Rivalry Revives 'Majik' Memories

Former Packers quarterback Don Majkowski talks about the Green Bay-Chicago rivalry, Sunday's NFC Championship Game and Aaron Rodgers. "We didn't want to let our fans down," he told our Tom Andrews about playing the Bears.

Packers vs. Bears. NFC Championship Game. The winners move on to the Super Bowl and the losers spend the next six months licking their wounds. Only once before in the long, bloody, bruising history of these two teams (1941) has a postseason game between them had championship implications. Certainly, never has there been so much hype and anticipation.

So how much of this rivalry is real? And how much is hype? Do these guys actually hate each other?

"Talk about fandemonium," former Packer quarterback Don Majkowski said. "The atmosphere in Chicago is going to be crazy! Back when I played, it was a little more old school. I would never say I hate an individual player. It's just a rivalry. The fans take things a lot more seriously, where they actually hate the Bears and the Bears fans hate the Packers. We respected the guys as players and we certainly respected the rivalry. We didn't want to let our fans down. I'm not sure we took the Bears game more seriously but we understood the significance because of the location of both cities."

Having said that, when these teams lay out the licks on Sunday, they will put a little extra mustard on it. Bet on it.

"Without question, there will be a little extra flavor because of the intensity," Majkowski said. "I can only speak from my perspective. I never hated any of the guys on the other team but I certainly couldn't wait to take it to ‘em."

Majkowski well remembers the 1980s, a particularly ugly time for the rivalry. Ken Stills torpedoing Matt Suhey. The Fridge rubbing in defeat with a touchdown run and touchdown reception. Charles Martin's infamous late hit on Jim McMahon. Walter Payton grabbing Mark Lee's facemask and pulling him over a bench, causing Lee to get ejected from the game.

"It was a lot different back then," Majkowski chuckled. "You can no longer get away with those kinds of antics like saying you're going to have a bounty on certain players. But I can't honestly say that Bears players want to go out there and intentionally hurt somebody or that the Packers want to intentionally hurt somebody. But it's going to be as hard fought as you can possibly play."

Though Majik left Green Bay after the 1992 season, he has continued to keep track of the team. As the Packers get set for the biggest game of the Thompson-McCarthy era, Majkowski likes what he sees.

"Right now, the Packers are playing, as a complete team, much better than they were at the beginning of the season," Majkowski said. "I give a lot of credit to Mike McCarthy, especially on offense with the absence of Ryan Grant due to injury. Mike has really gotten into a nice rhythm of game planning and play calling offensively, mixing up different personnel groupings, different running schemes and trying to complement the pass a little bit. The running game was virtually nonexistent earlier in the season but now they have at least some semblance of a running game. In Philadelphia, they put in that unique formation like a power-I, wishbone-type formation that really gave James Starks an opportunity to be effective."

Naturally, Majik has taken special interest in how Aaron Rodgers manages the quarterback position.

"Aaron keeps getting better and better and better each week. Right now, with the corps of receivers he has, the Packers unquestionably have been the most productive passing team the past five weeks. Aaron is throwing the ball with such accuracy and velocity. His release has gotten so quick and he's got great athleticism. He's been the hottest quarterback in the NFL this past quarter of the season."

Majik admits he wasn't entirely sold on Rodgers in the beginning. He didn't like Rodgers' mechanics. What's changed?

"When he first came out of the draft, my only knock on Aaron was that I thought he was very robotic in the way he dropped back to pass and the way he positioned the ball before he threw it. He had the ball way too high up near his right ear as he dropped back to pass. In order to play quarterback in this league, when you're dropping back to pass, you have to be very fluid. Everything's rhythmical. You have to be very smooth. The normal position when you drop back to pass is to keep the ball chest high between your armpits.

"Even though I was a little critical of him, I noticed when he had an opportunity to play as a rookie in preseason games that he was a guy that automatically gained the respect of his teammates just by his presence, his attitude and his aura. There's one thing you can't teach a quarterback and that's how to be a natural leader."

Majkowski points out that Rodgers' wait in the shadows of Brett Favre paid some dividends.

"There's no question that being behind Brett Favre for all those years, there were a lot of positive things that rubbed off on Aaron. I'm sure Aaron worked on his mechanics in the offseason and during the season when he did have a chance to play. He's done a nice job of becoming a much more fluid, rhythmical quarterback because there is nothing robotic about him any longer."

Rodgers and the Packers appear poised to do some serious damage at Chicago on Sunday. However, without predicting a final score, Majkowski is hoping Mother Nature keeps her nose out of it.

"I just hope the weather doesn't get to be too bad because it will negatively affect the Packers more because they are so reliant on the passing game. The Bears have more of a consistent running game and Jay Cutler's throwing the ball well in cold weather. It's going to be one of those close defensive games, like the last one in Green Bay without either offense dominating."

Tough. Close. Brutal. Would the Packers and Bears have it any other way?

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Tom Andrews has covered the Packers since 1998. E-mail him at andrewst@charter.net

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