Here I am, the last truly fervent college football devotee here at The Sports Debates, NOT writing about how some game on Saturday will be the weekend’s best. It almost makes me feel dirty. For me, college football is absolutely the greatest sport in America. The players may not have the refined athleticism of their professional counterparts, but, like the entire sport itself, its unrefined gray area on and off the field is what makes it so lovable.
But, everyone once in a great while, some of the traditions that hold so strongly for college football seep into some professional games. When tradition is augmented with talent, intrigue, and TRUE drama – not the mocked up stuff the sports media wants us all to believe is important – then the traits that make all college football games great are mirrored in the professional game. No game better encapsulates that idea than the matchup between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field on Sunday.
It has been a long four seasons for the Chicago Bears. Can you believe it has been four years since the Bears even made the playoffs? Of course, the team more than made the playoffs. The team won the NFC Central, the NFC, and then lost in the Super Bowl. But the team has lost its direction since by firing several defensive coordinators, hiring former NFL coaches as coordinators (and in one case as just the defensive line coach), and swapping players out with reckless abandon. Well, at least that is one perception of the Bears the past several seasons. The other perception is that it was a down on its luck team that succumbed to too many injuries too close together.
No matter what, it was clear the team stunk and the expectations beyond .500 were unwise.
The Packers, however, are a team that built toward success through strong draft cycles, player development, and a commitment to a core group of players that was exceptionally wise. While the Bears acted in mercurial fashion, the Packers have slowly built toward a team that is coming of age and poised to dominate its division with designs on extending its life deeper into the playoffs in 2010. While the expectations are high, the talent and ability of the team seems to be in lockstep.
Now, both teams – which relish the opportunity to play in a rivalry that is truly one the greater contests in sports – sit in a tie atop a surprising division, each boasting a 2-0 record.
The Bears must prove their record is not a fluke. If not for a stupid rule that prevented the Detroit Lions from beating the Bears in week one, the team would be sitting at 1-1. Boosted by a bogus rule, the team came out and beat a still talented, though struggling, Dallas Cowboys team. A quick glance at the Bears’ schedule reveals that the next two weeks will be very revelatory for the team. If the team can be 4-0 at the quarter pole of the season – or even 3-1 – suddenly the Bears become the team to beat in the division. With a primetime, Monday night matchup this week, and a Sunday night contest against the Giants next week, the Bears may fight through ha tough stretch and legitimately challenge the Packers for the division crown.
The Packers must prove their record is a sign of things to come. Their schedule reads very differently than the Bears’. While Chicago caught Dallas early and down, the Packers face off against them in week nine, right after a game against the Jets. The injury to starting running back Ryan Grant has shaken the team, but does not appear to have broken it. Brandon Jackson is a more than able backup running back on a team that is built around the passing game anyway. The defense is outstanding, with Clay Matthews playing stellar on defense thus far having recorded six sacks already.
The Bears and the Packers are eager to make a statement. This game is early in the season but crucially important if either team is to prove it can compete each week when it matters the most.
As inconsistent s the Bears have been in recent seasons, the Packers are now that consistent. Both teams need to win this game. Sure, it helps for one of have bragging rights and the tiebreak, but both teams have a real shot to have a special season, and both need a win this weekend to build momentum and belief. For week three, there is a lot at stake, making this game the best this weekend has to offer.