If there's anything more glorious than a Chicago Bears victory, it's watching a Bears victory while simultaneously seeing the Green Bay Packers and the Minnesota Vikings get soundly humiliated.
Such is the majestic charm of the sports bar, and such was the case on Oct. 30, a radiant Sunday morning when rainbows glistened and God smiled.
Growing up in northern Illinois, you spend roughly 18,000 Sunday mornings lying on orange shag carpeting, watching Bears football. You turn down the sound on the television, because the commentators are from New York, and therefore, idiots. You listen to the sweet sound of the mother ship, WBBM-780 AM.
Then you move thousands of miles away and your Sunday mornings become hollow. You need faith, an anchor. You need your football team. So you scope out the sports bars in your respective area.
That was the idea this morning. With Chicago playing Detroit in Michigan and first place in the NFC North hanging in the balance, a contingent from the Empire decided to make a tour of the bars, watching the game in as many locales as possible. It meant waking up at dawn and driving to the Mendenhall Valley - a cruel test usually reserved for flying Alaska Airlines.
Marlintini's Lounge, 9212 Glacier Highway
Owner Ethan Billings has opened Marlintini's for Sunday morning football since 1995. Back then, he had 10 screens. Now he has 16, including three 60-inch monitors and the 100-inch monster, the showplace of dreams.
The lounge is the lone bar in town with the satellite capabilities to show every game at once. Its core audience is fans of Seattle, Pittsburgh, Green Bay, Oakland, Minnesota, Kansas City and Denver. Pittsburgh was playing Baltimore on Monday night. If they were on Sunday morning, and they weren't on basic cable, Billings could expect another 40 to 50 customers.
"I pretty much know everybody in here by name," Billings said. "I think they rely on me. They know I can get their game. I almost don't care if anybody shows up. This is my dream living room. I have every game here."
Media membership has certain privileges, and that meant the Bears game was on the main 100-incher. This was the Lions' first appearance on that screen, and the six Detroit fans, now trickling in, seemed dazed.
De'Andre King, a unit supervisor, has been cheering for the Lions for three decades - an admirable feat.
"I grew up in Detroit and football has been the thing until the Pistons won the championship in the '89-'90 season, so now we need the Lions to do something and they haven't," King said. "I think I'm one of the last true believers that the Lions will at some point, before I die, win the championship."
Brett Serlin, a civil engineer with the Bureau of Indian Affairs, was the only other Bears fan around. He grew up in Highland Park, Ill., and has lived in Juneau for three years. There's a picture of Serlin as a baby, sitting in a child's seat, watching the Bears with his father in the early 1980s.
"I grew up watching every Sunday, no matter how bad they were, which was almost every Sunday," Serlin said. "I watched all 60 minutes. You gotta be loyal. One day, just like the White Sox, they're going to pull through, and I have to be here to see it all."
With two sputtering offenses that seemed destined for a 7-3 final, the Bears trailed 3-0 late in the first period.
All we knew was that they had an omelet bar, and that was good enough for us. Indeed, while Marlintini's was complete sensory overload, in a good way, GW Teal is like the living room of that friend of yours with the wherewithal to install a subwoofer under the couch.
They have four televisions above the bar and two on the opposite wall. The chairs and booths are comfortable and on a raised bleacher-like platform, pointing straight at the bar. It seemed like everyone in the place had known each other for 12 years.
Annie Heckler, night auditor at Safeway, was wearing a shirt that said "Football is Life." She was yelling for her Carolina Panthers, who were up 17-0 at home and well on their way to thoroughly dismantling the hideous Vikings. Immediately, we felt a kinship with her.
"On Sundays, this place has good sports fans and you can't beat the breakfast," Heckler said. "It's quiet, it's mellow and everybody's got their teams. All the Vikings guys are down there crying in their beer this year."
Yes, the sizable Vikings contingent, clad in the once-proud purple, was silent. Growing up in the Midwest, and knowing these pancake-lovers well, we didn't bother them while their secondary was laying an egg and a slice of bacon.
