Crystal Lake parents proud to be Packers backers
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Joe Bulaga grew up on Chicago's South Side. His wife, Kathi, hails from suburban Cook County.
Despite their Windy City pedigree, the Bulagas do not find it hard to root for that team up north.
Their son, 21-year-old Bryan Bulaga, is a right tackle for Green Bay, where he is preparing to play in the biggest game of his life, Sunday's NFC championship against the Bears at Soldier Field.
The Bulagas will be there to cheer on their son — and the Packers.
"We have many, many friends that are Bears fans," Joe Bulaga said. But he explained, "(Bryan's) a Packer, we're Packers, and there's nothing more to it."
"Blood is thicker than water."
Bryan and his brother Bill grew up in Crystal Lake in the 1990s. For them, the '85 Bears were not even a memory; when the Bears won Super Bowl XX, they weren't even born.
Although they later grew to respect that legendary team, Bryan admits he was a San Francisco 49ers fan as a kid, during the Steve Young-Jerry Rice era. Bill liked Troy Aikman's Dallas Cowboys.
"In the '90s, when they were growing up, there wasn't a lot to cheer about on the lakefront," Joe Bulaga said.
As Bryan grew up, his parents cheered for whichever team he played for. When Bryan played at Woodstock's Marian Central Catholic High School, they became Marian Central fans. When Bryan played at Iowa, they became Hawkeyes.
After winning the Orange Bowl with Iowa, Bryan decided to forgo his last year of eligibility to enter the NFL draft.
Before he announced his decision, he had a long talk with his parents, who emphasized the importance of education but said playing in the NFL was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
When Bryan decided to enter the draft, his parents supported his decision. But being parents, they still want him to get his degree.
"He intends on finishing his degree," said Kathi Bulaga, a teacher in Crystal Lake. "I do feel he will go back. He made me that promise, and I'm going to hold him to that."
This season the Bulagas have attended most of the Packers' home games and a few away games. Bryan started the last 14 games. The Bulagas still are trying to process the fact that in less than three weeks, their son could be playing in the Super Bowl.
"We have not been able to wrap our minds around that," Kathi said, adding, "We're extremely proud of him and his accomplishments this year. We're thrilled the Packers have done so well. We're just waiting for Sunday."
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