Bill Swerski's Superfans
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"Bill Swerski's Superfans" was a recurring sketch about Chicago sports fans on the American sketch comedy program Saturday Night Live. It was a prominent feature from 1991–1992, and its characters have made various other appearances since its inception. The sketch is notable as a media portrayal of the Inland North dialect of English that predominates in Chicago, most famously through the distinctive pronunciation of the phrase "Da Bears" (IPA: ˈd̪aː beɻz).
The sketch typically depicts a television program on which a group of Chicago sports fans obsessively discuss any topic at hand, usually the Chicago Bears football team. The sketch premiered on January 12, 1991, hours before the Bears were to play the New York Giants in a divisional playoff game at Giants Stadium, a few miles from NBC's Studio 8H in Rockefeller Center. Joe Mantegna, that night's SNL host, and a native of the Chicago area, starred as Bill Swerski, along with Chris Farley as Todd O'Connor, Mike Myers as Pat Arnold, and Robert Smigel as Carl Wollarski. Kevin Nealon also appeared as oddsmaker Danny Sheridan in the first sketch. Subsequent sketches starred George Wendt as Bill's brother Bob, with occasional appearances by Beth Cahill as Bob's daughter Denise. John Goodman played Pat Arnold upon Myers' departure from SNL; the change in Pat Arnold's appearance was attributed to "massive weight gain." Mantegna's absence was invariably explained away by Wendt, saying his "brudder Bill" had just "had anudder heart attack."
Smigel originally wrote the sketch for the improvisational comedy show Happy Happy Good Show. Under the name "Chicago Superfans," it was performed in Chicago during the summer of 1988. The inspiration for the characters were radio hosts in Chicago during the 1970s and 1980s. The name "Bill Swerski" was possibly derived from Bill Jauss, the moderator of the WGN radio panel show The Sportswriters (1975–1993), and from WGN radio and WGN-TV sportscaster Chuck Swirsky.
The characters were typically shown in Mike Ditka's sports bar, drinking large amounts of beer, smoking, and gorging themselves on ribs, Polish sausage, and similar foods. All of the characters wore dark sunglasses and thick mustaches to resemble Ditka, the popular coach of the Bears at the time, and who was the idol of all the Superfans. In addition to discussing Ditka and the Bears, another frequent topic of discussion was the Chicago Bulls basketball team, and their star player, Michael Jordan, who were winning their first three NBA Championships at the time. Both Ditka and Jordan would make appearances (playing themselves) in episodes of the sketch.
Early sketches had posters in the background with the call letters WBBM, the CBS O&O TV, AM and FM stations in Chicago, though later sketches changed the call letters to WCBM.
The group would discuss upcoming sporting events and inevitably predict a huge victory for the Chicago team, using an exaggerated Chicago accent—a variety of Inland Northern American English—normally culminating in a uniform toast to "Da Bearss" and "Da Bullss", although "Da Cubss" was heard on at least one occasion. Their predictions were likewise exaggerated and their topics of conversation often ludicrous. Typical debates involved Mike Ditka versus a hurricane—in this particular debate, the Superfans believed that Ditka could defeat the hurricane, until it was revealed that the name of the hurricane was Hurricane Ditka, at which point Todd O'Connor had a heart attack out of confusion); who would win in a competition for World Domination—"Da Bearss" or "Da Bullss"; Mike Ditka winning the Indianapolis 500 driving the Bears' team bus; or how many points Michael Jordan could score if he played an entire game by himself while lounging in a recliner.
One episode asked the outcome of the Bulls/Pistons game where Todd said the Bulls would win 402–0—but Jordan would be held to under 200 points. Todd usually predicted shutouts. During the first episode, he predicted that the Bears would defeat the Giants by a score of 79–0, claiming that "the Bears' defense is like a wall. You can't go t'rough it." (The Giants won the actual game, 31–3.) Pat once predicted the Bears would win their game by a score of 31 to negative-7. When asked how a team could end up with negative points, Todd replied, "Ditka'll find a way." One episode featured a Jeopardy!-like game show, pre-empting the Bearless, and therefore unimportant, Super Bowl, starring Bob Swerski as host and the other Superfans as contestants. All the questions dealt with the Chicago Bears, Chicago, or Mike Ditka. The Final Jeopardy! question was "Bears vs. Bulls," which produced hilarious responses from the contestants. The correct answer was revealed to be that such a match-up would tear the fabric of the space-time continuum and destroy the planet, meaning the United Nations would have to step in prior to the match to prevent the mass destruction.
