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To Live and Die With Da Bears in L.A.

January 23, 2002|Chris Erskine

Right away, I have two beers on top of two cups of coffee. Mistake. My body is getting a mixed message. Coffee, the stimulant, is telling me to stand up and cheer for my favorite football team. Beer, the relaxant, is telling me to sit down and rest.

Quickly, I come to a compromise where the right half of my body cheers wildly over every play while the left side of my body takes a brief nap. I've always been sort of Siamese in my allegiances.

"I'd better order a cheeseburger," I tell my friend Shaughnessy.

"You'd better order something," Shaughnessy says.

I am in the best of all possible worlds, in a bar on a Saturday afternoon watching a Bears playoff game with a guy named Shaughnessy, who knows all the words to the Bears fight song, one of the finest pieces of music ever penned, containing the best single lyric of all time.

"We'll never forget the way you thrilled the nation,

With the T-formation...."

Nobody--not Irving Berlin, not John Lennon--ever wrote a line of song so on point, so full of patriotism and passion.

They also never wrote a song that sounds best sung at the top of your lungs while standing on a bar stool, after 10 or more frosty bottles of happy water.

"Bear down, Chicago Bears,

Let every play clear the way to victory ... "

It's not till we hit age 40 that we really get to know and understand who we are. This I understand: I will always love football.

I don't get to spend every minute of every weekend watching games like I'd like to, but I still love the sport. Love it the way I love Mel Brooks movies, or a stable national currency. Love it the way I love happy water (in moderation, of course).

So I'm here in Burbank with Shaughnessy, a guy who's been known to stand up and sing in public while sober, which is a skill most of us never master.

"Another round?" he sings.

"Sure, why not," I say.

We're in Burbank, Windy City of the West, in a saloon that draws Bears fans and other assorted Chicago-born scoundrels. Tin Horn Flats, they call it. An elegant piece of plywood on West Magnolia.

We're in the first day of a wondrous January weekend. There are four big playoff games over two days, starting with these Bears against the Philadelphia Eagles, in Soldier Field, football's Mt. Olympus.

Now, up to this point in the season, I've been all right. I haven't overdosed on football. I've consumed it in moderation, mixing it with the kids' soccer and an occasional token chore.

As a result, I've stayed well on the good side of spousal popular opinion, which is never easy. Except for when she told me to shut up on Christmas Day, my wife and I have been able to maintain a pleasant marital truce through the holidays and beyond.

"Good cup of coffee," she gushed the other morning.

"Thanks," I said.

See? I'm on a roll.

So the night before the big game, by candlelight, I tried to explain the next couple of days to her. Saturday, I'd be watching the Bears-Eagles game followed by Raiders-Patriots. On Sunday, Ravens-Steelers, then Packers-Rams.

Over a nice dinner, I explain to my wife how I'm still mostly an NFC guy and always have been. I'm loyal that way. In all ways. Decades pass and I still wear the same pair of loafers.

Loyalty this deep gets to a woman. In the candlelight, I see my wife's eyes moisten. Her fingertips tremble against her wineglass. I see for a moment what we all crave: unbridled love.

"So that's all you're going to do this weekend?" she asks. "Watch football?"

No, I say. On Sunday, I'm going to play football, too. Got a little game of two-hand touch planned with the guys.

"Great," she says. But the subtext is: "Yep, I married an idiot."

Now there are things you will see in a wife's moistened eyes that will bother you in your sleep and your every waking thought. This isn't one of them.

Because I warned her when we were dating 200 years ago that she could do better. "Go," I said. "Find your Lancelot. You're way too good for me."

By the way, my friend Paul used the same psychological double-reverse on his fiancee. "Go," he said. "You deserve better. This is as good as I'll ever get." She stayed, of course. Going on 12 years, the two of them.

So my advice to all you young guys thinking of marriage: First, cast them to the world. Before you marry, offer them their freedom. They will come screaming back forever, with moistened eyes and trembling fingertips. Except, of course, when they don't.

But I digress. We're here to discuss the Chicago Bears, who have special needs of their own. Like an offense, for one.

"This is just like back in the '70s," says Shaughnessy in the second quarter. "They look awful."

The Eagles seem to move the football at will. The Bears respond with random acts of offense. It is turning into a chilly day for our hometown team, even here in beautiful Burbank.

Fortunately, Shaughnessy has lots of stories. Ever met a Shaughnessy who didn't?

"Remember the immortal Bobby Douglass?" he asks, recalling the hapless yet iconic Bears quarterback from a past era. "At least once a game, he'd try to hand the ball off to the referee."

Man, I love football.

Next week: How to have a touch football game.

Chris Erskine's column is published on Wednesdays. His e-mail address is

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