I have to admit up front I’m not much of a Bears fan. I’m from an area that’s not particularly passionate about the NFL (southwestern Virginia, equidistant from the regularly unpleasant Redskins and the regularly unfortunate Panthers). I also have a prior allegiance to the Dolphins, because when I was growing up in the ’80s they seemed classier than the Redskins, and because they had awesome uniforms, and because of Dan Marino’s Isotoner ads. I think the last time a celebrity made me want to buy something was when I was 8 and wanted Isotoner gloves.
But I think I’m on relatively stable ground when I question whether Andrew Malcolm speaks for Chicago. Malcolm—a former press secretary for Laura Bush, Los Angeles Times political writer, and a massive grump about Barack Obama—chastises the president for accepting an autographed Rod Woodson jersey, and writes that “a real fan of Da Bears might not even watch the not-so-Super Bowl this Sunday afternoon.”
I guess Malcolm doesn’t read Mike Royko: “If there is one team that truly deserves to be called America’s Team, it is in the most unlikely community to have a major league sports franchise of any kind.”
Two caveats: first, as is relatively clear from his column, the NFL was coming out of a period of relative franchise instability, a couple decades of teams moving to greener grasses and disappointing their fans, so Green Bay’s small-city roots must have been even more appealing; Royko was writing not only out of frustration with a mediocre Bears team, but with the NFL in general. And like I said, I’m not that big a Bears fan, so maybe I don’t get it.
But despite the regional rivalry, the Packers are just a tough team to really hate. As sportswriter Dave Zirin points out, they’re the only community-owned, non-profit major sports team in America—and also the only one possible in the NFL, since such a structure is no longer permitted by the No Fun League. And as the Tribune’s David Haugh wrote last month, the Bears and Packers have a long history of mutual support, both professional and financial, going back to the 1920s.
If you’re unaffiliated, it’s a tough call to decide whom to root for. The Steelers and Packers are both similarly old, legendary teams with passionate fan bases and ongoing institutional stability, and Chicago shares some cultural affinity with both cities. I’m sure it’s an easy call for most Bears fans, because the Packers are, by the code of sports affiliation, the team’s foes. But they’re honorable foes, and at least deserve some grudging respect on Sunday.
Plus, they still owe us for Lombardi, so we’ve got that to hold over their heads.