With a mix of euphoria, relief and disbelief, long-suffering Chicago Cubs fans are shaking off superstitions and setting their sights on the team's first World Series in 71 years.
Loyal fans as far south as San Antonio, Texas, and as far west as Washington state restructured their worldviews to include the seductive possibility that they won't be disappointed again.
"For me, personally I had tears in my eyes. I've seen them come close," said Chicago native Jimmy Tingas, 47, who owns Wrigleyville Grill in San Antonio where he caters to homesick former Chicagoans still craving hot dogs and Italian beef. "We have one more task to do. I'm confident they're going to do it."
First lady Michelle Obama joined the chorus Sunday morning, congratulating her hometown Cubs a day after the team defeated the Los Angeles Dodgers at Chicago's Wrigley Field in Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.
The Chicago native tweeted: "Way to go Cubs!!" She then recalled her father, saying: "My Dad is the reason I'm a true Cubs fans. He'd be so proud!"
Lifelong fan Marilyn Hnatusko wiped away tears after the win Saturday night, recalling other longtime Cubs fans.
"I thought of all my relatives who didn't see this, my dear Uncle John, and now I can't quite believe it happened," she said.
Scattered across the world, Cubs fans make up their own diaspora. Blizzard-hardened folk, their befuddling loyalty encompasses decades of frustration, disillusionment and too many sigh-filled pangs for "next year." Many never lived in Chicago, but grew up elsewhere in the nation's heartland, listening to games on WGN's powerful AM signal, which could be heard hundreds of miles, especially at night.
They're often pressed to explain their loyalty. Stephen Kropp, 46, of Mercer Island, Washington, grew up in Chicago and stays true to his Cubs. He and a buddy plan to attend World Series Game 2 in Cleveland dressed as the Blues Brothers.
"It's a huge emotional investment," Kropp said Sunday. "It's dumping all these emotions into something that never gives you anything back. Hanging out at Wrigley, having a beer and knowing you'll never get to the promised land. These fans have more credibility (than other teams') to say they're the best fans in baseball."
A Midwestern impulse toward redemption is welling up on social media with a "ForgiveBartman" hashtag campaign pulling for Steve Bartman to throw out the first pitch when the World Series returns to Wrigley Field.
Kropp favors forgiving Bartman, the fan whose interference with a foul ball in the 2003 playoffs added to the sense of a hovering curse. "But they should seat him five rows back or higher, just in case," Kropp said.
Restaurant owner Tingas, too, is having some trouble letting go of some traditional Cubs beliefs, like the infamous billy goat curse: "When we win the World Series we're going to have roasted goat, I'll tell you that."
Steve Zucker, who's been coming to games since the 1940s, said before Saturday's game that if the Cubs won, he would go to his father's grave and leave a Cubs hat and T-shirt.
"My dad died playing cards, listening to the game on a little transistor radio, so I may bring that, too," Zucker said. "Before this year, I never thought I would see this."
Cubs All-Star first baseman Anthony Rizzo said the fans deserved to see this team make the World Series.
"These fans have been amazing since the time I got here," Rizzo said. "We got four more big ones to go, but we're going to enjoy this."
Chicago faces the Cleveland Indians in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday.