The Bears started all of this. Don't forget that.
Venture back to the days following the Week 1 blowout of the Colts at Soldier Field, a victory that looks more impressive in hindsight given that Indianapolis is only team with a winning record the Bears have defeated all season. It wasn't the high point of fan confidence -- that would come after the Week 9 thumping of the Titans in Nashville -- but it was close.
The Bears had preseason Super Bowl aspirations, even if most of the noise was coming from people in their own city. Seeing off an offseason's worth of hope translate on the field so congruently in the first game only served to keep the local hype machine firing on all cylinders. Jay Cutler passed for over 300 yards, Brandon Marshall kick-started his monster campaign with nine catches for 119 yards and Alshon Jeffery caught a 42-yard bomb to officially put the game out of reach. The Bears would win 41-21 in what amounted to the perfect debut, the type of performance that gets a fanbase dreaming big. That logic apparently went for the players, too.
Cutler took the podium a couple days later and gushed about his new-look receivers. When asked how Green Bay, or any team, could matchup with Marshall and Jeffery on the outside, Cutler had two words: "Good luck."
You know what happens next. Cutler threw four interceptions at Lambeau and the Bears were embarrassed 23-10 in the first of many poorly played Thursday night games. The Packers didn't mince their words after the game. Why would they? Said Charles Woodson:
"Heard some talk out of the Bears: Packers secondary not working coverage, bigger receivers ... we heard about it," Woodson told ESPN's Rachel Nichols on the field after the game. "We understand that Jay is excited about his new weapons, but it's the same-old Jay. We don't need luck. Jay will throw us the ball."
And it was officially on.
The Bears-Packers rivalry has really been 'on' since the day Lovie Smith was hired, when he thought enough of Green Bay to make 'beating the Packers' one of his three points of emphasis upon accepting the job. It worked out for him well enough in the beginning. The Bears went into Lambeau in 2004 and made Lovie a winner the first time he played the Packers. Chicago would win three of their first four games against the Packers under Lovie and six of their first eight. Since 2007, though, the Bears have only beaten the Packers twice.
Cutler is 1-7 against Green Bay since arriving in Chicago in 2009, a record that includes a home loss in the NFC Championship that saw his reputation take a massive beating after he was forced to exit the game with a knee injury. Factor in Cutler's Bears debut -- throwing four picks at Lambeau in 2009 -- and what happened in Week 2 of this season and it's easy to see why virtually everyone is picking the Packers to win at Soldier Field on Sunday, even with the Bears in full-on desperation mode. Despite all of that, or maybe because of it, the Bears entered Packers Week again eager to get the smack talking going with Green Bay. It's all premeditated.
There was something beautiful about Brandon Marshall's Wednesday presser, if only because his intentions were obviously to troll everyone in sight. Consider: he took to the podium carrying a decrepit little Christmas tree and promptly compared the Bears' season to it. He was wearing a Devin Hester t-shirt -- the same guy who dropped a huge touchdown pass last week vs. the Vikings, the same guy who hasn't returned a kick for a score all season. And then he started firing on Green Bay. A couple choice cuts:
Rather than credit Green Bay personnel for limiting him to two catches for 24 yards during a Week 2 Bears loss at Lambeau Field, Marshall called Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers "their player MVP," adding he doesn't respect the players "talking about how awesome a job they (do) shutting down players" when the group often double-teamed the receiver in the first meeting.
"I had this game marked since we played them last. I heard exactly what the corner Tramon (Williams) was saying after the game," Marshall said. "(Charles) Woodson, those guys do a lot of talking. Coach Capers did an amazing job of game planning us and game planning me. I didn't beat double coverage and triple coverage or whatever they were throwing at us. I take it as a slap in my face when guys talk about my lack of ability to do something against them when they have help all over the place."
"I'm not going to use the word hate," Marshall added, "but I really dislike the Green Bay Packers and their players."
The Packers weren't about to take this sitting down. It was embattled tight end Jermichael Finley, strangely enough, who took the bait, focusing not on Marshall but on fallen Bears icon Brian Urlacher. This was unexpected.
"Urlacher is at the end of his career right now; he's playing a little slow out there," Finley told Fox Sports Wisconsin on Wednesday. "I don't think they're losing too much if he's out. Putting another guy in might help them a little."
That Finely later clarified his remarks were only meant as a way of praising Urlacher's replacement Nick Roach didn't fool anyone. And the Bears fired back. First it was Lance Briggs, who reached deep into the Big Book of Personal Insults to call Finley an 'idiot'. Urlacher only added more fuel to the fire:
"Just like a couple of years ago, I think, he tore his ACL and the Packers were actually better without him. You know, they won the Super Bowl," Urlacher told SiriusXM NFL Radio today. " I hope we can duplicate that as well because it won't hurt my feelings if we go on and win the Super Bowl without me like they did without him.
So this is where we stand, a rivalry renewed with nearly unprecedented amounts of smack talk, all of it started by the team who's gotten worked for the better part of four seasons. It might be stupid for Marshall and the Bears to run their mouths, but it's impossible not to love it. Rivalries are inherently about fans -- the players mostly all grew up in Texas or Florida or California, they have nothing personal riding on this. They don't remember Charles Martin's vicious cheap shot against Jim McMahon in 1986; they don't remember Bryan Robinson blocking a field goal to give the Bears an impossible victory in 1999 in the days following the death of Walter Payton. That Smith and Marshall and everyone else realizes what beating the Packers means to Chicago is important. Stirring the pot is just plain fun.
Will it help the Bears get a victory on Sunday? Who knows. Chicago has lost four of its last five games and has taken a major hit in the playoff race. If they don't beat Green Bay and also win the last two games on their schedule, the Bears are in very real danger of missing the playoffs after a 7-1 start. That Cutler will be playing on a sprained MCL only makes matters seem more impossible. Both teams know the stakes, both teams want nothing more than to show up the other.
I know one thing: at least for the first few minutes, Sunday's game is going to be a lot of fun. For Chicago's sake, let's hope the entertainment lasts a lot longer than that.