I have been an avid fan of football (and sports in general for as long as I can remember). In fact my deepest memory is listening to the Dodgers play the Mets on the radio right around 1992. Although I am now a Mets fan, I was a Dodgers fan in those days and I can vividly remember not being able to fall asleep because I was unsure of what Brett Butler was going to do on the base paths.
I live and breathe my own fandom - the Mets 2006 NLCS debacle is still a touchy subject for me. However, there have been very few times in my lifetime where I have truly experienced a city gather around a team and go nuts for them (this tends to happen when you live in the suburbs or a state that has no baseball team and a football team that can be described as "lackluster" at best) . I was hoping to change that this afternoon when I hit up a local bar to watch the NFC Championship game where the Bears played their heated division rival, the Green Bay Packers.
The plan was to go to a bar on Clark Street - which is a street that Wrigley Field sits on. It is filled with bars and not just any bars. Bars that have Televisions at every booth and attract Jersey Shore-ites on vacation in Chicago. It's a hoppin' place.
My friends found a bar first (around 12, 2 hours before game time) and were confined to standing room only. Luckily by the time I arrived they had found a table where we proceeded to wait for the game to start.
All I heard all week were Bears fans coming out of the woodwork to root for a team where I'm not sure they could name more than 5 players. The papers were littered with pictures of Jay Cutler sneering (you couldn't see the sneer, but if it's Jay Cutler, you can assume it's there.) This was the same city whose own sports columnist claimed the Bears would go nowhere this season and yes, he wears a paper bag over is head. So, sure, I was a little suspicious of the new found interest in the Bears. The tipping point might've happened when an acquaintance wrote on his Facebook wall "ALL I CAN THINK ABOUT IS THE BEARS GAME" - this same acquaintance did not watch the game last week, or even know who the Bears were playing.
This is what happens, I'm well aware of bandwagon fans in sports. Almost any Red Sox or Celtic fan is a bandwagon fan. (Here's a test - Ask them about Troy O'Leary's ethnicity. If they say White, they aren't a fan). But this is Chicago! People were pumped and I was pumped to share the experience with them, because cheering is cheering, especially when it's done by 400 people at the same time.
Back to the bar, these supposed fans weren't super excited for the game, they were super excited for the music being played BEFORE the game. A little bit of Bieber, a little bit of Train. It was my worst nightmare. The $5 bottles of Bud Light weren't helping the situation (nor was the fact that they didn't sell PBR). This was going to be an expensive day filled with awful music. Although it might be my own fault, I had been to this bar twice before and I know it's a "bro" bar - where backwards hats are cool and girls wear enough makeup to kill 3 spider monkeys. In fact when I told my girlfriend where I was, she said, "That's where dreams go to die." But that's ok, the fans are still here and the game is about to start.
When the game started it became clear - every commercial break would be filled with this insipid music, sometimes the fat Samoan (is this being redundant? Are all Samoans fat?) would forget to turn off the music when the game came back on. I've never wanted to hear Joe Buck so badly in my entire life. As the Packers took a 14-0 lead the crowd pretty much seemed dead. When Cutler declined to come back for the 2nd half, there weren't loud uproars (except from my friend who used a lot of ugly terms. Real bad), it's like these fans didn't realize Todd Collins whose regular season QB rating was 5.9 (as comparison Tom Brady's was 110. That's right Tom Brady is 20 times better than Todd Collins). Todd Collins threw 5 interceptions on just 27 attempts. This was a disaster for the Bears fans, but they didn't express their dismay.
I realized I was in the wrong place for this. While it is obviously more fun to watch a group of fans get entirely over excited about a football game, it is endlessly interesting to watch them hurl insults at players that are much much bigger than them and these fans only had one mode. Happy!
This would soon become pretty obvious when the Bears scored a TD and the place went nuts. The top floor of the bar seemed to literally shake as Bears fans jumped up and down. I imagine the floor would've disintegrated had real Bears fans been in there (this constitutes 300 lb men with mustaches who look like John Goodman). That probably should've been my first clue as to the level of fandom in this bar - too many attractive girls wearing Devin Hester jerseys and too many guys wearing sunglasses inside.
The Packers scored again and the place didn't go eerily numb; it just went indifferent. With 6 minutes left people knew the game was over but weren't overly emotional about this outcome, they were just happy to drink buckets of Bud and dance to the music that was now going so far into the game action that we were missing plays. Joe Buck, WHERE ARE YOU?
Then, almost all of the sudden the Bears scored again and were down by 7 with 4 minutes to go. They bar played the "bear down" theme song and then quickly segued into the famous "shots shots shots shots shots" song - where the chorus is literally people screaming shots over and over. This song was played 4 times during the 4 hours I was there. Then the weird part happened, the momentum only slightly carried over as the Bears forced the Packers to punt. The bar quit playing audio of the game altogether at parts so they could play more club-esque music, hoping to get people pumped up. But this is a football game, people should start their own cheers, this is the biggest game of their season and they need to be poked into getting riled up? Not a good sign for these fans.
As the Bears drove for the final drive, the bar was actually hopping again. People were obscuring my view of the screens and yelling and high fiving with every play. Ok, this is what should be happening (regardless if Chris Brown is playing in the background). Then the final play of the Bears season came, an interception and the bar fell silent. Anticipating this heartache I quickly tweeted "someone just stabbed this bar in the chest."
But that was inaccurate, Bears fans didn't seem to be any more somber. Music was still blasting and they were all still sitting at their tables, talking to their friends, perhaps waiting for the next game. My friend, a true Bears fan I suppose, was too distraught to want to do anything and he went home, but as we packed up and left the bar, we were the only ones! While I can't tell people what to feel, I think that after an excruciating loss I feel like you need time to recover. Hell, I've felt sadder after television episodes end (yes episodes, not even seasons). Not these Bears fans! They were ready to keep the party pumping.
To me, this would be like someone telling you a family member was in the hospital, yeah you might feel bad, but hey, you're already at this bar, so why not keep paying for over priced alcohol!
The real lesson I learned was where to go to see real fans. The bar I was at were mainly people just like me, people who wanted to be a part of this experience but who didn't really know how to be an active participant (in my case I declined to, my dad is a shareholder for the Packers). The problem here is obvious, you can't get a real experience with people who are just in search of a real experience. Fans aren't the ones who brag about going to games, fans are the ones who brag ABOUT the game.
The Ground is Lava - Are We Hip Yet?