This story was published in the Daily Register 1/22/2011.
Fire and water. Positive and negative. Left and right.
Packers and Bears.
The conflict between the two football franchises is the oldest of its kind in the National Football League, and for many fans the great football rivalry has become a defining cultural characteristic of what it means to be a sports fan in Wisconsin.
Sunday, the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears will grapple for the right to represent the National Football Conference in the Super Bowl, and the tension and hype around the game is sure to put some enmity between area Packers and Bears fans, and especially couples with spouses who support the other squad.
Down in his basement, Warren Taylor feels like the undisputed king of Green Bay Packers fandom.
He has 24 plastic stadium-style cups, painted with bold green and gold Gs; a stash of Packers literature, including titles like “Green Bay Love Stories and Other Affairs”; and an entire Packer-themed set of TV Guides. He even has shelves for his 30 Packers key chains and dozens of toy cars and trucks with Packers paint jobs.
But upstairs, he is in game-day exile.
Upstairs, Taylor only can watch the Packers and Bears play on the little TV in his kitchen.
Judy Taylor, Warren’s wife of 50 years and amateur Bears cheerleader, has banished Warren from the living room where she watches football on their flat-screen television.
“I figure it’s safe that way,” she said. “Warren shouts at the TV in the front room, ‘Oh come on,’ he says, ‘That ain’t fair.'”
After half a century of dealing with each others’ eccentricities, the two say they still clash over football.
So for the last 11 years, Judy has sat in front of the big screen with her cola in hand as Warren squints at the tiny TV and sips from his iced tea.
They’re planing to buy a new house soon and then the Taylors can expand their collections. Warren has eight 20-gallon containers in his garage full of Packers memorabilia he can’t fit in the basement, and Judy has chosen to display her Elvis Presley knickknacks instead of her Bears tokens.
When they move into their new house, they will cover half of a room with Warren’s Packers stash and half with Judy’s Bears paraphernalia.
No matter who wins Sunday, neither Taylor will support the other side.
“It’s gonna be Green Bay and the Jets,” Warren Taylor said.
“No, it’s gonna be the Bears and the Jets,” Judy said.
They both stared each other down.
“Best man wins,” they said in unison.
Lost in Bear country
Both Adam and Colleen Sengbusch know that it is going to be a long ride back from Chicago on Monday.
“I hope it’s a long ride for her, not me,” said Adam, who has been a Packer backer since before he can remember.
For the second time this season, Adam is following wife Colleen into Illinois to watch the Packers. The last time didn’t go so well.
“Every time I’ve come down here to watch (the Packers), they’ve lost,” he said. “Maybe the third time will be a charm.”
The newly wedded Sengbuschs received a pair of tickets to the September Packers-Bears showdown, which ended with a nail-biting Chicago victory, 20-17. A photo Colleen snapped after the game shows her beaming, with Adam scowling, as the fans exit Soldier Field.
“If the Packers lose, he’ll be sad,” she said. “He’ll be quiet for a few days.”
Colleen remembers watching Bears games as a 7-year-old growing up in Illinois. In college, she and a group of friends would go out to a bar for every game.
But after she moved to Wisconsin, Colleen became the black sheep of the Packer-loving Sengbusch family. She was the sole Bears fan in a clan of people that bleed green and gold, and the Sengbuschs took every opportunity to give her good-natured abuse, Adam said.
But Sunday, roles will be reversed. Colleen and Adam are meeting some of Colleen’s old college buds at a Chicago sports bar run by her friend from the University of Illinois. There, Adam runs the risk of being one of the rare patrons wearing a Packers sweatshirt and stocking cap.
“I knew she was from Illinois (when I met her), and she always had Bears clothes on, so I was warned,” Adam said. “It could be a long ride back home.”
“Marriage is sacrifice,” thought Robert Sheehan last Saturday, as he stood in front of his closest family and friends and unzipped his fly.
Moments earlier, Sheehan, the groom and a Bears fan, had given his wedding toast, which included a promise that he was indeed wearing the Green Bay Packers boxers his new wife’s parents had given him as a present.
“It was the least I could do to appease the angry masses, especially because they’re going to lose this Sunday,” said Sheehan later in a phone interview.
One catch, though: His new mother-in-law, Sandy Tetzlaff, didn’t believe him.
“Prove it,” she shouted.
Without hesitation, Sheehan unzipped the tuxedo trouser’s fly and pulled out a chunk of the checkered green and gold material.
The internal rivalry between the Tetzlaffs, from Pardeeville, and Sheehan has been ongoing ever since Michelle Tetzlaff started dating him. Although the two live in California, they still carry their team pride, and occasionally engage in money wagers with each others’ parents.
Sandy Tetzlaff is particularly proud of the $10 bill she won off Robert Sheehan for the Packers 10-3 victory over the Bears in early January. Before handing it over, Sheehan wrote “Go Bears” on the bill eight times.
Sheehan’s parents, also Bears fans, are even warming up to their union.
“They understand that true love is true love,” he said.