Iraq. The War on Terror. Medicare. Ethics reform. Saints vs. Bears? Colts vs. Pats? As the 110th Congress grinds its way from the starting gate, there's a lot of debate, even about football.
In Chicago, Sunday's gridiron battle on the frozen tundra of Soldier Field will reverberate all the way to the hallowed halls of Congress. Senators from Illinois and Louisiana have made some friendly wagers on the NFC Championship game between the Chicago Bears and New Orleans Saints. Not only will the winning senators get to cheer the victors on as they advance to next month's Super Bowl, but they will also have the pleasure of watching their defeated colleagues praise the winning team on the floor of the Senate. And, if that's not enough, senators representing the winning teams will get to enjoy hand-delivered regional cuisine courtesy of the losers.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., likes the Saints' chances as they attempt to continue their fairy-tale season with a win in Chicago. "My colleagues from Illinois should start writing their speeches and ordering the food in advance," said Vitter, "because the Saints are this year's team of destiny."
Vitter's rival contingent from Illinois is equally optimistic about the top-seeded Bears. "This week, the Saints don't have a prayer in Chicago," said Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill. "We're going to be rooting for da Bears and cheering them all the way to Miami."
Durbin's fellow senator from Illinois and presidential hopeful Barack Obama agrees. "I've said it before, and I'll say it again. The Bears are going all the way baby!"
To do so, the Bears will have to knock off the Saints, this year's surprise team in the NFL. In a turnaround greatly relevant to its city, the team formerly branded "The 'Aints" rebounded from last year's tumultuous season marred by Hurricane Katrina and a temporary relocation to San Antonio. New Orleans, bolstered by the acquisitions of quarterback Drew Brees, rookie running back Reggie Bush and coach of the year Sean Payton, posted a record of 10-6 after last season's 3-13 debacle. Now they stand one game away from the Super Bowl. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., sees parallels between the city and its beloved team.
"Sen. Vitter and I are excited for some Chicago-style pizza after the Saints beat the Bears in Chicago this Sunday," Landrieu said in a statement issued this week. "Like the people of Louisiana, the Saints reflect our state's vibrant spirit of hope and recovery. This winning Saints season has been an inspiration to us all. We're proud to be in the NFC title game, and we'll be proud when the Saints are praised on the Senate floor by our friends from Illinois."
Across the NFL aisle in the AFC, Massachusetts Sen. John Kerry has made a bet with his Indiana colleague Sen. Evan Bayh on the winner of the Patriots-Colts showdown in Indianapolis.
The 2004 Democratic presidential nominee has promised a feast of New England clam chowder should the Colts win, while Bayh, who recently declined a run for the White House in 2008, agreed to present Kerry and his staff with the traditional Indiana snack of caramel corn drizzled with milk chocolate should the Patriots prevail.
"The only thing I love more than watching the Patriots play is watching them beat the Colts. Overcoming an injury-plagued season, the Patriots have managed another outstanding finish, fighting their way into the playoffs and containing one of the most potent offenses in the league," Kerry said.
Trash talking is nothing out of the ordinary on Capitol Hill, and Bayh responded with some confident rhetoric of his own.
"I was happy to make this bet with John because the only thing I will enjoy more than watching the Colts beats the Patriots with my family, is watching the Colts win the Super Bowl while we all enjoy a bowl of New England clam chowder courtesy of Sen. Kerry," Bayh said. "With Peyton Manning throwing, Joseph Addai running, Marvin Harrison catching and Dwight Freeney sacking Tom Brady I hope the Patriots know this won't be another Boston Tea Party."
So this Sunday in Chicago and Indianapolis, there is far more on the line than a trip to the Super Bowl. Bragging rights, praise on the Senate floor and feasts of deep-dish pizza, gumbo, clam chowder or caramel corn await the winners. And, of course, perhaps another wager on the Super Bowl.