Da Coach? Ditka? Sausage? Payton? 1985 Super Bowl Champs? Da Bears!!!
Its 10:45 in the morning on a crisp November Sunday in Chicago and the tense expectation of NFL football hangs in the air. My level of eagerness for today?s Bears game is through the roof. Like many folks on a typical Bears? Sunday, I usually get fired up to the point where I yell and throw things at my TV from the ass groove that I?ve forged in my couch (I even yell during pre-game), but today is extra special. This Sunday morning, I?m on my way to the Bears/Panthers game; my first experience at the new Soldier Field. My wonderful wife has splurged and scored tickets to this key NFC showdown for my 30th birthday, and I am on cloud nine as every minute before kickoff ticks away.
A tense yet festive atmosphere surrounds the stadium in the hours before game time. Droves of fans confidently talk of the Bears? chances against the sturdy 7-2 Carolina Panthers, and just as many project a long afternoon for our beloved team. Wispy spirals and thick plumes of smoke waft throughout the air. The parking lots surrounding the stadium appear as if they have been recently carpet bombed by a barrage of bratwurst and sausage. The aroma of a million Weber grills fills the air, and I soak in the sights of the old mixed in with the new as I approach the stadium. The vast blue lake, the majestic museum campus, brilliant sculptures, a grey sky, and thousands of anxious fans compose the backdrop of the landscape; a landscape highlighted by a football stadium that looks like an alien space ship perched within the pillars that defined the Soldier Field that I grew up on.
I notice a father and son walking together in front of me, both wearing Bears jerseys. The pair seems like the perfect poster children for the ?old meets new? feel of the present day Soldier Field experience; the son was wearing Cedric Benson?s number 32, while the father donned a tattered old Steve McMichael jersey that had seen its share of Sundays, good old #76. It was hard to tell whether father or son was more excited for the
As the stadium grows larger in my eyes, I am compelled to study every metallic jut, every odd curve and every glassy angle on the stadium that now resides within the signature columns of Soldier Field. The place is both inviting and imposing. I worry for a minute when I realize that I?m not really sure how to board this massive football spaceship. Back in the day, all you had to do was walk around until you found your gate number, then go up the stairs and assume your spot in the giant punch bowl seating arrangement. Eventually, I realize that we are in the middle of another tie-in from the old days of Bears football, and I just follow the heard into a dark tunnel to enter the stadium. Immediately behind the turnstiles, a beer vendor stands waiting to serve thirsty football fans and I support my local vendor. I take a giant sip of my brew so I don?t spill while investigating the interior of this beast, which is still shrouded in darkness to my eyes. The vendor?s product is quite refreshing. I am now as eager to see the field as a child on Christmas morning.
At the end of this dark tunnel, I see a green light and am drawn to it with my mouth agape. Though the day is overcast, the brilliant green aura of the grass on the field under the stadium lights is my beacon as I enter the seating area for the first time. I?m awestruck at the vision I see as the Bears and Panthers warm up for battle. The stadium, albeit a bit odd looking from the outside, is impressive, unique and even inspiring from within. All of the edges and twists and turns seem to work together in their own way, and I appreciate the stadium?s facelift in a new light for the first time. I accidentally spill a little beer on my foot while taking in the initial image. The grand scope of our new stadium makes the old joint look like a college stadium; to see this place on TV does not do it justice.
After watching a few minutes of the pre-game warm-ups, I do a little recon and investigate more of the stadium?s guts. I feel a sense of pride to be born a Bears fan as I walk the teams? Ring of Honor. I stumble passed more Bears memorabilia, tributes, and factoids than I have ever seen in my life, enjoying every image. I get a little turned around on my journey, and take a minute to get my bearings. There were times in navigating this new terrain where I felt as lost as Panther?s QB Jake Delhomme looked out on the field later in the day.
I find more beer and I am beginning to jump out of my skin for the game to start. The Bears are about to de-claw the Carolina Panthers and I am going to witness it in person.
My wife and I find our seats and we have a fantastic vantage point to watch the game from. I look up at the people repelling down the steep aisles from the nose bleed seats above and am thankful that my wife got friendly with the ticket broker and landed us these quality seats. I look at the fortunate fans in front of me practically sitting on the field of play and I am thankful that my wife didn?t get that friendly with the ticket broker.
The energy in the stadium is electric as noon nears. When the Bears starting players are introduced moments before the kick, the crowd uncoils like an angry snake. Deafening fireworks and applause augment the proceedings as each player enters the field of play. The crowd is alive and ready for action. Being rookies, my wife and I are a bit overwhelmed by the spectacle; we don?t know whether to kiss or high five each other or head butt. Overloaded by new sensations, I notice the GSH emblems on the walls encircling the field, glance down at the same initials on the sleeve of my Walter Payton Jersey, and I know that I?m home.
After Nathan Vasher?s first quarter interception, the building was absolutely rocking. When Kyle Orton found Mushin Muhammad in the front of the end zone moments later to put the Bears up 7-0 just 3 minutes into the game, all hell broke loose. Strangers began slapping fives. Couples hugged and people of all shapes and sizes pumped their fists and jumped for joy. The beast was unleashed on the field and in the stands; the energy had gone from electric to nuclear.
The rest of the game went down just like the newspapers reported; it was an old fashioned 13-3 ass whooping featuring some old school Bears football. Outside of 14 catches from Steve Smith (the NFL?s leader in receptions), the Panthers couldn?t move the ball all day. The outcome was never really in doubt as the vaunted Bears D completely manhandled one of the top contenders in the NFC. 8 sacks (all by the D-line) and 2 Vasher interceptions highlighted a stout defensive effort. Thomas Jones churned out 87 workmanlike yards on the ground and the offense did just enough to get the job done.
The fans in the second half watched the defense with a party atmosphere and the confident mood in the stadium improved every time Jake Delhomme was driven to the turf.
Sitting in Soldier Field that Sunday felt like 1985; the fans made noise and the Bears kicked ass. The 2005 Bears team has a similar feel to it than the Bears of the 80?s. Simply put; it is really fun to watch our current defense do its thing, a thing of beauty. Like the Bears from the glory days, we once again expect to win every game 13-3. We shut down everybody? especially in our house, everybody. The Panthers are a strong team that had scored at least 20 points in all of their games this season, and they had scored at least 30 points in their last three. According to the current odds in Las Vegas, the Panthers are a 4 to 1 bet to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl (behind only Seattle @ 3 to 1). The Panthers managed a meager 238 yards of offense against the dominant Bears D, the #1 defense in the NFL.
The game we witnessed quieted a lot of critics, and also made some noise in the ears of the people who may have been looking the other way. The Chicago Bears are good, and we?ve got a home field advantage with as many quirks and odd angles as the pigskin has itself.
My ears rang and my body buzzed as I exited the stadium that Sunday. Though my wife and I had spent $275 on refreshments while enjoying the Bears win, (we had 4 beers and split a cold pretzel that may have actually been a salt lick) my body buzzed from something more than just the brew. I took a look over my shoulder at the emptying stadium and realized that not only had I just had an experience that I will remember forever, but also that I felt truly good about the state of my football team and their new home for the first time.