago was legitimately one of the keepsake moments in all of sports.

There aren't enough interested people in the new joint to form an a cappella group.

That may, as the man said, have gone beyond the point of being sad.

Worse, though, it's pathetic.

Sound off to Page 2 here.