DON BABWIN Associated Press CHICAGO -
Sunday's Super Bowl has triggered questions that haven't been asked here in years. Like, if the Chicago Bears were 14 inches tall would they still win? And would a big bus loaded with Bears cross the finish line first in the Indianapolis 500?
If you know the answers - yes and yes - you probably remember Bill Swerski's Super Fans on "Saturday Night Live" in the early 1990s. Knocking back beers, they took turns extolling the virtues of "a certain team from a certain Midwestern town that starts with a C, ends with an O and in the middle is HICAG."
But even those who don't recall the beefy guys - made so by a diet of beer, ribs and Polish sausage - can't escape their rallying cry of "Da Bears."
In Chicago and around the country, "Da Bears" are everywhere. Radio hosts can't stop talking about "Da Bears." The words "Da Bears" are irresistible to newspaper and Web site headline writers from all over the United States and even the frozen north of Canada. And on YouTube, one of the sketches has been watched more than 53,000 times in the last three months.
The phrase, repeated in the sketch by the men as they hoisted a beer to their favorite team, has become synonymous with the city, shorthand for its love affair with its favorite sports team.
"It really tells you a lot about the city - Bears and food - that is what Chicago is all about," said Mike North, a Chicago radio host who sounds enough like the guys in the sketch that he was accused of imitating them when he was hired.
Actor Joe Mantegna, a Chicago native, has been hearing calls of "Da Bears" ever since he appeared in the first Super Fans sketch on "Saturday Night Live" in 1991.
"It's not Hollywood, it's not New York, it's not Broadway, it's Da Bears," said Mantegna, trying to explain the appeal of "Da Bears" both in and outside the city. "It's fans, it's sports fans."
The way Mantegna sees it, had Carl Sandburg written his famous poem about the city in the late 1900s when "Saturday Night Live" writer Robert Smigel came up with the idea instead of the early 1900s, it might have included something about "Da Bears."
"He could have fit it right in there somewhere, stacker of wheat, city of big shoulders, home of Da Bears," he said.
For his part, Smigel said Chicagoans took to the sketch because it was "grounded in some truth." True, he said, Chicagoans don't have as many heart attacks as the Super Fans did and they don't know how to give themselves CPR. "And at the hospitals they don't have barbecue sauce in their IVs," he said.
But they do see themselves - or more specifically their neighbors. "People from Chicago would come up to me and sound exactly like the characters and say, 'I know a guy just like that,'" he said.
Smigel said the sketch, in which the characters predict the Bears and other Chicago teams will win by outrageous scores - the late Chris Farley's character once predicted a Bulls "402 to zip" win - also tapped into something that had nothing to do with Chicago.
"People just enjoyed the arrogance and overwhelming pride in their own city," he said.
The sketch stemmed from what Smigel saw when he came to Chicago from New York in the early 1980s: man after man who looked like the characters he would ultimately create with fellow "Saturday Night Live" writer Bob Odenkirk.
He also listened to the way they talked about their teams and no matter how bad they played, these men with their walrus mustaches and aviator sunglasses projected what he called a "kind of hilarious arrogance" about them.
"I just thought to myself, 'Da Bears, oh yeah, that's money in the bank, my friend,'" he said in the voice straight from Super Fans sketches that he appeared in with Mike Myers, Farley and either Mantegna or George Wendt.
Smigel and Odenkirk wrote the sketch for a stage show in Chicago in the late 1980s. "We didn't think the bit would fly on 'Saturday Night Live,'" he said. But when Mantegna hosted the show in 1991 they gave it a try.
"All of a sudden the next day we heard how it just took off," Mantegna said.
Nowhere was that more true than in Chicago.
"That's ours," North said. "It's Chicago."
The question now is whether the Super Fans will make a return to "Saturday Night Live" the night before the Super Bowl. All but one of the sketches were performed in the early 1990s. The lone exception came in 2003 when the Cubs, with the help of fan Steve Bartman, made Chicago-style sports history and collapsed in the playoffs just five outs from making it to the World Series.
Now, though, a publicist with the show won't comment on any upcoming sketches. Smigel said this week he hasn't planned to do anything with the Super Fans and hasn't been approached.
Whether they return, Smigel knows they wouldn't agree with him that for the Bears to win they must run the ball well, thus keeping the ball out of Colts quarterback Peyton Manning's hands for big chunks of time.
Instead, he said, they'd say Da Bears 300 to negative 20 for the Colts. "Or maybe more like 70 to negative 284."