It's the oldest and greatest rivalry in NFL history. When the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears strap it up, the current standings don't matter very much. You know you're in for the fight of your life. Sunday's match-up at historic Soldier Field will be no different.
Once again, the game will invoke memories of so many legends of the past. Lambeau. Halas. Lombardi. Nagurski. Hutson. Nitschke. Butkus. Sayers. Starr. Payton. This will be the 169th meeting between these storied franchises and, as they say, you can throw the records out the window. Even though the Packers have pretty much had their way with the Bears since 1992 and Green Bay's battles with the Vikings have been even more intense in recent years, I still consider Packers-Bears to be pro football's best rivalry.
Unfortunately for the Packers, this has been a season of frustration and broken dreams. Certainly, nobody expected them to be 2-9 at this point - and who would have guessed that the Bears would be 8-3? It would certainly be nice if this game would have more significance from the Packers' point of view and were a game with playoff implications. Clearly the tide has turned and now the Bears see a golden opportunity to inflict some payback for all the misery they've endured during the Brett Favre era. As I look at the record book, I'm still amazed. Green Bay has beaten the Bears the last 11 times they've played in Chicago and 19 of 24 games since 1992. Now that's dominance! You can bet the Bears and their fans are ready for a little revenge. I'm sure the Bears would have no problem kicking the Packers while they're down to take full advantage of this turn of events.
When considering a rivalry like this, I'm often asked if the players of today truly appreciate its magnitude. Do they sense the importance of the rivalry or is it just another game on the schedule? Truthfully, I don't know if the young players of today really understand the significance of this game. It takes some time to really understand how important it is to so many people in Wisconsin and Illinois. Without question, the fans in both states take this rivalry more seriously than the players do. The fans are born and raised here and all they know is Packers-Bears. The players, on the other hand, come from all over the country and they don't know the history behind this great rivalry. It takes a few years to really get a grasp for how important this game is to both states.
The term "Monsters of the Midway" has been around for many years and it's been a long time since the Bears have had a defense cut from that cloth. It's always hard to compare teams across different eras and it's still a bit premature to compare this year's Bears with that incredible team of 1985. This year's edition still has plenty to prove but they have certainly been very impressive thus far. I was able to watch a good portion of their game last week against a good Tampa Bay Buccaneers team and the Bears won it with defense and they won it with a solid running game. Chicago's defense is a very talented and aggressive group led by defensive coordinator Ron Rivera who was a part of that 1985 Bears team. Rivera has this year's Bears playing in much the same way. Attacking, aggressive, in-your-face. They don't just sit back. They're not a bend-but-don't-break defense. They get a great rush up front from guys like Alex Brown and Adewale Ogunleye. They've also got solid linebackers led by Brian Urlacher. Two weeks ago, against Carolina, they had eight sacks on quarterback Jake Delhomme, all from the front four defensive linemen. That's unheard of in today's NFL. Last week, the Bears got their first touchdown by sacking Chris Simms near the goal line. It then only took one easy pass play to get into the end zone.
In some ways, I think the Bears are similar to the Baltimore Ravens of 2003. To go with their intimidating defense they have a young rookie quarterback in Kyle Orton who is just managing the offense. He's not expected to throw 30-35 times a game for 300 yards to win ball games. He's expected to make a few plays here and there throughout the game and to not make mistakes. He's done a nice job for a rookie. I think Orton is the Tom Brady of the 2005 NFL draft. Without question, even though he was drafted in the fourth round, I think he has more poise and more quarterback savvy and presence than any of the quarterbacks who were drafted ahead of him. Scouts can evaluate talent coming out of college but they can't predict how the young quarterback will react to the speed and complexity of the NFL defenses. Even in the pre-season, I could tell by watching his mechanics, his calmness in the pocket, his ability to move in the pocket and to pump fake and move defenders with his eyes. I think he has a bright future. Orton has been given a great opportunity in Chicago and he's made the most of it.
Playing the Bears in Chicago was always the most exciting road game for me, personally. I used to love playing in Chicago. The Bear fans truly hate you. I loved the history of that stadium and its similarity to Lambeau Field. It's a unique setting and has a great football atmosphere. To be the hated opposition for the day was a great feeling and it was always a fun game to play in. I'm sure it will be no different for the Packers on Sunday even though this season hasn't gone the way they wanted. The Bears are heavily favored and Green Bay will likely have a difficult time against a very strong defense. It will be hard to run against them and the way they put pressure on the quarterback is very scary. Still, it will be very interesting to watch. The Packers aren't quitters and they still have a quarterback who's owned the Bears for a long, long time. As they say, that's why they play the games.
Don "Majik" Majkowski was inducted into the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame earlier this year. His career for the Packers spanned six seasons (1987-92), including being named to the Pro Bowl in 1989 when he led the NFL in passing yards. In addition to his duties with Packers.com, Majik provides football analysis for WSSP-AM, SportsRadio 1250 in Milwaukee, WDUZ SportsRadio 107.5 & 1400 The Fan in Green Bay, WTSO - ESPN 1070 in Madison, WDEZ in Wausau, and WIZD in Stevens Point. Visit Majik's Web site, www.majiknetwork.net, for more information.