Monday, February 21, 2011

COLUMN: Da Bears

"@#$%!" I announced to no-one at all.

"HONEY!" scolded my girlfriend with a stern expression. "Stop getting so worked up! It's just a stupid game!"

There are lots of things that one can do with one's Christian schoolteacher girlfriend of outstanding moral turptitude, and hurling obscenities just isn't one of them.

But if there was ever just cause to holler out some verbal naughties, it was this. Amy was wrong - this wasn't a stupid game. This was THE game. It was barely four minutes old, and already the Green Bay Packers had mowed down the Chicago Bears' defense and strolled right into the endzone with nary a problem. It was to be NOT a fantastic afternoon in front of the TV.

I will freely and publically own up to the fact that I am an unapologetic fair-weather sports fan. You know, the kind of person that REAL sports fans despise. Apart from my inexplicable year-long fetish for NASCAR -- a character flaw for which I've apologized quite enough times, thank you very much -- I tend to shy away from sports. I'll read the occasional story and watch the occasional highlights, sure, but truth is: most games are booooring.

But once one of our local team succeeds at enough boring games to potentially make it to the BIG game? Well, suddenly things start getting a little less boring. And when I started to hear whispers of the Bears actually being good enough to make the playoffs? Well, that was when the usually-dormant testosterone in my body started waking up (look out, facial hair!) Suddenly watching the last few games before the playoffs started to take priority. Suddenly I started feeling bad for not owning a single piece of Bears outerwear except for a (shiver) Rex Grossman jersey that lives its life in shame on my closet floor. Suddenly "the" Bears had morphed into "our" Bears, and I needed to see this playoff run through.

It all led to this moment -- and of all the teams in all the world to face in the NFC Championship, the good guy Bears (OUR Bears) were up against the pond-scum devil-spawn known as the Green Bay Packers. Forget the Super Bowl, THIS was The Big Game. And for a while, I'm not sure what was worse: watching our Bears get soundly trounced by Cheesehead Nation, or having to watch the carnage with my girlfriend.

For as little as I know about the world of professional sports, when I'm with Amy, I feel like Shane the Greek. Sports aren't just absent from her radar, they're absent from the world in which she lives. Still, she knew the importance of this game AND she's pretty cool, so while I was watching the tragedy unfold in high definition, she sat on the other side of the couch surfing Facebook.

Except a funny thing started happening. Out of the corner of my eye, I kept seeing her glance up at the screen. Again... and again. Weeeird, I thought. Maybe she's getting into it. Maybe she just thinks Jay Cutler's hot. Eww. Still, she picked one heck of a bad game to gain sudden interest in football. It was pretty clear from the get-go that our Bears did NOT bring their A game to Soldier Field last Sunday. And when Cutler went out with a bum knee early in the third, it was pretty much over. But not for Amy.

"So, what's that mean?" she asked out of the blue.

"What's what mean?"

"When the man said the Bears were 3 and out."

"They weren't able to convert their third down possession. So now they have to kick it away."

"But they're losing. Why would they give it to the other team? STOP LAUGHING AT ME!!! I don't even want to watch this stupid game and I have absolutely no idea what's going on and I just wanted to know and you're treating me like I'm stupid."

"Okay, I'm sorry," I apologized. "Each team has four tries to get the ball past that yellow line. But if they barely move the ball the first 3 times, they can use their fourth try to kick it so that the other team gets the ball waaaaay down there at the end of the field."

When the Bears' second-string QB called it a day, so did all my remaining optimism. Out strolled third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie and it might as well have been a singing fat lady.

"I don't even know anything about this guy," I told Amy.

"I don't like him," she replied. "He's got a 70's porn mustache."

The substitution brought to mind many questions: What was Lovie Smith thinking? Was Jay Cutler seriously injured? And why does my Christian schoolteacher girlfriend know what a 70's porn mustache looks like?

Shockingly, Hanie brought some life back to the flailing Bears. His first outing resulted in a Chicago TD, and he was working on a second when a pass got intercepted by 348-pound Green Bay lineman B.J. Raji, whose endzone dance actually helped lessen the blow.

Amy was silent until five minutes later when she turned to me with clenched teeth and uttered, "If we lose the game because that fattypants stole the man's ball, I'm gonna be mad."

The rest of the game was entertaining -- not in its contents, but in the fact that someone was relying on ME to explain it. I got to teach about punt returns ("they kicked it out of bounds? Can they DO that?") and onside kicks ("that sounds CRAZY!") and when Hanie connected with Earl Bennett for a late touchdown run, I wasn't the one screaming the loudest.

And when Sam Shields made the game-winning pick-off to seal the deal for the Packers, I've never been prouder of my girlfriend, who stood up with all her moral turptitude and summed up the afternoon perfectly:


And then she turned to me.

"Why do you WATCH this? I'm shaking, my stomach's in knots, and I feel sick!"

"HONEY," I replied. "Stop getting so worked up. It's just a stupid game, remember?" I think I just made my girlfriend into a Bears fan. Gulp.

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