The characters appeared in nine episodes in two years. With Ditka's departure from the Bears in 1993 and significant cast changes on SNL, the sketch and characters all but disappeared. They did, however, make a special appearance at the celebration of the Chicago Bulls' 1991–1993 "Three-peat" championship victory. The NBC television network interrupted daytime television to broadcast the short speeches made by the Superfans. Bob Swerski and Carl Wollarski also made a special appearance during Michael Jordan's original jersey retirement ceremony at the United Center in 1994. The final sketch (actually a taped segment narrated by Bill Kurtis, ostensibly a TV documentary piece) featuring the original Superfans was on October 25, 1997 in an episode hosted by Farley. This featured the second appearance by their idol Mike Ditka (he had appeared on an episode of SNL after his firing by the Bears); although, he was at the time coaching the New Orleans Saints, which resulted in a schism amongst the Superfans (Carl had taken up with the Saints, Bob had moved to Jackson, Tennessee—halfway between Chicago and New Orleans—and Todd believed it was 1986 and had a heart attack if told otherwise). Farley's death two months later seemed to preclude the possibility of future Superfan sketches.
- In 2003, Bart Swerski (Bob's nephew, played by Horatio Sanz) was introduced on a Weekend Update segment with his uncle, discussing the recent playoff failure of the Chicago Cubs. Instead of referring to the team as "Da Cubs," Bart said "De Cubs," but it was learned that this was due to a speech impediment. This same year, sports journalist Jay Mariotti decried the negative reactions of Chicago Cubs fans to the Steve Bartman incident, which went as far as sending Bartman and his family death threats, and commented that they were making Cubs fans look like "those mopes from the Superfans skits on Saturday Night Live." (The Superfans themselves could be considered part of that group: Bart Swerski claimed during the Update segment that the desire to exact retribution on Bartman had united the people of Chicago as never before, and Uncle Bob said he arrived late because he had been at church, praying for divine assistance in hunting him down.)
- In 2006, George Wendt returned in Superfan garb alongside Ditka for a sketch prior to Super Bowl XL.
- In a 2007 SNL sketch, Donatella Versace said to David and Victoria Beckham, "If you guys were a football team, you would be Da Bores." The episode aired the night before Super Bowl XLI, in which the Indianapolis Colts beat the Chicago Bears. Following the Bears' loss, the Superfans Bill Swerski, Bob Swerski, and Carl Wollarski returned in a TV commercial for Reebok, alongside Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri; this was the first time the Swerski brothers appeared together. A variety of Superfan-themed fan sites also sprung up during this time, including DaSuperfans.com, which gained significant media attention in Chicago and beyond.
- In November 2008, ESPN ran a segment featuring Bill Swerski discussing Mike Ditka's real-life possible run for a U.S. Senate seat in 2004, against Barack Obama. (Ditka decided not to run, and Obama ended up winning the seat.)
- On September 11, 2011, ESPN ran a segment featuring Bob Swerski discussing Chicago Bears Quarterback Jay Cutler and his image after the 2010 NFC Championship game.
- The GEICO Gecko performed an impersonation of the Superfans in a March 2012 commercial (complete with "Da Bears"), in which the gecko, who is in Chicago, demonstrates his efforts to make his cockney accent more understandable to the populace.
- In 2012, Old Navy introduced a commercial with the Superfans, including coach Mike Ditka.
- In 2013, State Farm Insurance introduced a commercial with Superfans Bob Swerski and Carl Wollarski interacting with Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, though they recognize him only as the "Discount DAAA-ble Check" guy—a reference to a series of commercials Rodgers made for State Farm (The Green Bay Packers are the Chicago Bears' biggest rivals). This has led to a series of short weekly State Farm ads featuring the Superfans during the NFL regular season that features "Double Down Challenge" wagers for fantasy football.
- "Bill Swerski's Super Fans".
- "Satire, ribald humor light 'Funhouse' fuse", Chicago Sun-Times, April 28, 2006.
- "WGN Archives - WGN Plus".
- "WGN Archives - WGN Plus".
- Mariotti, Jay (October 28, 2003). "Time for fan to reach out, have say". Chicago Sun-Times. p. 110.
- "SNL Transcripts: Halle Berry: 10/18/03: Weekend Update with Jimmy Fallon & Tina Fey".
- "Ad of the Day: Aaron Rodgers Is Hounded by 'Da Bears' Fans for State Farm It's brats vs. cheese with Robert Smigel and George Wendt By Andrew McMains". Adweek. September 6, 2013. Retrieved October 6, 2013.