How to Raise a Bears Fan

Image by Zachary Rosenbaum – https://www.instagram.com/zacharyrosenbaumdesign/

It’s the late 80s and my entire family is gathered at my grandparents’ house for Sunday supper (always served at 3 pm) and the Chicago Bears are on TV. I can still smell the roast in the oven coupled with the unmistakable scent of antique furniture covered in plastic, and I can envision all of my aunts, uncles and cousins crowded around a modest television with bunny ear antennas and actual physical dials. The house is practically vibrating from the decibel at which everyone is screaming, most likely from having just watched Dent or McMichael absolutely flatten a poor quarterback or running back. Being just three years old at the time, my memories are all strung together in a hazy mess of flashes, sounds, smells and mostly just warm feelings. But I do have one very specific memory from that era of my whole family (including my mother) trying to convince me to shout at the top of my lungs during games: “BREAK SOME BONES, DRAW SOME BLOOD!”. I recently spoke with my mom about this recollection, because it seemed too weird to be real, but – lo and behold – she confirmed that she did, in fact, encourage her toddler to scream such a thing at one time. Looking back, I’m pretty sure this was their own unique way of starting to teach me that defense wins championships, albeit a rather graphic way of going about it (what can I say? It was the 80s, after all). Colorful metaphors aside, these memories are some of my most treasured from growing up, and serve as the base of my fanaticism. Now, with a young son and daughter of my own, I can barely contain my excitement as I imagine how I’ll mold their impressionable minds and spirits into Chicago Bears superfans of tomorrow.

      While they’re both still a bit too young to fully grasp Bears lore, or even the mechanics of the game for that matter, their education has already begun in earnest, much like mine had from a very early age. There are pictures of me around the age of two dressed as a Chicago Bears cheerleader (or a “Honey Bear”, as I’m told), complete with blue and orange bows in my hair and an authentic blue satin Bears jacket. My mom always spoke fondly of this particular Halloween, telling me stories of people stopping her in the street to marvel over how cute my costume was. So in 2018, after it was clear my then-16-month-old-son had mastered the art of walking, I had no doubt in my mind what his Halloween costume would be: Ditka. I’ll never forget my husband shaking his head at me as I wrestled our toddler to the ground and held him down while trying to draw the quintessential mustache below his tiny little nose with my brown eyeliner pencil. As you can see from the header, it came out almost perfectly, despite my son’s best attempts to wiggle and shake his head like only a seriously-peeved toddler knows how. It still holds as my favorite costume that he’s ever worn, and I hope one day he can look at the pictures with amused fondness, much like I do mine. Alas, now that he’s four, I don’t have much say in what my son wears for his Halloween costumes anymore (sniff). But luckily enough, my daughter is still too young to fully articulate her own opinion, so this year she’ll be donning some blue and orange bows of her own along with that same tiny, vintage Bears jacket to replicate the pictures of old.

      Before long, they’ll both be old enough to pack up in the car dressed in little Bears t-shirts and hats and make the trek to training camp where I’ll point out the players and explain the game in detail. And even after sitting there in the sweltering July heat all day, I’ll convince them to stand in line for autographs, because no matter how a certain player’s career transpires, an autograph from a Bears player is a pretty cool thing to have. During the car ride I’ll regale them with tales of George Halas and the Decatur Staleys, blowing their minds when I tell them that the Bears once played at Wrigley Field and that the name “Bears” actually came about as a nod to the Cubs. We’ll sing “Bear Down Chicago Bears” the whole way there and back until they get every word down, and even then, I’ll make them sing it with me some more. And when they’ve reached an age where they can really appreciate it, we’ll make our way to Soldier Field for a game. On the way there, I’ll explain the legacy that has come out of names like Luckman, Butkus, Sayers, Payton, and Ditka, and recite from memory the prominent plays made by the likes of Peanut, Forte, Hester and Mack. I’ll teach them that we can boo the hell out of that team to the North when they’re on the field, but if we see a fan of said team in the parking lot, we invite them over to our tailgate for a beer and a brat and sincerely thank them for visiting our great city (and when said fan walks away, I’ll remind my kids that Papa Bear is the sole reason for that team’s entire organization existing today). Once inside, I’ll call attention to the history of the stadium and explain the importance of it honoring the unbelievably brave men and women who have fought to defend our country, both past and present. We’ll be awed by the flyover, cheer like lunatics when the Monsters of the Midway take the field, and scream until our voices are hoarse when we’re on the defensive side of the ball (because “shhh… offense at work”). They’ll learn to love the feeling of heart-pounding elation when we win, and how to suck it up and continue with life on Monday after the gut-wrenching agony of defeat.       

     And when they’re older still, I’ll be quick to point out how the NFL and the Bears have helped to shape matters of importance in things like race and equality (even if imperfectly, and regardless of whether people believe they should have a hand in those things or not). I’ll tell them all about Virginia McCaskey and how it was a big deal to have a woman owner in the NFL at that time and even still. While I dread the day that I’ll have to make the difficult decision of whether to let my son play such an injury-ridden sport or not, I’m exhilarated when I think of the day that I can proudly point out to my daughter when Sarah Thomas is refereeing a game or when Katie Sowers is coaching from the sidelines when we play the Chiefs. Because she needs to know that there’s a place in the game for her, too, if that’s something she wants to do and is willing to work hard enough to accomplish. And there will inevitably come a time when both my son and daughter need to learn the hard lesson that there will always be things that divide us like religion and politics (and in this city, even a couple of baseball teams). But something like football (while trivial to some) can actually serve as an important tool that can always be counted upon to reach across the divide and pull us all back together. To look for the commonality among us is no small feat, but by using something like rooting for the Bears every Sunday as an example, I hope to foster an inherent ability in my children to do just that. 

      I pray that God gives me enough time on this earth to experience all of this and much more with my children for decades to come. Admittedly, my prayers also include being able to one day wrap my kids in my arms while we witness the Bears bringing the Lombardi trophy home to Chicago even just once in our lifetime (please, Lord, let Fields be the real deal!). And, of course, I have visions of my children as grown adults coming home every Sunday with children of their own to carry on the tradition. But for now, I just hope that I can create memories for my kids that will last a lifetime, just like the ones I was lucky enough to experience while growing up. Memories of dancing to the “Super Bowl Shuffle” in our living room over and over again until we’re giggling uncontrollably. Memories of singing our hearts out in the car, shouting as loud as we possibly can: “WITH-YOUR-T-FOR-MAAAATION!”. Memories of cuddling up on the couch and watching 30 for 30 thrill us with the story of the ‘85 Bears in a way that makes us feel like we lived it. Memories of simply being together, inviting friends and family over to share in a meal, and of cheering for the communal love that is the Chicago Bears. And that, in my very humble opinion, is how to raise a Bears fan. 

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