Team ink: For these fanatics, a tattoo is the ultimate sign of team spirit

  • Amber Schultz shows off her custom designed Chicago Blackhawks tattoo. (Mike Rich/Redye)
Amber Schultz shows off her custom designed Chicago Blackhawks tattoo.… (Mike Rich )
April 25, 2012|By Piet Levy, For RedEye

Some fans bleed for the Bulls and Blackhawks. Literally. Like, with their blood.

For them, it's not enough to sport the occasional jersey. They need to wear their pride every single second, with a tattoo of their favorite teams or players immortalized on the bodies their mamas gave 'em.

So who are these most fanatical of fanatics who've invested hours of their lives, endured agonizing pain and spent hundreds—even thousands—of dollars on team tattoos? RedEye talked to two top sports-specializing inkslingers—Kyle Berg of Constable Tattoo in Plainfield and Nikk Dycha of Krol Body Art in Belmont Cragin —to find four folks with some of the coolest Bulls and Blackhawks body art around.

Don Steffan

Don Steffan's intentions were modest enough. In 2010, around the time the Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup, the iron foundry machine operator from Crystal Lake thought he'd get a generic Hawks goalie tattoo to cover up a bad-looking angel on his right calf.

Two years, 50 hours of ink time and some $2,000 later, Steffan's right leg, from ankle to knee, is completely covered in Hawks tats.

"[The Hawks] have just been a part of my life for so long it kind of seemed like the right thing to do," said 28-year-old Steffan, a diehard fan since he was 6. "I like to be able to have something that nobody else has. … It makes me feel important."

Dycha first convinced Steffan to make the goalie tat a detailed Tony Esposito portrait. Next came Stan Mikita. Then a replica of the famous photo of Bobby Hull with a busted-up nose. The leg lineup also includes Glenn Hall, three former Hawks goaltenders' masks and a classic Hawks logo. Next to be inked is the pit behind the knee—the most painful spot for a leg tat, Steffan said—where he's considering a Stanley Cup, a portrait of famed announcer Pat Foley and the old Chicago Stadium and scoreboard.

The sleeve's gotten a lot of attention from fans … and even from Esposito himself at a convention last year.

"I was thinking how I could say to him, 'Hey, I got you on my leg,' and not sound crazy," Steffan said. "The look on his face, it was so awesome. He told me, 'You've got to show the rest of the guys.' "

Michael Daddio

"Everything I do in my life I do to the extreme," said 22-year-old Portage Park resident Michael Daddio.

When it comes to the Bulls, especially Michael Jordan, that's an understatement. After collecting 100 pairs of Air Jordans in his closet, Daddio realized he could lose it all in a fire. The next logical step for the Krol Body Art manager was to get a Jordan tattoo tribute.

Last February, Dycha started the first of three action portraits on Daddio's rib cage, from Jordan's college days, rookie year and a Bulls championship game. The college portrait is in progress, and Daddio wants to add other symbols, like a championship ring.

"Who knows, maybe I'll meet [Jordan] somewhere and he could sign it, and I could get his signature tattooed," Daddio said. "That would be wild."

Amber Schultz

In 2010, Amber Schultz made herself a deal. If the Hawks won the Stanley Cup, she'd get a tattoo. But not just any Hawks tattoo. The lifelong fan would design it herself.

For 45 days after the big win, the 25-year-old United Auto Insurance biller labored over her design. Her final vision: the Stanley Cup, with the Hawks' founding year inscribed on the base, and the years when the team took home the Cup stacked on top of each other climbing up to the bottom of the bowl, with symbolic feathers at the top.

"I'd carry [the design] in my wallet and look at it and think, 'I can't wait, I can't wait, I can't wait,' " the lifelong Hawks fan and Dunning resident said.

The wait ended February 2011 when Berg inked Schultz's artwork on her left calf.

"It made me so happy to see this thing come to life, to see the color in the feathers, the boldness of each and every layer on the cup," Schultz said. "I was like a kid at Christmas with her favorite toy."

Eric Schander

Eric Schander grew up under the most cruel of circumstances for a sports fan.

"My dad raised me a Cubs fan, and my Mom tried to convert me to a Sox fan," Schander said. "Two baseball teams were shoved at me from either direction."

But the Bulls and the Bears were always there for the 32-year-old Oak Lawn resident and car repair shop assistant manager. "I'm a huge football fan, it's definitely my No. 1 sport, but the Bulls are my big No. 1 team," Schander said.

Two years ago, Schander mixed his passion for sports with another obsession—getting tattooed. His first tat was 12 years ago, a logo for local alt punk outfit Alkaline Trio.

"I hate needles. If I have to get a shot, I'll cry," Schander said. "But after I got it done, a week later I wanted another tattoo. Maybe it was something in the ink."

Summer 2010, Berg inked the Bulls head on Schander's left shoulder and the Bears head on his right. Stretched across his chest are the words "Chicago's Finest."

Tat addict that he is, Schander's considering adding NBA trophies behind the Bulls head next.

"They make me so happy," Schander said. "Every day I look in the mirror and see them and realize they're a part of me."

Piet Levy is a RedEye special contributor.

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