Monday, November 29, 2010

Eagles -Bears Road Diary - It's All My Fault

So this past weekend, The Truth, a season-ticket holder to Da Bears, passed his end-zone seats to me, since my Eagles Laundry was the opponent, and he was out of town with Thanksgiving festivities. Having more time off than sense or cash, I called up The Shooter Mom (heretofore, TSM) and asked if she was up for a car road trip. Despite an 0-2 record for games we've attended (opening game losses to the Packers in Green Bay and the Giants at the Linc), she said yes, because my mom is better than your mom, or at the very least, much more hardcore about her love of football. (She remembers what is was like when the Eagles were the champions of the NFL, which means that she remembers JFK. Anyway, enough of that before she has me killed.) Here's what happened.

We started out from the Man Space around 4am on Saturday morning for the 12-hour drive to Chicago. TSM rented a Kia SUV with high gas mileage -- wise, considering that we were going to put four figures of miles on it -- and picked me up after her bartending shift. Armed with AAA maps and a GPS, we got to Chicago in roughly the correct amount of time, but after getting off I-80 too early, used the GPS to take the shortest route to the hotel... which basically involved going through Bad South Chicago, albeit it in enough daylight that it was more depressing than distressing. Let's just say this: they know how to use plywood on windows down there. And you want to be the guy selling the plywood. He's doing really well.

We finally found the hotel, a Hampton Inn next to Chicago Midway Airport. A quick word about Midway. You know how if you are driving south on I-95 outside of Newark, NJ, the planes flying into the airport look like they are going to take the tops off 18-wheel trucks? It's got nothing on Midway. Deciding to go for Giordano's deep dish pizza (outstanding, BTW, and I'm still eating the leftovers now, 36 hours later), we took a walk down South Cicero... and damn near felt like ducking from a half dozen Southwest planes rumbling in for landing. You've never seen anything like it. I'm amazed they haven't shaken the White Castle arches off.

One great dinner later, we headed back to the hotel to discover that Eagles CB Asante Samuel, aka the defensive MVP this year with a league-leading 8 INTs, did not make the trip due to a knee issue. Considering that this meant that neither CB was a starter a month ago, and the team was not exactly awash in cover guys even when healthy, this was Officially Worrisome. It was also telling that Michael Vick had never beaten the Bears, that DE Julius Peppers was downright terrifying, and that LBs Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs are really good against the signature play of the Andy Reid Eagles, the halfback screen. But the Bears still had a poor, turnover-prone offense, and the Eagles still had Vick playing at the highest level of his life. Someone was going to expose the home team, right? Right?

On game day, we got up in time for the complimentary breakfast (not bad), then drove down to the game. This was a mistake. Parking at Soldier Field is something of a nightmare if you don't have prior arranged tickets; you'd be much better off taking the train, but we didn't know how to do that. So after 30 minutes of driving around and asking clueless people wearing traffic vests where to go, we would up paying the most I've ever seen for parking -- Fifty U.S. Dollars, No, Seriously -- to park. I'm still kind of amazed about this; I've paid $600 in this life for a functioning car, so $50 to park one is just never going to be OK. Live and learn.

We went into the place early and walked around, checked out the merch (I bought a stuffed bear and a foam claw hand for the Shooter Kids, who like bears, if not Da Bears), and went to our seats. I'm also kind of amazed that there don't seem to be any sports bars or merch stands near the place; it really does call to mind the Vet Stadium Quarantined Venue Experience, which is to say, kind of bad planning. I'm sure the locals know where to go if they aren't tailgating, but it wasn't obvious to us, so...

Soldier Field is a nice enough yard; it keeps its history well, then shoves the modern luxuries on top, where you can for the most part ignore them. The concourses are split in two on the upper levels, so that you can get from place to place without getting in too much of a bottleneck, but they don't really have enough restrooms. It also doesn't really do that much to cure the idea that it's just a giant concrete and glass ashtray. Unlike Green Bay, you don't get the sense that you are in a place that's seen football for the better part of a century. It is to Lambeau as Yankee Stadium is to Fenway, if you catch my drift, and it's not really worth a trip for itself.

