In buffer zone, loyalties divided

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DANVILLE, Ill. (AP) – Shoved to one side of a shelf behind Gary Knight’s desk is a Dick Butkus bobblehead doll.

Butkus, all 6 inches of him, sits in the middle of a shrine to the Bears’ Super Bowl opponents, the Indianapolis Colts – caps, towels, pictures and posters, all anchored by a life-size-and-then-some Fathead wall decal of Colt icon Peyton Manning.

Here along Illinois Highway 1, a few miles from the Indiana border, such ambivalence isn’t unusual. Ever since the Colts moved to Indianapolis from Baltimore in 1984, the state line is no longer the dividing line for NFL allegiances.

“The Bears have just been so frustrating to me,” Knight, the animated owner of a local car dealership, says with a reddening face. “Their wins are so ugly.”

He left them behind in the 1990s in favor of the Colts.

It’s just as easy to find Bears fans on the Indiana side of the border, where drivers leaving Vermilion County (Illinois) soon find themselves in Vermillion County (Indiana).

The area’s only about 120 miles from Chicago – close enough to hear all-sports radio blare loud and clear that “after 21 years, the Bears are back in the game!” But it is also, as folks here are quick to remind, only 70 miles or so from the RCA Dome in downtown Indy.

Before the Colts made their move, this was solidly Bears territory. Now? It’s hard to say.

A short plastic pole attached to Sharon York’s gray Chevrolet Malibu holds a single, wind-worn Bears flag. On Friday morning, York headed to a sports collectibles shop in Danville’s Village Mall. She planned to spend another $50 or so on flags and other team paraphernalia.

to dress up the car before game day.

While her husband was stationed in the military in Germany decades ago, the two followed the Bears in Stars and Stripes. Her husband died a few years ago, but York still loves the team. She’ll watch the game at a bar divided between the fans of the two teams, but she’s not being diplomatic.

“I’m going to say we whip them 35 to 28,” she said, “if they’re lucky.”

Mike Hulvey isn’t so sure.

He’s the general manager of Danville radio station WDAN-AM, which stopped carrying Bears games in the mid-1990s in favor of Colts broadcasts. It’s the only radio station in Illinois that carries them.

Local advertisers didn’t get behind the Bears broadcasts because all their games were on television.

And the Bears, Hulvey said, were never willing to help him much with promotion. The Colts, with far less history and a smaller fan base, send cheerleaders and sometimes players to town every summer. Coach Tony Dungy has been to Danville, too, speaking to the local Fellowship of Christian Athletes.

“Then they draft Peyton Manning and they get hot and they’re the darlings of the National Football League,” said Hulvey, smiling at how well that has worked out for WDAN.

Even in towns farther away from the state boundary, fans are split.

“There’s a lot of bars doing Colts and Bears, half and half,” said Jonathan Faust, a patron at Chumleys sports bar in Lafayette, Ind., about 25 miles from the Illinois line.

He, however, suffers from no such indecision.

“Last I checked, we were in Indiana, and it’s the Indianapolis Colts, so go Blue.”

At the border, even those who can’t agree on what team to root for agree it’s historic to have both “hometown” teams in the Super Bowl.

“This is the first time,” said Osiel Garduno, Bears fan and the owner of Vip’s restaurant in Danville. “I don’t know when it’s going to be the next.”

Back in Knight’s office, he breaks off talk about the Colts to take a call from his banker. A Bears fan, she has called to talk a little football, too.

“I’m not giving out Bears shirts,” he roars in mock anger. “I’ll come up and give you a horseshoe – how about that?”



AP Sports Writer Cliff Brunt in Lafayette, Ind., contributed to this story.

AP-ES-01-27-07 1130EST

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