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CHICAGO — The Super Bowl on Feb. 7 will be played by the upstart Carolina Panthers and the veteran Denver Broncos.
The area’s support groups for each team can be described as such, too.
Though the two fan groups might be at different points in their existence — the local Denver group has been around for over a decade while the Panthers one is just getting started — both groups will be out in force on Super Bowl Sunday.
To cheer on their favorite teams from afar, Panthers and Broncos fans will be heading to a few select bars in Chicago. Here is where to watch the game if you are a fan of either team.
(Kickoff for the game is 5:30 p.m. on CBS-TV.)
A Broncos fan poses with Chicago Bronco Nation’s mascot outside of Irish Oak [Steve Stearns]
Where To Watch:
• Irish Oak, 3511 N. Clark St., in Lakeview
• Riverview Tavern, 1958 W. Roscoe St., in Roscoe Village
• Reed’s Local, 3017 W. Belmont Ave., in Avondale
The Group: Chicago Bronco Nation
Erin Carlstrand has come a long way from the time she used to give out Chicago Bronco Nation business cards to people she suspected might be Denver fans.
That was about 12 years ago, she said. Now, the group is well established and has a sizable following with a dedicated home base in Lakeview’s Irish Oak.
“The word has gotten out,” Carlstrand said. “It’s been booming, definitely growing rapidly.”
The Bronco’s success has surely helped. Recent Sundays on Clark Street include a lot of orange and blue, and, like during the Jan. 24 conference championship game, you might even see a horse decorated in Bronco colors standing outside the bar.
“He’s our own mascot,” Carlstrand said.
Irish Oak actually coordinated the horse’s presence at the bar, Carlstrand said. The bar has also bought an old car painted black and yellow that the Denver fans could smash when they played the Pittsburg Steelers in this year’s playoffs.
Chicago Bronco Nation will be out in force at Irish Oak on Super Bowl Sunday. Every table in the bar is already reserved, Carlstrand said, so any Denver fans wishing to go will have to get there with plenty of time to spare, she said.
And while the party at Irish Oak can get rowdy, another group of Broncos fans will be at Riverview Tavern to cheer on their team.
“We get a good crowd” for Broncos games, said Steve Jacobsen, Riverview manager. “It’s a little less Wrigleyville, a little more in-control crowd.”
Riverview will be having an all-you-can-eat pizza buffet that includes Lagunitas bottles and certain draft beers for $35 a person, Jacobsen said.
Another lesser-known Broncos hangout is Reed’s Local in Avondale, where locals have been coming out in droves for Denver’s playoff push.
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Panthers fans watch a playoff game from Timothy O’Toole’s [Facebook]
Where To Watch:
• Timothy O’Toole’s, 622 N. Fairbanks Ct., in Streeterville
• Flagship Tavern Grill, 1622 W. Belmont Ave., in Lakeview
The Group: Carolina Panthers Fans Of Chicago
How did Timothy O’Toole’s, noted Chicago Bears bar, build such a devoted Panthers following? Through the dedicated work of one regular.
Chris Holtsford moved from North Carolina to Chicago in 2007. Since then, he’s watched many of his beloved Panthers games from O’Toole’s, many of them with the sound off while every one else cheered on another team.
Holtsford knows that watching sports is always more entertaining with friends, so he began using his skills from his job as a software developer to find other Panthers fans in the area.
Holtsford started a Facebook page and a Twitter account, and he would use the search tool on the sites to find others talking about the Panthers in the Chicago area.
That strategy has been successful, as Holtsford has gathered a sizable group to watch the Panthers playoff run.
“It’s actually blowing my mind,” he said of the Panthers group’s growth.
Chris McDonald, general manager at O’Tooles, said he was shocked at the Panthers following, too.
“I can’t believe there’s so many Panthers fans in the city,” he said. “The crowds have been pretty big.”
Don’t worry — O’Toole’s isn’t shifting its Bears allegiance just yet. The bar did host an official after party last week for the Bears after players and officials went to the downtown premier of ESPN’s documentary on the 1985 team.
O’Toole’s back room will be rented out for Panthers fans on Super Bowl Sunday, Holstford said.
If that doesn’t work for you, try out Flagship Tavern in Lakeview, which has had its own organic growth as a Panthers bar, owner Steve Mayer said.
“We’ve had a ton of Panthers fans this year,” he said. “It all happened by dumb luck.”
As far as Mayer knows, his bar was listed on a fan messaging board as being one that was friendly to Carolina fans. He said the situation has worked out for both parties.
“It’s been a great run and I’m very happy for their fans,” he said. “We just try to be accommodating of all different fans.”
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