Anyone who reads this column on even a semi-regular basis can probably assume that I’m not really a “sports guy,” me being the guy who writes about video games and action figures every other week.
Baseball was always an unmitigated snooze to me, although my grandmother always watched the Cubs…or was it Cardinals…games on TV but yet listened to the audio through the radio because she liked the announcers. I’ll always tip my hat to that kind of audio-visual ingenuity.
Basketball? We’re getting there. I grew up in the ‘90s so of course Bulls games were a big deal. During that second run of championships, it sure felt like even a boring old Tuesday night game in the middle of the season was an event. I bought the Chicago Bulls 1990s DVD set just so on really bad days I could pop in a disc of the 1997 Finals game against the Utah Jazz where Jordan put on a clinic despite suffering from the flu; close my blinds; crank up the surround-sound; open a Sprite; and pretend it’s 1997 again.
I grew up in a football household at just the perfect time: the Chicago Bears’ immortal 1985 run to the Super Bowl. We’re talking the “Monsters of the Midway,” that gang of colorful class clowns who captured the hearts of every annoying Bears fan who, nearly 30 years later, still can’t get over that legacy of the Punky Q.B. Known As McMahon, “The Fridge,” “Sweetness” Walter Peyton, and um…Kevin Butler (“The Kicker”).
Yes, I’m sure you know a Bears fan who still won’t shut up about “Da Bears” and still has a Jim McMahon poster tucked discreetly somewhere in the garage next to the extension cords and Turtle Wax, but hey, when your team has been getting humiliated by division rivals The Green Bay packers, a team who ranks somewhere between pens that won’t write on Post-It notes and smallpox blankets on a list of “worst things in the world”, how can we not live in the past?
And what better way to continue living in the past than by taking a look at these items, from March 1992, about the Chicago Bears coming into town to play a charity game of hoops. And when I say the “Chicago Bears” I mean James “RoboCop” Thornton and a bunch of players I don’t remember. That’s totally a statement about my inability to remember players who don’t have nicknames and not about their status as legendary Bears.
My parents took me and a friend to see them play that night, but I only remember two distinct things about the evening. One, getting to hear Sam and Dave’s classic “Soul Man” on the MHS Gym speakers and thinking that’s the only time that song was probably ever played there. And two, my dad saying on the way home that for those guys up in Chicago, our small town must seem real boring, a bit of geographical perspective I’ve never really been able to forget. Such things are relative, I guess. His words still come to mind whenever I end up passing through a town that’s smaller than Mattoon, like Dwight, Forrest, or any of those little other hamlets that clustered on Route 47.
I’ve kept up with the Bears ever since then, although there have been ups and downs, mostly downs, during the long cold seasons when Bears games were just something in the background while trying to do homework, sneaking only glimpses to watch some hapless receiver drop a pass followed by Dave Wannstedt doing that thing where it looked like he was trying to pull his own face off.
But then Lovie Smith showed up, said we’d “beat Green Bay”, and the faith was rekindled. Ever since, Sunday Football Day has been mandatory viewing. When the Bears made it to the Super Bowl a few years back, what an evening that was. Someone even showed up with a copy of The Super Bowl Shuffle on VHS to play as the “victory dance” at the end of the night. But after Devin Hester’s runback of the opening kick-off, things kind of went downhill. The power went out in my friend’s apartment complex, forcing us to huddle in a van and listen to Prince’s halftime show in the background of the radio coverage, and by the time we found an alternate location to watch the game at, we knew it was over. As we shuffled out into the night and I prepared for the long drive back to Mattoon since I was dumb enough not to take the Monday off work, I decided to break the silence by asking “So, does this mean we aren’t going to watch The Super Bowl Shuffle now?” We did not.
Football’s still huge but one can sense a pretty big disturbance in The Force, so to speak. There’s a lot of justified talk lately about the long- and short-term dangers of the sport, and any of those documentaries about youth or college football will leave you with the distinct feeling that something in the system of how we prioritize things in this country is broken. I haven’t actually been to a Bears game at Soldier Field since around 2013, when the Packers beat us again, resulting in…let’s just say a rather toxic atmosphere up in the stands, what with a “gentleman” a row or two behind me who expressed his drunken frustration with a series of raspy voiced sentiments even this son-of-a-truck-driver found quite shocking. Sentiments all echoed by a person I assume to be his wife, who repeated everything he said like that floppy eared gremlin thing that sat cackling on Jabba the Hutt’s dais.
September is upon us and football is back again. I still don’t think of myself as a sports guy. Truthfully, “game day” is more about getting together with friends, screaming at the TV for three hours, and then spending the rest of the afternoon waiting for the chili on the stove to intensify for a third bowl later in the evening. And who said there wasn’t anything to do in Central Illinois?