D'Amato: An interloper in a Bears den

Gary D'Amato, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Ron "Bear" Madej is the owner of The Chicago Bear Sports Bar & Grill on the city's south side.

Behind enemy lines, Ill. – Ron Madej, owner of The Chicago Bear Sports Bar & Grill, comes out from the kitchen, where he has been cooking up a storm for the game-day crowd Sunday, and eyes me up and down.

Madej’s nickname is “Bear” and he comes by it honestly. He is a large man with hands the size of catcher’s mitts.

“I thought I smelled a cheesehead in here,” he says.

He is joking. Or is he? Yes, of course, he is. Madej is more teddy than bear, a likable, back-slapping lug who loves his customers. There are two dozen or so Chicago Bears fans occupying the bar stools and he knows them all by name.

McGINNPackers in control after thrilling win

DOUGHERTYHalfway to filling huge holes

INSIDERThumbs up to Montgomery

BOX SCOREPackers 30, Bears 27

I am the lone interloper, the only patron in the joint without a rooting interest in Packers vs. Bears. What better place to experience a game from the dark side than in a bar named “The Chicago Bear”?

It’s the quintessential no-frills corner tavern, a windowless brick building on a desolate stretch of S. Central Ave. on Chicago’s gritty south side. It’s two blocks from Midway International Airport and just down the block from a check-cashing place. A sign outside boasts “The Best Eats in Chicago.”

The Chicago Bear Sports Bar & Grill is near Midway International Airport on Chicago's south side.

“This is definitely not a high-tech bar,” says John Romero Jr., my stool-mate and a union carpenter who lives four blocks away. “The other night a woman came in and asked for some kind of exotic drink. They told her, ‘We don’t have that. We have shots and we have beers. Which one do you want?’ ”

Romero is wearing a Walter Payton jersey. So, too, is bartender Gina Madej, Ron’s daughter. In fact, almost everybody in here is wearing a Bears jersey. There is a Mike Ditka, a Gale Sayers, a Mike Singletary.

What, no Jay Cutler?

“Cutler,” says Paul Matula, sitting at the end of the bar, “was a disaster.”

Romero begs to differ.

“We wasted that quarterback,” he says. “He’s had about eight different head coaches and umpteen different offensive coordinators. If he had the same support as Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers – the same offensive line, the same receivers, the same tight ends – I think his stats would be comparable.”

It’s pointless to argue. Romero is dead serious. So, too, is Gina, when she says, “I visited Milwaukee once, when I was in the eighth grade. We took a class trip and it was a brewery tour. It’s funny, when you think about it. And it was a Catholic school.”

Before the game starts, I am talked into plunking down $5 on a strip card. The Packers lead, 7-0, after the first quarter and Helen, the other bartender, looks at the card, says, “No. 7, Gary,” and hands me $50. I have no idea what just happened, but now I feel obliged to splurge on the $25 special (all you can drink during the game, plus soup, sandwich and dessert).

“Beginner’s luck,” Romero grumbles.

Helen, incidentally, is wearing a Minnesota Vikings T-shirt.

“She’s senile,” Romero says. “She thinks it’s a Bears T-shirt.”

Helen ignores him. “Nobody gives me a hard time,” she says. “People realize I can put whatever I want in their drinks.”

That raises an interesting point. What would happen to somebody who wore Packers gear in The Chicago Bear?

“Nothing,” Romero says. “Nobody is getting beaten up. This is a bar, though. You’ve got to have thick skin.”

The game is close for a while, but then, Bears quarterback Matt Barkley starts throwing interceptions and the customers are upset. Expletives are hurled in the direction of the three television sets above the bar.

“You can make excuses,” says Tom Wolf, “but they just can’t compete.”

When Packers guard T.J. Lang smashes Bears defensive lineman Cornelius Washington with what appears to be a helmet-to-helmet blow, somebody yells, “Throw him out!” Another voice rings out: “And shoot him!”

Patrons watch the Packers-Bears game at  The Chicago Bear Sports Bar & Grill on Chicago's south side Sunday afternoon.

When the TV camera focuses on two Packers fans wearing cheeseheads in the Soldier Field crowd, someone cracks, “Dumb and dumber!” Got to admit, that was pretty good.

Things are not looking good for the Bears in the third quarter, when Packers linebacker Julius Peppers strip-sacks Barkley and recovers the fumble. Romero turns to me and says, “Your odds of getting out of here alive are slim to none.”

But miracle of miracles, the Bears rally and tie the score. Matula, in charge of ringing a bell on the wall above the bar when the Bears make a big play, is ringing it so hard he’s practically pulling the thing off the wall. The place is going berserk.

Unfortunately, the Bears being who they are, the game does not end happily for the denizens of The Chicago Bear. Mason Crosby kicks a 32-yard field goal as time expires and the Packers win, 30-27.

I feel a bit guilty as I put on my jacket and head for the door. These are good people, stuck cheering for a bad football team. It’s not their fault the Bears still suck.

On my way out, a guy stands up and warbles, for my benefit, “Dum, dum, da-dum dum dum, go Pack go!”

Kinda makes you wish the Bears had won. Almost.

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