SPORTS

  /  

February 6, 2007

Chicago: Just grin and Bear it.

I wasn’t expecting to write this column under these circumstances. I’ll be totally honest: I fully expected the Chicago Bears to win the Super Bowl, allowing me to write an easy, feel-good article about being homesick for a city reborn and swathed in glory. Without the Super Bowl victory to pad my word count, I’m now forced to stop and analyze what this season means to me and maybe to offer some reassurances.

The Colts won. Peyton Manning—yes, we have to call him that now; not the Manningface, not Mr. September, not any one of a thousand derogatory nicknames—won, and, even worse, he and his team deserved to win.

It’s hard to swallow, and I’m almost glad I’m not in Chicago right now. Sitting here in Barcelona, I can’t imagine the Windy City waking up to frozen pipes and a dream deferred, or the newspapers swarming with criticism. I can’t speculate as to how many people sat through their classes in a daze yesterday, still drowsy with the disappointment of Sunday night, nor can I visualize the streets full of beaten but proud faces.

What does transmit across the Atlantic, though, is the full scope of the appreciation for the Bears. They gave us something to rally around this season—a common denominator, if you will. It didn’t matter whether I was in Chicago, experiencing the rollercoaster of the regular season with an entire city, or here in Spain, biting my nails alongside a dozen other displaced Bears fans.

Two weeks ago, I was sitting in a bar in the center of Barcelona, drinking pints with my classmates, and basking in the afterglow of the 39–14 victory over the New Orleans Saints. The bar atmosphere here is both a blessing and a surreal experience, offering certain perks most of us wouldn’t have back at home, but also creating a strong sense of nostalgia for those who have left their rituals back home.

Third-year Shane Hopkins put it best: “I miss watching the game with the people I normally watch it with. I also miss being able to call my buddies after big plays and say, ‘Did you see that!’”

As an Indianapolis native and ardent Colts fan, fourth-year Justin Birch occupied a singular position in the group leading up to the Super Bowl. On Sunday, he shaved a Fu Manchu moustache to show his support, but described himself as “a little jacked up, a little anxious.” He claimed he tried hard not to trash-talk too much, but now that the Colts have emerged victorious, that has come to an end. “I won’t shut up about it for weeks,” he said.

On Sunday, late into the fourth quarter, the same people who reveled in the defense’s wreck-job of the Saints’ offense two weeks ago, the same people who walked down Las Ramblas elated over the Bears’ first Super Bowl appearance in 21 years, were fractured into small nuclei, huddled in different corners of the bar. Some weren’t even paying attention to the game, their interest lost after Peyton Manning led the Colts’ offense to what seemed like their millionth first down of the game. Others, frustrated by what they were seeing, started debating yet again Rex Grossman’s ability to lead the team to a Super Bowl win.

I have my own opinions on the game—on the broken-down offense and the brave but overwhelmed defense—but when the game drew to a close, none of it really mattered. Not the initial jubilance when Devin Hester returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown; not the hair-tearing and shouts of “Can we get a fucking first down already?” coming from the Bears fans in the second half; not the sickening sensation of a fast descent from a long way up.

All I have left is the memory of bonding. Most of us are adoptive Bears fans for whom Lovie Smith’s team has been an irresistible emblem of the city of Chicago. We’ve wholeheartedly supported them every weekend of the season, no matter which hometown team we were raised on.

Then there are those who rarely watch football while in Chicago, but, once transported across an ocean, found it easy to support the team that represents home in some way or shape. Whatever the reason, throughout the playoff run, we’ve rallied for the same cause: to see the blue-and-orange defy the odds yet again and get the Vince Lombardi trophy back to Halas Hall.

In the end, it didn’t happen, but we’re not worse off for it, just a little more tired and a little more wary of all the media backlash. The press, already a relentless and somewhat infuriating institution in its coverage of the team, will undoubtedly rake its eyes over the ruins of the season, conveniently skimming over the various successes and choosing instead to linger on what could have been.

Ignore them.

We know better than any outside journalist or Sun Times blowhard what this team means to us. We know that the pride we have in our team isn’t misplaced, that the players will emerge from this season meaner, hungrier, and with more experience. We know what the team is capable of, so for now, just grin and bear it. Smile upon the memories, and build up hope for next season.