It's the Bears and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. Can anything that happens at Soldier Field on Sunday live up to the hype?
We're about to find out like never before.
The current age of social media gives fans a perfect storm of random information -- more than enough to occupy the time until the NFL's longest and most traditional rivalry takes to the field.
The teams have a major presence on Facebook, Twitter and the general blogosphere, and it's meeting a voracious fan appetite for chatter, from insightful to trivial to trash talking.
Like this Saturday-night tweet from the Packers' injured Ryan Grant on his @ryangrant25 Twitter account, shortly after their win over the Atlanta Falcons: "Pack Fans might want 2 start booking flights 4 feb. Not looking ahead but u c we just have better players than other teams."
The Super Bowl, of course, is set for Feb. 6 in Dallas.
Perhaps reflecting the reserve of coach Lovie Smith, the Bears tend not to tweet such braggadocio. Although several players have verified Twitter accounts, they're in various states of activity. Greg Olsen (@gregolsen82, with 32,000 followers) and Jay Cutler (@JayCutler6, with 71,000) haven't tweeted yet this year, even though there's plenty of Cutler inside dope available via his sister (@jennacutler, with more than 1,000 followers) and his girlfriend, reality-TV star Kristin Cavallari (@kristincav), whose 400,000 followers surpass them all.
And perhaps with good reason. On Sunday she not only revealed, "I love JC with all my (heart)," but also, shortly after his opening bomb to Olsen, "Yaaaaaa that's my boyfriend!!!! Woot woot."
A mere 140 characters isn't much room to share deep thoughts on anything, much less something as complex as football. And although fans might like to read that Devin Hester (@D_Hest23) is "loading up on redbull game time coming baby!!!!!!" or on Sunday morning that Johnny Knox (@Jknox13) is "leaving the hotel heading to the office #WORKTIME," they might actually find more insight to the life of an athlete with Nick Roach's more mundane post from @ricknoach: "It's hard to feel welcome in the store when ur only choice of jeans is skinny, extra skinny, and super slim skinny."
Chris Harris (@ChrisHarrisNFL) is an avid tweeter, and gives as good as he gets (befitting a safety), as on this crowing post this weekend: "The great thing about sports is none of YOU EXPERTS had us picked to win our Div yet alone be n NFL Championship. Haha Boy were you wrong."
The Packers, too, post on Twitter, and not just Grant. Yet while Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers (@AaronRodgers12) might have more followers (97,000) than Cutler, he hasn't posted anything since August. Linebacker Clay Matthews (@ClayMatthews52) has 71,000 followers, but like many an NFL tweeter most recently used it to root on college conference favorites in a bowl game.
For genuine information, follow the Daily Herald's Bob LeGere (@BobLeGere). WSCR 670-AM's Zach Zaidman (@ZachZaidman) does a good job using Twitter to publicize his coverage. For true new use of the Twitter medium, @bearsbuzztap serves well as an aggregator linking to Bear stories across the media.
Facebook does serve a purpose for users mulling the game action, as when Score host Dan McNeil posts he "thinks it's funny that Seattle didn't watch game tape on the Bears." This can sometimes lead to the sort of exchange that makes sports-talk radio worthwhile, as when Jon Bach chimed in with the political humor: "If Jay was friendlier to the media, he wouldn't have been touched and could have walked into the end zone."
The Score's overnight host Les Grobstein and Cheryl Raye-Stout of WBEZ 91.5-FM both did a scattershot play-by-play Sunday on Facebook, with Grobstein pointing out, "Snow flurries starting to blow in here as Bears are introduced," and Raye-Stout adding the more pointed, "Cutler to Olsen 58 yard TD. We know Jay at least has a good relationship with his tight end (not us ... hehe)."
Most fans seem to prefer concentrating on the game rather than seeing what others are posting about it. Fan sites like dabears.com and beargoggleson.com serve either role, giving fans a chance to blog either in the here and now in the midst of action or with a little time for consideration during the week between games.
Like @bearsbuzztap on Twitter, windycitygridiron.com serves well as an aggregator of disparate stories from "Celebrate in style -- Get your Ditka Sweater Vest for next week's championship game" to "Aaron Rodgers snubs cancer patient wanting an autograph," both complete with links.
The Bears' Media Services Manager Jim Christman said he makes it a point to check out profootballtalk.nbcsports.com, as well as the more irreverent deadspin.com (home of the Brett Favre scandals) and withleather.uproxx.com (which, like windycitygridiron, was linking to the Rodgers cancer-snub story). Yet, Christman pointed out, no blogs hold formal credentials with the Bears.
So Lovie Smith and Jay Cutler might not share everything with the media, but it turns out that, even with all the other dope out there, TV and radio stations and, yes, newspapers are still your best source of genuine sports information, especially where Sunday's showdown is concerned.