How Blackhawks legend Chris Chelios earned the reputation as one of Chicago's best hometown sports heroes

Chris Chelios had a lot of words to say on Sunday.

His jersey retirement speech went a full half hour. He had words of gratitude for so many, from his former teammates, to his wife and even Dennis Rodman.

You wouldn’t have even known there was a timer had Chelios not pointed it out.

"It was zero, so I knew I blew it," Chelios said.

Chelios, as he did in his 27-year career, defied the time. His historic career earned three James Norris Trophies and three Stanley Cups. It was so impactful, it captured the hearts of Blackhawks fans even after spending time with the bitter rival Red Wings.

But, Chelios has a specific word that comes to mind: Lucky.

"The world that comes to mind is lucky," Chelios said. "That's all plain and simple. There's no rhyme or reason for where I came up."

There may be no rhyme or reason in Chelios’ mind. But you can’t deny the significance. How many hockey players have it on record with Wayne Gretzky saying "you were one of the few players that made me nervous."

Only two Chicago-born players have had their jersey retired by their hometown teams. The first was Dick Butkus with the Bears. The second was Chelios with the Blackhawks on Sunday.

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - FEBRUARY 25: Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Chelios speaks during his jersey retirement ceremony prior to the game between the Chicago Blackhawks and the Detroit Red Wings at the United Center on February 25, 2024 in Chicago, Illinois

On Sunday, Chelios was honored as one of the greatest hometown heroes that Chicago has ever seen.

"That path and that journey, like I was out of hockey twice," Chelios said. "There was really no disappointments because I never had expectations of playing pro. just because I loved it. 

A career like Chelios doesn’t happen often. Rarely does it ever go perfectly. Case in point: Chelios didn’t win a cup during his years in Chicago. He came close.

Success still gravitated toward Chelios when he played for the Blackhawks. Chelios recounted how he would spend time around the Chicago Bulls during their dynasty of the 1990s. Eventually, the Bulls entourage began hanging around Chelios.

He still earned enough respect for Brent Seabrook to call him to specifically ask if he could wear his No. 7. This was over a decade before his jersey was officially retired.

That kind of respect is demanded, and it makes sense considering how Chelios idolized Butkus. The two were tough. Chelios, in perfect hockey fashion, had his own stories of toughness.

Pat Foley recalled that Chelios tore his ACL during his playing days and still finished the game. He finished the season after that. He finished the next five seasons after that. 

Yes, Chelios played six seasons at the highest level of competition of hockey in the world with a torn ACL.

That’s because there was a love for playing for the city of Chicago Chelios had as a hometown kid. Chelios is so tough, he didn’t get emotional during the panel earlier in the day with Foley, Ed Belfour, Jeremy Roenick, Tony Amonte and Gary Suter.

You can’t fault him for wanting to keep that tough reputation intact in front of all the people he loved playing for.

"The day I was traded to Chicago was the greatest day of my life," Chelios said during his jersey retirement speech."

Now, Chelios can add another one of the greatest days of his life in Chicago.

There will be other Blackhawks in the future to have their jersey retired. One of them played Sunday in Patrick Kane. Chelios shouted Kane out as the player who will soon inherit the title of best American-born player in the history of the game.

That, however, is in the future.

For now, Chelios holds that title for good reason. The most games played by a defenseman in the history of the NHL might be a record that’s untouchable, that is unless another defenseman can play for 27 years.

To have that career is one thing. To do it for one’s hometown is a different kind of special.

Chelios, the Evergreen Park, Illinois, native, who attended Mount Carmel, played at Wisconsin so he’d be closer to his friends and was a mainstay with the Blackhawks through the 1990s earned his day Sunday.

The stories of Chelios’ toughness and hockey ability will be talked about for as long as his jersey remains in the rafters of the United Center, which became forever on Sunday.

"For this to happen, I still can't believe it," Chelios said. "It's going to be cool though when I walk out there with my buddies and I see that thing hanging and sitting in the suites with them."

That will ring true whenever Chelios is back in the United Center. 

"It's gonna hit home," Chelios said.


Patrick Kane, former Blackhawks legends talk Chris Chelios' jersey retirement

Chelios had his jersey retired Sunday before the Blackhawks played Detroit. The outpouring of respect was rare, and it was felt before his jersey ascended into the rafters.