MERRILLVILLE -- Brad Seiss spoke to his football team on Thursday afternoon, a sun-baked home with a cool breeze out of the north.
Yep, it’s football season in Da Region.
On the drive over to Demaree Stadium, along with a few stops, I saw T-shirts, jackets and caps with blue and orange shouting out loud. The Chicago Bears are on a lot of people’s minds these days, like Cubs gear in the winter of 2016-17.
Haven’t seen much White Sox cloth of late, right?
Seiss, the Merrillville football coach, was chatting with his players about Friday night’s Duneland Athletic Conference opener at Crown Point. But with the Bears opening the 100th season of the NFL against the Packers at Soldier Field, the kids in purple were thinking of the big stage.
Seiss asked his team who were Bears’ fans and who backed The Pack. The largest number were shuffling their Super Bowl love. A few Merrillville gridsters shouted out their support for the team from the frozen tundra.
With former Merrillville star Mike Neal, who played for the Packers and won a Super Bowl, being a home-town hero, it seems natural that a handful of Pirates supports Green Bay.
“Yeah, that’s a part of it,” Merrillville junior defensive back A’Veyawn Madry said. “But I’ve been a Packers fan as long as I can remember. I am a huge Aaron Rodgers fan, since he beat the Bears in the NFC championship game (in 2011). Rogers will find a way tonight.
“Just like always.”
Madry laughed and gave a friendly shove to his teammates who were pulling for the Bears later on Thursday night.
“The Bears, that’s all I need to say,” Merrillville junior D’Andre Taylor said. “They have the best defense in the NFL. That’s it. That’s all I need to say.”
Seiss is from Warsaw, a place in Indiana where the Bears and Colts are both on television every Sunday. Every member of his family donned duds with the blue horseshoe emblazoned on it. Seiss, however, chose to be a Bears fan.
And when he played at Ball State, the Bears and Colts played in Super Bowl XLI, which Indianapolis won in 2007.
“That wasn’t easy,” Seiss laughed.
While the high school football season is a month old and Week 3 of the regular season kicked off on Friday night, he said he noticed an added excitement on his team, filled with Bears fans mostly.
There is no question pro football has a huge impact on the prep game. Just look at what the Colts did to this state when they arrived in 1984. A state once known for jump shooters saw the top athletes starting to throw the pigskin around.
“There is no question football grew in Indiana after the Colts moved to Indianapolis,” Seiss said. “And the influence is even greater when the local team is good, like the Bears are going to be this year.”
Merrillville junior Leon Roberts picked a Green Bay runaway against the Bears, 56-6. His teammates laughed loudly when those numbers came out. Madry had the Pack winning 28-21. Taylor picked the Bears 48-21. And teammate Damien Dixon, senior running back, picked his beloved Bears winning 25-14.
“Mitch (Trubisky) is going to have a great year,” Dixon said.
The Bears-Packers is the oldest rivalry in the game. Merrillville’s rivalry with Crown Point began in 1946. It doesn’t have the same kind of cob webs as the pro version of a rivalry, but this one is still a very good one.
Playing in the same 6A sectional for almost forever only adds to the intensity.
“Everyone around the country knows about the Bears-Packers,” Dixon said. “But this one is for our bragging rights.”
“I think both rivalries are the same,” Seiss said. “Very similar. The teams are close. They have a lot of history. And both teams really want to win these games. This is what makes football so much fun.”
The air was a little cooler as I walked out of Demaree, moving the Pro Keds as fast as I could to get home before kickoff. The fans were coming into the stands for a freshmen game, the Pirates against Hobart.
The sun scoots down quicker than a month ago. Tank tops are vanishing. Boxes are being opened in our garages to find the gloves and raincoats. Halloween signs in black and orange are going up in stores, as trees start to change their clothes.
An official’s whistle could be heard behind me.
Yeah, it’s football season in Da Region.
(Thursday: Packers 10, Bears 3. Friday: Merrillville 27, Crown Point 24, OT)