Chicago Bears Fan Behind Enemy Lines


Greetings, fellow Chicago Bears fans.  We have not yet met, at least not by name, but in many ways you already know me.  And that’s because I am you.  Collectively as Bears fans we have all rejoiced in the successes and suffered thru the failures of the NFL’s charter franchise for as long as we can remember.  It is what we do and the catharsis that comes from talking thru the highs and lows of this lifelong ride is what gets us by from one game to the next, one season to the next.

To aid you in that process of releasing those strong Bear-fueled emotions is the exact reason why I’m speaking to you now.  As a proud new addition to the BGO team I am here to help us along the sometimes perilous journey of Bear fandom.  To assure you that there isn’t an impostor in your midst, let me first tell you a bit about myself.

Kalamazoo, Michigan.  Born and raised.  I have never known a residence outside of this particular county in southwest Michigan for my entire life, for better or worse.  For the narrow-minded fan out there, the “MI” in my address is enough to mandate my sports fandom.  I should cheer for Detroit-based teams, right?  And Michigan-based universities?  I never thought so, or at least not when I became old enough to truly choose for myself.

As many of us probably were, I was raised in a “family divided” when it comes to pro sports.  Born to a father who was raised in Detroit and a mother whose Polish ancestry was deeply rooted in Chicago, the choice had to be made some day.  Whether or not they fretted over this or attempted to sway me in some way towards their individual preferences, I don’t recall.  My earliest recollection is them allowing me to decide on my own terms, and I couldn’t be more thankful for that.

I can’t remember the exact moment when a choice was made, but I think it’s safe to say it happened around the time that the ’85 Bears were shuffling their way to the Super Bowl XX crown.

Garrett Reid-USA TODAY Sports

The decision isn’t complicated at that point.  Cheer for the winner.  Or maybe it was Walter Payton.  Or those uniforms.  Or Ditka.  Or just simply a young boy siding with his Mom.  I was 6, there really wasn’t much else to it.

I don’t worry too much about the exact reason, I just know that I trace my decision to root for the Bears back to that dominant ’85 team.  I can’t recall specific games or moments like I can from the teams in the past 20 years, but the magic that team created left an indelible mark on me.  It wasn’t just rooting for a winner, which is easy enough; no, this was something more.

A lifelong fan was born.

But the true test of fandom comes eventually and it did soon enough with these Bears who didn’t reign as long as they probably should have.  Did I bail out and cheer for the next best thing?  Or do I stick it out much like a marriage — for better or for worse?  Obviously I didn’t know much about that level of commitment at my age then, but I knew who I wanted to cheer for.  The Bears, baby.  Until death did us part.

My status as a Bears fan sailed on thru the late 80s and into the 90s unabated.  The guys from that legendary ’85 team dropped off over time, replaced by names like Jim Harbaugh, Neal Anderson, Trace Armstrong and Mark Carrier.  Out went Ditka, in came Wannstedt.  I never did care too much for him then, but now as an adult I can appreciate his mustache and heavy Pennsylvania accent.  Stay strong, Wanny.

Aside from family gatherings, namely 4 Thanksgiving celebrations during the 90s featuring match ups between the Bears and Lions when there were inevitable clashes of rooting interests, there rarely was a time when my Bears fandom was challenged.  No one really cared about my Starter jacket with that iconic Bears “C” on it.

All of that family stuff was good-natured, but it did plant the seeds for future angst.  The Lions won 3 of those 4 turkey day games in the 90s, after all.  One by the score of 55-20.  I think I’ve probably blocked out the memory of that particular debacle, but under hypnosis I’m relatively certain I would reveal some deep hatred for a certain cousin or uncle that had the nerve to gloat or revel in it.

On into the 2000s and one of the seminal moments in my Bear fandom took place.  Christmas Eve 2000.  Last game of the season.  Bears vs Lions at the Silverdome in Pontiac, MI.  The X-Mas traffic is crazy and 6 of us are piled into a Jeep Cherokee trying desperately to get to the stadium but only managing to do so by halftime.  No matter, because the last place Bears were only there for 1 thing: to keep the Lions out of the playoffs.

And play spoiler they did.  R.W. McQuarters with a pick-6 in the 4th quarter followed eventually by Paul Edinger’s game-winning field goal, and like that the Lions were going home for the winter just like the Bears.  Merry Christmas to me.

Predictably the Lions fans imploded that day and fights could be seen in the upper level from where I was sitting.  I didn’t know well enough at that time how perilous a position me wearing a Bears inflatable helmet put me in.  But, oh well, I had a crew with me and I was young enough and crazy enough to accept all challengers.  Despite several dirty looks making our way out of the stadium, I survived the ordeal.

From that day forward I better understood the position I found myself in.  And it only got worse as the Lions experienced historic lows and the Bears had tastes of success, albeit fleeting, and their second Super Bowl appearance in team history in 2006.  All around me were the enemy and what they wanted more than anything was to see the Bears falter.

I reveled in it.  Bring on the haters.  I’ll wear my Bears gear, I don’t care.  This is Michigan and I should root for the Lions, you say?  Never!

Fortunes change fast in the NFL and unfortunately now we find ourselves rooting for a Bears team that was just plain bad last year.  The Lions, meanwhile, are a playoff team.  I won’t even address the Packers — that’s another story for another day.  So now the grief I’m given for who I cheer for is no longer rooted in their own disappointment.  They feel they’ve arrived and want to keep us down.

This cannot stand.  We will recover and we will bounce back.  Whether it happens this year or next year or the year after, it will happen.  We’ll get thru it together and I’ll be here every step of the way.  In Kalamazoo, a Bears fan behind enemy lines.