Growing up so close to the border with Illinois brings with it an understanding of the Stateline area and the strong feelings people have about professional sports with our neighbors in Illinois.
I’ve always had friends who were fans of the Chicago Bears, Chicago Cubs, Chicago White Sox, Chicago Bulls and Chicago Blackhawks. Sports is one of those “border war” issues that come into conversations and were a big part of the things my friends and I talked about when we were growing up.
In my group of close friends, there were a couple guys who had family from Illinois and they were raised as stalwart Chicago professional sports fans.
I was a teenager in the 1980s, and that was not a great time to be a Green Bay Packer fan, as the Bears were dominant and won a Super Bowl in 1985. The fact that the Bears held their training camp in Platteville gave greater credence to more people being interested in the Bears. It was closer to see Bears’ training camp than driving to Brown County.
My family didn’t have cable television -- we watched a lot of Rockford television stations. The Bears game was always on locally. We could get the Packers watching Madison stations, but there was a lot of Chicago Bears reporting on the Rockford news and the Rockford weather was almost always more accurate for us than the Madison weather. With my dad working in Belvidere, Illinois, we watched a lot of Rockford news on the television while relying on the local newspaper for our print news.
My family stayed true to the Packers after the Titletown years of the 1960s. My dad received bumper stickers year-after-year that said, “The Pack is back in ‘74” or any other subsequent year. And, unfortunately for Packer fans, they were rarely “back.”
When I was in high school, each week before the Packers played the Bears was hyped up. While I’ve never been much into “trash talking,” I never given up on the Packers before a game was played. The 1989 season was a sweep for the Packers over the Bears including the infamous “Instant Replay” victory. I was in college at that time, but I went to UW-Whitewater and there were, and continue to be, many students from Illinois on campus. The Packers’ sweep of the Bears was contentious.
One of my college roommates was a stalwart Bears fan and he loved “trash talking.” After the Bears lost twice to the Packer fans that season, he didn’t have much to say and bought a Miami Dolphins jersey. I was thinking, “What’s up with that?”
Thanks to Green Bay’s continued string of success from the early 1990s through modern times, the Packers have been able to overtake the Bears in the all-time number of wins between the two franchises. The Packers are ahead 96-94-6. Green Bay has made up a lot of ground since the 1980s.
When Michael Jordan came into his own for the Chicago Bulls, I’ll admit that I watched many more Bulls’ games than Bucks’ games. Watching Michael Jordan play basketball was a wonder. I had seen Julius “Dr. J” Erving, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Isaiah Thomas, Clyde “The Glide” Drexler and a host of all-stars during Jordan’s prime. Jordan was, and still is, the most dominant player of all time in my opinion.
The team the Bulls put together around him, with Scottie Pippen as his main lieutenant, was historically outstanding. I’ll admit that I watched the Bulls and cheered for the Bulls in the playoffs, because they were so fun to follow. Still, I’ve never owned any Bulls fan gear and at any given time if I were asked what’s my favorite NBA team, I’d answer, “The Bucks.”
With the Cubs having recently won a World Series (2016), a lot of the negativity that Brewers fans had towards the Cubs – fueled by the defensiveness of the Cubs fans – has subsided. The fact that the Cubs have a strong national following, but the White Sox certainly have a strong local franchise in Chicago, makes the baseball rivalry between the Brewers and Chicago franchises less explosive. Another thing that has impacted this was Milwaukee’s switch to the National League in 1998. I think when the Brewers were in the American League, there was a strong rivalry between the Brewers and White Sox. Meanwhile, now that the Brewers are in the National League, the team has rivalries in its division with both the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals. Personally, I’m more prone to feel negativity toward the Cardinals, because it’s the team that beat the Brewers in the 1982 World Series.
After last week’s non-waiver trade deadline, the Brewers were considered a “winner” for picking up Mike Moustakas and Jonathan Schoop. If these players gel with the team, the Brewers can be stronger. I was hoping the Brewers would add pitching. A team can’t have enough pitching when considering a playoff run.
The path to the playoffs for the Brewers includes dueling it out with the Cubs, Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates. The Pirates seem to be a legitimate dark horse as they did what I wished the Brewers would have done – added pitchers before the trade deadline.
I played a lot of hockey growing up and while the Milwaukee Admirals have a wonderful program, it’s not National Hockey League-level competition. Chicago has the Blackhawks. I could have cheered for the Minnesota North Stars, but, c’mon, am I really going to cheer for a pro sports team from Minnesota? Sorry, I can’t do it.
When I was 10, my family visited my aunt and uncle in central Michigan and my dad bought me a Detroit Red Wings hat. Gordie Howe was the greatest player of all time in my book and I’ve followed the Red Wings ever since.
Wisconsin should have a professional hockey team, but the Wisconsin Badgers hockey program has always been strong and has been my main focus when it comes to being a hockey fan. I love the Badgers all-around, so that fills a void when it comes to fandom.
I believe it’s important to be respectful of anyone’s fan allegiances, especially when it’s tied to what one’s family has traditionally felt or believed. I can’t begrudge a Bears fan if their parents or grandparents grew up in Illinois. Having lived in Wisconsin all my life, my sports allegiances lie with “the home team.” I’ve felt lucky to see the Packers win a couple of Super Bowls in my lifetime and it’s been outstanding to witness the University of Wisconsin’s athletic program becoming one of the strongest all-around in the nation.
Wisconsin sports fans should feel good about the state’s storied history of professional sports franchises and teams that call their home the Badger state.