Lost in Chicago: My NFC Championship Game Excellent Adventure (Packers vs. Bears)
My wife and I made the trek to Chicago last weekend to watch the NFC Championship game between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. In addition to seeing the Packers win and go back to the Super Bowl, we met some new friends, discovered a Packers bar in the heart of Bears territory and left with memories that will last the rest of our lives.
This is the uncut and unedited story from our trip. Enjoy.
Never Get in a Car With Strangers (unless they’re Packers fans)
It was about 6 p.m. on Saturday when I realized this trip was going to be a fun one. That’s when I piled into John Rehor’s car with my wife, Corey Behnke and Wally Pingel to try and find Will’s Northwoods, a famous Packers bar in Chicago.
In most situations, getting into a car with three people you know only through Twitter and met in person just an hour ago is a bad idea. But these people were Packers fans — fun Packers fans! What’s the harm in climbing into a car with the co-founder of Cheesehead TV, one of the most well-known Packers bloggers out there, and a man responsible for designing Packers-themed web sites?
We didn’t think anything of it, so I made my wife sit in the back between Behnke and Pingel and I took shotgun next to Rehor. Somebody’s iPhone told us that Will’s Northwoods was only 7 minutes away so off we went, hoping to arrive in time to see Jermichael Finley (and his hot wife).
One hour later, we finally found the place.
Yeah, we took a few wrong turns along the way. One time we thought we were there, only to learn that Behnke typed the wrong address into Google. We also had to stop at a gas station – one of those gas stations where the cashier is surrounded by bullet-proof glass – to pee. Also, Rehor almost ran over a horse (yes, there was a horse on a random side street in Chicago at night).
But we finally got there, and it was more than worth the trip.
As soon as you walked into Will’s Northwoods, you knew you were in a Packers bar. There were dead animals on the wall, chandeliers made out of deer antlers and large plastic cups filled with Leinenkugel. Finley was behind the bar drawing names for prizes and leading the bar in a “Go Pack Go” chant. His wife stood off to the side and appeared to be amused and maybe a little scared at the mob of Packers fans yelling and interacting with her husband.
We drank, we sang “The Bears Still Suck” at least four times, we met bstanley, his fiancé and Aaron Nagler. Finally my wife gave me the signal that she had been overserved and it was time to head back to the hotel. She wanted to spend Sunday cheering on the Packers with a somewhat clear and pain-free head.
Walking to Soldier Field
I’m all for friendly banter and trash talk among fans of rival teams. That’s part of what makes any rivalry fun. But Bears fans need to step up their game a bit.
Every Bears fan that dissed us on the walk to Soldier Field used the same two lines: “Go back to Wisconsin,” or “Hey, the stadium is that way Packers fans” (while pointing in the wrong direction and laughing like Beavis & Butthead). For the most part, Bears fans were friendly and good-spirited toward us, which was very much appreciated, but a little bit of variety in their insults would have made the walk to the stadium more tolerable.
When we got to Soldier Field, I was not very impressed. The club section concourse was narrow and there wasn’t a lot of space to move around. The vibe in the stadium was also too subdued for my tastes. Bears fans had no problem screaming profanities at each and every play that didn’t go their way, but couldn’t stay standing and cheering for more than one or two plays when their team was on defense.
I know we’re spoiled to have Lambeau Field in Green Bay and I don’t mean to sound like a snob, but the Soldier Field vibe is slightly above average at best.
I was hoping Mike McCarthy would come out throwing the ball and he did. Like I said earlier, the Soldier Field fans weren’t that loud and sat down after one or two plays on defense. I didn’t want to see James Starks crash into the line for two yards on first and second down just so the Packers could give themselves a false sense of “establishing the run.” That would have only caused the Bears fans to get riled up again.
Instead, Aaron Rodgers connected with Greg Jennings on the first two plays and Bears fans were pissed. I mean super pissed. Some folks think Packers fan are too emotional and negative. These people need to spend one quarter in the stands at Soldier Field and they will immediately change their minds. Bears fans hate their team.
Anyway, Rodgers scored on a bootleg and we were happy. We were happier when Starks made it 14-0 early in the second quarter. We didn’t go too crazy, though. We weren’t worried about violence from Bears fans, but we were worried about the Packers doing what the Packers are prone to do: Letting inferior teams hang around.
It appeared that those worries would be alleviated with another Packers score before halftime. Then a ball bounced off Donald Driver’s foot and into the arms of Lance Briggs. Even though the Bears failed to capitalize, falling behind by three scores before halftime would have been tough for the Bears to overcome.
My wife probably had the quote of the weekend on Saturday night (well, the second best quote behind Charles Woodson’s quip about Obama and the White House). When I asked her what she thought of Rehor, Behnke and Pingel, she said the following: “They’re a lot of fun when they’re not tweeting.”
And they tweet. A LOT. I don’t think a minute went by Saturday night when one of them didn’t have his head down and both thumbs furiously Tweeting away. They Tweeted to each other from across the table. They retweeted each other in the car. Rehor even Tweeted a few times while driving! It was a sight to behold.
