Wrong about the Bears
By Alun Thomas
The last time the Chicago Bears played in the Superbowl I was nine years old and had no idea it was occurring. This was hardly surprising as the NFL had no profile in New Zealand and probably still doesn't. Over there the notion of a 'world champion' being crowned in a sport played by one country was ridiculed frequently. This coming from a country who's main sport Rugby has five teams who contend for its own World Cup every four years (France, New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, England). Somehow I became an NFL convert. I suspect that may be due only to having lived here for longer than I would have liked. But twelve years ago that would have seemed impossible. Go overseas. You'll see for yourself.
The first full game of the NFL I ever watched was the Superbowl of 1995 when the 49'ers manhandled the Chargers. I sat there for five hours wondering how a one hour game could take so inhumanly long. Stop. Start. Timeout. Challenge. Timeout on the field. Ad's after every possession. What was this nonsense? At intervals my brother and father would walk in and ask 'you still watching this crap? Turn on the bloody soccer!' One year later somehow we got sucked into the hype. For five minutes. As the Steelers and Cowboys exchanged the ball we all walked off and left the game behind, bored and listless. This is the general consensus of the world about this country's premier sport. This is All Blacks country mate!
Then I moved here. I ignored the NFL for a year until one day I got up and chanced upon a game between the Bears and the Chargers in overtime. The Bears won. At that moment I was coaxed into it. Did it remind me of Rugby? Did I really have three hours of my life to throw away every week watching more advertisements than football itself? Who knows. But I found crude thrills watching the hapless Bears rack up loss after loss and actually became infuriated after one numbing 41-0 loss to Tampa Bay. Maddened by the NFL? No! I must stick to my own nation's ideals, rugby and beer, woodchopping and Maori facial tattoos, pristine scenery and a high teenage suicide rate. Was I losing my identity?
It happens. Live somewhere long enough and it rubs off on you. Sometimes I felt like a wanker wasting precious Sunday's watching a game, but in that precious hope the Bears might win and overcome their natural mediocrity, I stuck with it. I don't need to explain to the diehards the years of tolerating incompetent flops like McNown, Burris, Hutchinson, Kordell, Quinn, Krenzel, Chandler and Matthews. The running game going nowhere, three and outs at every turn, irate fans on the radio, incensed talk show hosts, and now a Chicago side in the Superbowl. A friend commented on all the bandwagon jumpers appearing. I recall that with the Rams. I'm not one. A Rams fan that is.
Sometimes people overseas ask how I can watch the NFL. I still don't know how they can watch Rugby and drink Tui beer. But I miss it. Take yourself out of your natural environment for years and you will come to crave it. Then if I was back traversing the much overstated, rolling meadows and green grass of New Zealand I have a sneaking suspicion I'd miss the Bears as well. It's hard to be torn between the two nationalistic identities, something most people wouldn't understand. That's why foreigners cling to their ideals, much to the anger and dismay of true national citizens. You never want to fully let go.
I have slightly. And the Bears are responsible. They won Superbowl 41. I knew they would. I wrote these words before the game was played. That's a fan. It's always refreshing when the right team wins. And this ones on the house lads. Thanks for making me feel at home finally.