denis gullickson | talking titletwon | jan. 2019
Okay, the sting might have faded a bit by now.
No, the Packers did not go down to the Windy City and pull off another miracle by defeating the Bears in their house — Solider Field — aka “Lambeau Field South."
Yup, in the third quarter momentum seemed to shift the Packers' way after they scored a tying touchdown and two-point conversion and drove for a go-ahead score. That's when a couple of uncharacteristically-bad throws by Aaron Rodgers seemed to suggest that the would-be momentum was hitting the ground with a thud and skidding off into the never-never.
Instead of continuing an unlikely “run the table" to keep their whimsical playoff hopes alive, the loss guaranteed the Bears the NFC North Division title and put the remainder of the Packers' season into lame duck status.
In the process, a rather-dismal achievement was notched: It marked the first since 1991 that the Packers have posted back-to-back losing seasons.
Only fans in their late thirties and older will recall the futility of those “good old days."
With a lot of off-season decisions to make in terms of player personnel and strapped a tad by Rodgers' mega-contract — whether this team returns to consistent playoff appearances any time soon — might be a concern for Packers fans.
Of course, Packers fans will hang in there. A team with 360,760 owners and fans across the entire globe doesn't get put to the curb after a couple of losing campaigns. Far-more-challenged fans hung in there through the futile '50s and the silly '70s and '80s.
Only the ficklest fans — recent bandwagon riders, spoiled by four decades of success — will bail.
So, what's left for Packers fans to do?
Certainly, there's a strong contingency suggesting that the team sit Aaron Rodgers the rest of the season. Points made by these folks include: “Don't risk Rodgers sustaining a major injury that puts the kibosh on next season; besides he's still ailing from an early-season knee injury and a new one in the form of a groin injury earned against those Bruins." “Give backup DeShon Kizer valuable playing time while leading the first unit — premium experience not afforded in the preseason when the lineup is shifting like sand on a beach."
There's even the “Let's hope we lose these two games so we have a better draft pick in April" and the “Rodgers and his lousy attitude got Coach Mike McCarthy fired and, if he wants to play, too bad, time to show him who runs the team and it's not him."
For Rodgers' part, he's made it clear, suggesting that he play these next two games to finish the season “the right way." He added that winning its first road game this season is one marker that has eluded the team and should be an immediate goal.
Rodgers suggested that he was the team's leader and that sitting out two games was no way to lead, set an example, or have the rest of the team “look up to" him. That — though it wasn't his decision to make — he wasn't about to “cash it in."
Interim Coach, Joe Philbin, has made it plain that he doesn't plan on sitting Rodgers or any other able-bodied player. “Football players are paid to play football games," he said.
“We're the Green Bay Packers," Philbin said. “We're a football team and we're in the business of winning football games, and we want all our players who are healthy to contribute to the overall success of the team. Period."
Riding out the rest of the season isn't much of a way to audition for a transition from “interim" to “permanent" head coach, either.
Whatever the Packers do — even if it is winning out over the Jets and Lions — as the final seconds tick off the end of the season at Lambeau Field on the last day of 2018, it's a guarantee that the season is completely over.
On the other hand, there are the Bears — positioned for the post season — with reasons to expect a decent run in the playoffs.
It's become nearly cliché to suggest that winning under the sudden death conditions of the Super Bowl tournament takes a stout defense and a quarterback who won't lose you games. There's no arguing that the Bears had a tough defense at the start of the season; signing Kahlil Mack in early September made Bears fans think about their '85 Super Bowl Champs.
Could the Bears be about to repeat history? And could Packers fans root for their arch-rivals as they make their way to the Big Dance?
But It's the Bears!
Yeah, I get that.
For most Packers fans, cheering for the Bears is like wishing your ex life-long happiness with the new love they left you for.
The vitriol had begun its ebb and flow the minute Packers fans first set foot on the Wrigley Field Grounds in Chicago for the inaugural game between the two teams back on November 27, 1921. The Packers would lose the contest, 20-6.
Yes, the yokels from “Tiny Town" (not yet “Titletown") were applauded that day by the Windy City fans, but it was way more about being a novelty act from the boondocks than it was being viewed as equals in the American Professional Football Association (APFA).
Now, the Packers had tuned up two other Chicago elevens earlier that season at City Stadium — beating the “Boosters" 13-6 and crushing the “Cornell-Hamburgs" 40-0, so, there was some big city pride on the line in that late-November game.
By the way, the Packers were there to play the Chicago “Staleys," not the “Bears." The team had moved from Decator as the Staleys the year prior, becoming a charter member of the league. In 1922, they'd don the Bear moniker as the APFA morphed into the NFL.
Save for the strike-affected 1987 season, the two teams would battle — sometimes ferociously and sometimes banally — over the next 97 seasons.
All told, the two teams have duked it out 197 times — regular and post-seasons combined.
There would be stretches — such as the 1920s and '30s — where both would represent the league's premier teams — and other eras — such as the 1980s (Bears) and '90s (Packers) when they would have each other's number,
Over all those swales and berms, the ultimate result would be a fairly even one — the Bears holding the edge the entire time — until the 2016 season wrapped up with them tied at 94 wins a piece and 6 ties. With the most-recent Bears' win, the Packers hold a two-game edge, 97-95-6.
Has the rivalry always been respectful? Hell no. Bears fans would point to the Mike Ditka-Forrest Gregg-coaching era as a time when the saintly Packers acted more like thugs. There were particularly egregious cheap shots to Matt Suey and Jim McMahon to stew over, but then the Bears would never be accused of going easy on the Packers either.
And fans have always been cordial to one another, right? Hell no. Tales abound of verbal and physical assaults aplenty.
My wife, Kathy, will tell you the story of sitting in Packers apparel at Soldier Field with her best friend Gail and being pelted with batteries and small, empty, liquor sampler bottles. Gail would turn around and yell, “Chicken shit Bear fans. Whose throwing those things? Show yourself." She'd sit back down and another barrage would commence. Finally, Gail turned around and — holding up one of the empty liquor samplers — shouted, “I dare you to throw a couple of full ones." There was a whole seating section's worth of laughter and a complete cease fire.
New players to either team are brought up to speed on the rivalry. Second-year running back Jamal Williams described getting up for the rivalry as “contagious" just recently.
So, Why Not?
Really, it's kind of nice to see the Bears crawl out of near-thirty-five-year malaise. For whatever reason, the Packers just didn't have it this year. I'd say, let's cheer for the Bears to win it all.
Okay, maybe not “it all." But how about getting to the Super Bowl and losing there? Out of love, hatred or respect for the rivalry, Packers fans can certainly pull for that.
And, if nothing else, there's always one constant that unites Packers and Bears fans. And that's a common disdain for the Minnesota Vikings.
Work continues by author, farmer and educator Denis Gullickson and the Green Bay Theatre Company on converting the former Schauer and Schumacher furniture store buildings into a working downtown arts and performance center. With a three-month extension to its planning option granted on December 12, the GBTC, is now securing donors to cover remodeling the facility. All levels of support are welcome — from a $1.5 million gift to put your name on the facility – to smaller amounts recognized with your name on bricks and theater seats. If you would like to contribute, contact Gullickson at firstname.lastname@example.org or at (920) 621-9304.