Anyway, back to the practicals. TSM wound up missing most of the third quarter for waiting for a stall, and I probably would have whiffed on a good amount of game time had I not bailed on the second quarter with 40 seconds left. Concessions are decent and reasonably priced, the merch wasn't too penal, and the views of the city from the top level, where we were, are kind of great. So great, in fact, that some 20-something winner of a future Darwin Award wound up falling to his death on Sunday in an attempt to smoke an illegal cigarette. Oh well, at least he died doing what he loved...

This is as good a place as any to talk about Bear Fan. He's more or less the same guy as Eagle Fan; prone to chanting profanities, convinced the zebras are out to get his laundry, way too anxious about any negative play, not terribly interested in anything that gives credit to the opposition, and someone whom you do not make eye contact with if you are rooting for the other team. TSM and I spent much of the game giving covert fist bumps to each other when the Eagles did something good, and avoiding Bear Fan's whirling arms, sloshing beer and need to high five people after big plays. If Vick played for another team, he'd have gotten the same treatment at the Linc, and the last minute chanting of how My Laundry Sucks was also something I didn't take personally. (And if you don't want to hear them sing that damn song, bring a defense.)

Another sign of trouble: the game was moved from 1:05 to 4:15. Joy. So the 42-degree day that had as much sun and tolerability as my weak sauce NoCal climatized self could hope for got a six degree drop and a nice spike in the wind. Being forewarned enough to have multiple layers everywhere, I was fine for every place but the feet. The same went for TSM. We watched the early games on my Blackberry and the Bears' pinched video board, checked on our fantasy players, and commenced to wait.

For whatever reason, the Bears had multiple technical issues at the game, leading to audio-only highlights, NFL Red Zone cutaways to utterly irrelevant Rams-Broncos highlights, faulty fan contests and more. The PA announcer also had a unique way to pronounce Jason Avant's name ("Ay-Vent"?), and the club does nothing to inform you of other games that are going on (perhaps because the two teams that Bear Fan cares about, the Vikings and Packers, were already done by the time this one started). But the sight lines were good, and after two big-play Bear drives gave the home team an 11-point lead, Vick and Company set out to putting order to chaos with a lot of easy middle of the field throws to Avant and Jeremy Maclin. With two minutes left to go in the first, the team had a 19 to 10 minute edge in time of possession, a first and goal against a flagging Bear defense, and a stadium of angry and defeatist people that seemed more interested in yelling dog killer profanities than the football game.

And then the disaster -- i.e., Vick's first interception of the year, on a tipped ball -- happened, and the game went All Bears for about an hour. First, the defense fell apart for the third time in the half, allowing embattled Bears QB Jay Cutler to pick up his third strike of the game. Then in the third quarter, the Bears went on an 18-play drive with multiple back-breaking third down conversions, with pressure on Cutler becoming a thing of the past, and the secondary continuing to miss tackles and coverage.

By the time the comeback started, it was fairly well managed by the Bears defense, and while there's something to be said for a team that doesn't quit until the whistle, what you also don't say about them is that they are true contenders for a parade. I still think they are a fraud and that the Eagles might be a better team, but all that might get us right now is being a better fraud. But since this is the NFC 2010, check back in a week, because the top teams will have changed.

By the time it was all over, we were cold, depressed, taking the wrong route back to the parking lot, and facing 12 hours of driving, plus 30 minutes in a traffic jam, for our fandom. As always, I enjoyed time with TSM; she's awesome. And I don't hate the Bears now, or their fans, any more than I hated the Packers or their fans after that debacle. And one of these years, we're going to schedule a road game where the trip back doesn't make us feel silly for going in the first place. Moving on...

1 comment:

The Truth said...

Bear down, Chicago Bears....

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