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Singer had 'horrendous cold' before Game 6's winning anthem

The last time John Vincent sang the national anthem at Wrigley Field, the Cubs won the National League pennant for the first time in 71 years. Just saying.

Little did fans know then that he performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" despite coming down with a nasty bug a few days before Game 6. An ear, nose and throat doctor inserted a tube with a camera into his nasal passage and found swelling in his throat.

"I had a horrendous cold on Saturday when I sang," Vincent told Inc. on Thursday, still coughing over the phone. "I was in the steam room, I was drinking hot tea all day, I was doing everything, taking a hot shower, taking vitamin C, gargling with salt water — everything. My voice just started getting a little better today.

"When I wasn't a singer, I never cared. … Oh, I lost my voice, no big deal," the 44-year-old Lincoln Park resident said. "Now when that happens, you freak out." On game day he just powered through it, still managing to pull off the signature technique where he holds the last note on "land of the free" for an extended period (Cubs TV analyst Jim Deshaies timed him at 21.1 seconds).

Vincent, a regular performer at Mike Ditka's downtown restaurant, said his voice is stronger now, and as a Cubs fan he'd love to do the honors for Game 3 at Wrigley Field on Friday, or any game during the weekend homestand, though those opportunities usually go to national pop and country artists.

"It would be an extreme honor. I would be extremely excited, honored, surreal and very nervous. I get very nervous," Vincent laughed, "that would be the main feeling. Just thinking about it, if it happens, my palms start sweating."

Vincent, who grew up John Vincent Pierorazio in the Garfield Ridge neighborhood, had never planned to be a singer. He played offensive tackle for the Duesseldorf Panther football team in Germany in 1995 then returned to Elmhurst College to graduate in 1996, and got a job recruiting accounting and finance professionals. But he could always do a mean Frank Sinatra, and with encouragement from relatives and co-workers he started picking up restaurant gigs in January 2001. A manager from the Ditka's restaurant chain caught wind of his style and asked him to audition. "I sang 'New York, New York' for Mrs. Ditka a cappella; she goes, 'Hire him.'"

Now he has a lifetime contract with Ditka's, performing American pop standards Wednesdays through Saturdays in the vocal styles of Sinatra, Ray Charles, Michael Buble, Louis Armstrong and Dean Martin, as well as singers of other genres, such as Elvis Presley and Kenny Rogers.

Ditka formed Ditka Records in 2006 just so Vincent could put out his first and only album, "Eleven." "It didn't go big at all," Vincent said. "I think some people used my CDs to keep a table from being wobbly."

Vincent has made a living, however, from private events and live venues such as Ditka's, Las Vegas casinos and the House of Blues, where he headlines "Sinatra Sunday" on Nov. 6. The Packers fan (yeah, he gets plenty of grief for it) has sung the anthem at a game at Lambeau Field in each of the last four years. He's also friends with fellow anthem singers Wayne Messmer and Jim Cornelison.

"When I hear those guys, that really fires me up. When Chicago thinks of anthem singers, it has to be Jim and Wayne," Vincent said. "Those are the guys. They're the best."

— Phil Thompson

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