Obama (D-Bears) in Packerland
By Peter Slevin
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Sometimes a candidate just needs to get the bad news out first, before the media grabs hold, before the rumors spread, before the muttering begins and the campaign collapses in a heap.
Sen. Barack Obama (D-Bears), faced just such a moment today in the land of the Green Bay Packers.
Obama is a sports fan. His favorite pro football team is the Chicago Bears, who happen to be the Packers' fierce rivals in the NFC Central division. Riding the wintry roads in search of victory in Tuesday's Wisconsin primary, Obama decided not to hide his loyalties.
Which explains what happened in Oshkosh, where a raucous crowd in a college sports arena cheered madly -- until the junior senator from Illinois said, "I'm sure this is the best reception a Bears' fan has ever gotten!"
Confusion. Laughter. Scattered boos.
"What happened? That love went away so quick," Obama said, smiling, before urging sympathy for a devil of a fan who had suffered through a dismal season. "Don't kick us while we're down."
The Bears, he meant. The Bears.
That was a mere warmup to Obama's upbeat appearance later Friday at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, where a banner in Packers green and yellow declared, "Cheeseheads 4 Change."
"Now, it is hard for a Packer to support a Bears fan," Obama started.
A few boos.
"But you would not want some guy to come up here and say he was a Packers fan when he was a Bears fan, would you?"
Shouts of "No!"
"Of course not. You've got to stick with your team even when they don't break .500. Even when they don't make the playoffs. Even when they make you tear your hair out. You've got to stick with your team."
Obama went on to introduce an actual Green Bay Packer, linebacker Brady Poppinga.
The candidate's gridiron sympathies are hardly a secret. He turned a December 2006 pre-game appearance on Monday Night Football (see YouTube above) into a riff on a surprise presidential campaign announcement, donning a Bears hat and declaring his faithfulness.
He takes particular pleasure in jabbing Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-Yankees/Cubs) for her reluctance to choose between two baseball nations variously gloried and reviled.
In Wisconsin today, the crowds seemed in a forgiving mood, with an occasional bemused exception.
"I think he should've went with the Packers. We don't care for the Bears," said papermill worker Dan Vanden Langen, wearing a Packers parka. He called himself undecided. "Tell him if becomes a Packer fan, I'll vote for him."
In Oshkosh, Jef Hall, chairman of the local Democrats, was feeling charitable.
"I always considered the Bears like a little brother," said Hall, a computer programmer. "You want to beat 'em up, but you don't want anyone else to beat 'em up."
Erik Swenson, a junior at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, actually felt relieved.
"I was just hoping, he wouldn't say he's a Cubs fan," Swenson said. "That would've made me mad."
Obama roots for the White Sox.
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