What on Earth happened to me?
While stretching to play Tuesday night basketball in the DC suburbs, I found myself, a staunch Packers fan, telling a Chicago Bears fan that his team is doing pretty good this year. He returned by telling me he thinks the Packers have an edge in this Sunday's NFC Championship game.
During the first game, I went the extra mile to block his shot, shouting “Yes!” with tears coming out of my eyes…only to turn around and see everybody staring at me. A few minutes later, he knocked the wind out of me by planting an elbow in my midsection while I was trying to fight through his pick.
After that first game, we smiled at each other and were as civil as the actors from a 1980s Grey Poupon Mustard commercial. We shook hands, and reminisced about childhood visits to Wisconsin Dells. At the end of the night, we wished our favorite teams the best and headed home.
Reporters are noting more civility coming out of Packers and Bears locker rooms...
...Jay Cutler helped my baby brother transition to college life at Vanderbilt. I think I will name my first son Jay—Aaron Rodgers
...Clay Mathews has some really awesome football moves and nice hair—Jay Cutler
...It’s not Lions, Tigers, and Bears…It’s Sharks, Tigers and Vikings—Ryan Grant
...Golly. I sure hope we don’t have to play the Packers again—David Hester
This is insanity. Will someone please get Charles Martin on the phone to make some hand towels?
I guarantee that if Lovie, Brian, and Lance were hooked up to blood pressure monitors and shown the logos of every NFL Team, the Green and Gold’s “G” would send their blood pressure skyrocketing.
Come to think of it, with names like that (and soft, kind words for the Packers), maybe they could start a boy band.
There should be nothing civil between the competitors in professional sports' greatest rivalry. Not even the man known as “sweetness,” Walter Payton, demonstrated 100 percent civility.
I will never forget the game when Packers' cornerback Mark Lee legally pushed Payton out of bounds, only to have Payton’s big claw grab his jersey and pull him through the Bears sideline, tossing him over the seats.
Lee was penalized and kicked out of the game. The Super Bowl-bound Bears went on to win the game when Jim McMahon tossed a long TD pass to Willie Gault, something the Bears would’ve never tried had Lee been in the game.
Living in DC, I have yet to hear a Redskins fan speak kind words about the Cowboys. When I ask about Steelers vs. Ravens matchups to their respective fans, nostrils flare, hands twitch, and eyes turn to fire.
That used to be the case when the Pack took on the Bears.
In the 80s, Wisconsinites were bombarded with men from Illinoise (as spelled in Wisconsin for the sake of insult) growing Ditka mustaches, wearing Ditka sunglasses and chomping their gum nervously when trying to decide between the white cheddar or yellow cheddar cheese curds at their favorite Wisconsin vacation spot.
Sure, there are a few Bears fans that do their best to look like Urlacher, but they do that more because they have a man-crush than because they're trying to intimidate and annoy Packers' fans.
For some unknown reason, I am just as guilty of being pacified into thinking that the Packers vs. Bears rivalry is not as big as it once was, despite the significance of Sunday’s game in the storied rivalry.
In the past, fans would count on players to do a little trash-talking and reporters would use their magic to get the fans fired up.
Now, fans are desperate to find reasons to be infuriated and have to look for hidden messages in President Obama’s comments about attending the Super Bowl if the Bears make it.
(Obama will lose one-five percent of Cheesehead votes in the next election because he supports the Bears).
Enough with the sissy stuff.
NFL football is the closest most Americans will ever get to consistently seeing men sweat, bleed and batter each other in a full-scale battle. Like war, football is strategic and physical. It requires a team effort from men who trust each other with their aching knees and lives.
When the Packers and Bears line-up to grunt it out this Sunday, they will be doing it at a stadium built to memorialize soldiers who died giving their heart and soul to fight wars so that we can leisurely enjoy games like football.
I don’t know about you, but when I see the statues of the soldiers looking down on Soldier Field, my adrenaline starts pumping and I am ready to take on anybody—just name the sport.
Not so long ago, NFL fans could count on the Raiders, Steelers, Cowboys…and the Packers vs. Bears rivalry to get the heart racing. Not anymore.
Perhaps Roger Goodell’s kinder, gentler NFL style of football etiquette is to blame. Maybe NFL teams are hesitant to allow players to speak freely during the Internet age.
As fans, we can renew these rivalries at work, in our neighborhoods, and on social media sites, despite Goodell’s strong-hand control over team media and public relations. We can think about those soldiers who represent all the fallen heroes in America. Or, we can monitor coach Rex Ryan’s every dagger-throwing word for inspiration and envy.
Fortunately for Jets fans, chivalry among NFL players is only dead in New York.