Bears fall to Pack in NFC title game

January 24, 2011 11:32:10 AM PST
Chicago's excited anticipation gave way to disappointment as the Bears fell to the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game.

The Packers are headed to the Super Bowl after a 21-14 victory at Soldier Field. The Packers dominated the first half of the game with two touchdowns, the second of which saw quarterback Aaron Rodgers making it 14-0 with a touchdown run.

Bears quarterback Jay Cutler left the game in the third quarter, and third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie got the offense going, bringing the score to 21-14.

But Green Bay's Sam Shields snared a game-winning interception.

"It's like a bad hangover that you really wish never came and won't go away," said fan Terrance Roach.

Bears fans have lots of ways to describe how they're feeling after a painful loss to their oldest rivals, whose fans now have bragging rights.

"We're not gonna rub it in," said Tim Bohrerr, Packer fan. "We understand the disappointment. We've had it before. I mean, I lived through the '70s and the '80s as a Packer fan, and that was pretty dismal."

A lot of the conversation at the White Palace Grill in the South Loop circled around Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. A knee injury that took him out of the game has some fans questioning his toughness and his heart, while others are defending him.

"How can he play and he got hurt? Back in the Dick Butkus days when they stick something in your knee and let you keep going, they don't do that anymore. Jay Cutler was hurt," said Willie Drape, Bears fan.

"Cutler is good. I think his personality is rough, you know, not many people like him because of that," said Luis Nunez, Bears fan.

Cutler answered questions after the game about why he stayed on the bench.

"It was probably better that I didn't. I know my knee. I know my body," he said.

"He hurt his knee, and he was out, alright? There's nothing else for me to tell you on that. I don't know exactly when it happened. He couldn't go, and we moved on. Let's go to some other questions," Bears Coach Lovie Smith said after the game.

Marc Silverman co-hosts ESPN 1000's "Waddle And Silvy" show. He says he's not surprised many fans aren't backing cutler up.

"I am not questioning his toughness, or I'm not questioning his heart," he said. "I question him some as a quarterback, but I understand why fans won't give him the benefit of the doubt today. He is not a warm and fuzzy guy."

On Monday, the radio broadcast was extended from four hours to five as callers kept lighting up the switchboards to talk about the postgame hardship. But with heavy hearts, fans admit the better team won, and they're gonna have to walk this one off.

"I just grabbed my Bear hat and put it back on. I'm still a Bear fan," said Nunez.

"I told my son, 9-year-old, he is a Bear fan, too, and all he kept on saying, 'Pop, I want them to win.' But the better team wins today," said fan Laurentio Howard.

"Very tough, man, very tough. All the way down to the wire, you know. That last interception killed us," said one fan.

Bears fans leaving Soldier Field were deflated, with the excitement at the start of the game replaced by sadness.

"I was really hoping for a miracle there from Caleb Hanie in the second half, and it seems like he had it, but it just didn't happen," said one fan.

In sports bars and living rooms where fans gathered, the feeling was the same. There were armchair quarterbacks, many critical of Cutler.

"I think the Bears should have won. I think it was bad coaching. I think Jay Cutler should have stuck in there. I think if he's a leader he should have played hurt," said one fan.

While Bears fans took in the loss, local Packers fans celebrated. Hundreds gathered at a North Side bar to cheer on the team.

"It's the best. It is all you could ask for," said one Packer fan.

"Unbelievable, to be around all these Packer fans," said another.

Shortly after the game ended Sunday, Packers championship t-shirts came out. One shopper at the Sports Authority on North LaSalle said as soon as the game was over she headed to the store.

Customers were buying up shirts, hats and sweatshirts. Some said they were lifelong Green Bay fans. Others just recently began rooting for the Packers.