The View From Section 416: For Cubs and Cardinals fans, a new twist to an old rivalry

Cubs fans have a history of rooting for losers and maybe even some opponents. Now they expect victory, which is bringing the winds of change to their bitter rivalry with St. Louis supporters. Jon Durr/Getty Images

In the mostly lean years of the '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s and, yes, '10s, some Cubs fans justified the expense of attending games by focusing on great individual ballplayers, even on rival teams. The Cubs might be doomed to lose, but at least you could see Willie McCovey or Andrew McCutchen or Mike Schmidt or Johnny Bench. You'd also need a team to root for in the World Series, against the American League and its evil designated hitters.

So even the most ardent Cubs fan might have a soft spot for the Giants or Pirates or Phillies or Reds. But Cubs fans never feel that way about any player for the Cardinals. We might respect their best players -- Albert Pujols, say -- but we never root for them. Never.

This rivalry is about more than the teams and their history -- it's about the fans in the stands.

It hasn't often been a rivalry for Cubs and Cardinals players. Rivals have to be well-matched opponents, and that doesn't happen if one team is, for decades, better than the other. The better team has almost always been St. Louis.

So Cardinals fans come north to Wrigley Field to lord it over us. It doesn't take much. They need only walk into the ballpark wearing red T-shirts commemorating their team's most recent World Series victory. Or the one before that. Or the one before that. They can also say the magic words -- "Brock for Broglio" -- and Cubs fans can only grin and bear it. Other teams have fans who travel -- Brewers fans, in particular, seem to love Wrigley -- but only Cardinals fans can take the place over.

At least, they've been able to in the past. Monday night in the Friendly Confines, I wandered around looking for what was once a common sight: entire sections of the park dotted in red, decked out with those annoying little birds seesawing on a bat.

I didn't find any.

A weekend series always draws more out-of-towners. Tour outfits sell Missourians on three days of clichéd Chicago: deep-dish pizza, hot dogs with exotic condiments, a Great Lake instead of the Big Muddy, and a ho-tel with a cee-ment pond. Cardinals fans motor up I-55, descend from their tour buses, brush the hayseeds out of their hair and take over Wrigley.

The relative lack of Cards fans at this series says something about 2016. Last year's victory over the Cards in the NLDS was the greatest thing Cubs fans have experienced since, well, ever, and there are clear signs that this rivalry might be shifting gears.

Cardinals fans might be finding that seats are not so readily available as they have been. These days, season-ticket holders are coming to the games instead of selling, and scalpers are finding eager customers among the locals. Monday night, the attendance was 41,166 -- larger than Wrigley's official total seating of 41,072, meaning the Cubs sold standing-room-only tickets. There were plenty of Cards fans in the building, but their presence was nothing like it has been in years past.

Even in smaller numbers, though, the Cardinals fans remain on top, 2015 notwithstanding. Until the Cubs win a World Series, Cards fans can smirk, sit back with their plastic cups of watery rice-based macro-lager -- back when Anheuser-Busch owned the team, some Cubs fans would refuse to drink Budweiser not just because it's bad beer, but because doing so supported the Cardinals -- and rest on their laurels.

McQ, one of my seatmates, is in the construction business and knows more about the planned rebuild of Wrigley than perhaps he should. When he was in St. Louis on a job site a month ago during the NHL playoffs, a guy in a Blues sweater told him St. Louis fans would gladly swap Chicago fans a World Series for a Stanley Cup.

That'd work, but the Blues didn't hold up their end of this bargain with the universe.

Then, Monday night, someone in the Section 416 men's room complained about Wrigley's infrastructure: "You guys spend so much to fix this place up and you still got these troughs? Is this up to code?"

"It's a historic, pre-existing nonconformity," McQ replied. "Tough it out."

Cubs fans toughed out Monday night's 3-2 loss. One negative image of Cubs fans (mostly promoted by White Sox fans; we'll get to them in a future column) is that we attend games not to watch them, but to have a drink and flirt (as if those were bad things). But when the team has been bad, it might indeed have been easier to work on one's tan than to pay attention to the home team's subpar play. In the Dark Ages (2010-2014), if the Cubs trailed after the seventh-inning stretch, an exodus to the bars of Wrigleyville began.

Not this year. Monday night, the stands were jammed till the end of the ninth. This team has inspired confidence that a W is always a possibility.

The performance of two former Cardinals, both of whom notoriously left free-agent money on the table in St. Louis to come to the Cubs, helped decide the contest. John Lackey had a rocky start, giving up three runs in as many innings before settling down and throwing 109 pitches through six. The bullpen shut St. Louis down, but the Cardinals' pitching stifled our offense. Jason Heyward went 1-for-5 and ended the game with a broken-bat popup to second, stranding the potential tying run on third.

And so the Cubs lost to the Cards for the third time this year.

"We're not used to losing anymore," said seatmate Rich after the final out.

Cubs fans' historic pre-existing nonconformity -- that is, rooting for losers and maybe even some opponents -- has been remodeled into an expectation of victory.