Loyalties are fierce along the Halas-Lombardi Line

Jan 21 2011 - 4:55pm

KENOSHA, Wis. -- If the U.S. census counted Packers and Bears fans by geography, it's a good bet Kenosha County would be the Mason-Dixon Line of the war for gridiron superiority.

Kenosha County probably has the highest concentration of Bears fans in the state of Wisconsin. Reasons include the shared border with Illinois, the large number of people who live in one state and work in the other, and Chicago TV and radio stations coming in bright and clear to Kenosha County homes.

Some sports taverns are known as Packers bars or Bears bars, places where someone wearing, say, a Brian Urlacher jersey or, conversely, an Aaron Rodgers shirt will not get booted out the door. It's not unusual for Kenosha County homes to fly flags with both the giant green "G" and a snarling bear.

Mary Madigan lives in Kenosha but has been a Bears fan since she was little. While sipping a beer at Coin's Sports Bar, she recalled a recent conversation with her father as they drove past a Kenosha home flying both teams' flags. When she pointed out the pairing, her father didn't miss a beat. "Yeah, Mary," he said, "that's in lieu of divorce."

Just as in any Civil War, this Sunday's NFC Championship Game has divided families and turned brother against brother.

Or at least in one family, brothers against sister.

Tom McTernan raised five sons and one daughter, born between 1963 and 1979, in Kenosha. Tom and his wife, Pauline, are Packers fans. So is their daughter, Mary Berry, who married a Packers fan. Their five sons? Every last one of them roots for the Bears.

"It's really sad. I thought about sending them to therapy," joked Tom McTernan, adding that he's thankful his grandkids are Packers fans.

He blames TV station WGN, which broadcasts Chicago sports, for warping his sons' minds. Apparently his daughter was the one who got the brains in the family.

"My daughter is my only salvation," he said.

Mike McTernan, 44, an attorney in Kenosha, often goes to Bears games with his brothers. He was at last Sunday's game and will be at Soldier Field this Sunday. Not surprisingly, when the Bears and Packers come up in family conversation, there's a lot of ribbing.

At the northernmost Metra commuter rail station in Kenosha, Mike Capps waited for the 7:15 a.m. train to travel to work at a packaging lab in Waukegan, Ill. To ward off the early-morning cold, and to show everybody who looked at his feet which team he'll be rooting for this weekend, he wore dark green Packer boots and a Packer scarf. He's one of only a handful of Packers fans in his office.

Sandy Grymkoski knows how many Packers fans work in her Evanston, Ill., engineering office of 60 employees -- five. "We're really outnumbered," said Grymkoski, who plans to wear her Greg Jennings jersey to work Friday and is considering bringing Packer-decorated cupcakes to her co-workers.

"There will be a lot of gloating, lots of bets and trash talking," she said before hopping on the morning train.

Catching the 7:51 a.m. train was Mike Stevenson, who grew up in New York but served in the military at Fort Sheridan, Ill., and now works at a Chicago TV station. He unzipped his parka to show off his white Urlacher shirt.

"It's a great rivalry. It'll be a good game. There are a lot of Bears fans who live in Wisconsin," said Stevenson.

At Frank's Diner in Kenosha, which serves its signature "Garbage Plate" of hash browns, eggs, green peppers, onions and jalapeno peppers to both Packers and Bears fans, employees will get a chance to watch the game because the 1920s-era restaurant will close early Sunday. How does cook Brad Dolnik know which customers are Bears backers?

"They're all the loud ones," said Dolnik, tapping his metal spatula on the grill.

Though Spanky's Bar in Kenosha is considered a Bears hangout because the owner is a Chicago fan, one side of the L-shaped bar is decorated with Packers paraphernalia and the other side sports photos of Gale Sayers, Mike Ditka and an aerial view of Soldier Field. Fans come early to score a bar stool, and come game time, it's jammed with people clad in their team's gear, drinking beer and consuming Jell-O shots in Packers and Bears team colors, said bartender Lea Agazzi.

"This game will bring people out. It's good for Kenosha," said Agazzi. "This is our Super Bowl."


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