By Rian Hill
I am an expatriate Wisconsinite living in Chicago; ergo, I am a Packers fan living behind enemy lines.
For about seven months each year, I blend right into the urban scenery. It pains me to say that I even have Illinois license plates on my car (my insurance company made me do it, I swear). My daily Lake Shore Drive commute bears little resemblance to my time spent in Door County on Highways 42 and 57, but at least I can still see the water. For the most part, things here are pretty good – I live a relatively quiet, simple life in Chicago. That is, until football season.
Long before the autumn winds howl, Chicago fans start bellowing about their Bears. And – surprise, surprise – these talking heads do not much care for Cheeseheads. To Bears fans, we are nothing more than an inbred legion of cheese-eating simpletons, and they miss very few opportunities to pound this point home. One need not wear a Rodgers jersey to Soldier Field on Sunday to suffer such abuses – just wear it around the neighborhood! The names I have been called are not fit for print.
I will readily admit that Chicago is one of America’s great sports towns. It is one of just 12 U.S. cities with a team from each of the four major league sports, and just like those of us who hail from north of the Cheddar Curtain, Chicagoans love their sports. In a city that boasts global cultural achievement and significance, sports are not an afterthought; they are a way of life.
The Cubs own the north side (and greater suburbia), while the Sox are the heart of the south side. The Bulls were great (read: the Jordan years); but then they were terrible, so people stopped going to games (read: the years after Jordan). Now they have Derrick Rose, so the Madhouse on Madison is again packed to the rafters. And don’t forget about the Blackhawks – on the night they won the Cup, horns were honked and cars were burned well into the early morning hours.
But there is one team that rules them all. Without question, Chicago belongs to the Bears. This means, given the current balance of power in the NFC North, it is a reasonably good time to be a Packers fan in the City of Big Shoulders. (Alright, it is a FREAKING FANTASTIC time wear Green and Gold down here! AHHHHHHH! But I’m trying to be professional here, people.)
I suffer my fair share of verbal abuse, to be sure: at work, while walking my dog, in line at the grocery store…you get the picture. It comes from fathers and their sons, mothers and their daughters; hatred for the Packers would seem to be a family affair. But, for the most part, I try to be gracious and just laugh off their remarks. I suppose I could bring up our new Super Bowl trophy, or talk about how we have likely made the most successful transition between future Hall of Fame quarterbacks in NFL history. But that doesn’t seem very fair, does it?
And, lest we forget, not so long ago the NFC North (then NFC Central) landscape looked much, much different. Picture yourself in the Port Plaza Mall food court, circa 1991 (shiver). Look around – you are surrounded by Zubaz pants, Majkowski jerseys, Aqua Net-lifted hair (some things never change), and throngs of Packers fans obsessing over the glory days of the Lombardi era.
From 1984 – 1991, only the Majik Man claimed victory over the Bears.
Chicago was only a half-dozen years removed from Super Bowl glory, and were the class of the “Norris Division.” Packers fans, meanwhile, had to sift through a quarter century’s worth of tear-stained (beer-stained?) memories to sniff something resembling a championship. Things were not looking up in Packerland. Thank goodness I did not live in Chicago then!
Fortunately, the tide turned in dramatic fashion. The last 20 years have proved an amazing ride for Packers fans (it would seem we owe a lot to a certain #4). The next decade has the potential to be similarly stellar. The same cannot be said for the Bears. Chicago fans are vocal and passionate, but their Second City status in the NFC North has left them reeking of desperation, and probably a little hoarse. In the modern NFL, both the Bears and their fans suffer from an identity crisis; in Chicago, the year is still 1985. “Coach” still means Ditka (sorry, Lovie), and every day on local sports talk radio, the Bears win Super Bowl XX all over again.
Unfortunately for Bears fans, today’s NFL does not play to their team’s historic strengths. And for whatever reason – be it foresight, good fortune, or (more than likely) a little of both – the Packers have always fared better than the Bears in the “who’s-under-center” department. Put simply: Jay Cutler is no Aaron Rodgers. Bears fans know this, and they hate this.
As a Packers fan living in enemy territory, I have come to understand the hurt that my Bears-loving neighbors feel every Sunday when I proudly display my Green and Gold. Chicagoans have witnessed decades of football ineptitude: failed draft classes, front office mismanagement, a carousel of quarterbacks, and an NFL-wide marginalization of the defensive brand of football with which they identify. If I were a Bears fan and I had to suffer some lanky Packers fan in a Rodgers jersey walking his Packers-collared Cocker Spaniel through my neighborhood, I just might yell something derogatory while driving by, too. I get it…sort of.
In the end, Bears fans and all, Chicago is not such a bad place to live. Though I cannot travel north as often as I would like, thanks to the Packers, I feel much closer to home in the fall. NFL fortunes change quickly, and while I pray otherwise, history says that someday soon we will be staring up the leaderboard at the Bears (maybe not that soon). So, watching from a distance, I savor every Rodgers to Jennings connection, and every Clay Matthews splash into the backfield. Though I may be stuck temporarily in the land of toll roads and flatlanders, the toll each Packers victory takes on every Bears fan I know goes a long way toward easing my pain.
Full disclosure: the author once owned a Chris Zorich jersey, but has since been acquitted of said impropriety, and is now a proud Green Bay Packers season ticket holder.