Fans’ allegiances split in small border town

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McClatchy Tribune
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
— Here in this small Wisconsin town just over the state line, a decades-long feud promises to reach its pinnacle during Sunday’s NFC championship.

The community’s pro football allegiance is split in half, residents said, with Bears and Packers fans in roughly equal proportions. That has given each side plenty of opportunity to study its rivals, to learn which barbs are most likely to sting, which stereotypes are most likely to annoy.

“Bear and Packer fans are a lot alike,” said resident Nikki Schulz, 38, a Green Bay backer whose husband favors Chicago. “They’re both very supportive, and they love to stick it to the other guy.”

Much of the Wisconsin-Illinois border is a football DMZ, with little more than woods and farm tracts. But Genoa City is almost contiguous to the similarly sized Illinois town of Richmond, the two linked by the pipeline of U.S. Highway 12.

That leads to all sorts of strange intermingling, locals say. There’s the “mixed couple,” where men and women of differing allegiances somehow manage to cohabitate. And there’s the “split bar,” where the two sides meet on game day, sometimes with a line of tape demarcating which side belongs to which faction.

One Genoa City tavern, 332 Fellows, isn’t so segregated, though proprietor Rhonda Keenan has seen enough of the rivalry to have reached a conclusion about the teams’ respective fan bases.

“Packer fans don’t rub it in until the end,” she said. “Bear fans rub it in all game long.”

Down the road, the front windows of Genoa City Liquors had just one team represented in a neon Miller Light display, and it wasn’t the blue and orange. Still, cashier Linda Keller preached harmony.

“It’s a fun rivalry,” she insisted. “I don’t think it’s

getting cranked up. I had

so many people saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be wonderful (for the two teams to meet in the NFC championship)?’ It would be like a Super Bowl before the Super Bowl.”

Excellent. And for whom is she pulling?

“Packers,” she said, her tone instantly serious. “That’s where the good fun ends.”

The rivalry’s local apex might be found at the end of one snowy lane, where the homes of Rich Griswold and Butch Armstrong face each other like opposing linemen.

Griswold, 55, wearing a Bears jacket while clearing snow from his driveway, called himself “the Ron Santo of Bears fans.” He and his wife moved from Woodstock in 1996 to be closer to friends, and he said he has since caused many a Wisconsinite to switch loyalties.

But his efforts have been useless against Butch Armstrong, 66, who lives across the street. As Griswold spoke, Armstrong ambled over, a Green Bay cap on his head. He teasingly denounced the “flat landers” who have moved north to sully the town with their Bears regalia.

The two are friends, even though that isn’t always evident. Consider one winter night a few years ago, when police responded to a car crash that ended up in Armstrong’s front yard.

“Butch comes out in his Packers parka. I’m in my Bears parka,” Griswold recalled. “The cop just looks at both of us and says, ’I don’t want to talk to either one of you. I don’t think I’m going to get a straight story.” ’

Though the men were buzzing with anticipation, the person most looking forward to Sunday’s game might have been their neighbor Homer Bauman, 61, Genoa City’s police chief.

He said he wasn’t that interested in football—he’s more of an outdoorsman—and wasn’t pulling for anyone in Sunday’s clash. But that means no matter who loses, he wins.

“When I talk to (Armstrong), I say ‘Go Bears.’ When I go talk to (Griswold), I say, ‘Go Packers,’” Bauman said. “I just like to stir them up.”

Last updated: 4:02 pm Thursday, December 13, 2012

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