"The number one goal is to beat Green Bay."
Those are the words of Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith, taken from the press conference to announce his hiring as the leader of the Packers' arch rival to the south back in January.
It is understandable that Smith would place such a high emphasis on the two annual meetings with the Packers, since the rivalry, with 166 previous games played, is the most-played match-up in NFL history, and one of the greatest rivalries in all of sports.
Additionally, the Packers hold a seven-game winning streak in the series, and have taken 20 of the 24 meetings since Brett Favre has been entrenched in the Green Bay backfield.
Though Smith's words might be considered bulletin board material, the general feel around Packers' camp was that the coach was just trying to inspire his players and fan base.
"He's a coach," said cornerback Al Harris. "He's got to say those things to get his players going. That's not going to affect us. We've got to go do our thing."
As the head man for the team who has won the past two division titles, and five in the past nine seasons, Packers GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman is familiar with being a marked man when new coaches enter the mix in the NFC North.
"It's no different than (Lions coach) Steve Mariucci circling Green Bay on his calendar as he said when he took the job at Detroit or (Vikings coach) Mike Tice painting his home green and gold as he said he did," Sherman said Wednesday. "That's just the way it is. I think people want to play the Green Bay Packers and beat the Green Bay Packers for a particular reason. I think they respect this organization and what we've accomplished and it validates them. I'm not worried about what their coaches say about what they have to do, I'm more concerned about what we have to do."
Although the rivalry is equally important in the Packers' locker room as it is to the Bears, the men wearing the Green and Gold have higher goals than just picking a few games out of the schedule to focus on. Pro Bowl center Mike Flanagan had an interesting proposal when asked about the Chicago coach's statement.
"I'd rather go to the Super Bowl," Flanagan said. "But if he wants to beat us and be 2-14, congratulations. I'll lose both games to the Bears and win the Super Bowl if we can make that deal."
That isn't to say that the anchor of the offensive line is looking past this week's opponent. Flanagan gave his scouting report of the defense he and the rest of the Packer offense will be lined up against Sunday afternoon.
"They do a lot of slanting and twisting and pirating," the center said of the Bears' defensive line. "They're moving all the time. They're not real big. They move well. Obviously, (middle linebacker Brian) Urlacher can cover from end zone to end zone, bench to bench, sideline to sideline, whatever it is. Their whole defense is built on speed. When you do that, you get a lot of movement, and they're going to do it well."
Left guard Mike Wahle remembers playing against Lovie Smith-coached teams in the past. Smith previously served as the defensive coordinator of the St. Louis Rams (2001-03) and linebackers coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 2000-02, so Packers players have gone up against his troops on numerous occasions.
"Lovie Smith has had some success when we've gone to Tampa or we've gone to St. Louis, but we're excited to have those guys up here and see what we can do against that kind of defense," Wahle said.
Wahle went on to sum up the feeling of the room prior to Sunday's home opener.
"These Bears games are always a lot of fun," he said. "We're all excited about it - we'll be up for it."