It's impossible to exaggerate the significance of what's happening at 1400 South Campus Drive in Chicago on Sunday. Arguably the biggest rivals in sports will meet in a playoff game for the first time since 1941. The Bears and Packers will play for the NFC Championship in a dream match-up that has Midwesterners hyperventilating and network executives salivating.
Unlike the AFC East match-up of this past weekend, this game needs no trash talk. The Tribune and Sun Times have never been good at coming up with catchy headlines and does Green Bay even have a newspaper? No, this match-up pits two of the original NFL franchises against each other with a chance to get to the world's biggest stage. And what makes this so much bigger then the only comparable rivalry (Red Sox/Yankees) is that it's been 70 years since they've met with this much at stake.
The Bears and Packers have played each other 182 times dating back to 1921, the most in NFL history. The two teams have won a combined 21 NFL Championships. Green Bay is approximately three hours from Chicago but the places couldn't be more different. Green Bay's relationship to the Packers is Friday Night Lights on a professional level. The 100,000-person city eats, sleeps and breathes green and gold football. The people of Green Bay see their heroes off to the airport and embrace them no matter what. Chicago fans prefer tough love to Green Bay's home-cooked meal. The "City of Broad Shoulders" has more than one good team-the Bulls are excellent, the Blackhawks Stanley Cup Champs-so Chicago fans aren't afraid to boo. This contrast develops an interesting subplot found in this rivalry; the city slickers vs. the cheese heads.
On the field the teams are strikingly similar. They're both coming off blowout wins the divisional round. They both have extremely physically gifted quarterbacks who can take over a game completely. Aaron Rodgers for the Pack and Jay Cutler for the Bears. They both have inconsistent running games and offensive lines, which can stagnate their offensive production., and they both have defensive player of the year candidates who are flanked by other standout individual defenders. Clay Matthews for Green Bay, who's helped by Charles Woodson and Tramon Williams, while Julius Peppers dominates for Chicago and is assisted by Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. The Bears have a distinct advantage in the all-important special teams, with the unreal Devin Hester returning kicks for them. The Packers are favored by 3 at the moment, a fair line considering the outcome of these teams' two previous matchups this year. In week 3, the Bears won at Soldier Field 20-17. In week 17, the Packers avenged that loss with a 10-3 victory. The Bears had already clinched the #2 seed in the week 17 game, yet coach Lovie Smith decided to play most of his starters anyway. When questioned about this decision Smith was adamant, "It's the Packers and Bears, that in itself makes you play your best ball."
Soldier Field on Sunday will be packed to capacity, incredibly loud and more than likely freezing. These two glorious franchises wouldn't have it any other way. By 6 p.m. central time Sunday, either the Bears or Packers will be packing their bags for Dallas and a chance to compete for a World Championship. The other will have had its hopes ravaged, its season over in the whipping, Chicago wind. Regardless of the outcome, Sunday's game will add another chapter to one of the greatest rivalries in professional sports.