Champaign-Urbana prepares for ‘biggest sporting event in Chicago history’

With the much-hyped NFC Championship Game between longtime rivals, the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers, set to kick off Sunday afternoon just roughly 130 miles from Champaign, excitement and anticipation builds among football fans throughout campus.

“It’s the biggest sporting event in Chicago history,” said Tim Norris, director for marketing for Firehaus, 708 South Sixth St., and The Clybourne, 706 South 6th St. “I know it’s the biggest home game of the Super Bowl era in Chicago.”

The game marks only the second time the NFC North rivals have met in the postseason, with the first being nearly 70 years ago. The teams met on Dec. 14, 1941, when the Bears won 33-14 at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

Norris said the Illini men’s basketball NCAA Tournament run in 2005 still tops the upcoming game in terms of campus excitement, but equated this NFC Championship Game to the Super Bowl.

“You don’t play the Super Bowl at Soldier Field, so this is the closest thing you can get,” he said. “For pro sports, this is about as big as it gets.”

Norris added that the NFC Championship Game is unique because, unlike the Illini’s 2008 Rose Bowl appearance and the end of the NCAA Tournament, students are not on break.

Many of the local businesses, particularly sports bars, will offer specials, increase staff and extend hours to be open for the game.

Ryan Block, general manager of Murphy’s Pub, 604 East Green St., said he is anticipating increased business Sunday and will be adding additional staff to account for it.

“It will be like if the Bears and Packers were playing in the Super Bowl,” Block said. “Since the majority of the students here at the U of I are Chicago natives, I think it will be a big draw.”

Among those drawn to bars Sunday afternoon will be Conor Healy, freshman in DGS. Healy said he plans to get a group of friends together to watch the game at one of the campus sports bars.

“It’s the highest stage that we will be able to play the Packers on,” Healy said. “It’s a heated rivalry, and that’s always a good game, so I think it’s going to be pretty popular.”

While many students will flock to the sports bars around campus to watch the historic matchup, others won’t break their usual Sunday football routines.

Bryan Heppner, junior in ACES, said he plans to watch the game from his apartment with his roommates, as he has all season.

“Nothing different,” Heppner said. “I’ve watched every game so far … It’s a big game. It’s one away from the Super Bowl, so it should be fun to watch.”

Although the game is receiving unprecedented hype locally, Anthony Gaggiano, freshman in LAS, said he does not think it’s as significant nationally.

“I think it’s big for the Chicagoland area and Illinois; I don’t know if it’s nationally big,” Gaggiano said. “The Patriots-Jets game last week was hyped a lot too.”

The game will air at 2 p.m. Sunday on Fox.