Lifelong Packers fan David Cline, his team locked in a death struggle with the Bengals, was more forthcoming.
"I'm not a fairweather fan," Cline said. "Good or bad, I'll come and watch it.
Nothing against Cline. He seemed like a good guy. But even with a washed-up quarterback (Brett Favre) and a team going nowhere (now 1-7), he suffered from delusions, so typical of Packers fans and Wisconsin people in general:
"I was sure I could find a Packer bar somewhere," Cline said of moving to Juneau. "Everywhere you go, the Packers seem to be America's team. I would say the majority of fans in Juneau are Green Bay fans. You just watch people walking around with Green Bay jerseys anywhere you go, Costco, Fred Meyer. It's exciting."
Our soul now filled with rage, but the Bears ahead 13-3 at the half, we decided it was time to move downtown.
Doc Water's Pub, Merchants Wharf
Our first stop was Doc Water's Pub, the smokeless restaurant in the corner of the Merchants Wharf. The place seems to be open at all hours of the day, and thank God somebody is.
We knew we would have good breakfast options here, because they've got a fairly full menu going all the time. Our concern was the shape. There's a big back room with a giant screen, but the bar, with the televisions hanging, has a narrow walkway. Put 30 Steelers fans in here, smelling like exhaust and battery acid, and you may as well leave your jalopy running in your garage.
As it turns out, the pub was virtually empty. The Bears weren't even on, but with six screens and four receivers, we could have asked them to fire up the Detroit feed. We took a quick peek in the back room, which turned out to be a mistake. The place was crawling with Packers fans.
"We used to hang out at the Goldbelt when it was the Westmark, in the '90s," said Mary Miller, an employee with Southeast Senior Services. "We could take over the lounge area. They gave us the clicker."
Maybe we could have hung out with the Packers fans and had a thoughtful discussion about limburger, or whatever these people talk about when they get together. But with time ticking, the Lions driving late in the third quarter to pull within 13-10, and our anxieties mounting, we had to move.
The Viking Lounge, 218 Front St.
The Viking has four big-screen televisions, a warm main room with a few obstructions (the giant support posts) and no breakfast. There might have been 10 guys in the place. The Bears weren't on, and one of the screens was showing NASCAR.
"We're here every Sunday at 9," bartender Mikey Obert said. "For the most part, it's a lot of Minnesota fans, a lot of Raider fans and Bronco fans."
Or at least one Bronco fan - Obert himself.
Forrest Jones, an employee with Alaskan Brewing Co., was wearing an Oakland jersey and screaming at Raiders lineman Warren Sapp. Jones grew up in Juneau and has been cheering for the Raiders since 1978, when he was old enough to choose his allegiance. That was years before satellite television. Juneau football fans could watch the Seahawks and whatever West Coast game the networks happened to show.
"In Juneau, there were two choices," Jones said. "You could either be a Raiders fan or a Seahawks fan. Actually you had a third choice, which was a San Francisco fan, but who wanted to be that at the time?"
Imperial Billard & Bar, 241 Front St.
Downtown was more moribund than usual. The few people on the street looked like actual ghouls, resentful of the costumes from Halloween observances the night before. Sometimes you wish you could slap people and make them cheer up.
The Imperial, too, was borderline comatose. But with three TVs above the bar, and three more big screens in the pitch black back room, we figured there was a good chance the Bears were on. Sure enough they were, and conveniently close to the video poker machine.
The Imperial seemed like a good place to watch the game if you really wanted to be left alone, to concentrate. But after three decades of watching Bears-Lions games, we could tell this one was headed to overtime. And we wanted to experience the extra period while reveling in the ongoing implosion of the Green Bay and Minnesota franchises.
So we headed back to Marlintini's.
Final scores: Chicago 19, Detroit 13 OT. Cincinnati 21, Green Bay 14. Carolina 38, Minnesota 13.
Korry Keeker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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