In bars, barbershops and other businesses along the Wisconsin-Illinois border, the talk focuses on the Super Bowl. Longtime rivals, the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, meet Sunday in pro football's NFC championship game, and the winner goes to the Super Bowl.
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When pro football fans gather at a bar to watch a game on TV, they're often rooting for the same team, the local team. But this Sunday, when the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears meet for a spot in the Super Bowl, there may be plenty of mixing going on. This is a matter of geography. You've got a Wisconsin team. You've got an Illinois team. The states share a border. For some reason, they have yet to put up a border fence. And near the Illinois-Wisconsin state line, many bars cater to both Packers and Bears fans.
Here's Chuck Quirmbach of Wisconsin Public Radio.
CHUCK QUIRMBACH: The Illinois-Wisconsin border is also the border between Cheeseheads - a common nickname for Wisconsin residents - and Flatlanders, what some Wisconsinites call those who live in Illinois. But when it comes to football, the distinction is blurred. Kenosha, Wisconsin, is along the state line, and this week the local newspaper noted that while the city is divided over a lot of issues, none more so than the Bears versus Packers.
(Soundbite of crowd chatter)
QUIRMBACH: Some Kenosha taverns try to cater to fans of both teams. At Spanky's Bar and Brill, large flags, lighted beer signs and other items tout both the Packers and Bears. It's not just the customers who have different favorites. The employees do, too. While some managers say they're Packer Backers, bartender Leah Agazzi says she became a Bears fan early on and has stayed one, despite what happens at certain bars.
Ms. LEAH AGAZZI (Bartender, Spanky's Bar and Grill): Packer fans are kind of rude. You know, like, they say, like, a Bear fan is really rude, but if you're a Bear fan and you go to, like, a Packer bar, it's hard. Like, they're harsh.
QUIRMBACH: A few miles south of Kenosha is Winthrop Harbor, Illinois. The Time-Out Sports Pub appears to be safe Bears' country. A team flag flutters below the Stars and Stripes. And inside, owner Chris Athanasiadis goes behind the bar to show off his Bears memorabilia.
Mr. CHRIS ATHANASIADIS (Owner, Time-Out Sport Pub): That's Walter Payton's signed photograph. That's really rare. And this here is Walter Payton's signed jersey. It's a game-worn jersey. That's, like, my prize right there.
QUIRMBACH: But Athanasiadis says he'll try to tamp-down his enthusiasm on Sunday, because even with the Bears items on display, his bar attracts lots of Packers fans, fans like Robbie Hudrick, who lives in Illinois but says his devotion to Green Bay dates back to the early career of former Packers quarterback Brett Favre.
Mr. ROBBIE HUDRICK: As a younger child, it's more watching Favre lead the way he led and being who he was, and now it's stick with what you got.
Unidentified Woman: (unintelligible) the Packers will lose(ph).
(Soundbite of laughter)
Unidentified Man: Packers win. Come on.
Unidentified Woman: Yeah, Packers win. Yeah.
Unidentified Man: Yeah.
(Soundbite of laughter)
QUIRMBACH: Any line between Packers and Bears territory blurs even further about 15 miles to the northwest, in the small town of Silver Lake, Wisconsin. In a bar painted green on the outside called the Packer Inn, Bert Iruk of Evanston, Illinois is halfway through a beer. He offers to sing the Bears fight song.
Mr. BERT IRUK: (Singing) Bear down, Chicago Bears. Make every play clear the way to victory.
QUIRMBACH: Another patron, Jerry Greiner of Trevor, Wisconsin, says he doesn't mind the Bears fans here, but he does love his Packers.
Mr. JERRY GREINER: I just never liked the city of Chicago. I'm a country boy. And you go north, you go north to the Packerland, to the tundra.
QUIRMBACH: It's likely any bar that can keep the peace between the rivals will be full again next month when either the Bears or the Packers will play in the Super Bowl.
For NPR News, I'm Chuck Quirmbach.
(Soundbite of music)
INSKEEP: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.