From day one at Halas Hall, coach Lovie Smith wasn't afraid to announce to reporters what his goals were for the Chicago Bears during his tenure as head coach. This week he said, "When you're setting your program up, you have to have a goal you can achieve right away, a short-term goal, one game. It was easy. It was the Packers."
As a quite calm and collective coach amidst the newest fad of loud and obnoxious coaches trying to divert attention from the field to off of it, Smith has trouble putting in his two cents about the NFL.
It isn't often you hear Smith starting any controversy with reporters or calling out players or officials. You never hear any talk of the opponent; only the common mantra: "We are preparing just like any other game."
But this week he is different. Smith has no love for the Pack. "You just look at our history and it does have a respectful tone, but it can be nasty also. It's going to be a physical game. We don't like each other," he said.
His culture blends with the blue collar city that he coaches in. His demeanor never wavers; he never gets too high or too low.
Every week, he insists that his team is not looking ahead, that his team will be ready come Sunday. Often he is correct, but even he is revealing some of his emotion this week. He has a sense of the rivalry, and what it means to the players, organization, and the fans.
This Sunday in the NFC Championship, the 182nd meeting between two of the most storied franchises in NFL history has so much riding on it. The rivalry has been filled with Hall of Famers and hatred, physicality and disgust. Two linebackers, one from the Bears and one from the Packers, epitomize the rivalry.
In a sport that is constantly changing, where the hot offense is the "air-it-out" attack, Clay Matthews and Brian Urlacher personify and represent the nasty and lunch-pale type of football that has made this rivalry so great.
Urlacher comes from a rich lineage of great Bears linebackers such as Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary. Matthews leads a new generation of Packers that have gotten back to playing the hard-nosed defense that coach Vince Lombardi preached.
This game, featuring both Urlacher and Matthews, shouldn't be any different than those played in the '40s, '50s and '60s. Lovie Smith knows that, and with the passion and heart entrenched in this rivalry, he finally admitted that this isn't "Just another week." It's the NFC Championship against the arch-rival Packers, and he wouldn't have it any other way.