Sep 132012

Being a Chicago sports fan, I’ve lived my entire life rooting for teams with natural rivals. The Cubs have the Cardinals, the White Sox have the Indians, the Bulls and Blackhawks have the Pistons and Redwings. Then there is the Bears and Packers rivalry–which, I think, is one of the best rivalries in sports. I will comment more on that later.

Rivalries occur in all major sports and are an important aspect of each of those sports. If you happen to be a fan of a team that has a rival, you know what I’m talking about. Having a rival to root against only enhances the experience of following a team. Having that rival could be the reason you decide to root for that team in the first place. Plus, having that one team that you despise above all others creates a level of excitement rarely matched by other opponents. Even if your favorite team isn’t playing that rival, there is a certain amount of satisfaction gained by seeing them lose.

Throughout history, there have been some really heated rivalries that still exist today. Some of these go back many, many decades. The Yankees-Red Sox, Michigan-Ohio State, Lakers-Celtics, Dodgers-Giants, Duke-North Carolina, and the Cowboys-Giants are just a few that come to mind. These rivalries exist due to a number of factors; geographic, longevity, frequency, bad blood because of players or coaches are just a few examples. Regardless of the reason, rivalries can promote and grow the sports in which they exist.

As with most rivals, the level of hatred can be passed down from generation to generation. Fathers and grandfathers telling their sons and grandsons, stories about their most hated rival and how their team got screwed because of a certain play or blown call is what keeps these rivalries going. Having friends who root for your rival can also add a certain dynamic to the friendship. I have no doubt that friendships have been lost because someone’s feelings were hurt during relentless bantering between friends because one team just dominated the other. Without rivals, I think sports would lose some of its appeal–especially to those casual fans that only watch because of the rivalry.

In my opinion, the Bears-Packers rivalry is the best in sports. This rivalry dates back to the 1920’s when the Chicago Staleys shut out the Green Bay Packers, 20-0 on November 27, 1921. There have been 184 regular and post season games between these two franchises, which is the most in NFL history. Currently, the Bears lead the Packers with a 92-86-6 record. The two teams have combined to win 22 NFL Championships (including 5 Super Bowls) and have 48 members in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Unfortunately, of those 5 Super Bowl wins, the Bears have only one win.

This brings me to the downside of a rivalry. It’s rare if both teams have an equal number of championships. Usually, one team has been historically better than the other, which can also fuel the rivalry. While the Bears may hold the advantage of winning more games, the Packers have won more Super Bowls and it’s these wins that matter the most.

These two teams will square off again tonight when they meet at Lambeau Field on the NFL Network. I think this is a statement-game for both teams. Green Bay needs to prove last week’s loss against the 49ers was a fluke and that they are still an elite team in the NFC. Let’s not forget that the Packers now have lost two straight at home if you include last season’s playoff loss. That doesn’t happen too often. They cannot afford to lose another game at home especially against a division opponent. I have no doubt McCarthy will have that team ready to play even on a short week.

The Chicago Bears are looking to move into that elite category and will need to beat the Packers in order to do so. The Bears finally addressed the wide receiver issue that has plagued them for as long as I can remember. Acquiring Brandon Marshall was a significant accomplishment and should not be overlooked. Having that go-to receiver will hopefully give Cutler the confidence to lead this offense and put some points on the board.

I think the keys to this game will be defense and special teams. Green Bay didn’t have that good a defense last year. I know it’s only one game, but it looks like this year’s team isn’t much better. I think San Francisco exposed some gaping holes in their secondary. Those holes were created because of their defensive lines inability to get after the quarterback. Other than Clay Matthews, the Packers don’t have a pass rusher that can get to the quarterback one-on-one. So teams are shifting their offensive line and double-teaming Matthews. So now Green Bay has to blitz more, which exposes the middle. Until the Packers can get consistent pressure on the quarterback with just their front four, the middle will be open. Dom Capers has his work cut out for him.

As far as the Chicago defense goes, they need to get pressure on Rodgers as well. If they cannot get the sack, they need to at least get their hands up and close some of those passing lanes. They also need to avoid the big plays. Momentum will be a huge factor in this game and eliminating Green Bay’s ability for big plays will keep that momentum on Chicago’s side. Green Bay doesn’t have much of a run game to speak of, so I fully expect Chicago to concentrate on the passing game.

Any team who plays the Bears has to deal with Devin Hester. Do we or do we not kick to him? These special team plays can be huge in determining field position. The Chicago offense has improved but they can be even more dangerous, if given a short field. Green Bay will need to decide if they are going to let special teams decide this game.

With all this said, I see it being a relatively close game. I wouldn’t be surprised if the team who has the ball last, wins the game. Being the homer that I am, I see the score being 34-27 with Chicago winning. If Chicago wins this game, the odds of Green Bay making the playoffs after going 0-2 are slim. That’s why this is a statement game for both teams and should be exciting to watch.

Like them or not, rivalries play a large role in sports. Rivalries can bring people together or rip them apart just the same. Being a part of several great rivalries, I enjoy the fact that my team has a natural rival. I feel it gives me an extra bit of excitement when they play against each other. For those three hours, I’m not only rooting for my team to win, I’m rooting for them to completely demolish the other team. I want that other team to remember the beat down they just received and for it to leave sour taste in their mouth. This will only intensify the next meeting and make it even that more exciting.

So needless to say, I will be glued to the TV tonight rooting for my Bears to dominate the Packers. Even if they lose, having that extra bit of excitement will be well worth it. Besides, it could always be worse. I could be a Cleveland Browns fan!


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