Saturday, January 22, 2011

Packing for Dallas

Let's say you've got a two-year old daughter. And said child has already been forced to suffer through lots of miserable Sunday afternoons -- including a trip to Baltimore two Decembers ago where she was eager to get out of the cold as the players we had come to cheer for -- because of a disease contracted by her parents at an early age that has not yet been shaken.

What would be a normal Saturday spent prior to the NFC Championship game? Thanks to YouTube, the answer, of course, is repeated viewings of Charles Martin's ode to what it means to be a Packer or Ken Stills defining Packer toughness or Keith Van Horne taking exception to the Packers ethos. And when the toddler asks why anyone would do anything so craven, the only answer, obviously, is: "that's what it means to be a Packer."

Michael Wilbon had a great piece for ESPN (Wilbon has been a great addition for the website) describing how Chicagoans are socialized to think about the Packers. Each of the incidents I showed my daughter today (repeatedly) shaped my thoughts about Green Bay. I hate the colors green and gold because of them -- when I see Plymouth Argyle's kit (the victims in the opening number of Chris Powell's return to The Valley earlier today), I react viscerally because the colors are close -- and the only Packers jersey I've ever been tempted to buy is a Mark Chmura replica.

I have enjoyed reading the commentary of sportswriters that know nothing about Chicago spouting off about how the Bears will come to regret not knocking the Packers out of the playoffs in Lambeau. No matter what happens tomorrow, things could not have turned out better.

Certainly, all Bears fans went into the last game of the season hoping that the Bears would knock the Packers out of the playoffs. Since I had little faith in the team's ability to do anything once the postseason started, a win might possibly have constituted the team's biggest achievement of the year. As the game stayed close, I kept thinking about the NFL Films clip from early in the season where, after a Packers win, a team official intercepts Coach McCarthy on his way off the field to tell him that the Vikings have lost. That moment let everyone know what the Packers mentality -- Minnesota was their only real threat in the division.

Four months later, Green Bay squeaked into the playoffs and it could not have worked out better for Chicago. By bouncing the Eagles in Philadelphia, Chicago drew the weakest team in the playoffs for their first game. By bouncing the Falcons in Atlanta, Chicago got to host the NFC Championship match. By Sunday afternoon, no Bears fan regretted the Packers advancing. This is the game everyone wants -- Green Bay vs. Chicago at Soldier Field -- and no matter the outcome, this has been a tremendous bounce back season for the Bears.

I would guess that there were more Chicagoans relieved about the outcome of Sunday night's game than were worried about meeting up with a hyped division rival. The prospect of advancing to the Super Bowl only to meet a much better opponent that could virtually erase the 46 to 10 score line that defined the ascendancy of the Monsters of the Midway and Walter Payton was unsettling. But one of Buddy Ryan's sons has made sure that Patriot redemption is not in the cards for this season.

The Packers are a good team. And they might blow out the Bears tomorrow -- I don't think they will, but they might. But the fact Chicago has a chance to both (1) deny Green Bay a trip to Dallas and (2) punch their ticket to play either Pittsburgh or New Jersey means that it no NFC Championship game involving the Bears will ever be bigger.

Whatever happens, I have a two year old that now knows the words to Bear Down and can't wait for gametime. Whatever happens, I am loving this time right now... I am loving the anticipation... the buildup. Tom Petty's wisdom doesn't apply universally; right now, the waiting ain't the hardest part.

Whatever happens, thanks to everyone in the Bears' organization for making this possible.

Now go out and turn some green and gold to black and blue. Do it for Charles Martin and Ken Stills. Do it and cement your place in the pantheon of Chicago sports deities. Beat the Packers.

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