I tell people that I was born in Chicago. It was actually Des Plaines, but that is in Cook County, so it's close enough. Whatever the circumstance, Chicago is in my blood. Growing up in northern Indiana, Sundays meant the Bears game. This was before the Colts bailed out on Baltimore to move to Indy. The Bears were THE team for most of the state. This was also before Sunday Ticket and the Red Zone, so the Bears were all that we would get on TV. When you’re five years old, it didn’t matter that the Bears were one of the worst teams in the NFL. I sat with my dad and watched the game, at least until the time when his yelling reached the point where my mom didn’t want to hear it anymore and sent him to the garage to watch the rest of the game on the small black-and-white TV out there. I knew all the players. While my friends collected baseball cards, I was collecting football cards, with Bears cards gaining special prominence. I took one of my dad’s T-shirts and made it into a Gary Huff No. 19 jersey (Gary Huff? I don’t know. He was the QB and I don’t think my dad was much of a Bobby Douglass fan).
By the time I was a teenager, I was playing middle school football and the Bears had Walter Payton. The Bears still weren’t good at football, and neither was I, but Walter became my idol. We went to some games, including one on the final day of the regular season, in a snowstorm, where the Bears beat the St. Louis Cardinals to finally make the playoffs. (It was also the day I got food poisoning from a bad hot dog and ended up in Cook County Hospital.) By the time I got to college, the Bears were becoming Da Bears. Growing up, I had friends who were Cincinnati Reds fan, and they won championships. Friends were IU or Notre Dame fans, and they won championships. I had Purdue. The Cubs. The Bulls. And the Bears. So in 1985, when the Bears were so dominant, I finally had the feeling of MY team being the best. January 26, 1986, became perhaps the most satisfying day I have ever had as a fan, and I thought back to all those days with my dad watching a lot of bad football teams. Dad’s gone now, and the Bears never became the late-80s dynasty many predicted. There have been may lean times since, and I still yell at the TV the way my dad did, often startling my wife from the other side of the house. She just has to deal with it. I don’t have a TV in the garage.
For sure, watching the Bears win the Super Bowl was as good a moment as any fan could have, especially the way that season went. It was a terrific ride. I wish I could include the playoff-clinching game in ’78, but the food poisoning kind of put a damper on that whole experience. I went to a charity basketball game at Wawasee High School to see the Bears’ traveling basketball team play against the local celebs, back when teams did that sort of thing. I’ve had some adventures to numerous Bears-Packers games, most times with my friend, Joe Santa, a raving Packers fan.We’ve seen games in Lambeau Field and in Soldier Field, at least until the point Joe said he would never go back to a game in THAT Chicago stadium. We even saw a game in Champaign when Soldier Field was under renovation. Joe even got us pregame field passes for that game, and I was able to get some great photos. That was also the game where the section we were in nearly rioted when a dad of a Packers’ player got into a shoving match with a Bears’ fan. We were at the Monday Night game in Chicago when the fan leaped out of the stands to grab an extra point and dropped another 20 feet to the concrete below. But nothing will beat the Halloween night game, October 31, 1994. Again, Joe and I went, along with Joe’s friend, Bill Miller, another Bears fan. We had gotten a hotel room in Merrillville, which was just a short run into the city. We looked forward to the game, where they were going to retire the jerseys of legends Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus. Joe had to pick up the tickets from another friend at Carson’s a famous rib place in Chicago. We figured we could get there early and park, grab a cab to Carson’s, have some ribs, then head back to the stadium. That day became famous for the one of the worst weather games in NFL history. Hurricane-force winds combined with torrential rain and near-freezing temperatures. Being cold is one thing. Being cold and wet takes it to another level. We drove up to the stadium, and surprisingly (sacrcasm, folks) there was no one tailgating, so we were able to park close to the stadium. But we still needed to get the tickets, so we walked a half-mile through a hurricane to find a cab by Field Museum. Our cabbie probably checked in at 400 pounds, and apparently was a practitioner of Jamaican voodoo, judging by the decorations in the cab. We told him where we needed to go, and he just mumbled and hummed and chanted all the way to Carson’s. It was also Halloween night, which meant a few extra crazies were on the streets. We met Joe’s friend and got the tickets. He ended up giving them to us for free, because no one of sound mind was going to go to this game. But go, we did. We sat through the whole thing. Sat through the jersey-retirement ceremony at halftime. Joe stayed fairly dry because of his Gore-Tex rainsuit, and warm from the flask he smuggled in. It was a throwback night, and the teams wore throwback jerseys. Of course, Brett Favre tore up the Bears, as he always did. He was only 6-of-15 passing, but ran for a 36-yard TD in a 33-6 Green Bay win. I drove the three of us back to Merrillville, trying to keep my high-profile Blazer on the road in the high winds. When we reached the hotel, we saw a number of satellite TV trucks there. We soon learned of the tragic plane crash that happened that evening when a small commercial jet had gone down nearby in an Indiana field. It certainly cast a pall over the night. Joe and I didn’t get much sleep that night. Joe had somehow forgotten to tell me that Bill was a world-champion snorer. We had to flip a coin to see who would sleep in the bathtub. It didn’t do any good. bleary-eyed, we drove home the next morning, then sleeping the rest of Tuesday. It was a wild time, but we could say we were there. I’ve been to some subfreezing games in my life, but I’ve never felt as cold as I did that night. And I’ve owned a Gore-Tex rainsuit ever since.