Epicenter of Humanity: A respectful rivalry
January, 16, 2011
By Kevin Seifert | ESPN.com
AP Photo/Mike RoemerPackers QB Aaron Rodgers and Bears QB Jay Cutler share text messages off the field, not insults.CHICAGO -- Chicago Bears safety Chris Harris was jogging off the field last month in Green Bay when he stopped Packers receiver Donald Driver.
"I said, 'We'll see y'all in Chicago in the NFC Championship Game,'" Harris recounted Sunday after the Bears secured their spot in that game with a 35-24 divisional playoff victory against the Seattle Seahawks.
"I had a feeling that they would make it," Harris added. "I was very confident in what we could do, so we got that rematch."
To me, that encounter illustrated everything the run-up to Packers-Bears III will -- and won't -- be.
You'll hear about two teams that have peaked in the playoffs. The Packers have won four consecutive "elimination games," dating to Week 16 of the regular season, while the Bears have scored at least 35 points in five of their past six contests.
You'll hear more history than you probably ever associated with professional football. The Bears and Packers have played 181 games against each other, dating to 1921. The Bears hold a 92-83-6 advantage, including the only playoff meeting between the rivals.
But it would be a shock if you hear any of the raw trash-talking that took place last week between the Pittsburgh Steelers and Baltimore Ravens. I would be stunned if you hear any of the threats that shuttled between the New York Jets and New England Patriots.
The Packers and Bears are direct division competitors, and it can get ugly between their fans. (A "Green Bay sucks" cheer surfaced in the second half at Soldier Field.) But from a player perspective, I don't sense anything close to the hatred that exists between those AFC teams.
In this rivalry, players stop before, during and after games to chat and exchange friendly barbs. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has often expressed his appreciation to Bears quarterback Jay Cutler for helping his brother get assimilated at Vanderbilt University. And Sunday, Cutler acknowledged he sent Rodgers a congratulatory text message this weekend after the Packers' 48-21 divisional playoff victory against the Atlanta Falcons.
"I'll probably have a few text messages from him, so we'll have friendly banter, I'm sure," Cutler said.
About the worst thing anyone in the Bears' locker room could muster was this from linebacker Brian Urlacher: "It's our closest rival. They're right up the street, so it's a big deal. We have a lot of history with them. I think it's the oldest rivalry in NFL history, so it's a big deal. We don't like them. They don't like us. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of hype around this game building up to it."
Indeed, there will be ungodly hype, especially on this blog. From this point forward, I'm tagging this game "Epicenter of Humanity." So I don't want to minimize how big and fun this is going to be for fans and media members alike.
But I also think it's important to draw a distinction between the history and physicality of Bears-Packers games and the kind of silly, attention-grabbing verbosity that consumed the AFC games last week. Sorry, the Packers and Bears don't hate each other.
"I don't think there is hatred," Bears place-kicker Robbie Gould said. "We have a lot of respect for their organization and they have, I'm sure, a mutual respect for us. It's just that they're not going to like us and we're not going to like them -- this week."
There is a big difference between that sentiment and the kind that left Jets linebacker Bart Scott threatening to end the career of Patriots receiver Wes Welker. Scott's comments came after Welker seemingly went out of his way to take subtle shots at Jets coach Rex Ryan. It might have been entertaining to some people. But to me, the regular season is the time for sideshows. The playoffs are all about the games.
We are by no means holier than thou here in the NFC North. But I don't think anyone is going to be making any jokes this week about the other team, either. From a football perspective, this is too good of a matchup to waste time on mind games.
"We just look at this as another obstacle," Packers cornerback Charles Woodson said Saturday night about the possibility of playing the Bears. "It doesn't matter who we're playing. The object is to win. Whoever it is, we look to play our game and come out on top."
Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, a veteran of eight years of these games, said he'll look at this game as "Bears-Packers." With a smirk and wide eyes, Tillman added: "But I think the media will create 'IT'S BEARS-PACKERS. THE BIGGEST RIVALS IN HISTORY OF THE NFL SINCE 1900-SOMETHING.' I think at the end of the day it's still football. They're a great football team. They're in the playoffs. ... If you flip a coin, it's 50-50."
We're in an age where prominent players shift teams often via free agency and trades. They share agents and train together in the offseason regardless of team affiliations. In fact, Rodgers and Tillman have been a part of an offseason training group in California. NFL players sport far more commonalities than differences, and I'm always skeptical when they express hatred for teams or players based simply on affiliations.
To me, Harris got it right. This week will be the Epicenter of Humanity for us, but for the players it will simply be another week of playoff intensity.
"This will be great for TV," Harris said. "FOX is probably licking its chops. ... [But] it will be very respectful. We're not a team that does a lot of trash talking. We'd rather show it on the field. They're the same way. Two teams that definitely respect each other. Maybe I'll have a dislike for them, but you don't have to publicly come out and tell how bad we hate them, or whatever the case may be."
As a blog community, we most definitely are going to get it on this week. The players? Let them know when it's Sunday.