In NFL Draft Town, the Cheeseheads stand alone … or at least act that way

By Erin Barney

Living in Chicago as Packers fans conditioned the Banaszak family to defend itself.

“We grew up riding past Soldier Field and giving the finger as a salute,” said Dave Banaszak, 27, the youngest of three siblings.

“I trained my kids good,” said Larry Banaszak, 58, the family patriarch.

But all fingers remained down and in pockets Friday in Draft Town — partly because of 45-degree temperatues … mostly because the Banaszaks weren’t under attack.

These Packer backers roamed Grant Park in downtown Chicago on Day 2 of the NFL Draft acting as though they were in the majority. Any minor heckling they did get from a few bold Bears fans was quickly dismissed.

“We’ll let them make their case when they’re good,” Larry said. “But how often does that happen?”

Larry grew up in suburban Cicero, but as a kid latched onto the franchise of Vince Lombardi and the first two Super Bowl titles. He raised his three children to root for “the good guys” even when the Bears infiltrated his family by marriage to his two

Every Sunday and holiday is like a mini-civil war, said Rachel Banaszak, 30.

“It’s the one thing that would lead to divorce,” she joked.

The family felt no need to retreat to Packers-centric zones in Draft Town, such as the giant Green Bay helmet. They strutted while showing off their team-friendly garb —Larry decked out in striped overalls and a yellow hardhat — chanting, “Go Pack, go”
every few minutes.

Best friends Sandra Maholick, 34, and Mia Hahn, 32, knew they could find a Cheesehead Haven during the draft at Wills Northwoods Inn on Racine Avenue, if necessary. The Chicagoans were there Friday when the Wisconsin-dedicated bar hosted a first-round watch party with such former Packers as Mark Chmura and Frank Winters.

“Wills is the best,” Hahn said. “It’s actually where we met.”

Friday they were prepared for enemy country. Even before they walked through the gates at Draft Town, Hahn came armed for Bear, with green-and-gold clawlike nails.

In line, the duo took a couple of selfies. Hahn formed a Wisconsin W with her fingers, and both showed off their cheesehead-beaded necklaces.

“Sorry you’re a Packers fan,” someone shouted from the back of the line. “You guys have no hearts.”

“Seriously? We’re the Packers,” Maholick said.

“Yeah, when’s the last time you won the North?” Hahn added.

It was back in 2010.

Before the Packers won the next four.

Photo at top: The Banaszak family displayed their Packers’ pride in NFL Draft Town Friday afternoon. (Erin Barney/Medill)