Let’s start with a bold truth. Chicago Fire is named for the greatest story our city can tell — its own legend.
As Chicago Fire FC, we own one of the greatest origin stories in world football, and one of the most inspirational sources of pride and identity a team could hope to have — a city and a people forged in fire. A people undefeated.
So, during the research exercise that the Club carried out over the last 18 months, with surveys, interviews, focus groups and extensive Club and league research, that name and that origin story repeatedly stood out as two of the most powerful assets the Club and its fans valued, and certainly the standard by which all other ideas were judged.
The visual expression of that idea was more complicated. I’ve experienced first-hand the awkwardness of sitting on a plane from LA, as our seat mate thanks the Golden Boot winner beside me for his service as a firefighter. It’s not an isolated occurrence. Many of us involved with the Club, whether staff, players or fans, have similar stories to tell.
Yet within the ranks of those working on the new badge, there was a lot of respect for the founding identity of the Club. There was a sense that the founders had done everything right in that moment, in borrowing the power of the city’s story and the symbolism and imagery of one of its greatest related institutions. Whatever we are now, whatever we become, we stand on a solid foundation, built by people who did everything they could to give a new club resonance from day one.
Right now, though, we are at a different, crucial moment in the Club’s history. The move back to the heart of Chicago is part of a strategic plan that has intensified under the new ownership of Joe Mansueto, but which has been some time in the planning. It involves a long-term ambition to become a cultural institution in the city, as synonymous with the city of Chicago as any great world team is with their city. And part of that move involves fully claiming our own identity and building equity as an institution in our own right — named and identified for something, not after something.
It’s a big decision. And between the Great Fire and the crowning triumph of Chicago as one of the iconic cities of the modern world, there occurred another brief, important moment of decision for every Chicagoan, that is crucial to our story.
After the firefighting, the reckoning with loss, and the shock and adrenaline of the first few days of the Great Fire, there was a moment, a day later, when some brave Chicagoans made the decision to stand. And that made all the difference.
I’ve thought about that moment a lot this year — thought of what it must have been like to be a typesetter at the Chicago Tribune, setting the line “CHICAGO SHALL RISE AGAIN” on the day after the Fire was finally extinguished. They were working in a borrowed room, as the remains of the paper’s offices still smoldered nearby.
I’ve thought about what it must have been like to be John S. Wright, an inveterate Chicago booster and dreamer, who walked the streets of the city that same day, to be met by a fellow citizen, who apparently sneered, “What say you of Chicago now?”
Without skipping a beat, Wright replied:
“Chicago will have more men, more money, more business within five years, than she would have had without this fire.”
It wasn’t a given that Wright would stay, though — indeed, not all that generation of Chicagoans did. Even a young Daniel Burnham left in the wake of the fire before roaring back to build the world’s first skyscraper in the city, oversee the Columbian Exposition now celebrated as the third star on the city’s flag, and ultimately become the father of modern city planning with the Chicago Plan, and its inspirational decree, “Make no little plans.”
But Burnham got to return and build a century-long legacy because a certain breed of Chicagoans stood their ground to give him his foundation. Faced with their defining test — the Great Fire that destroyed a young city — Chicagoans like John S. Wright met the moment with the fire of their own resolve. They gave birth to the city we stand for today, and also gave birth to the gold standard for what Chicagoans can be when they unite.
The Club’s new badge is a distillation of all those elements, pared down to its simplest form. A simple icon that contains the fire itself, and a crown for the triumph over adversity of a people undefeated. And between those two powerful forces, the moment of resolve to stand and build on the ashes. That story, and all it compels and inspires us to do, is contained in the vessel, the cause, that is our Club.
It’ll take time to grow on all of us. It’s simple and unadorned and a departure from a mark that stood for two decades and that some of you still cherish. It’s a purposeful choice to make a mark that’s bold and easy to recreate. A child could sketch it out and tell the story of Chicago in these few lines. But it would take a lifetime for that child, or any of us, to fully understand all that it stands for, and to truly stand for it themselves.
“Remember that our sons and our grandsons will do things that would astound you.”
— Daniel Burnham
It’s also important to state, as we take on a new visual identity, that nobody among the current custodians of the Club is under any illusions that a move to a new stadium, or a change of badge, or some storytelling, changes our core mission. Our goal each year is constant: to win championships, serve the people of Chicago we are honored to represent, and grow our sport. We are a football club, and when we don’t win, we fall short.
But when we do win, we do so in the name of the people of Chicago, and for the fire that still burns in every neighborhood, inside every person willing to believe in the future and stand for our city. We do so in the name of every meaning of the phrase “Chicago Fire.”
The very first piece I wrote after joining the club concluded with the line, “I want to stand here.” I still do. We all do. We are still Chicago Fire. And more than ever, we stand for Chicago.