Chicagoans defy cold to root for team

By The Associated Press

CHICAGO – Their beer glasses empty, their coats in hand and their hopes of a Super Bowl victory dashed, Chicago Bears fans filtering out of parties Sunday night repeated the same refrain they have for the last 21 disappointing years: Wait ’til next year.

The game was an emotional roller coaster for Bears fans, starting with the high of seeing rookie Devin Hester run the opening kickoff for a touchdown, a first in Super Bowl history, and ending with a 29-17 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

“I’m kind of devastated,” said Julie Gilbertson, 36, of Chicago, who watched the game at Harry Caray’s restaurant. “The first three minutes of the game were spectacular. I really thought they were going to pull it off.”

Gilbertson and dozens of others at Harry Caray’s where joined by several of the Bears’ last Super Bowl team.

Quarterback Jim McMahon, linebacker Jim Morrissey and tackle Keith Van Horne sat signing autographs and watching the battle between the Bears and Colts.

Sitting on a leather sofa alongside a Bear from the 1990s, Chris Zorich, Morrissey reminisced about the long road between the playoffs and the Super Bowl.

“The two weeks leading up to the game are very emotional,” he said. “You gotta have a coach keeping everyone even keeled.”

The crowd and the former Bears were jubilant as Hester returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown in the game’s first play. However, the mood began to shift from hopeful to quiet as the Colts began to assert themselves.

“That momentum (from Hester’s run) didn’t carry on,” said Zorich.

The day began with a lot of optimism on the part of Bears fans, a few of which started their day tailgating outside Soldier Field, despite temperatures that barely cracked zero.

Armed with a case of beer, a bag of chips and at least a half-dozen layers of clothes, Jeremy Grossenbacher and his two friends tried to stay warm by running laps around the empty stadium’s parking lot.

They had plenty of room. Two hours after the lot opened for tailgaters, the trio were the only fans there.

“This isn’t something that happens all the time,” said a shivering Grossenbacher, a 22-year-old Chicago resident who said he was determined to spend time near the field to cheer on the hometown team.

Elsewhere in Chicago, throngs of fans rallied Sunday to cheer the “Monsters of Midway” as the team readied for its first Super Bowl appearance since the 1985 Bears, who shuffled over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XX.

Hours before kickoff, orange and blue gear, particularly knit hats, were still flying off shelves at Sports World, an apparel store across the street from Wrigley Field.

Associated Press Writer Laurel Jorgensen contributed to this report.