NO-RRIS-PECT: Opposing Fans Don't Fear New Lions

Lions' insider Mike Fowler traveled the "Great White North" and found little honolulu blue -- or supporters of the Detroit Lions. Mike details his travels, including comments from Bears, Packers, and Viking fans, and their respective thoughts on the Lions in 2005.

LAKE GENEVA, WI - Here in this tiny boutique resort town, fans are as passionate about their football as they are about their boats, well-tuned sports cars and their accounts at Bloomingdales. But when it comes to choosing sides in the annual NFC North race for the division title, you're either a Packers fan or a Bears fan.

In every sports bar, every sporting goods store and even traveling along the highways between Chicago, Green Bay and Madison, you're reminded of the great rivalry between the two premier franchises in the NFC North and, before that, the old NFC Central - the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers.

Bears vs. Packers flags dot stores, restaurants and bars. There are the bold establishments that take sides, choosing to deck themselves out in either the Green-and-Gold or the Black-and-Orange. In this town, about equal distance between Green Bay and Chicago you take your economic viability in your hands when choosing sides and you better not be wrong.

There's even a corn field maze that claims to predict the outcome of the two annual tilts between Chicago and Green Bay based on who gets through the puzzle first - a Bears or Packers fan. Every now and then, you'll get a grudging mention of those interlopers from Minnesota, who occasionally break up what has been the hammer lock the Packers and Bears have had on the division, but the Lions? The collective response in the Great White North was "who's that."

"The Lions?" responded Stef, a pretty waitress at the local watering hole, when I asked about the absence of Lions memorabilia in an NFC North themed watering hole. "Nobody talks about them. I mean, no disrespect and all, but when we (Packers) play them, we usually win. The only time somebody mentions them is before we play them."

Dan agreed and took the jabs a little further. "When's the last time the Lions won anything," he asked. "Look up at the ceiling. We put flags up for division titles. How many Lions flags you see up there?" When I told him there weren't a whole lot of Bears flags up there either. He said the Bears are still a bigger threat than Detroit. When I reminded him of the talent the Lions have amassed over the last few years his retort was simple. "Talk to me when they put a flag up there."

As I traveled along I-90/94 through Wisconsin and Illinois, little changed regardless of the town.

Over in Wisconsin Dells, a little further up the road, Rob, a lifelong Bears fan had a little different perspective.

"They just haven't gotten it done. I mean they've got some talent. We keep thinking, 'hey watch out for the Lions' in the back of our minds, because they've got (Charles) Rogers and (Roy) Williams and the (Kevin) Jones kid really came on at the end of the year. Still, it seems like Harrington is the problem. Until he gets going, they aren't going anywhere."

A couple of Vikings fans on the other end of the establishment heard the conversation and offered their opinions. "Mariucci's a great coach and he'll get them going." said Steve.

Added Mark: "He isn't going to allow Harrington to hold that team hostage.

When asked to elaborate, he said "there's a reason he's got Garcia there, he's done it. Mooch is going to win he didn't go there to lose. If anybody's going to turn that team around he's the man to do it."

He continued, saying that Mariucci had won his grudging respect during a pair of hard fought playoff battles (1997-98) after his departure as the Packers' quarterbacks coach.

Mark said he likes Minnesota, Detroit, Green Bay and Chicago in that order.

It's predictable that in this area where hometown fan pride runs strong, you'd get this kind of reaction. The Bears and Packers have great traditions and both have won a Super Bowl in recent memory. There's no question that the Lions have some work to do in that area. It's tough to brag when the team's last winning season came five years ago, the last playoff berth, six. But this is a Lions team that has the potential to erase some of those bad memories.

A lot depends on the quarterback play and how quickly some young players on the defensive side of the ball mature, but maybe, just maybe this is the chance that some proud Lions fans will be able to walk into that establishment in Lake Geneva and tell Dan to "put the Lions flag up there."

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