By Dan Bernstein–
Resistance is futile.
As the clock ticked down to the Bears’ victory over Seattle and the NFC Championship date with the Packers became reality, I committed to growing a Ditka mustache by morning.
One advisor suggested I could accelerate the process by watching “The Blues Brothers” on a loop, and applying giardinera to my upper lip every ten minutes, stopping only to eat deep-dish pizza.
No luck, sadly, but the fact is clear: those of us who have downplayed the significance of the rivalry had better update our programs for the week. This is going to be epic, and it’s going to bring out every last bit of combative cliché elicited by a history that legendary Packers PR man Lee Remmel first called “primordial.”
National political leaders are asking us to lower the heat of public discourse, softening our rhetoric in a climate of fringe instability.
Wait a week, or at least grant an exemption to Illinois and Wisconsin. (Or realize that a healthy channeling of inflamed emotions through local pro sports is part of the solution)
The Bears/Packers circus has become trite and forced during the regular season, with fans, writers and broadcasters going through the motions and players trying to say the right things, or avoid saying the wrong ones. Back in September, I tried to sum up this feeling, pointing to the combined effects of interconnectedness, fantasy football, and higher postseason expectations. At the risk of solipsistic self-quoting:
“Games matter for actual, valid reasons, like divisional-race importance and home-field playoff advantage. Games are big on an NFL schedule when two good teams meet with something at stake. ‘Big’ is earned more through quality, now, not merely history. Even here.”
So a meeting at Soldier Field for a Super Bowl trip qualifies, I guess.
It really does have everything, too. Each team has a rising-star quarterback, at least one all-time-great defender, rebuilt offensive line and one victory in this year’s two matchups. Each team smacked around its latest playoff foe as if in a hurry to get to this point.
All the hackneyed activity is, for now, validated. It’s real, and it’s worth it.
We laugh at the goofy fans that try too hard and care too much – the weirdo with the taxidermed-bear hat and painted face, the guy with the Bears-themed car, the bar owner putting up signs that “enemy” patrons are unwelcome, and the crass effigy in the foyer of the Brat Stop. And we’ll always shake our heads at the crazies and drunks that actually fight over such things, or worse, take out frustrations on friends or family.
But if you can’t find a way to get into this, somehow — Bears and Packers playing in Chicago for a trip to Dallas — what’s the point?
Does this Butkus jersey make me look fat?