Wait, what? Cheeseheads love the Bears’ Justin Fields?! In other news, up is now down.

He, not the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers, had the top-selling jersey in Wisconsin in 2022. No, really.

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Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Bears quarterback Justin Fields shaking hands after a game.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (left) and Bears quarterback Justin Fields meet after a game in December at Soldier Field.

Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Wisconsinites do not refer to people from Illinois as “people from Illinois.’’ They refer to them as “F------ Illinois Bastards,’’ or FIBs for short. This has something to do with Chicagoans regarding America’s Dairyland as America’s Vacation Home.

We buy their land, we cannonball into their lakes when serious men are trying to fish and we think snowmobiles are race cars with skis attached. That’s our reputation at least, and if it weren’t for our gobs of discretionary income, there’d surely be a wall erected at the Illinois-Wisconsin border to keep us out. By the way, if anyone has some discretionary income that doesn’t know what to do with itself, I could keep it busy.

Wisconsinites’ last laugh is the Packers’ dominance over the Bears the past 30 years or so. I won’t go into the numbers because I don’t like to see adults cry. Just know that when Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers screamed “I still own you!’’ to Bears fans at Soldier Field in 2021, it wasn’t just adrenaline or machismo talking. It was the truth. Somewhere among his trophies and awards is a car title to the jalopy that is the Bears.

The surprise of all surprises, then, was the recent news that the player with the best-selling NFL jersey in Wisconsin this season wasn’t Rodgers, a four-time league MVP, or any other Packer. It was Justin Fields, the quarterback of this year’s 3-14 Bears. This wasn’t Italian beef beating bratwurst for the title of Wisconsin’s official artery hardener, but it was close.

Apparently, FIB stands for something else.

Fields Is Beloved (in Wisconsin).

OK, maybe “beloved” is going a bit far, but perhaps you share my shock at the Bears beating the Packers at anything. I thought there were laws against that sort of thing.

I’ve been trying to come up with explanations for how Fields’ jersey came to be the biggest seller in Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana, according to sports retailer Lids. I’m not sure I have a definitive answer. After this news, I’m not sure of anything anymore.

Some possibilities:

  • A lot of Bears fans live in heavily populated southern Wisconsin. Like fourth-generation Irish-Americans who get misty eyed thinking about the Auld Sod, these members of the great Bears diaspora snap up apparel in support of a team miles away. Hence, Fields’ popularity in enemy territory.
  • Every Packers fan in Wisconsin already has a closetful of Rodgers jerseys, opening the door for a virus like Fields to spread. Do they wear No. 12 to work and No. 1 to bed? Should they be seeing a professional about it?
  • Packers fans are tired of Rodgers, who seems to enjoy keeping everyone in the dark about his playing status from year to year. Thus, it’s appropriate he’s going on a “darkness retreat’’ after the Super Bowl, with no communication with another human being for four days. It’s a time for self-reflection, he says. Out of disgust with Rodgers, perhaps some fans have switched their allegiance to Fields. They get football highlights instead of contrived drama.
  • Young people love Fields. This one makes the most sense. Of course the Central Cheesehead Party continues to indoctrinate Packer Youth in the love of all things green and gold. But it’s hard for children to pay attention when something as splashy as Fields comes along. He single-handedly made a miserable Bear season fun. If a hip injury hadn’t sidelined him for the last game of the season, he likely would have broken Lamar Jackson’s single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback.

If you’re a Packers fan who would rather bathe in a vat of boiling water than don a Bears jersey, you should be concerned about this strange incursion into your state. Fields will be in Chicago for a while. He’s not going anywhere, unless it’s on another 50-yard touchdown run. Nobody knows if he’ll turn into a good passer, but what those jersey sales seem to tell us is that nobody cares if he does or doesn’t. People like him for the blur he is.

Rodgers, meanwhile, might not be back in Green Bay next season. He might retire. He might be traded. He’ll let you know just as soon as he decides to let you know. But even if he does return to the Packers, it’s difficult to picture him being as fun to watch as he was during his back-to-back MVP seasons in 2020 and 2021. He wasn’t much fun in 2022. 

Is it possible that a 23-year-old quarterback has taken some Wisconsin market share from a quarterback 16 years his elder? It seems wrong, against the natural order. The Packers are supposed to be better than the Bears in all things. That’s been Chicago’s lot in life for so long, it seems written in permanent ink.

I feel wobbly. Everything seems in question now. If Fields tops Rodgers, even in just one category, who owns whom?

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