Packers Bears

As of today, January 18, 2011, there have been 181 games played between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears. It’s by far the longest running rivalry in the NFL (and maybe all of American sports?).

Frankly, for most of 90’s and 00’s, I never considered the Bears much rivals to my Packers, since we beat them so often. However, since 2005, the Bears have been winning with frightening regularity.

This Sunday is, to say the very least, a big game. The Packers are fielding the best team I have seen since at least 1997. The Bears, disrespected by all (including me) in the beginning of the season, managed to sail to an 11-5 record and win the NFC North. They might be the real deal.

After a close win by the Bears early in the season, they met again for the final game. The Packers needed a win to secure a playoff spot, and they got one.

The Packers managed to defeat the Eagles in the first round of the playoffs, and then the number one seeded Atlanta Falcons. Suddenly people outside of Cheesehead-dom have been noticing that the Packers may also, indeed, be the real deal.

Aaron Rodgers is a huge part of that. So is a Dom Capers defense that fell apart at the end of last season, but has been superlative this year. So has been the much-needed depth provided by Ted Thompson’s excellent work on personnel.

There are many things to say about Rodgers. Suffice it to say that he’s awesome, and that he wasn’t picked to go to the Pro Bowl is a travesty. Let’s take a look who was.

Michael Vick was picked to start for the NFC in the Pro Bowl. Since the Packers took out his team the first round of the playoffs, he’ll be able to make the trip to Hawaii. Drew Brees was picked as an alternate. He’ll be able to make the trip, too, since his team also went down in the wild card round.

And the other alternate? Matt Ryan, whose team was just destroyed by Aaron Rogers’ offense.

I think any one of those three quarterbacks would say they’d rather be playing this Sunday than headed to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl. I’m happy Aaron Rodgers has his chance.

Brett Favre, the once bright star, has officially retired this week. It’s been a rough year for him. He’s not getting away with things that he certainly got away with before.  I don’t feel the schadenfreude that I expected to when I last posted about him.

Just as he didn’t understand the realities of the NFL when he re-un-re-un-retired from the Packers, I don’t think he understands the implications of today’s internet when sending around pictures of his wee-wee.

The last time, the only time, the Packers and Bears have ever met in the playoffs was in 1941, a week after Pearl Harbor. More than 43,000 packed Wrigley Field to see the rivals clash. The next week when the Giants played the Bears for the actual NFL Championship, only 13,000 came.

The same is true today. The fans of the winning team this Sunday will consider the Super Bowl a letdown (Jets? Steelers? They seem so insignificant and far off).

The fans of the losing team will consider the season over after their team loses. Either way, for both Cheeseheads and FIBs, this Sunday is the REAL Super Bowl.

The below was an article I found and put online in 1996 as Art Modell was taking his Browns out of Cleveland and into Baltimore. I noted it as being written by Bill McEwen for the Fresno Bee, but I have found no other copy than my own I put online way back then.

I don’t believe in fairy tales, aliens from outer space or the psychic hot line.

But I believe in the Green Bay Packers, whose story begins once upon a time.
By the way we keep score in professional sports, the Packers have no business in today’s NFC championship game. They’re the ultimate small market, the corner grocery store butting heads against Safeway and Vons.

They play in a Wisconsin city of 98,000 residents and in a stadium that is one of the smallest in the NFL. The winters are long, the summers short. Green Bay’s sister city is in Siberia. The No. 1 export is earmuffs.

Yet the Packers thrive, even as Art Modell and Bud Adams flee from Cleveland and Houston mega-markets with football teams that couldn’t break .500. Even as Bud Selig, owner of the down-the-road-a-piece Milwaukee Brewers and grand pooh-bah of big-league baseball, rants and raves that he can’t compete without a state-of-the-art stadium.

How it must gall Selig that while his team was losing favorite son Paul Molitor to free agency, the Packers were luring Reggie White, one of the best defensive ends ever, to Green Bay with a once-in-a-lifetime contract and sweet talk about the quality of life and cheese in their humble hamlet.

The Packers are all about grit and substance and adhering to tradition, and that’s satisfying. Sound management, it turns out, is more vital to success than a deck of luxury suites. Players can find happiness somewhere besides the Sun Belt. Ticket-buying fans are more important to the bottom line than television sets.

As team president Robert Harlan likes to say, the Packers are a warm story in a very cold place.

The Dallas Cowboys, with high-kicking cheerleaders and stars on their jerseys, have anointed themselves America’s Team. So have the Atlanta Braves, a marvelous baseball team that doubles as programming for their owner’s cable station.

The Packers, in their unfashionable green-and-yellow uniforms, are the true representatives of the red-white-and-blue. They’re older than dirt, two years older than the NFL itself.

Four times during their first 32 years, the Packers nearly were scorched from their frozen tundra. Each time, the community came to the rescue with cash.

These people love their football. It was $2,500 in 1922, the Packers’ second season in the NFL, and $15,000 in 1934, the year a fan fell out of the stands and sued the team. In 1949, the Packers played an intrasquad game on Thanksgiving Day that raised $50,000.

The financially ailing club went public a year later. Shares were sold for $25 each and $118,000 poured into the coffers. Today, the Packers have 1,898 shareholders, a 45-person board of directors and a seven-member executive committee.

Though the Packers expect to make $4 million this season, there will be no dividend. All the profits are plowed back into the team. The franchise has an estimated worth of $160 million. A share, when you can find one, still sells for $25.

The Packers are America’s Team for all the above reasons and more:

They play in a stadium named after a legend (Curly Lambeau), not an airline or a bank.

They practice in a facility named after legend (Don Hutson), not a sneaker company.

They play outdoors, not in a dome.

They play on real grass, not artificial turf.

They’ve got a quarterback (Brett Favre) from a town (Kiln, Miss.) that is 82 times smaller than Green Bay.

They’ve won more NFL titles (11) than any other franchise.

They’ve had 19 Hall of Famers, among them, Vince Lombardi, Ray Nitschke, Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Paul Hornung, Willie Davis, Willie Wood, Johnny (Blood) McNally, Lambeau and Hutson.

They’ve got the Cheeseheads, the best advertisement for the dairy industry since the fondue pot.

After the Packers exposed the mold on the San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren used two words not usually associated with pro sports — “fun” and “unselfish” — to describe his season and his team.

Tight end Mark Chmura said the Packers’ unity might stem from playing in the place that became known as “Title Town” during Lombardi’s unprecedented run of success in the 1960s. “I don’t know if it’s that we really want to win or because this town keeps us all close, but there really isn’t any jealousy here,” Chmura said.

The Packers might not be strong enough to overcome the Cowboys, who have that massive offensive line, Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin and the world’s leading practitioner of self promotion, Deion Sanders. But they’ve already proven themselves to be extraordinary in many ways.

This season, after Modell revealed he was turning his back on the city that had faithfully supported the Browns for 50 years, Cleveland mayor Michael White said, “If this can happen here, there is no safe franchise in America.”

There is an exception. Green Bay is safe. The Packers will be there tomorrow, the day after that and when our children’s children are having children. We all can take comfort in that.

That’s awesome. I’m happy to be a part of it; I bought a share when they went on sale in 1997 to refurbish Lambeau Field.

Go Pack!!!