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"The Conners" tackles Bears fandom in new episode

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Lecy Goranson has played the character of Becky Conner on and off for over 30 years. In the most recent episode of "The Conners," written from Goranson's story idea, the show deals with memories that go back even further.

Several years before she was cast in "Roseanne," Goranson was a typical Evanston grade-schooler in the wake of the Bears' run to Super Bowl XX. On the Friday before the game, she made her mother take her to Walgreens on the way to school to pick up a Walter Payton jersey to wear.

"I wanted to be part of it," said Goranson. "I wanted to feel this excitement and show that I was a fan."

In the day that followed, with school administrators playing the Super Bowl Shuffle over the intercom between periods, Goranson learned something valuable about a community coming together around a game.

"I remember feeling so excited," said Goranson. "I felt like I had a sense of identity."

Goranson's career and education would take her away from Chicago, where she struggled to convey the magic of fandom to her peers in the entertainment industry.

After ABC rebooted "Roseanne" in 2018, later spinning off into "The Conners," Goranson had the idea to base an episode around the Conner family's dedication to their hometown team. After all, the show takes place in a fictional Chicago suburb called Lanford, reportedly based on Elgin.

The idea came when Goranson took her parents to a Bears-themed sports bar in Los Angeles, and she noticed the way the Bears held people from the Chicago area together, even when they were thousands of miles away from home.

Goranson asked herself, inside a show that has always focused on the dynamics of middle-class, midwestern life, what happens on a Sunday afternoon in the fall? The show answered the question in Tuesday night's episode, titled "Throwing a Christian to a Bear."

"I started thinking," said Goranson, "what is it about these sports events that make us feel this way? What is it that ignites us? Why do we put paint on our faces? Why do we scream uncontrollably until we have no voice the next day?"

In this process, Goranson looked back at her own life: the way her Russian immigrant grandfather lived and died with the Cubs, how her father would sulk after a Bears' loss. She remembered her mother driving them to Evanston Township High School games and the way the ride home felt different after losses.

Most of all, she realized that sports had provided her family with a way to spend time together, free of distractions.

"I think the connection between sports and family became very strong," said Goranson. "I started to think, 'What about the character of Dan, what's his background?'"

In the episode, Dan Conner, played by John Goodman, recounts to his grandson his memories of when his own grandfather took him to watch Gale Sayers, starting a fandom that passes down through the Conner family like a birthright.

Goranson wanted to explore the effect of rivalries, using as the central conflict the revelation that her character's new boyfriend is a fan of the Green Bay Packers. The central point of the episode was proven behind the scenes by guest star Tim Baltz, a Joliet native and Second City alum, who expressed dismay that the role required him to wear a cheesehead.

"When he showed up on set," said Goranson, "he said, 'I am never going to live this down. My image is forever tarnished.' I hope his mom still loves him."

Goranson did her best to console her fellow Bears fan.

"I said to him, in kind of a pale argument, a lot of great actors play villains," said Goranson.

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