The Chicago Blackhawks' President, who through his own innovation and due diligence brought the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic to Wrigley Field, called the transformed baseball stadium for this New Year's Day event "the real field of dreams."
"I have pretty lofty expectations as people will tell you. This has surpassed them," McDonough told NHL.com in an exclusive interview during the first intermission. "This is a winter wonderland at Wrigley Field the likes of which no one ever thought they'd see. For this place to have transformed into the ultimate hockey event is really beyond belief."
McDonough's goal for having the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field was to put the city of Chicago and its hockey team back on the map. He believes it's mission accomplished.
"What this has done is really brought the city together," McDonough said. "The city is electrified. Our fan base has embraced it. Our fans feel special. They really do. The city of Chicago today feels special to be hosting this event, so I'd like to thank the NHL and Gary Bettman, John Collins and Brian Jennings for allowing us to have it here."
McDonough said he arrived at Wrigley Field at 8:30 Thursday morning and was able to walk around the neighborhood. He headed into some of Wrigleyville's bars and restaurants — places he got to know so well in 24 years working for the Chicago Cubs.
He said the business owners were all in their glory, a rarity for this neighborhood the dead of winter.
"They were all very appreciative because this is a bonus for them. They never thought they'd have this on New Year's Day," McDonough said. "It also made me feel good because I didn't get a chance to say goodbye to them when I left and that was about 13 months ago. This is an extra playoff game for them."
McDonough actually believes it's bigger than that.
"This is what a World Series would feel like," McDonough said. "I think this is bigger than an opening day or a playoff game. From what I understand there are thousands of people outside the stadium. I think you could have sold out Wrigley Field 10 times over. It's absolutely amazing.
"It's great for hockey and the next city that is privileged to get this hopefully will have the same level of cooperation from the NHL as we did."
When McDonough first brought the idea of having the Winter Classic at Wrigley Field to the attention of the NHL, he had a vision in his mind of what it would look like and how much work would go into making it.
What the NHL has done here has blown him away.
He, like most everyone else, is mesmerized by how NHL Facilities Operations Manager Dan Craig, the ice guru, and Senior V.P. of Events and Entertainment Don Renzulli were able to pull off this masterpiece.
"I never knew it would be like this," McDonough said. "They have done an amazing job. It just tells you what great craftsman they are."
McDonough told NHL.com on Sunday that the moment he couldn't wait for was the National Anthem.
As Jim Cornelison belts out the Anthem for Hawks games at the United Center, the fans build into a raucous and boisterous tizzy, cheering louder and louder as he builds to the crescendo.
"I hear it every night now with 22,000 at the United Center," he said Sunday.
McDonough wanted to know what Cornelison's rendition would sound like with 41,500 fans screaming in the background. Thursday, he called it "one of the highlights of my life." He experienced it with Blackhawks Senior V.P. of Business Operations Jay Blunk as well as Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.
"That was a pinch-yourself, am-I-really-seeing-this moment," McDonough said. "That's when I knew that that would ignite everybody. It would ignite the players and the fans. They were waiting for the start of that anthem."
The players certainly were ignited, as the energy on the ice was exceptional right from the start of the game. The fans who packed Wrigley Field were all standing. If it had been nighttime, the camera flashes would have been blinding.
"This is history and one thing I'm learning is hockey is a religion," McDonough said. "These people that attend these games follow it so closely and they are so passionate. This has surpassed everything I could have imagined."
"This is history, and one thing I'm learning is hockey is a religion. These people that attend these games follow it so closely and they are so passionate. This has surpassed everything I could have imagined." -- John McDonoughMcDonough, though, isn't about to pat himself on the back. It's not his style.
"We're happy about it but we recognize our goal is to make the playoffs whether we play at Wrigley Field or at the United Center," he said. "I'm very proud of the job that (Hawks GM) Dale Tallon has done and Stan Bowman and Joel Quenneville and all the hockey people. Really, this is a hockey story more than anything else."
One that would have never been written without McDonough's genius.
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com