It's been a long time coming Bears fans.
All the analysis, combine statistics, OTAs, and anticipation for this season has finally come to fruition and the new season is upon us. For Chicago, it's a season rife with optimism and verve.
But don't worry. I won't bore you with another article highlighting the importance of Sunday night's showdown in Green Bay. I'm not going to compare Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers and predict which signal-caller will perform better.
I won't even talk about which defense needs to make more of a statement either. At this point, those tired, worn-out stories and debates yield only a hearty yawn from me.
I expect Jay Cutler, Matt Forte, Lance Briggs, Robbie Gould, and Brad Maynard to deliver solid performances this week and throughout the season, so they aren't really of great concern to me.
No, when I sit down to watch our beloved Monsters of the Midway on Sunday night, I'll be watching one more than any other: Orlando Pace.
Pace's signing with the Bears got somewhat lost in all of the hoopla surrounding the Cutler trade, but after the dust settled, most people both inside and outside of the organization seemed to believe Pace would upgrade the offensive line and be able to protect Cutler's blind side, while also providing veteran leadership to the younger players.
Additionally, much was made of his probable future-Hall of Fame status.
As cute as this sentiment is, watching the former St. Louis star get manhandled by Denver's Elvis Dumervil in the third preseason game did nothing to quell my suspicions that Pace may be too far past his prime to be considered a viable left tackle for a quarterback of Cutler's caliber.
At least not if Ron Turner wants to keep the star quarterback out of Chicago-area intensive care units.
Dumervil's dominance of Pace exposed a major flaw in the Bears' offensive metamorphosis this offseason: If Pace can't take care of business against the likes of Dumervil, how will he fare against James Harrison and the rest of the Steelers defense?
How can he possibly come out on top against Jared Allen twice this year?
Sunday Night figures to be a coming out party of sorts for Dom Capers' blitz-happy defense. The Packers have no reason to hold back at all when it comes to pressuring Cutler, but the silver lining seems to be that besides Aaron Kampman, Pace shouldn't have to line up across from any elite pass-rushers.
The Packers defense should be a good litmus test for how the Bears will perform against some of the potent 3-4 defenses they will face later on this season.
For Pace, it may be just another game in the twilight years of an illustrious career, but for long-suffering Bears fans, it's more than just another season-opener.
It's the first time most Bears fans have seen a star quarterback under center for their team, and to have his first game end in a loss to the Packers on national television is about as bad as it can get for us Bears fans.
If the Bears win, hardly anyone in the media will make note of how well Pace blocked. If they lose, he may be asked to shoulder the blame.
That's the nature of being an offensive lineman, and Pace is no stranger to it. But he will need to play better than anything he has shown us since coming to Chicago in order to keep Cutler on his feet and off his back.