Bearing up has been challenge for big Cubs fans like Murray

Other Voices

February 05, 2007|By Murray Chass | Murray Chass,The New York Times

NEW YORK -- No bigger Chicago Cubs fan lives than actor Bill Murray. But he's a Bears fan, too. Asked the other day whether he was a Bears fan, Murray said, "Yeah, I'm in Miami." He didn't add, "you dummy," but he seemed to utter the words silently.

During his 56 years, the Bears have been kinder to Murray than the Cubs. The Bears last night played in their second Super Bowl and fourth NFL championship game with Murray as a devoted fan. He has not experienced the delight of seeing the Cubs in the World Series.

"We were so close, five outs away, a three-run lead," he said. "I don't like to reflect on that game because everybody dwells on it. It's like the Bill Buckner game."

Murray was talking about the Steve Bartman affair in Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series. Bartman, a fan, prevented Moises Alou from catching a foul pop for the second out of the eighth inning. The Cubs proceeded to make a series of errors, and the Florida Marlins scored eight runs and won the game and then won Game 7.

Had the Cubs secured five more outs and held their lead, they would have been in the World Series for the first time since 1945. As a child, Murray, who was born in Wilmette, Ill., in 1950, never saw the Cubs in the postseason. They have reached the postseason four times in his adult years, but the World Series has been off-limits.

"Someone said you're going to be very upset when you lose," Murray said, recalling the 1989 NL Championship Series against the San Francisco Giants. "I said: `You don't get it. We've been losing since I was born. If defeat was going to break me, it would have happened a long time ago.'"

The Bears have won more NFL championships at Wrigley Field than the Cubs have won World Series. Each team has played at Wrigley five times for its sport's championship, with the Bears winning four times and the Cubs none. When the Cubs won successive World Series in 1907 - that's 100 years ago - and 1908, Wrigley Field had not been built.

When the Bears won the Super Bowl after the 1985 season, Mike Ditka was their coach, and the outcome helped make him a legend in Chicago. Ditka's second-most memorable Chicago feat was his rendition of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" during a seventh-inning stretch at Wrigley.

"I was probably the second-worst singer," Ditka said. "Ozzy Osbourne was the worst. I thought I was going to have a heart attack. I was late and had to run up the steps."

Like Murray, Ditka spoke by telephone from Miami, where he is doing Super Bowl analysis for ESPN. Like Murray, Ditka is a Cubs fan.

"I am," said Ditka, a former tight end from Aliquippa, Pa. "I grew up a St. Louis Cardinals fan because of Stan Musial, even though I was in Pittsburgh."

Murray and Ditka are both experts on Cubs fans.

"Cubs fans love the Cubs," Murray said the day before Groundhog Day. "If you're a Cub fan, you're sort of a graceful loser. You've lost so many times, you have some grace about it."

Ditka said: "They call the fans die-hard for a reason. They're there. Wrigley Field is a special place. It's a cathedral of baseball. The fans are terrific."

The Cubs' performance last season, however, strained the fans' unquestioning allegiance. They had watched the Boston Red Sox and cross-town White Sox win the World Series the previous two seasons, ending lengthy droughts, and now it was supposed to be the Cubs' turn.

"That's how I saw it, too," Murray said. "But then I pick the Cubs every year. But I really thought the momentum of all this would make it happen."

The Cubs, however, had an assortment of injured players, most notably Derrek Lee, Kerry Wood and Mark Prior, and finished with the NL's worst record (66-96).

This offseason, the team brought in a new manager, Lou Piniella, and signed free agents Alfonso Soriano and Ted Lilly, among others.

Ditka endorsed the offseason moves.

"The old story is wait till next year," he said. "Next year is here."

Murray Chass writes for The New York Times.

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