Once upon a time, when I was just a boy, I attended the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field. It was after the 1988 season.
Through most of the 1980s, I attended nearly every Chicago Bears game with my best friend Matt, whose parents had four season tickets -- two near the 40-yard line and two closer to the end zone. Matt's dad used to send a bottle of really good scotch to the guy who ran parking operations for the Bears every year, and that scored him a parking pass for the season. On the walk to the stadium, Matt and I would run ahead of his parents, snaking through the crowds and pretending to be Walter Payton. We didn't see his folks again until the end of the game, when we met by the car. Afterward, we listened to postgame on WGN 720 and then went to Lou Malnati's for deep-dish pizza. In 1985, during the Bears' championship run, Matt and I had the perfect view of Sean Landeta's whiffed punt at the goal line, when the Bears whitewashed the Giants in the first round of the playoffs.
But, in 1988, Matt couldn't take me to the NFC title game against the 49ers -- I can't remember why. Now Matt is a super senior vice president muckety-muck running global sales for a big company, and, at this moment, he is in a sales conference and won't answer my calls. Otherwise he'd tell me why he dissed me that day.
Instead, my profoundly excellent dad, who was never a sports fan, used a connect to hook us up with some ducats for that Niners game (this is as close as I can get to Stringer Bell lingo). The temperature was minus-275 that Sunday in Chicago. I wore every piece of clothing I owned and inserted chemical hand warmers into my mittens. There is nothing better than the sound of muffled clapping from 66,000 people.
Unfortunately, there wasn't much to clap about. The Bears lost, 28-3.
I share that bit of nostalgia not to indulge my memories, but to get my greatest fears out in the open: The Bears could get killed in this game. My only salvation is that, in large numbers, the public is all over the Green Bay Packers. And that, in a contrarian world, is usually good news for the other side. There is also this nugget I can hold onto that comes from Marc Lawrence, who uses the super database I have written about in the past: Since 1996, teams that score 40 or more points in a playoff game fall back to earth the following week, when they are just 2-18 against the spread.
Along with handicappers Lawrence and Mike Merlet from asawins.com, I asked bookmakers Jay Rood of The Mirage and Bob Scucci of The Orleans for a breakdowns of this week's lines and totals.