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It wasn't even halftime and I was ready to set a pair of innocent mittens on fire.
The sound of my wife's ultra-warm, practically mountaineering mittens thudding, thudding, thudding together punctuated the Bears' embarrassing 36-7 loss to the Patriots. Julie, a Newton, Mass. native, is a fan of the star-spangled squad and while she was not alone on the lakefront Sunday, there weren't very many of her brethren in our section.
When she stood to cheer - and she had reason to do so continually in the first two quarters - the sound of those mittens slamming together was enough to make a Bear fan batty.
I had actually bailed out shortly before the final indignity, that ludicrous breakdown in the Bear secondary that allowed Deion Branch to cavort into the end zone on the penultimate play before intermission. Visions of a mitten fire began dancing in my head after Shayne Graham's second field goal made the score 27-0 and shortly thereafter I excused myself from our seats in section 235. So I only saw Branch's catch and run - and the ridiculous punt return touchdown called back by a holding penalty that preceded it - on video monitors back on the nearest concourse.
This was my nearly annual trek to Bizarro Stadium, otherwise known as Soldier Field, where I learned for the first time that there is a very strange lack of men's room space on the west side at the second level. I think I've made it to four Bear games in person the last five years. It has been observed many times and many ways that football is the perfect televised sport but it is important to get to a game in person at least occasionally.
On this day, the killer was I had left my seat with plenty of time to spare, I thought, before the big halftime rush. But the line was long at the first facility I scouted out and even longer when I doubled back and found a second one. Atrocious. One final delightful note: a beer vendor had stationed himself just inside the exit door. But he wasn't doing much business. The whole "pissing away another eight bucks" thing (the low, low price of a standard stadium beer) was too obvious even for most of the drunkest of drunks.
But enough about the splendid stadium scene; let's talk about the weather. At the last instant before we turned off of Lake Shore Drive and onto 18th street on our way into a south parking lot, the western half of the stadium loomed into view through the swirling snow. We could just barely see the giant half toilet bowl towering over colonnades scene that never fails to provoke wonder. It must be said yet again with a certain perverse pride - surely there is no more strangely constructed stadium anywhere in the world.
After pausing for the critical last-minute wardrobe adjustments - one last layer of fleece inserted, hand-warmers stuffed into the toes of boots - we embarked on the hike to the field. The wind was out of the north of course and it was as harsh as it could be. Fortunately our seats were covered and sheltered from some of the gusts. Little flurries occasionally almost sparkled in front of us. Out on the field, every 10 minutes or so, swirling winds stirred up vicious cyclones of snow.
Amazingly enough, even after a terrible first half of football, the vast majority of fans - even in the exposed eastern stands - returned to their seats. All game long, the guys in the grounds crew kept going back out onto the field, clearing the line markers with brooms, big squeegees, blowers and, for the sidelines, large snow sweepers.
We bailed out with five minutes left, after Jay Cutler threw his second interception. The primary thing to remember after this game is that the Bears are still 9-4. Clearly they were exposed as not measuring up to the Patriots but who does in the NFL these days? Let's hope the squad at least started to figure out what not to do in the cold and snow, given that the most logical place for them to play next week's game with the Vikings, post Metrodome collapse, is the new outdoor football field at the University of Minnesota.
With that in mind, the Bears could be in for an extremely cold final quarter of the season, what with their final two games at home against the Jets and then up at Lambeau Field. I recommend purchasing a massive supply of hand-warming packets. They work especially well down by your toes.
The walk back to the car was less harsh, what with the wind now at our backs. We were able to exit the parking lot and get back onto the Drive without much hassle at all and it was smooth sailing down to the start of the Stevenson, over to the Dan Ryan and then back up north. The game may have been a disappointment, but given the conditions, getting into and out of the parking lot had been amazingly aggravation free.
And by the time we were clear of downtown the echoes in my brain of the thud, thud, thudding had just about dissipated.
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