Bears’ Smith embraces old rivalry
Beating Green Bay to get to the Super Bowl? Well, that’s an added bonus.
“The first thing (chairman) Michael McCaskey went over with when I came here to interview for the job was to make sure I knew about the rivalry,” Smith said Monday. “He let me know a little bit about it then, too. Believe me, we know exactly how we’re supposed to feel about that rivalry.”
The league’s oldest rivalry sure took an interesting turn when the Bears knocked off the Seattle Seahawks in their divisional playoff game Sunday.
Now, it’s Chicago against Green Bay for the NFC championship at Soldier Field, and the stakes have never been higher in a series that dates back to 1921. These teams have played 181 times, with the Bears holding a 92-83-6 edge, but only once in the playoffs.
That was way back in December 1941, a week after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, and the Bears came away with a 33-14 victory at Wrigley Field. A week later, they beat Washington for the NFL championship.
“I don’t think we really need a lot of motivation for this team,” Smith said on Monday. “We know ... how important this football game is to our fans. Of course it’s big for us.
“It’s a game where everyone wants to talk about all the (history). 1941 is the last time, the only time, we played for the championship. This year, one of the things we talked about was bringing back some of our tradition. We talked about the Monsters of the Midway. That’s a period when we first started being known as the Monsters of the Midway. So all that comes into play. All the old time Packers and Bears fans should all pay close attention this week to what’s going on.”
This figures to be a hot draw no matter how cold it is Sunday.
These are franchises with a combined 21 NFL championships and 48 Hall of Fame players. Bears fans remember Walter Payton getting run over when he was well out of bounds and Jim McMahon getting driven to the turf by Charles Martin several seconds after the whistle. Packers fans will say the Bears were no angels, either.
Tight end Greg Olsen said there’s no personal animosity, that the Bears “want to beat the Packers. It’s not that we want to beat Aaron Rodgers.”
Even so, Smith insisted, “We don’t like each other.”
“Believe me, there is not a whole lot of love for us coming up north,” he added. “But games are supposed to be played on the field. ... It will come down to how we play and our guys realize that.”
The Bears took advantage of a team-record 18 penalties by the Packers to beat Green Bay 20-17 in September and went all-out trying to knock them out of the playoffs in a 10-3 loss at Lambeau Field to finish the regular season. Chicago went with its starters even though it was locked into the No. 2 seed and had secured a first-round bye.
The Bears earned all that thanks to a remarkable turnaround, winning seven of eight before dropping the finale. That season-saving run gave them their third NFC North title in seven years and put them in the playoffs for the first time since the 2006 Super Bowl season.
Now, they’re eyeing the ultimate prize.
How appropriate that they’ll have to beat Green Bay to stay in the race. A Cowboys fan from Texas, Smith wasn’t particularly fond of the Packers growing up and probably didn’t need that history lesson from McCaskey. Either way, he was quick to target them when he got hired by the Bears seven years ago.
The way he saw it, beating the rival was a start for a team that was coming off back-to-back losing seasons, a small but important step toward those bigger goals.
“I think you set a goal, a short-term goal, something you can do immediately,” Smith said. “One game, of course. The rivalry. It’s Green Bay. You need to beat them every year. They’re normally one of the teams that’s up at the top of the division, also. Besides that, we want to win the division.
“If you’re beating your rivals and you’re winning your division, you have a chance to achieve your ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl.” Those are the three goals that we’ll have every year. Guys have bought into that. We still have an opportunity to achieve all of those goals.”