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updated: 1/17/2011 11:35 PM

Smith's dislike for Packers goes back a way

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  • Bears head coach Lovie Smith, who was calm during the Bears-Seahawks game Sunday at Soldier Field, says the Bears-Packers rivalry can get "nasty" at times, and he expects a hard-hitting game Sunday.

      Bears head coach Lovie Smith, who was calm during the Bears-Seahawks game Sunday at Soldier Field, says the Bears-Packers rivalry can get "nasty" at times, and he expects a hard-hitting game Sunday.
    George LeClaire | Staff Photographer

 
 

Usually Bears coach Lovie Smith prefers to low-key anything controversial that might distract his team from preparing for a game.

But Smith, as much as anyone, seems to be enjoying the hype and excitement that accompany Sunday's NFC championship game at Soldier Field.

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It's the 182nd meeting between the Bears and the Packers, the most frequently played rivalry in NFL history, and the fact that the winner of this one goes to the Super Bowl heightens the interest exponentially.

This is just the second time the two teams have met in the postseason. The Bears prevailed in that first one, just over 69 years ago, with a 33-14 victory in a semifinal game en route to the NFL championship in 1941.

When he was hired in 2004, Smith made beating the Packers his top priority, followed by winning the NFC North and then the Super Bowl.

Players realize how important the rivalry with the Packers is, and why the outcome against a particular opponent matters so much. And it's not just because Smith says so.

"It's not that beating Green Bay wins you championships or anything like that," said four-year veteran tight end Greg Olsen. "I think it's more that it sets an attitude.

"(It says) 'Hey, let's start off with first things first.' To win our division, we've got to beat our rival. Green Bay is that rival. We play them twice a year, so let's get 2 wins.

"It's not so much that these 2 wins are our Super Bowl, and then we don't care about the rest. But it's just, 'Let's set this attitude. Let's beat our rival and then carry that momentum into these other games.' That's step one."

Smith said he appreciated the seriousness of the rivalry even before he set foot in Chicago, but it was reinforced soon after he arrived.

"I'm a fan of the National Football League," said Smith, who is 8-6 vs. the Packers. "I grew up a big Dallas Cowboys fan (in the East Texas town of Big Sandy) and knew quite a bit about the Packers from that.

"I was always on the other side. I haven't ever been with a team where we were cheering for the Packers, so I had a little dislike for them, even way back then.

"One of the first things (Bears chairman of the board) Michael McCaskey went over with me when I came here to interview for the job was to make sure that I knew about the rivalry. Believe me, we know exactly how we're supposed to feel about that rivalry."

So, too, do his players. It's not the same as it was in the mid-1980s, when Mike Ditka coached the Bears and Forrest Gregg coached the Packers.

They had played against each other in the rivalry and hated each other. That attitude seeped down to the players. It's still an intense rivalry, just not as personal.

"If you look at our history together, it does have a respectful tone," Smith said. "But it can be nasty also. It's going to be a physical game. We don't like each other. Believe me, there is not a whole lot of love for us up north.

"But games are supposed to be played on the field, and in the end if I felt like me doing a whole lot of talking would help us play better, I'd start doing a whole lot more of that.

"It will come down to how we play; our guys realize that."

Since Smith has been in charge, he has emphasized the rivalry, and players get it and buy into it. But now it's more of a team vs. team, city vs. city thing.

"I don't think there's personal animosity at all," Olsen said. "But I think it's a heated rivalry. The two teams want to beat each other. I think (the players) take a lot of pride in representing their city well.

"It's nothing personal against those players. We want to beat the Packers. It's not that we want to beat Aaron Rodgers or we want to beat Charles Woodson. It's not the players vs. the players. It's the team vs. the team.

"It's the Bears vs. the Packers."

Exactly.

•Follow Bob LeGere's Bears reports via Twitter@BobLeGere. Check out his blog, Bear Essentials, at dailyherald.com.

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