Yet there’s nothing like Packers week to bring the Monsters of the Midway back to reality. This is especially so for the rookies, who on Sunday will get their first taste of the oldest NFL rivalry.
For Michael Ola, who will start his third straight game at left guard, a contest against Green Bay will be just one more eye-opening experience for the first-year NFL player.
We sat down with Ola to discuss the team’s two-game win streak, what he expects on Sunday, lessons he’s learning from Matt Slauson and more.
“That game against the Jets was fun, but then again, it’s always fun when you win. Two quality wins on the road against great opponents mean a lot to this team. Looking back on that now, all I am thinking is how awesome it was.
“The noise was definitely a factor, as we knew it would be. There was one point in the game when we actually had to call a timeout as nobody could hear properly. But we’d practiced all week with the noise machine here so it wasn’t completely unfamiliar. We practice for exactly that situation with the speakers going non-stop. I try to get as close to the speakers as possible just so I get accustomed to the situation.
“Thinking back I remember as the clock was winding down, it got up there in terms of sound level. I thought ‘Oh snap. So this is what it’s like in the NFL’. I expect this Sunday’s game to be equally loud.
“I expected life in the NFL to be exciting but this has exceeded all my expectations. Two prime time games, everybody watching, two wins. It doesn’t get better than that. I found the travel experiences to be manageable and for that, I give all the credit to the coaches. We’ve had short weeks but everybody’s been OK thanks to the organization here at Halas Hall. They’ve been all over us in terms of making sure we get adequate rest and have fresh legs.
“The coaches, the GM, the veteran players all know how to prepare for situations like this. I just listen to them and follow their lead. There is meticulous planning in effect here. If you follow the schedule set out, you’ll be fine. The players have loved this, to tell your the truth. We all feel we have our legs up under us and are ready to go this weekend.”
How familiar are you with the Bears-Packers rivalry?
“You’d have to be living under a rock not to know about that. Almost any football player can give you that kind of detail. It’s the oldest rivalry in the league and deserves respect. I almost feel that I was born into this rivalry. It feels that familiar. Even though I’m from Georgia, I know the situation. It’s us against them and I’ll be wearing the Bears uniform proudly that day.”
Can you compare this rivalry to anything you’ve been through before?
“Well, probably nothing in college, as it was a smaller program. But going back some, I’d say it would remind me most of high school. I was born there, raised there, and I bled it you know?
“It was Riverdale versus North Clay. And actually, The Packers have a player from North Clay so in my mind, we’ll be playing our old games all over again. It’s Morgan Burnett, a [former] safety from Georgia Tech. We had the same trainer pre-draft in Atlanta. At that time we said that we’d see each other across the line in some NFL game, or that was our hope anyway. As soon as we both were drafted I looked up the schedule.
“We’ve been in touch since then and he knows that I know what is at stake between us this Sunday. High school revisited. It’s going to be fun to go up against him, treating it like our early playing days.
“It’s going to be a tough game. I don’t understand those people out there who are saying that the Packers aren’t good this year. As far as I can see, they are really good. All I know is when I’ve watched film on them, it’s been intimidating.
“I’m working on my skills every day. In fact [Matt] Slauson reminds me constantly where I need to improve. There’s no escape from that guy. He may be hurt now, but he’s lurking, waiting to catch me in a mistake. Really I’m so grateful for all he is doing, spending the time to help me raise my game. He’s got me working so hard you wouldn’t believe it. I try to be a better player every day. With Matt’s help, that’s beginning to happen.
“There’s so much to learn as far as how to be a professional, and that is the kind of thing he’s telling me. How to take things from meetings and practice to a game situation. How to act like a professional. How to make this game my own is what I am working on with Matt’s help now. It’s like going to boarding school and having a private teacher or being home schooled. I try to take a 30 second break and he just pops up to tell me stuff like ‘Get back to work’. If I can be even a fraction of what Matt has become, it will help me go a long way in this profession.”
Beth Gorr has been covering the Bears for the last 14 years and is the author of Bear Memories: The Chicago-Green Bay Rivalry. She is currently working on a second book about early Bears history.