Not too long ago, a recently-transplanted Michiganian (Michigander? Michiganite?) was asking me about watching sports in Chicago. He's a pretty big football fan and wanted to know specifically what Bears fans were like.
"Remember those old Saturday Night Live bits where the heavy-set dudes were sitting around getting drunk and eating tons of junk food talking about 'Da Bears?'" I asked him.
Of course he remembered. "Oh yeah, those were hilarious!" he said, and chuckled a bit at the memory.
"People in Chicago didn't see those as comedy," I told him. "We saw those as documentaries."
The Michiganian fell silent.
I'll admit something right now: I'm not the biggest football fan. Out of civic loyalty I'll say I'm a Bears fan, but will also admit I have threatened numerous times to defect to other teams - most recently the Cleveland Browns - because football's just not my game. Some of this might be due to being raised in a baseball family.
More of this might be equating football with my total lack of ability and being small for my age as a kid, making me a prime target for frivolous tackles and cheapshot clotheslines on the football fields of my youth.
(Don't cry for me: I got my shots in elsewhere.)
Still, it's a fun game to watch; sometimes it's even a fun one not to watch. During the Monday night game against Arizona a few weeks ago, I had the game on the TV with the sound off, typing away at the laptop with my head down. Every now and then I'd hear cheers or a chorus of "God Damnit!" from all up and down my street. Obviously I didn't understand what was happening until I looked at the TV.
Cool, I thought. My neighbors are telling me when I should pay attention.
As the game went on, the noise from outside got louder and the game got way more interesting. When the Cardinals' last field goal attempt missed, my neighbors all ran to their windows and doors to register their excitement up and down the street.
"Oh my GOD!"
and of course someone yelling
followed by everyone else, myself included, answering back the only appropriate way:
And suddenly, things start to look different around Chicago. The crowds on the trains and buses and sidewalks are decked out in a little more orange and blue than before. There's a few more flags flying the big orange "C" from cars and apartment windows. Custom t-shirt shops are sporting a few more of those excellent Chris Farley t-shirts in the front windows. Young women are hitting the town in Brian Urlacher and Jim McMahon jerseys that I don't remember ever looking as good as they look now.
A girl I know tried to explain it to me last weekend. "It's the best game in the world, Andrew. It's not even about the game, it's just about...everything. Football is everything. That's all there is to it.
"You have to see it that way, otherwise you're never gonna get it and you're never gonna like it."
Pretty heavy words, and definitely the kind of half-drunken sports-bar philosophy that I thrive on. But what she didn't know was that someone else had already put it to me much better.
As we'd entered the bar, a large, large man wearing a Monsters of the Midway sweatshirt and an honest-to-goodness Foam Dome grabbed me by the shoulders just as the first quarter was ending. Bears 24, 49ers 0.
"Da Bears," he said matter-of-factly, "are on pace to win dis game ninety-six ta zip."
And all I could answer back were those two words that had been forever etched into my brain for times like these:
And from the tables surrounding us a crowd raised its collective voice in agreement:
My new friend smiled at this and together he and I and a hundred strangers drank well into that afternoon, in a little bar in a certain Midwestern city which is home to a certain team that, come February, will be hoisting a certain championship trophy over its collective head.
From here on out, we're all in this together. Why couldn't she just say it the way he did?