Mike Magee is on the stage at the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, looking at his heroes:
“Lou Holtz is looking at me right now. It’s surreal…”
Magee was inducted on Wednesday night at Wintrust Arena, in front of an audience that included both former Fire players to be inducted, Brian McBride and Frank Klopas, as well as some legends across the Chicago sports scene.
For Magee, who grew up a Chicago sports fan, and whose acceptance speech refers to every other honoree with a personal note on their achievements, it’s a special honor to cap a career that was always arcing back toward his hometown.
We’d caught up the day before the ceremony in an extensive interview for the club’s alumni newsletter, and Magee had described his Chicago influences:
“We were big Bears fans, Bulls fans. I played pretty much as much baseball as I did soccer. And then one day the Fire announced the team and instantly, I remember going to games at Soldier Field and I remember the only thing I asked for for Christmas was Fire season tickets. And I remember looking under the Christmas tree on Christmas morning and there they were. And then later I was in residency in Florida with the national team and it was kind of cool, because I remember John Ellinger (then head coach of the U.S. U-17 team) and he was asking all of us who we wanted to be playing for in 10 years time and every single kid was Manchester United or whoever, and mine was Chicago Fire.”
Magee did famously end up on the Fire eventually, but it took some asking…
“I was incredibly lucky to play in New York and then get to go to LA for incredible coaches. But at the back of my mind, the number of times I tried to get traded back to Chicago might surprise a lot of people. I think my second year in New York, I was, like 20 years old, and trying to get traded to Chicago! And it just kept eluding me.”
Then, early in the 2013 season, with the Galaxy interested in bringing in Robbie Rogers, and then Chicago head coach Frank Klopas repeatedly asking LA for Magee, the move came through:
“Klopas said to Bruce Arena and Chris Klein, “Why don’t you go ask him? Ask him what he wants to do.” Bruce called me in and said, ‘To be clear, we don’t want to trade you. But we’ve kind of heard from someone that you might be open to it, or might even want to. What are your thoughts?’ And teary-eyed, I said to Bruce, “Bruce, playing for the Galaxy has been the greatest thing that’s ever happened for me, but playing for Chicago is literally my childhood dream. Playing in front of my family and playing for the Fire.’ And he said, ‘Mike, if that’s what you want, it’s done.’ And literally in ten seconds it was agreed, and I’m forever grateful.”
What happened next was the stuff of folklore, as Magee had a spectacular year leading the Fire, and winning MLS MVP.
“It was all happening so fast, and we were having so much fun. And we were actually in a playoff chase all season. I was just having the time of my life competing, and it kind of breaks my heart that we got broken up after the season. That year, 2013, even though we didn’t make the playoffs, I’d just tell the fans that whether I’m 40 years old, 50 years old, 60 years old, that’ll be the year that I talk about.”
He might talk about it with Robbie Keane. As we talk about the extensive influence the Irish striker had on Magee’s movement on the field in the latter part of his career, Magee laughs about the fact that Keane would text him after yet another poacher’s goal in his MVP year and say simply, “You’re welcome.”
“I knew exactly what he was talking about, because I didn’t score that many goals from far out — watching everything he did just resonated with me. He’s not the fastest guy, but he was switched on, and he loved to score goals and he loved to compete. And I’m no Robbie Keane, but I’ve got similar attributes in those regards, and I took a ton from his game…As soon as I added it to my game — and it would have been nice to add that ten years sooner — but it’s going to leave a smile on my face for a long time. You know, getting MVP and winning some championships.”
And now a Hall of Fame nod.
“Seeing some of the other guys on the list, like Patrick Kane and Lou Holtz — it’s insane. I moved out of Chicago when I was 15, and I think about the amount of pride I’ve had whether it be the Bears, or the Cubs, or the Bulls, as the teams from where I’m from, when I’m in locker rooms with guys from all over the world…”
And of course, chief among the Chicago teams is Magee’s beloved Fire:
“The team’s hopefully moving downtown, which I think we’ve all known for a long time is due, and Chicago’s ready for. It was the right decision at the time when Bridgeview paid for the stadium, but I don’t think anybody would have predicted the growth of MLS since. So now that Joe’s bringing it downtown and hearing the way he speaks, and being a Chicago guy, I couldn’t be more excited. So getting to see the sport grow here, hopefully by a lot, next year — I can’t wait.”
Back at Wintrust Arena the crowd is dispersing after Lou Holtz’s closing speech. I grab Mike for a photo with McBride and Klopas, as his son Mike Magee III ducks happily under chairs nearby. But the biggest childlike grin in the room belongs to the Chicago fan who became a hometown hero.
Mike Magee will be appearing on the Fire’s ESPN+ pregame broadcast during the Toronto game, and he will also be honored by the Club on the field at half-time.