Chicago's fierce, joyous, nutty, breathless Bear hug continued unabated here as the countdown to Super Bowl XX at last reached the final hours.
From a huge outdoor videoscreen showing season highlights for throngs in Daley Plaza downtown to suburbia's farthest reaches, there is no sign to be found anywhere in the metropolitan area that the NFC champions are anything less than the sultans of the universe.
Halley's comet may cause a stir when it visits earth once every 76 years, but nothing like these Bears ever has hit the Windy City. The ceaseless ring of cash registers is evidence of this.
Sales of Bears-related merchandise and services may top $40 million before it's all over, according to the conservative estimates of a conservative local business weekly, Crain's Chicago Business. Even that estimate seems low on the evidence of the hordes of local citizens sporting orange-and-black Bears wool knit caps, despite an unseasonably warm spell.
One of the surprise leaders in the profit sweepstakes has turned out to be the tuneless rap tune, "Super Bowl Shuffle," featuring quarterback Jim McMahon, running back Walter Payton and a cast of linemen weighing in the thousands.
The song, promising mayhem to opponents and limitless success to Bears and their lovers, is at the top of the charts here. The videocassette may sell 500,000 copies before the madness is over. The ditty blares forth from speakers across the metro landscape, and just in case a hapless tourist or local Rip Van Winkle hasn't heard it, the Chicago Sun-Times thoughtfully reprinted the timeless verses as part of a special Super Bowl souvenir section today.
Running a distant second was a song whose refrain, "Gimme the finger," got a baritone rendition on television the other night from Mayor Harold Washington, with backup chorus by a sequined set of slightly larger-than-life songsters named the "Refrigerettes." The digit in question is the index finger, denoting the Bears' No. 1 rating, according to the lyrics.
Meanwhile, Illinois prosecutors sought to stem the tide of ticket scalpers by raiding five alleged scalping parlors on the North Side and bringing lawsuits against the reputed operators. Even so, the going price for a ticket started at $600 and, as the weekend came, was climbing past $2,000.
For high rollers, the problems only started with getting a scalped ticket. The next hurdle: how to get to New Orleans. Chicago's O'Hare Airport is the busiest in the world, with a landing and takeoff every minute, but most scheduled airlines reported no seats available on their Chicago-New Orleans flights during the weekend.
Charter air services within a 100-mile radius of Chicago reported "bizarre" business. "Everybody was swamped," said Marybeth Muir, a dispatcher with George J. Priester Aviation Services at O'Hare. "It's been real crazy around here." Her firm is sending nine planes; Emery Air Charter is sending 11 of its 14-plane fleet. "We'd send the others, but we don't have the crews," said chief dispatcher Gary Byron.
Round-trip corporate aircraft charters between Chicago and New Orleans cost between $7,000 and $12,000, with most planes carrying a maximum of eight passengers. Once there, fans face a reported $75 charge to motor between New Orleans and the Superdome in limousine style.
"Love those Bears!" said one well-heeled insurance executive as he recounted the scalped-ticket-charter-jet-limo-service weekend he's financed for himself.
But for plain silliness, probably nothing has topped the saga of McMahon's injured buttocks. The question of whether McMahon's deep bruise would be acupunctured brought an avalanche of concern, complete with hourly up-dates on the local all-news radio station.
Almost hourly television reports followed, assessing the relative health of the quarterback's rear end, and the efficacy of the treatment he eventually received from an acupuncturist flown to New Orleans.
The coverage of this particular item peaked the other night with local TV news crews beaming live scenes of needles going into various Bears' nether reaches. When McMahon pronounced himself "200 percent better," the story tailed off.
But not before the quarterback was photographed showing his bare backside to a low-flying helicopter.