By Don Babwin
CHICAGO – The Green Bay Packers are headed to town for the NFC championship game and Chicago Bears fans are starting to become, well, a bit unbearable.
Turn on the radio in Chicago and you’ll hear no shortage of jokes about Packers fans, many of which have something to do with low intelligence. There’s been plenty of laughs over a Green Bay newspaper headline that read “On To Chicaco.” Many more center on the dietary habits of fans north of the “Cheddar Curtain,” like this one:
What do you call a 400-pound Packer fan? Anorexic.
All of this sniping, fun or otherwise, makes sense since the NFL’s oldest rivalry has had 92 years to simmer. Vince Lombardi, Don Hutson, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Bronko Nagurski, Dick Butkus, Mike Ditka and Walter Payton — all of those names and more add to the rich history, but so does the relationship between the loyal fans in the two states.
John Cochara has been hearing from his so-called friends who decided he was celebrating a Packers win over the Bears a little too much in 1995 and duct-taped him to a stop sign.
“They’re saying, ‘You better watch out, there are a lot of stop signs out there,'” said Cochara, whose punishment outside a bar just south of the Wisconsin-Illinois state line included a sign over his head that read “Packer Fan.”
The Super Bowl Shuffle video by the 1985-86 Bears is getting tens of thousands of fresh clicks on YouTube. At least one Chicago TV station got texts imploring them to ask Packers fans to swear off cheese or, at least cheeseheads, cheese ties and, honestly, cheese bras. A sign outside the Crystal Lake Rib House not far from the Wisconsin line warns that prices for Packers fans are twice the menu listing.
“They say, ‘We really don’t have to pay double, do we?'” said owner Dave Faccone, who insists it’s a joke. Still, some Bears fans have chimed in.
“I got a text saying, ‘You big troublemaker, charging them double. It should be triple,'” he said.
On the other side of the state line, Packers fan Frank Emmert Jr. of Superior, Wis., reminisced this week about the time he survived a small plane crash in 1995 thanks to the foam cheesehead he put over his face seconds before impact.
“The FAA credited it, not me,” said Emmert, 52.
Mike Pyle, who played center for the Bears for nine years, including the 1963 championship season, recalled how his coach and owner of the Bears, George Halas, brought a message over to Packers coach Vince Lombardi before a game.
“He went to the locker room door at Lambeau and said, ‘We’re going to whip your (expletive),'” said Pyle, 71.
Yet, with all that bad blood all those years, you’d have to go back to the week after the attack on Pearl Harbor to find the last time the Bears and Packers met in a playoff game. (The Bears won on their way to the championship).
This time around, the winner of Sunday’s showdown goes to the Super Bowl at Cowboys Stadium.
“There have been some highly hyped games that went splat, but this, they’re playing for the Halas Trophy, to go to Dallas to win the Lombardi Trophy,” said Marc Silverman, the co-host of a radio show on ESPN 1000, Waddle and Silvy, with former Bears receiver Tom Waddle.
Not that the Super Bowl seems to matter much: Packers fans said beating the Bears at Soldier Field would be a wonderful cake, with a Super Bowl victory serving as the frosting.
“There would be nothing sweeter than to watch the Packers take that George Halas trophy at Soldier Field,” said John O’Neill, whose outfit at Packers games is a green bishop’s costume and mitre, with Lombardi’s face on it. He’s appropriately known as St. Vince.
It’s the same story in the birthplace of the Bears: Decatur, Ill.
“I can’t think of a bigger Bears game,” said 76-year-old Charley May, whose family and the team have been intertwined since his dad, Walter “Red” May, took Halas up on an offer to play for the Decatur Staleys. Halas later moved the team to Chicago and changed its name.
“For guys who have followed the Bears all their life and truly hate the Packers, yeah, this is their Super Bowl,” said Mark Foster, 54, who plans to erect a 5-foot inflatable Bears helmet outside his home in Lansing, south of Chicago. “We can lose 50 to nothing in the Super Bowl to Pittsburgh or the Jets, but if we beat the Packers, who cares?”
Scott Wiese understands what Foster is talking about.
“The only thing I can compare it to is if the Cubs played the Cardinals in Game 7 for the pennant,” said Wiese, 30, who grew up in the Decatur area and now lives in St. Louis. “It’s the biggest game for me as a Bears fan my whole life, and that includes the Super Bowl.”
Don’t expect Wiese to do something crazy. Again.
It was Wiese who, before the Super Bowl in February 2007, vowed in writing to change his name to Peyton Manning if the Indianapolis Colts beat his Bears — which they did. He went to court to keep his promise, but the judge tossed out his request.
As for the 44-year-old Cochara, he’s not about to stop rooting for the Packers. But, he said, the bar where he was taped up after he played “We are the Champions” following that Packers win has never been the same.
“Packers fans are scared about what happened,” he said.