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:
  • 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.


Gino said...

" 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. "

that was before #4 jersies became the mandatory dress code in WI.

this game will be epic, and talked about by football historians for years to come, regardless of the outcome.

Mr. D said...

that was before #4 jersies became the mandatory dress code in WI

True, but I think #92 was more important. I'll probably write about that later in the week.

Brad Carlson said...

Reggie White gave the Packers franchise instant credibility when he chose to sign there in 1993. Thus other players exploring free agency looked at GB as a viable option.

Brett Favre without White on the team likely would not have won a Super Bowl, and vice versa.

I'll look forward to that piece, Mark.

Anonymous said...

Charles Woodson is the free agent signing that transformed the Packers this time around, just as Julius Peppers has done the same for the Bears.

Ted Thompson has to be the best general manager in football, and he proved he had stones as well when he didn't cow tow to Farve 2 years ago. The Packers appear to be built for the long haul. The Bears have been a pleasant surprise for the NFC North as well.

As a Packer fan, I'm glad that the league is monitoring the field conditions at Soldier Field. The guess here is that the Chicago Park District will have the field in slown down shape by the time the game comes around if left to their own devices.

Outcome aside, isn't it great to see that NFC football comes down to 2 teams from the Midwest? I can only imagine the empty feeling Jerry Jones has down in Dallas as he watches the games that remain in his glitzy new stadium.