Sunday, January 16, 2011

Packers/Bears: Be Careful What you Wish For

There's a lot of Packer fans still drowning in the giddy wake of last night's whipping of the Falcons who are looking forward to playing in the NFC Championship Game against none other than the Chicago Bears.  After all, who else would we want to put our next whipping on other than our nearest and dearest hated rival?

And, can I find reasons why it would be simply a dream come true.  The chances that the Packers and Bears can meeting in the playoffs is scant enough year to year.  Heck, in the longest-running rivalry in the NFL, the Chicago and Green Bay have only met once in the playoffs, a Western Division championship game in 1941, won by the Bears 33-14.  The Bears went on to win the NFL Championship that year over the Giants, and since then, the Bears and Packers have never met post-season.

Heck, with the way the playoffs are set up now, it's almost impossible for the Packers and Bears to meet.  One team would have to win the division, while the other would have to win the wildcard.  It usually sets up an early meetup, much like the Packers and Vikings a few years ago, but to get to the penultimate game...the last opportunity for the two teams to meet before facing an AFC team in the Super Bowl?  The odds are astronomical. 

And, the intensity of the game would be epic, easily topping the enthusiasm the fans felt in 2007 or the Sherman playoff years, and rivaling the fever pitch of the mid-1990's.  It would be a game for the ages, a once in a lifetime event.

Heck, Brian Carriveau mentioned last night on his CheeseheadTV post-game show that he'd be likely trying to find a ticket, as would I.  Packer Universe would unite in a way we haven't seen for fifteen years, all for one game.

So, with all those positives, why should we be wishing for the Bears to win today?

Because we're thinking more about the personal agenda of beating the Bears, not the prize would should be focusing on. 

Come on, gang...let's not lose the ultimate goal here: Super Bowl or Die.  The object isn't to pick and choose who we beat along the way, it's to win each game, one at a time, to get yourself into the Game That Matters.  Heck, the Patriots had a perfect season in 2007, but no one remembers it because they lost the Super Bowl.

And the Bears are a dangerous team.  Yes, of course, so are the Seahawks, who beat the Super Bowl champs last week in a wild-card game, despite finishing the season with a losing record, and have perhaps the most raucous stadium in the NFL.  Hey...anyone we face in the playoffs are going to be dangerous.

But the Bears present their own brand of dangerousness.  Coach Lovie Smith has, since taking over the team in 2004, always put "Beating the Packers" as his #1 Priority every season.  It's a perhaps misguided tenet for a coach to target one team, especially one that has been far removed from the Holmgren/Wolf era, but unfortunately for the Packers, it's been an effective one. 

The Packers have only compiled a 6-8 record against the Smith-coached Bears, losing twice to them in 2007, the last time Green Bay went to the NFC Championship game.  The Packers split the series this year, losing by three early on and staved off a late drive to win the last game of the season 10-3.

Like it or not, the Bears almost always play the Packers tough.  It's a "throw-out-the-records" situation anytime these teams meet, and a playoff scenario is uncharted territory. 

Now, I'm not saying to pray we don't meet the Bears.  Heck, if you think about it, there's an awfully good chance it's going to happen anyway, and there's nothing we can do to control it.  But there is a decent analogy you can make that should make you pause before wishing for the matchup.

In the early 90's, the Packers' nemesis during the Packers' resurgence wasn't the Bears, it was the Dallas Cowboys.  You might sit back and ponder exactly how many more rings the Packers might have notched in that decade if Troy Aikman and Co. didn't keep knocking the Packers out of the playoffs every year...three years in a row.

In fact, the Cowboys went on a 7-0 run against the Packers over the course of Holmgren's pre-Lombardi Trophy years, including playoffs.  Even in the Packers' charmed 1996 season that eventually led to that trophy, the Cowboys whipped the Packers 21-6 down at Texas Stadium in November.

