Hopefully Chicagoans aren’t ‘offanded’
Chicagoans are used to things not working out quite as expected whenever athletics are involved.
Sure the Bulls had their shining moments during the 1990s, but you may not have noticed — the ‘90s ended 15 years ago, Chicago’s string of NBA championships one year prior to that. And while everything has also fallen into place properly for most of the city’s other pro sports teams on occasion, those represented accidents rather than official announcements of an impending championship-contending era.
Being No. 1 is a concept older sports fans simply will not be able to ever fully embrace because history really hasn’t been all that kind to Chicagoans. But that doesn’t mean they abandon ship.
Quite the contrary is in fact true. Chicago sports fans are a tenacious lot not prone to bandwagon-jumping, although there have been a few exceptions. Most notable were the young professionals who populated the United Center during Michael Jordan’s heyday but knew less about basketball than your Lawrence Welk-loving grandma.
That yuppie faction sat courtside to be seen rather than to watch. When the titles stopped coming and the Bulls ceased being front-page news, the fair-weather fans exited almost immediately.
Bears fans are a vastly different bunch, however. Fair weather or foul — and foul is the preferred atmospheric condition — they pack Soldier Field, sometimes with painted torsos, many times in less than a stone-cold-sober state. But while one could easily question their sanity, Bears fans’ dedication can’t be denied.
Having been, to my deep regret, an Illinoisan my entire life and therefore around many Bears fans, I was struck by a recent Forbes survey. Posted on the Internet, the survey listed the NFL’s best fans, and I was certain those who slavishly follow the Monsters of the Midway would be included.
And indeed they were, but true to Chicago form they weren’t No. 1. That was OK since our Second City sensibilities enable us to easily cope with not being top dog in any sort of contest, but as I kept scrolling down the list of names I became confused as to why the Bears weren’t at least in the top three.
After all, what other NFL franchise has had its fans portrayed on comedy skits? Or were all those old vignettes on “Saturday Night Live” actually about “Da Lions” and we just never paid close enough attention?
I checked Forbes’ criteria for its rankings. They were as follows: hometown crowd reach, social media reach based on the area’s population and three years’ worth of Nielsen TV ratings, stadium capacity percentage and merchandise sales via NFLShop.com.
But when dealing with the Bears there are also intangibles to consider. Their original owner was one of the NFL’s founders, the greatest all-around running back in league history played in Chicago and so did the meanest — and best — linebacker ever, which means the team’s history is richer than pretty much all of its fellow NFL members.
Let’s talk Super Bowls —the Bears have only one world championship to their credit in the past half-century, but no other team has milked more mileage out of a single title than the 1985 Bears. The only one that comes close is the 1969 New York Jets, and that was due as much to one man — Joe Namath — and his public guarantee of victory as anything else.
But even with all that going for them the Bears wound up at the bottom of Forbes’ top 10. Yes, the Buffalo Bills, St. Louis Rams and a dozen-and-a-half other pro clubs would gladly swap places with them, but No. 10 seems awfully low.
It’s difficult to argue with No. 1, though Bears fans probably wouldn’t mind seeing as how that team is the arch-enemy Green Bay Packers. The Packers are publicly owned, so it’s understandable that Wisconsinites have a special affinity for the team.
More telling, though, is geography — simply put the Packers are the only game in town. Green Bay doesn’t have any other professional franchise, meaning fans’ allegiances aren’t being pulled away by another sports team.
The closest things Green Bay citizens have to other professional sports are the Milwaukee Brewers and Bucks, and the latter just barely qualifies for that description. But even if both teams were of championship caliber it’s not as much fun having to share any moments of glory with outsiders, particularly when the outsiders are actually the insiders.
Forbes’ No. 2 pick, Denver, does have baseball and hockey but neither poses a big threat to the Broncos as far as fan interest is concerned. No. 3 New Orleans is in a similar boat as Green Bay.
Not until No. 4 do we see a team housed in a sports-filled area. The New England Patriots are in competition with the Boston Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins for Beantown attendance dollars and all of them have won championships in the new millennium. Since that includes the Patriots, their exalted status is understandable — hey, everybody except a Cubs fan adores a winner.
The remainder of Forbes’ top 10 includes Baltimore, Indianapolis, Dallas, Pittsburgh and Seattle. The Seahawks at No. 9 would seem a bit undervalued, too, and frankly I don’t see how the Ravens and Colts rank ahead of either Seattle or the Bears.
Dallas, the self-anointed “America’s Team” that so much of America loves to hate, is tied for seventh with the Steelers. Considering that those two franchises account for 15 Super Bowl appearances and 11 titles between them, I suppose they need to be somewhere among the top 10.
But the Cowboys might not necessarily be the top choice of football-watching Texans. While the Houston Texans are the only other NFL team representing the Lone Star State, folks down in those parts dearly love college and high school football as well and probably invest as much emotion into the sport at those levels as they do the Cowboys.
Remember the book “Friday Night Lights” was written about a Texas high school team and that it’s not uncommon for rivalry games to draw upwards of 20,000 fans. Many Illinois prep players don’t perform in front of that many people in a career’s worth of contests.
No college or high school football team in Illinois eclipses the Bears, nor does any other sport at any other level. Interest in the Bears is strong enough that the start of their training camp each July leads off local sportscasts regardless of how well the Cubs or White Sox are doing at that moment.
Like them or not the Bears rate as a national entity as much as any other NFL team one cares to name. Any news about them usually extends beyond Chicagoland and goes nationwide — think that happens with the Colts now that Peyton Manning is no longer in the organization?
Forbes needs to go back and re-evaluate the numbers that were collected. The Bears may be no better than No. 10 on the field — and even that may be a stretch in 2014 given how pathetic their defense and special teams have looked in the preseason — but no one can convince me they deserve that same slot when it comes to overall popularity.
Move over, Denver. Make room for Da Bears.