Bros before Pros

                The first year I watched any kind of pro-football was January 1996, when I was almost 9-years-old. The Dallas Cowboys were playing in Super Bowl XXX and I decided to cheer for them (probably because I liked the colors). Over the next few seasons, I followed a handful of different teams, but eventually my loyalties to the Cubs and the Bulls led me to become a full fledged Chicago Bears fan. It also fit because the Bears are rivals with the Green Bay Packers, who I’d been cheering against since my Cowboy days.
                 Fast forward a couple of years. I’ve been a member at Vine church in Carbondale for several years and blessed with a great church family. Among my closest friends are John, a husky Wisconsinite who people say could be my twin, and Colin, a super outgoing guy and one of my roommates. We’ve been through a lot together and I’ve come to love them both as brothers, usually greeting each other with giant bear hugs, which occasionally turn into impromptu wrestling matches. (Boys will be boys).
                The problem is both of these awesome guys are Green Bay fans. In truth, it doesn’t come up all that often. We have enough else in common that the normal conversation flow isn’t interrupted by Bears/Packers arguments. For a long time, though, I avoided the topic. In my experience, arguments over sports would usually dissolve into bickering and name calling and left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. I resorted to be a private fan, watching and cheering for my team, but avoiding most of the jaw-jacking.
                It all came to a head in the 2010-2011 season when the Bears and Packers met in the playoffs. Without lingering on it too much, the Packers blew the Bears out of the water on their way to another Super Bowl victory. What was worse was that they showed the game at the church, so I was among a mixed crowd of Green Bay and Chicago fans. I sulked in my chair, shrugging off the elated cheers of the Packer-nation.
                Two Sundays later, when the Packers were playing in the Super Bowl, I ran into John before church. He was wearing a Packers hoodie and scarf and, to top it off, a giant foam cheese head. John stretched out his arms, looking for a hug. My first reaction was to back pedal. “I won’t even touch while you’re wearing that stuff,” I said. I thought he was trying to rub the Packer’s triumph in my face. But that wasn’t his intent at all. “Man, I’m just happy to see you.” He said. And he couldn’t have been more genuine, which was a stretch for me.
                I got stretched even more when Colin and I moved in together. Neither of us are obsessive fans, but the TV is usually tuned into the games on Sunday afternoons. It’s hard to explain, but there’s kind of a “Bizarro World” feel watching him cheer for the Green Bay. It’s like being caught behind enemy lines, except “enemy territory” is my living room. What’s even stranger is lately I’ve actually started feeling empathy for the Packers.
               Don’t get me wrong, I’m not jumping the fence here. My loyalties are firmly behind the Bears, but I feel for my friends when their team loses a heartbreaker in the last minute (even when it helps the Bears in the standings). I’m caught between my old resentments and my love and my respect for my best friends. It’s fun though. It’s a measure of trust that we can love our teams and even talk some smack without worrying other guy is taking it too personally. And besides that, it makes it a lot more interesting when we all sit down together to watch the Bears play the Packers…kinda like the end of the regular season this year.
              In case you didn’t watch, the Bears and Packers played in the final game of the regular season and the game was do-or-die for both teams. The winner went to the playoffs. The loser was done for the season. A group of eleven of us went to Chilis to watch the game, with an almost even split of Bears and Packers fans. We shared some great food and some good laughs, but a handful of people, including Colin and John, had to leave in the middle of the game for the evening church service. In the end it was a great game…and the Bears lost.
              At home, I sulked in my room playing an old Madden NFL games on my PS2, reciting to myself that oh-so-familiar Chicago sports mantra “Wait ’til next year”. I heard Colin come in the back door and I cringed. I didn’t think he would come in and gloat, but one never could be sure. After a few minutes he knocked on my door and stepped in, still wearing his Packer’s hoodie. “Hey,” he said, with a faint smile “I love you.” “Thanks, man.” I said, nodding gingerly. And we left it at that. Later on we watched the Sunday Night game and talked about what we were up to next week.
John and I at Chilis watching the Bear/Packers game.
              Now I’m kind of tempted to tie this all together with a verse about “bearing with one another” or about how “perfect love overlooks an offense” and but I kinda like my way of saying it: “Bros before pros, ‘nuff said.”