Maybe it was the way that my father, a staunch Philadelphia Eagles fan, made the Bears a priority every Sunday.Without fail, we spent the afternoon in the front of the television watching Chicago take on their latest foe.
I was a baseball player as a kid, and the weekends were my chance to pitch to my dad. But to do that, I had to have everything set up and ready to go at halftime.
We would race outside and get in as much time as we could before the break was over.
Then it was back to the television to watch the exploits of Walter Payton, Mike Singletary, and Richard Dent.
Or maybe the reason was Payton’s run at Jim Brown’s all-time rushing record.
I watched as No. 34 weaved his way through the offensive line, gaining a few yards at a time, marching down history.At the time, it probably didn’t register as well as it should have, but it sure means something now.
Here was one of the greatest backs of all-time, and he played in my city.
There was something special about the way Payton ran. No back since then has had the smooth cuts, the power, and the quiet leadership skills of Payton.
Perhaps that is why we called him “Sweetness,” and why to me he will always be the record holder, no matter how many pass him.
Then again, maybe it was the history of the team that meant so much to me.
We were one of the original franchises in the NFL. We had initials on the sleeve to honor George Stanley Halas, who didn’t only own the Bears, he turned pro football into an institution.
We had Hall of Fame players to remember: Gale Sayers, Red Grange, Sid Luckman, and Dick Butkus.
Butkus…I can’t tell you how many times I watched a short video biography of him as a kid. It seemed as if it were on constant replay at my uncle’s house.
There was No. 51, bashing another hapless player again and again.
Butkus was a force of nature, and he seemed that way even more so on the film that my uncle treasured because I had nothing but that tape and my family’s memories to clue me in to his greatness.
He symbolized to me what the Bears of the 1980s would be known for: Tough defense unlike any that the league had ever seen (or at least a kid who hadn’t yet reached 10 years old).
Maybe it was the Super Bowl win over the Patriots during a season when the Bears captivated a city and a nation.
Maybe it was dressing up as a Bear player for my grade school’s rendition of the Super Bowl Shuffle.
Or maybe it was much later, after I was at school, and would gather with my friends in Philadelphia for the few times a season when I could see my hometown team.
Together, we would watch as some of those really sad teams lost game after game. But they were my Bears, and I would watch all 60 minutes.
Then again, maybe I am a Bears fan because when I was in Washington, D.C., this past winter, I spent my Sunday mornings at a bar with other displaced Chicagoans. We had the television in the corner tuned to our team, and yelled or moped with every play, every week of the season.
There, friends became closer, shared stories of years past, and met each other’s families who might be in town to visit.
Yes, that is probably the reason I am a Bears fan the most.
It isn’t any one player or one team. It is the sense of family that comes along with being a fan of Chicago.
Whether it was my dad, my uncle, or my friends in a far-away city, the one constant has always been the Bears, a family of its own from day Papa Bear Halas first showed up in Decatur, Ill.
And that is why being a fan of this team is the greatest club I could ever belong to.
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