Chicago ready for another party
City got a warmup in June, and it's ready to let loose with a Bears celebration
CHICAGO -- If this is a city that works, it's also a city that knows how to have a good time, fueled in part by tall boy cans and trays of shots.
Recent college graduates don't seem to have a tough time with adjusting their nocturnal routines, and the baseball team up north doesn't draw 40,000 a game for its championship C.V.
Sunday aims to be a banner day for imbibing and eating and worrying and cheering. It's a day for dreams realized, I-told-you-so's and basking in reflected glory of our finest athletes.
This game bonds the city and its expatriates.
The President will be watching in the White House. Rapper Freddie Gibbs, a Gary, Ind. native, will be trying to find a spot to watch in Memphis, Tenn. Two different men, one team.
It seems like just yesterday that the Bears were winless in the preseason and we were making out our Christmas lists for new coaches. But somehow, through crook, hook and a fortunate call that was upheld by replay in Week 1, the Bears are one win away from the Super Bowl, and by happenstance, or maybe fate, the Green Bay Packers stand in their way.
Tickets to the NFC Championship are going for ungodly amounts, and if you're planning on watching the game at a bar in the city, better get there early (and bring a charger for your phone).
Fans are restless and hopeful, and Sunday can't come soon enough for everyone tangentially involved with the game.
I have been so busy this week, I took a walk around my neighborhood this afternoon to try and feel the energy of a city that loves sports more than religion and politics.
The Wicker Park Tavern has windows painted with a "Beat the Pack" message. Down Damen Avenue, the T-Shirt Deli has pro-Bears T-shirts hanging in the window.
"Jesus Hates the Packers," one said, which is an ecumenical debate I'm not qualified to discuss.
Cans, one of the neighborhood's biggest sports bars, was dark, but its general manager expects a big crowd Sunday.
"On a football Sunday the Bears weren't playing, we'd have maybe 40-50 people here," Bryan Burrow said while standing in front of a shelf of the bar's many canned beers.
But instead the bar will filled to capacity, around 300 people. He expects to go through 150 cases of beer, not counting drafts and the rounds and rounds of shots.
Business had been slower than normal in 2010, he said, owing to the economy, but the Bears season has been a salve. The city and the sports teams share a reciprocal relationship.
Scott Van Pelt
FM 100.5 ESPN's Bill Johnson and ESPNChicago.com's Jeff Dickerson look ahead to the NFC title game between the Packers and the Bears.
"We always have a great Bears crowd," Burrow said. "But starting last week, we're full an hour and a half before the game starts."
The Bears and Packers kick off at 2 p.m., and he expects to be full by noon, a half-hour after he opens the doors. If the Bears win, people will stay to watch the Jets and Steelers. If they lose, he'll have to worry about his waitresses getting stiffed by disappearing patrons.
While Burrow was worried about having enough chairs, a few blocks south, the popular bar Fifty/50 is readying for a theatrical weekend.
The bar fills up for every game, and actually does better business in September, when its patio is open, so it doesn't make that much more from a championship game. Still, co-owner Scott Weiner said he wanted this to be an event. So he printed up special "Green Bay Sucks" T-shirts for the first 100 customers Sunday and has prepared a cake that can barely be explained.
"It's a grizzly bear with a Bears jersey, four feet by two feet, and a cheesehead," the bar's co-owner, Scott Weiner, said in a phone conversation. "The bear will shoot fireballs out of its mouth, and we're putting Everclear on the cheesehead. It's all edible. It will flambé every time the Bears score. And at halftime, we'll cut it up and give it out to everyone."
Well, what if the Bears don't score?
"They better score," he said.
Further downtown, nightlife impresario Billy Dec is getting slammed with requests at his Rockit Ranch productions offices. He and his group own two Rockit locations, one in the prime nightlife area of the city in River North, and the other by Wrigley Field, along with celebrity-filthy club Underground and the sceney Asian fusion restaurant Sunda.
His bars attract an exorbitant amount of bold-faced names, just-out-of-college urbanites, tourists, you name it. And business is good right now. Almost too good. Everyone wants to be part of a community of fans, Dec said.
"I'm getting tweets and Facebook requests [not even calls as much] for more than just a table or a spot at the bar at both Rockit Wrigley and Rockit Downtown," he wrote in an e-mail. "People are coming out with posse's wanting 'space'! Like a whole pool table area or a section for their friends."
It hasn't been that long since the city has had the chance to celebrate a championship, of course. The Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup in June, and kicked off a partying binge that saw the Cup travel to every storefront with a tap and a waitress.
Make no mistake, this is a Bears town first and foremost, but the Hawks brought a serious boost to the city.
"You probably realize a little more how crazy this town gets when there is a sports team in the running for a championship like that," Blackhawks star Jonathan Toews told reporters this week. "You try and stay away from that outside stuff when you're in the middle of it all because you just want to focus on hockey."
The matchup against the Packers has moved well beyond the overkill stage, because really it wouldn't matter if the Bears were hosting the St. Louis Rams or the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. This is for the right to play in the Super Bowl, which was unthinkable in August. The Bears share a friendly, but heated rivalry with the Packers, same as they do with the Detroit Lions.
"I think our fans might have a little more hatred, personally, but I think that's what makes it fun," Bears tight end Greg Olsen said. "It means a lot to our fans to beat them, and we realize that, and we appreciate that and that ups our level."
At Halas Hall, the Bears can't claim to be insulated from the moment, given the influx of TV cameras, famous faces and the increased media availability for the star players.
"I think everyone in the locker room knows the magnitude of this game, knows what we're going up against," QB Jay Cutler said this week. "But at the same time we're going to enjoy it, we're going to be loose, we're going to play our game and we can't worry about what is going to happen afterward if we win, we lose. We just have to go out there and play."
Brian Urlacher said the veterans have kept the team focused, and while he's not prone to sharing deep thoughts with reporters, he appreciates getting back to the brink of the Super Bowl after three long years.
"This has been more fun because I think it is more unexpected," he said. "I think that year we were coming off a division championship and people expected us to be good, whereas this year people really didn't give us much of a chance so it has been more fun in that aspect."
This game has everything: history, reverie, drama, passion. All we're missing is a soundtrack. After all, the 1985-86 Super Bowl season was marked by the "Super Bowl Shuffle."
With all the rappers and musicians that hail from the area -- Kanye West, Lupe Fiasco, Eddie Vedder -- why hasn't someone come up with a song to match Pittsburgh rapper Wiz Khalifa's epic "Black and Yellow"?
I talked about it with the rapper Freddie Gibbs, who lights up Twitter every Sunday with hardcore and very real Bears updates. He's no faker.
"Nah, I'm down," he said in a phone conversation while driving to a concert in St. Louis. "I'm not one of those B.S. fans from B.S. cities like Miami. The Heat aren't even a real team! I'm a Bulls/Bears/White Sox diehard, win or lose."
Gibbs is sad he has to watch the game in Memphis, where he's performing this weekend, but his mind is on his favorite team. He said he feels like "Super Bowl shuffling."
"I'm about to do something," he said. "I'm about to get in the lab. As soon as we win Sunday, you'll see me drop something."
First, the Bears have to beat Green Bay, no small task. But if they do, this city will party like it's 1986.
Jon Greenberg is a columnist for ESPNChicago.com.
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