I have an ancient phone that is not capable of Tweeting. I don’t want a new phone because I know it will consume my life. I Tweet enough when I’m around my own computer. I don’t want to Tweet when I’m in the car, at dinner or pounding beers.
But man, I really wished I had a fancy phone during the second half on Sunday. I just wanted to look down and focus on something else besides what was happening on the field. I was a mess. If I could have just Tweeted for 90 minutes and then looked up right before the Packers took a knee, it would have saved my heart from a lot unnecessary stress.
Every Packers fan I encountered during halftime felt confident about the second half. I felt good, but not quite confident. This was Soldier Field and this was the Bears. Bad things happen to the Packers here. I felt that the football Gods were not going to allow the Packers to cruise to an easy NFC Championship win at Soldier Field.
I was right.
Look, I love how James Starks has emerged in the playoffs. He gives opposing defenses something else to think about and makes the Packers a little less one-dimensional. The keyword, however, is a little. Starks is no Adrian Peterson. The Packers success on offense still revolves around Rodgers and the passing game.
I figured the Packers would come out trying to run the ball in the second half and I figured it would not work. I was right. Perhaps Rodgers’ shoulder played a role in the conservative approach, but I would have rather seen the Packers come out firing like they did on the opening drive. Throwing the ball is what the Packers are good at. It’s fun to get excited when Starks puts together a few nice runs, but he’s not the guy that is going to carry the Packers to a Super Bowl.
I probably shouldn’t nitpick too much because Rodgers didn’t look that great in the second half anyway. Before long the Bears and some guy named Caleb Hanie had the ball deep in their own territory with a chance to tie the game.
An annoying lady behind me kept yelling “Hanie! Hanie” over and over again and I started to panic.
The Incognito Packers Fan
Before we get to the rest of the game, I have to tell you about the Incognito Packers Fan. My wife and I thought we were the only Packers fans in our section until right before the second half kickoff. That’s when a guy in front of us turned around and unzipped his coat to reveal a green and gold Packers jersey. He also took his hands out of his pockets to reveal gloves with a Packers logo on the fists.
He gave us a fist bump, then zipped his jacket back up and put his hands back in his pocket. He never really cheered or anything, but would occasionally nod his head after a good play by the Packers.
This guy had to be working undercover with a mission to infiltrate Bears fans and learn as much about them as he could. Or maybe he was sent down from heaven by Vince Lombardi and Curly Lambeau to watch over my wife and I in hostile territory, sort of like a Packers guardian angel.
Either way, the Incognito Packers Fan will be filed into the quirky section of my Packers memory bank.
Fat Guy Dances and Title Belts
My brother, a Vikings fan, sent me the following text as the Bears made their comeback: “If the Bears win this game, I am going to puke. Cheer louder.”
Nobody cheered louder than me when BJ Raji picked off Hanie’s dumpoff pass, took it to the house, did a fat-guy dance, and put on the title belt right in front of our section. My wife and I both completely lost it. I’m shocked that a Bears fan didn’t kill us both right then and there. It probably would’ve been justifiable homicide, especially to a jury from Chicago.
Unfortunately, a couple minutes later, it was me who wanted to kill somebody. The Bears marched down the field on the ensuing drive like the Packers weren’t even on the field. The drive further reinforced the fact that none of us can truly explain the game of football. We can come up with new stats, study film, blog, Tweet and podcast; but when a mediocre offense led by a third-string quarterback marches straight down the field and scores on one of the league’s top defenses late in the NFC Championship game, it’s probably sign that we should give up trying to understand this game altogether.
Thankfully, a lot of coaches don’t seem to understand the game, either. Mike Martz called a silly reverse to Earl Bennett on third down that lost yardage and forced Hanie to try and make a play on fourth down to keep the Bears’ hopes alive. Sam Shields picked off Hanie’s pass, my wife and I embraced, and our trip was complete.
The Packers were going to the Super Bowl.
It takes a long time to get out of Soldier Field. You have to walk in a circle for what seems like forever to find an exit. But when you’re walking out with thousands of Packers fans all chanting “Go Pack Go!” and throwing around high-fives, time sort of stands still.
My wife and I weren’t sure about taking the plunge and going to the game. It was a lot of money and sometimes it’s nice to watch the game on our big screen TV with easy access to our own bathroom and our own fridge. But when we returned home on Monday morning, we both wondered why we even thought twice about making the trip. You don’t get these kinds of memories sitting at home on the couch.
Meeting Corey, John and Wally got the weekend off to a great start. Meeting so many others at Will’s Northwoods took it to the next level. The Packers win capped everything off perfectly.
I’d like to wrap this up by thanking a few people: Thank you Corey for Cheesehead TV, giving my wife and I T-shirts and sharing your giant test tube filled with beer on Saturday. Thank you John for all the #FF’s, your always insightful writing and for driving us around on Saturday. Thank you Wally for the good conversation and finding the horse in the middle of the road as amusing as I did. Thank you Mrs. Czech for being my best friend and sharing in all of these Packers memories with me. You’re the best and I am the luckiest man in the world.
And thank you to the Green Bay Packers for giving us one helluva ride this season. Because of your success, my bank account has shrunken considerably, but it has been more than worth the investment.——————