Recently, I celebrated my fourth anniversary of being a Milwaukee expat living in Chicago. I really do miss living in my beloved Milwaukee and her many treasures. I grew up in Waukesha, and lived in the 414 area code from 1999 until my departure in 2010. (Pay no mind that I technically had a 262 area code.) During that time I fell in love, got my heart broken, got fired from a Starbucks, lived in Bay View before it was really cool, earned a history degree in seven years, remembered when there was an Arby’s inside Bayshore Mall, and was even fired from The Jazz Estate.
My career path led to Chicago, but I didn’t leave my love of the Green Bay Packers at the state line. I grew up rooting on the mighty Green and Gold. Where I live has never changed that, even those 11 months I lived in Dallas. (LOL Dallas teams)
Now when I give people my phone number, which still has a Badger State area code, Chicagoans immediately ask me if I’m a Packers fan, and I gladly tell them that I am.
However, it should be noted that when I wear my Milwaukee Brewers 1982 road cap, rarely do I receive any beef from Cubs fans. I think it’s because Cubs fans are too busy hating the Cubs to acknowledge any rivalry. Plus, the average Cubs fan loves Miller Park in all its un-urinal-troughed and rainout-proof glory.
The Packers-Bears rivalry has become more than just a rivalry over the past few seasons. Recent history suggests that one of these two teams will win the NFC North, because let’s face it, the Detroit Lions on the field aren’t what they look like on paper and the Minnesota Vikings are just awful.
The Packers have been dominating the Bears since Jay Cutler became their starting QB. The Packers are 8-1 against Cutler, but the Bears still have more overall wins than the Pack in the almost century-old rivalry. If it wasn’t for the ’80s era Packers, that might be different.
Let me be clear on this: being a Packers fan in Chicago is pretty sucky. There’s a deep rooted hatred for the Packers down here, and I really don’t think that I am exaggerating. I’ve heard many statements from Bears players and coaches in press conferences and bulletin-board-material newspaper quotes saying, above all else, they must beat Green Bay. I’ve seen people in shirts that simply say “Packers Suck.” I have been sneered at when I wear a Packers hat or sweatshirt when I go to a bar or liquor store on gameday. A co-worker once told me that Aaron Rodgers doesn’t care about cancer patients because he might have ignored a sick old lady at the airport. Bitterness takes many shapes.
I’ll never forget the Friday before the NFC Championship in January 2011. As I was leaving my office that Friday afternoon, I happened upon a radio station-organized rally for the Bears. The man on the microphone said: “What do we hate?” The crowd roared “Cheese!” The microphone man responded with: “What do we do to cheese?” The crowd answered: “Stomp it!” At least 30 people then began to stomp bricks of Cracker Barrel Cheddar Cheese into the sidewalk on Michigan Avenue. I’m pretty sure that Cracker Barrel, a subsidiary of Kraft Foods, makes that stuff in Illinois, and no Wisconsinite worth their weight in Gouda would call Cracker Barrel a delicious cheese. Or cheese, for that matter.
There is a flip side to this, of course, when you come across a fellow Packer Backer and you can briefly be brought back to the solidarity that you would find back home in Wisconsin. There are a couple of Packers bars here in the Chicago metro area where us Cheeseheads can go and slide comfortably back into the accents we tamped down. Will’s Northwoods Inn, a corner bar in the Lakeview neighborhood, is definitely a Mecca for those who proudly wear the Green and Gold. The bar fills up early on Sundays with displaced Packer Backers. They also have a killer beer garden, a brat fry, and a wealth of PBR, stocked unironically.
Sometimes, while donning my Wiskullsin Packer heart shirt, I’ll pass by a guy wearing a Packers hat and we’ll exchange a knowing nod. It’s just a moment, but enough to remind me I’m not alone, like dads at the One Direction concert.
As we approach this Sunday’s first Packers-Bears contest of the year, the tension is starting to build here in Chicago. It’s early, yes, but this game could shape the rest of the season for both teams. I doubt I’ll see any cheese-stomping this weekend, but I know that many Bears fans are riding high. As always, my Facebook feed and Twitter timeline will be brimming with strongly voiced opinions and colorful language supplied by both fanbases, but all that matters is who will win the game…and gloating rights in the office that come with the win. In my day job, my introduction often ends with “and he’s a Packer fan.”
If we lose, well, then I’ll probably call in sick to work on Monday. While I can be a gracious winner, I am a sore loser, and that is what makes me a normal Packers fan. We don’t like to lose, especially to our enemies 80 miles south of Milwaukee.
So to all my friends in Wisconsin, as you sit down on Sunday and watch the rivalry that can break families in half, please think of me and all the other Packers fans in Chicagoland. Though we’re in enemy territory, we’re right there with you in spirit. We all want a win, but for us down here, a win will make Monday morning easier. It will give us an opportunity to continue employing our bragging rights.
Oh, I almost forgot to mention, there is one thing that Bears fans and Packers fans have in common: we are ALL better than Vikings fans.