They’re everywhere we look these days. The city’s tallest buildings are illuminated with their navy and burnt orange colors, news outlets faithfully bring us the latest in the build-up to the big game, and a women’s clothing store on Madison Street has assembled the perfect ensemble for that fashionable yet spirited female fan.
We’re talking, of course, about the Chicago Bears who will play this Sunday for their first Super Bowl championship in more than two decades. It has been a fun season and we’ve all enjoyed getting caught up in Bears fever.
But at the risk of making an almost blasphemous statement just days before the big game, whether the Bears are victorious is irrelevant. It doesn’t matter. It’s just a football game.
Win or lose, the Bears are a cultural touchstone for all of Chicago’s cultures. Regardless of the barriers that people put between themselves and those who are different, a sports fan is always happy to talk sports with another fan.
The topics of play calling, draft choices and all-time favorite moments aren’t actually relevant to anyone’s day-to-day happiness, and these relatively harmless conversations allow us to branch out. When we’re talking sports, we are not discussing the war in Iraq, abortion rights, gentrification or any of the other issues that often split us into separate camps. By comparison, sports are an insignificant part of society.
However, it’s their relatively neutral existence that makes professional sports important. Because they are irrelevant, sports are actually relevant.
The most important aspect of professional sports is not the economic boost that a franchise can provide and it’s certainly not their win-loss record at the end of the year. What makes a franchise relevant is its ability to capture its fans, and win or lose, the Bears have done that.
Chicago is a football town. Yes, we have two baseball teams with their highly partisan fans, a hockey franchise which, if you take a very long view, is competitive and, of course, we basked in the glow of Michael Jordan’s NBA success for years. But Chicagoans don’t get out of bed at 6 a.m. on their day off to stand in a cold parking lot, shoulder-to-shoulder with complete strangers cooking fatty meats hours before kickoff for any team but the Bears.
Football’s ability to bring strangers together for chest bumps and high fives makes it a more successful diplomat than the United Nations. So this Sunday, put on your navy and orange and join millions of your closest friends in support of the good guys. Go Bears!