Behind Enemy Lines
I’d like to preface this article by saying that I am not a petty person. In fact, one of the core values I was taught while growing up was about character. The kind of person, or who I wanted to be when I grew up, mattered as much as what I wanted to be, or what I wanted to do as a profession. So to be honest, I’m not sure how my family will feel about this story. And I’m really not sure how fellow Bears fans will respond to this article, so this is basically my way of “coming clean”, so to speak. I’m not necessarily proud of my actions, but I believe they were necessary at the time, and this week is the perfect week to confess: I have, once in my life, donned another team’s colors. *shock, gasp, horror* – I know! But before you jump to conclusions or arrange for a judge, jury and executioner, let me explain.
In 2004, my senior year of high school, I was agonizing over where to go to college. I didn’t get into the U of I school of business (I was crushed!) and I also didn’t get into Notre Dame (I was… not so crushed, or surprised. I’m not that smart). So it came down to a few reputable schools and I really didn’t know how to decide. I’m still not completely sure why I picked Marquette, other than the fact that Dwayne Wade was putting its name on the map at the time, and it wasn’t too far away from home, yet still far enough. The campus was nice when I visited and Milwaukee seemed cool, so I thought “why not?”. What I can tell you about making this decision is the fact that Milwaukee being home to hundreds of thousands of Packers fans never even crossed my mind. Of course I grew up learning about the storied rivalry between the Bears and the Packers, and my uncles used the word “cheesehead” in a derogatory way, sometimes not even pertaining to football necessarily. But I literally, in my very sheltered life, had not actually encountered a Packers fan in person. I’m sure there was a kid or two at my high school who smartly kept it on the down-low, but I was none the wiser. And I sometimes babysat for a family friend whose husband was a Packers fan. They had Packers gear all over their house and every time I babysat I just thought “weird…”. Most people would encounter Packers fans in the wild at games, obviously. But my family is very much the “I prefer to watch from the comfort of my couch” kind of Bears fans without much expendable income, so I followed suit until I could (barely) afford to go to games starting in my 20s. So the bitter rivalry was always kept wrapped up nice and tidy where I assumed it belonged: on TV, specifically during those rivalry games.
Cut to my freshman year at Marquette when I unwittingly decided to wear a Bears sweatshirt before walking to class one day. A car slowed down and rolled down its window while some random person I didn’t know shouted “did you lose a bet?! Get a real quarterback!” I was stunned, and not completely sure I was the target at first, but as I looked around me I realized: I was definitely just Bears-shamed out of nowhere, by someone I didn’t know, for no other reason than simply wearing a sweatshirt on a cool day. What?! I quickly learned that if I wanted to keep my abuse to a minimum, I needed to wear my Bears attire solely on Sundays during football season. It’s worth mentioning that the last word to describe me at that time in my life was “bold”, so while some people would have worn their Bears gear 24/7 to throw it in the face of everyone around them, I was hoping that I would go unnoticed by just about everybody on the planet, and therefore tried to keep everything about myself relatively inconspicuous. But the abuse seemed to intensify on Sundays, even when the Bears and Packers weren’t even playing each other! I was shocked! And appalled. Even something as mundane as a trip to the grocery store on Sunday brought about a cacophony of jeers: “Bears suck!”, “Go home!” and other more colorful language that I dare not repeat here. I chuckle and shake my head thinking of how naive I was. Poor, innocent, sincere little Bears fan.
The mistreatment continued to escalate during my Sophomore and Junior years and I began to grow bolder and more confident in my personality and demeanor. It helped that the Bears became a legitimate threat in the conference and made that thrilling Super Bowl run in 06 (I high-tailed it out of Wisconsin to watch the Super Bowl with my family back home, no way was I staying in Cheesehead Land for that one!). I met quite a few fellow Bears fans on campus, and we banded together as we endured the seemingly endless run that was Brett Favre’s (admittedly decent) career. I even learned some solid Green Bay jokes that I again won’t repeat here, but have to do with the absence of teeth, or loving one’s own cousin, or even circumcision (my personal favorite). But then came an absolute punch to the gut during my Senior year: the Packers were on a serious run for the title. As intolerable as I had thought Packers fans were before, it exploded into another realm of existence as Green Bay made their way through the playoffs. Literal foam cheeseheads could be found on every corner. The bars would erupt into “Roll Out The Barrel” every single hour. The amount of Packers jerseys constantly swarming in front of me started to make my eyes bleed and if I heard “Go Pack Go ” one more time randomly around campus I was going to lose it. To make matters worse, the Bears finished last in the NFC North that year, so the comments made to Bears fans became especially insufferable. It was madness. And for me, it was a special kind of torture. So when they made it to the NFC Championship game versus the Giants (AT Lambeau), I had had enough, and I was ready to do something about it.
So, my friend and I came up with the meanest plan we could possibly surmise at that point in our (still very naive) lives: we would go and buy Giants shirts and wear them to the bars for the NFC Championship game (cue evil maniacal laugh). It was a bold plan, and one that meant we were taking our lives in our hands, but we never waivered even once. A quick reminder that this was before Amazon became a household name (how did we ever survive in such dinosaur times?!) so finding Giants shirts took actual time and effort to accomplish. I remember driving to Mayfair Mall and praying that one of the generic sports stores would have something – even a hat! And then we saw it across the store, and angels sang: a rack with a few Giants Tshirts hanging, mens size XXL. They came down to our knees, but we didn’t care – we were so excited and surprised we found them!
The day finally came: Sunday, January 21st, 2007. We bravely put on our battle gear, downed a couple shots of liquid courage, and walked to the campus bar down the street. It was sub-zero temperatures, but I’m pretty sure we decided to go without coats so people on the street couldn’t miss us. I remember getting boo’d pretty loudly when we walked in and some choice swear words getting thrown around, but I was pleasantly surprised that we didn’t get any beer poured over our heads or cheese curds thrown at our faces. I also remember a girl I sort of recognized from campus trying to (very drunkenly) convince me that even though I hated the Packers, I should at least root for Favre’s legacy. That memory still makes me laugh. Brett Favre, of all people, did not need one more person rooting for his legacy (insert eyeroll). In case you’re interested in watching Green Bay lose in heartbreaking fashion, here’s a great summary of the game. It ended up going into overtime and the Packers lost thanks to a Giants field goal. I remember watching that ball sail through the uprights with elation and was pretty sure I saw a guy from one of my business classes legitimately crying. It was glorious. Packers fans everywhere were devastated and in serious agony, and I was finally at peace.
After presenting my case, I hope I’m not judged too harshly for wearing that Giants shirt. It’s not my proudest moment, but after being driven to the brink of insanity after four years of relentless Cheesehead mongering, I can honestly say I don’t regret it. Though I do have to say, I admittedly give a (teeny tiny) bit of credit to Packers fans for emboldening my Bears pride and fanaticism. Those four years of pure torture honestly helped to shape the devoted Bears fan that I am today, and especially during rivalry week, I can look back on my time behind enemy lines with some fondness. Because what is football without a good old-fashioned rivalry? And maybe more importantly, what is a rivalry without the eventual changing of the tide? With Rodgers likely on his way out (nice job fumbling that one, Green Bay), Mason Crosby seemingly imploding recently, a very dismal-looking cap situation up North for next year, and Fields taking the reins for Da Bears, I have a feeling this rivalry is about to get a lot more fun for us Bears fans in the near future. So I guess this is all to say: thank you, Green Bay Packers and fans. You make being a Bears fan that much more fun and our history wouldn’t be the same without you. And with that being said, I’ll leave you with this sentiment (always, but especially this week): Puck The Fack. But most importantly: Bear Down.