NFL’s oldest rivalry revisited as Packers host Bears

By: 

Gary Seymour, Leader Columnist

After all of the sideline demonstrating, the ticket-holder remonstrating and the executive agitating during the pre-game lead-ups, there was actually professional football being played this week.

If it’s hard to remember when the game had ever been so politicized, it’s because no such time has existed. The national anthem has taken on a polarizing life of its own, with players uniting to protest the quality of life here, and some fans protesting the protest by renouncing the NFL altogether.

It’s made you pine for the days when anthem controversies involved a simple, unintentional slaughtering of the tune – like the one by the reigning Francis Scott Off-Key of our era, Carl Lewis (whose version, if you’ve never heard it, is sadistic comedy gold).

As it is, there are public figures up to and including the Oval Office weighing in with incendiary remarks, ensuring that the nation’s division continues unabated.

In a division reference more suited to this section of the paper, the Green Bay Packers can take sole possession of first place in the NFC North with a win tonight against the Chicago Bears.

The Packers are tied with Detroit and Minnesota at 2-1 after coming from behind to beat Cincinnati in overtime last Sunday. They’re also tied with the Bears in the head-to-head series that dates back to 1922. Of the 192 games played between them, each team has won 93 times, with 6 ties.

Both teams come into Lambeau Field with momentum after their wins last week. The Bears, who had come within a dropped pass in the end zone of beating Atlanta in their opener, garnered some attention with their overtime win over the Steelers. The importance of the Packers’ 27-24 comeback win against the Bengals, meanwhile, cannot be overstated.

For much of the day, it looked like the Bengals had Aaron Rodgers’ number. They were the only team that the Packers’ quarterback had never beaten, and when Cincinnati cornerback William Jackson returned an interception for 75 yards and a touchdown – only the second pick-6 in Rodgers’ career – the Bengals led 21-7 and it looked like more of the same.

A loss at home to a weak team would have been as close to psychological ruin as you ever want to get in Week 3.

But the Packers’ defense held the Bengals to a field goal over the next 44 minutes of play, and Rodgers engineered a late 75-yard drive that sent the game into overtime. After the defense forced a Bengals’ 3-and-out, Rodgers connected with Geronimo Allison on a 72-yard pass that set up the winning field goal. There, in a nutshell, is the difference that Rodgers tends to make in close games.

As for the Bears, they might be improved, but at times they still can’t get out of their own way. They drop a lot of passes — when they throw at all — and as demonstrated last week, they pull some remarkably stupid moves – even in a league of preening showoffs where vainglory is the new normal.

Chicago’s Marcus Cooper wrote himself onto the ballot for the Idiot Hall of Fame when he returned a blocked field goal attempt at the end of the first half for an apparent 73-yard touchdown that would have given his team a 14-point lead.

But, as he approached the 10-yard line he decided to milk the spotlight. Basking in his personal wonderfulness, he stopped running, slowing to a jog and finally a lazy stroll. Predictably, he was caught from behind before meandering into the end zone and stripped of the ball, which ended up bouncing behind the end line, out of play. A generous ruling gave the Bears the ball on back at the 1-yard line – the spot of the fumble – but a false start penalty forced a field goal attempt.

Style takes precedence over function these days, and evidently missed touchdowns are a small price to pay as long as you look cool when you’re screwing up. Old-fashioned as it may seem for the Packers, any kind of win tonight will be cool enough.

Veteran sportswriter Gary Seymour’s column appears weekly in the Leader. He can be contacted at sports@wolfrivermedia.com.