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Bears-Packers a classic clash to be appreciated

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM



It’s cold. It should be colder. A frigid air mass needs to sail down from Canada and drop anchor inside Soldier Field.

That’s the way this is supposed to be, with large football players from two Midwestern hamlets using numb fingers to gouge, claw and otherwise disfigure each other. The sod has to be as hard and uneven as cobblestones, too. And in late February, somewhere near the south end zone, a worker needs to stumble upon the frozen body of some face-painted, bare-chested slob whose last words were, ‘‘Pecs like these weren’t meant to be hidden.’’

It’s the only way.

Bears-Packers, for everything. If that doesn’t give you shivers, nothing will.

The game today hasn’t even started, but there’s already an elemental urge to preserve it, to keep it just as it is, in suspended anticipation. The game can’t possibly live up to the buildup, can it?

Can it?

The Bears against the Packers to decide who gets to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Whichever side you fall on, however much you might hate the other team, you have to appreciate what we’ve been given.

This will be the 182nd game between the franchises, but it’ll be only the second time they have faced each other in the playoffs (1941 being the first). It’s as if it finally dawned on somebody up there what a good story this would be.

The Bears are 91 in NFL years, the Packers a year younger. Together, they harken back to a time when helmets were made of leather and men were made of granite. That’s what we want to believe, isn’t it? That the players were square-jawed and of sturdy middle-American stock?

And we want to believe the Bears-Packers rivalry remains pristine, that somehow the pure pride from the 1920s has carried all the way through to 2011, despite endorsement deals, incentive clauses, tweets and other modern debris.

A winner and a loser

Indulge us on this one day, OK?

Today, two teams and two cities will do battle. There is no consolation prize here. There will be a winner and a loser, happy people and sad people. There will be the warmth of Arlington, Texas, site of Super Bowl XLV, or the cold and darkness of a Chicago and Green Bay winter. Nothing in between.

Everything that could have gone right for the Bears this season did — and that includes the opportunity to play the Packers today. If the Bears are going to write the unlikely tale of a left-for-dead team winning a championship, then it’s only right they would have to face their blood enemy to do it.

If the standard Black and Blue Division script played out properly, both teams would send angry running backs up the middle to batter the opposing defense. But that’s not how this is. You have to make room for some latter-day story lines. Two strong-armed quarterbacks — one with a scowl on his face, the other with a weight on his back — will get most of the attention.

It will be the Bears’ Jay Cutler against the world, which sounds bad unless you understand that’s the way he seems to want it. And it will be the Packers’ Aaron Rodgers trying to get his team where Brett Favre used to take it. Replacing a legend takes muscle.

Oh, there will be bruising defense, just like in the old days. Bears defensive end Julius Peppers tips passes and topples quarterbacks. Bullet-headed Brian Urlacher has been rejuvenated this season. For the Packers, linebacker Clay Matthews is the crazed pass rusher with the crazed hair.

Another chapter in the story

Two teams, two paths. The talented Packers were supposed to be here all along, but they struggled before righting themselves just in time. The Bears started fast, stumbled, rediscovered themselves at midseason and took full advantage of facing third-string quarterbacks in three consecutive road games.

They also beat the Eagles and the Jets. That’s not good luck; that’s just good.

As the game approaches, the needle of public opinion seems to be inching toward the Bears. They’ve come a long way from that miserable day in Week 4 when the Giants sacked Cutler nine times and left him in a concussed pile. If the question is which team has come the furthest since the preseason, it’s no contest. But that’s not how life works.

That the Bears have gotten this far is a testament to perseverance and opportunism. Same with the Packers, who dealt with an array of injuries this season. So nobody gets to claim sole ownership of the underdog card. Both have good rags-to-riches stories. Here comes another chapter for someone to tell.

The game-time temperature is expected to be in the lows 20s, with wind chills in the teens. Not optimal, but primal and primitive enough. It’s going to be a cold day in hell for the loser.



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