But as the Packers wrapped up home-field advantage and the confidence of the fans was swelling, many began calling for bringing the Cowboys to Lamebau Field, something that had never happened over the course of those seven losses.  It was time to deliver a crushing blow to THEM now, time to cleanse our spirits, right the wrongs, and purge the phantoms on the way to this Super Bowl we feel we've already won.

I can't remember who said it, but I remember driving to work when it came over the radio.  It was a respected former coach or player who said it, and the message was loud and clear.

"Packer fans, you do not want to play the Dallas Cowboys.  I don't care how good you think you are.

The Cowboys are a veteran team, a team with more rings in the last few years than you have playoff wins.  And yes, they're a little down this year (10-6) and could be beatable.  But why invite the team that has had your number 100% of the time to come play you, simply because you believe the only reason they can beat you is because they were playing at home.

(Heck, the Packers' last two playoff wins should be enough to refute that.)

If you end up playing the Cowboys, you will be playing a team that already has a psychological advantage over you.  You will not just be fighting the team on the other sidelines, but against ghosts that have haunted you for years.  Be happy if you don't face them."

In the end, the Carolina Panthers dispatched the Cowboys, the the Packers dispatched the Panthers the following week in the NFC Championship game on their way to the Super Bowl.  Hey, the Packers may well have beaten the Cowboys in the frigid game in January, just as they beat Carolina..  But, in the end, we don't care that much who we beat on the way, we care that the Packers beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

The Packers got their "revenge" the next season, when the Cowboys came to Lambeau and got beat 45-17, but that 6-10 team was merely a Barry Switzer-guided shadow of the team they once were.  Personally, I always felt that Cowboys game affected the Packers negatively.  To me, it was almost like they used their "powerup" to win that grudge game, to get that monkey off their back.  Then, they didn't have it when they faced the Broncos in the Super Bowl.  It was almost like the Packers lost their edge after that Cowboy victory, lost the chip on their shoulder that made it possible for them to persevere under the brightest spotlight.

Face it, if you could do it, wouldn't you trade the Cowboy win for the Super Bowl win?  Make it eight losses in a row to Dallas, but have a second Super Bowl ring?

The analogy between that Cowboys team of 1996 and the Bears of 2010 may not fit together like matching jigsaw puzzle pieces, but the there's enough there to make fans take pause before assuming a Bears matchup is our ideal matchup. 

Yes, the Bears are a bunch of pretenders, Jay Cutler is a crybaby, and we've already shown we can play with them.  And the Packers are on a roll right now, looking like they can take apart anybody on their own field.

But the Packers of 1996 were on a roll, too....and couldn't beat the Cowboys during the regular season.  The Bears have a knack for playing up for the Packers, and yesterday's playoff games are a testament to the power of motivation, confidence, and momentum.

Personally, I think if the Seahawks win, the Packers go to Seattle, take care of business with the same professional, focused attitude that they went into Philadelphia and Atlanta with.  Did you see the look in Aaron Rodgers' eyes as he took the field yesterday?  This guy was nothing but business.  Didn't matter who was on the other side of the line of scrimmage.

But if the Packers take on the Bears, there's an emotional ebb and flow that will be present simply because of who is across the line of scrimmage, both for Chicago and Green Bay.  It will make the game highly entertaining and highly intense, and most likely very competitive.

But, like the other two Bear games this year, it will also likely be very close, and require a last-gasp play to spell the difference between a win and a loss.  Let's go in with the attitude that it's just another team on the way to the Super Bowl, not take on a Lovie Smith-esque infatuation with proving a personal point on the way there.


BigSnakeMan said...

Interesting 'take'. But, as you point out, it'll probably be the Bears no matter what. As they say, to be the best you have to beat the best and, on paper at least, Chicago is better than Seattle.

Plus, in an ironic and backward sort of way, there might actually be less pressure on the Packers in facing the Bears at Soldier Field than there would be playing the would-be .500 Cinderella Seahawks at Qwest Field, where the New Orleans Saints already found out that anything can happen.

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