The Tradition Continues

LAKE FOREST -- It's a rivalry some couldn't live without. A tradition others consider much like a holiday.


   It's one of the country's greatest rivalries, and this time, the game means so much.

   The Bears and Packers will continue the NFL's longest rivalry Sunday when Green Bay invades Soldier Field. The teams will meet for the 162nd time in regular-season play in arguably the biggest game in a decade.

   Not since 1995 has this game meant something. It was the last time the two came in with winning records (the Bears were 6-3, the Packers 5-4).

   The Bears lost that game 35-28 at Green Bay. Chicago sputtered out and finished 9-7 under Dave Wannstedt without making the playoffs. Green Bay ended up 11-5, won the NFC Central Division title, and went to the NFC Championship game.

   The Bears are 6-1 with a one-game lead in the division over the Packers. Green Bay enters Sunday's game with a 5-2 record, close enough to step on Chicago's heels.

   "It's the Packers -- it's a big game, no doubt," Bears quarterback Jim Miller said. "Not only is it a rivalry, but we're trying to distance ourselves with everybody in the division, and everybody else is trying to catch up.

   "It's a big game for them, and it's a big game for us. It will be a special one."

   The tradition seems as common as Thanksgiving dinner or the opening of presents on Christmas morning. The rivals met for 59 straight years starting in 1923, and that only stopped because of the players' strike that canceled both contests in 1982. Chicago leads the all-time series 84-71-6 and won the only postseason contest between the two in 1941.

   "This game brings back a lot of memories," Packers running back Ahman Green said. "When I was at Nebraska, it was like getting ready for Colorado or getting ready for the (Oklahoma) Sooners. It's a big game with a lot of attention on both sides. I know everybody's getting ready for this, from the coaches to the players to the people.

   "It's basically a border war, and it's all about bragging rights."

   The Packers have won seven straight games at Soldier Field, dating back to 1993, and have captured eight of the last nine meetings since 1992.

   Some have suggested the rivalry in recent years has lost its luster, but not this season.

   "It's a big game and it's a rivalry game," Green said. "It's bigger because it's a conference game, and in terms of records, the implications are huge on both sides of it."

   Of the 160-plus showdowns between the neighborhood rivals, the scoring differential is a mere 1.1 points per game over the last eight decades. In 69 of those meetings, the game was been decided by a touchdown or less.

   But Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache downplayed the tradition of the game.

   "It's a big rivalry, but rivalry's got nothing to do with it," Blache said. "They've kicked our butts the last two trips they've made it to Soldier Field (28-6 and 35-19), and that's what concerns me.

   "We're not going to be talking about (Vince) Lombardi and (George) Halas when we step on the field. It's about the division championship, and that's all."

CB Reggie Austin Hip Probable
LT Blake Brockermeyer Knee Probable
DT Robert Newkirk Ribs Probable
RB Anthony Thomas Toe Probable
RG Chris Villarrial Hip Probable

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