- I would be remiss if I didn't mention how amazed and pleased I was with the way the Packers played on Saturday night. When you run through the scenarios of a possible game in your mind, you might think about a blowout briefly, but it doesn't happen very often in the playoffs. I've been watching the Packers play for over 40 years now and what Aaron Rodgers did was pretty remarkable. You just don't see a guy play that well against a quality opponent very often. Atlanta was pretty much defenseless.
- As great a rivalry as Packers/Bears has been, it's an unusual one. Historically, one team is up and the other is down. The Bears had their greatest years in the 1940s, the time in which the Packers began their long decline that extended through most of the 1950s. When Lombardi came to Green Bay, the Bears were mostly down, with the notable exception of 1963, about which more in a moment. In the 70s, both teams were pretty much terrible, although the foundation for the great Bears teams of the mid-80s were being established. In the 80s, the Bears were great and the Packers were either mediocre or worse. Then things shifted in the 1990s. During the long Favre era, the Packers pretty much owned the Bears until the end. Things have been mostly even lately, which has made the rivalry pick up again.
- And because both teams are very good, what we'll see on Sunday is highly unusual. I read that in the nearly 90 years of the rivalry, this is only the 4th time both the Packers and the Bears have made the playoffs in the same year and this is the first time the two teams have met in the playoffs since 1941. For all the blood and ill will that has been part of this rivalry, that's surprising.
- What's funny about the rivalry these days is how "civil" it is. Lovie Smith, the coach of the Bears, is clearly a very good man. He's not a snarling, implacable foe like George Halas or Mike Ditka, nor is he oafish like Abe Gibron. As a rule, the vibe you get from the Bears is professionalism, not the colorful personalities run amok that were part of the Ditka era. For their part, the Packers don't do a lot of talking these days.
- I lived in the Chicago area in the late 1980s and early 1990s, so I was able to witness the slow decline of the Ditka-era Bears. It was an especially dismal time to be a Packers fan, with only the false hope of 1989 interrupting nearly a decade of gloomy results. This was also the era when the Packers became the bad guys in the rivalry. The vision of an otherwise forgettable Packers defensive lineman named Charles Martin, with a hit list of Bears scrawled on a towel, and the unbelievable cheap shot he delivered to Bears quarterback Jim McMahon, was perhaps the most shameful moment in Packers history.
- This was also the time when you had national observers such as Frank Deford of Sports Illustrated suggesting that it was time for the small-town Packers to go away. Deford wrote a long essay for SI which asserted that the game had passed the Packers by and that it was no longer possible for an anachronistic small town team to remain competitive. Nearly 25 years later, we see that he was wrong. And all it takes is a trip to Lambeau to see why.
Monday, January 17, 2011
A Fan's Notes
So it comes down to the ancient rivals, the Packers and the Bears. How cool is that? A few thoughts on what's to come: