MJ return, Bears make for big Chi-town day

Late this morning, the Washington Wizards team bus will enter the United Center parking lot and creep its way past the most famous statue in Chicago sports history.

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When the bus stops, it's one man in particular -- one who presents a striking resemblance to the statue -- that will be the center of attention. He's sure to be hidden in his bulky silver headphones, sleek black sunglasses and perfectly pressed Italian suit.

Maniacal Chicago sports fans won't be too far behind, begging for Jordan to sign an autograph, smile for a picture, or just acknowledge their presence. But don't be fooled. These are imposters.

Deep down, they don't care about Jordan. Don't care about the Wizards. And certainly don't care about the Bulls. Though the picture of Michael Jordan returning to the United Center is supposed to stir memories, few in the Windy City seem to care.

For the most part, their minds are somewhere else, focusing on another nationally-televised event to take place some 3½ hours later, the Bears home playoff game against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Don't believe me? Just listen to former Bear Jim McMahon, a guest on Friday's Dan Patrick radio Show. When asked for his take of Jordan's return to the United Center, the Punky QB answered, "When's that going on?"

He wasn't kidding. Indeed, the red and black Bulls No. 23 jerseys are buried deep in Chicago closets these days, replaced in the sports wardrobe with Bears jersey No. 54, that of second-year linebacker Brian Urlacher.

"Jordan and the Wizards are merely a blip on the radar screen this week," said Dan McNeil, host of the afternoon show on Chicago's ESPN Radio 1000. "All anybody wants to talk about is Bears-Eagles."

Chicago's deep love for the Bears shouldn't be surprise. I lived there for 19 years, growing up during the heyday of Mike Ditka's Monsters of the Midway. I was there for Walter Payton's last game. Was there for the famous Fog Bowl playoff game of 1998.

And during the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl XX, I slapped a shiny Bears bumper sticker on the side of my Dad's 35-pound Marlin mounted in our living room. Though he was less than pleased, the sticker stayed there for 15 years, an instant conversation piece for any fan that entered the house.

Don't get me wrong, I loved the Bulls. I often zigzagged around in my driveway, tongue hanging out of my mouth, wearing one of those red No. 23 jerseys. I pretended that I could touch the net, never the less dunk.

But football in Chicago always carried a special feeling. It's this city's pastime. It's near the core of its blue-collar roots. With the Bears, who have been around since 1920, there's an unmistakable lineage, passed along from generation to generation. The names strike a special chord.

Halas. Grange. Nagurski. Butkus. Sayers. Payton. And now, Urlacher.

No offense to Bob Love, Jerry Sloan or Chet Walker, but the history of the Bulls, a relatively young franchise that started in 1966-67, pretty much starts and ends with Jordan. And even that feeling is different.

Remember, it was originally Bears fans, not those of the Bulls, that Saturday Night Live mocked with their Super Fans skits. Only after the Bears fell apart, Mike Ditka was fired and the Bulls rose to prominence, did the skit George Wendt & Co. start praising His Airness. And even then, they still worshiped Ditka.

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