National Football League
Chicago's blues over Brewer, Packer rise
National Football League

Chicago's blues over Brewer, Packer rise

Published Aug. 22, 2011 1:00 a.m. ET

You have to understand how far back this goes. The first time the Chicago Bears played the Green Bay Packers in Chicago, in 1921, hundreds of Packers fans came down and brought a band. They went into the Loop, bouncing from hotel lobby to hotel lobby, with the band all excited. And get this:

According to the book “Mudbaths and Bloodbaths,” the band wore “corduroy pants, lumberjack shirts and mackinaws, hunting caps and high boots.’’

I mean, really, how were Chicagoans supposed to react? It’s hard to respect that. More important, why do the people in Wisconsin still dress that way?

So this is a bit of a hard time for Chicagoans. The Milwaukee Brewers, the little engine that could, are walking right into the playoffs, while the Cubs, the big engine that couldn’t, just fired their general manager. It’s another meltdown for the Cubs, who are just trying to figure out how to unload some of the worst contracts in baseball history.


Meanwhile, the Packers beat the Bears in Chicago in the NFC Championship Game, won the Super Bowl and are a good bet to win it again.

Look, Milwaukee is nice. Wisconsin is nice. Nice, of course, is nice.

But it isn’t easy for Chicagoans — and I’m one — to take a back seat to Wisconsin. It's like taking a back seat to Mayberry.

Understand that Chicagoans see Wisconsin only as a great place to get Christmas trees, or maybe to hit a homey festival. And it’s a little insulting to be beaten up by a state that is entirely surrounded by white picket fences.

I haven’t written for before, so here’s a quick intro. I have a pretty good understanding of the mentality of a Chicago sports fan. I wrote for the Chicago Sun-Times for years. But it’s not just that. This is true: When I was born, doctors had to induce labor. But it turned out that on the day it was scheduled, the Bears were playing the New York Giants in the championship game. So, yes, my parents put off my birth until after the Bears game. First, they won the title. Then I was born.

Then they wouldn’t win another championship for 22 years.

That was nothing, though. Not one major Chicago team won a championship my entire childhood. Talk about growing up thinking you’re a jinx. The Cubs haven’t won in more than 100 years, since my grandpa, rest his soul, was a fetus. My dad used to take me to Wrigley Field all the time, setting up my emotions. I’ve pretty much forgiven him.

So I have a love-hate relationship with Chicago teams. I hate it that I love them.

Anyway, Chicagoans don’t exactly see Milwaukee as the place with the stuff for champions. But that’s wrong.

The Packers are the best franchise in football now. And it figures that they have done things the right way, through great scouting, drafting and coaching. They sign undrafted free agents, and next thing you know, those guys are starting in the Super Bowl. Guess how many of the Bears’ first-round draft choices, not counting this year’s, are on the team now.


That just doesn’t seem right. This does: Years ago, the Packers had a handful of Notre Dame players — Hunk Anderson, Arthur Garvey and Fred Larson — play for them using assumed names. The Bears found out about it and turned in the Packers, who were disbanded temporarily. How did the Bears find out? Their own illegal college players told them. When the Packers were finally reinstated, Anderson, Garvey and Larson were playing for the Bears.

See? That’s what the Chicago-Wisconsin relationship is about. Vince Lombardi won those titles, but these were the roots of a border mentality.

Wisconsin people, in general, do not like Chicagoans because of it.

As for the Brewers, well, in 2008 they thought they had an opportunity to win the World Series. The Cubs were spending way too much on players, the Brewers were watching their own guys develop.

The Cubs are still stuck with Carlos Zambrano, Aramis Ramirez and Alfonso Soriano. They aren’t even sure how they can tear down the team and start over.

But in 2008, the Brewers signed CC Sabathia. The town went nuts.

They put up billboards that read “CC the Brewers.’’ They had inched past the Cubs.

On Sabathia’s first day with the Brewers, the city produced nice signs to welcome him. At Miller Park that day, I talked with a guy named Braulio Rodriguez, who took his whole family to the game. This was going to be the big moment. He made up a sign directed to the Brewers owners: “Thank you, Mr. Attanasio.’’ The Cubs realized, too, that the Brewers, who had broken open their piggy bank to get Sabathia, were suddenly the better team.

So the Cubs simply wrote a big check for pitcher Rich Harden that day.

And Milwaukee knew right away that its dream already was crushed by the jerks from the big city. Angry, Rodriguez defaced his own sign, adding: “The Cubs still (stink).’’

Well, this is the big moment for Milwaukee and for Green Bay. Imagine the little engine as the Super Bowl champ and World Series champ at the same time.

It could happen. How nice for the people in the lumberjack shirts.


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