Monday, November 28, 2005

"Beat The Packers"

It's a simple message really, and it's all that matters in Chicago football.

"Beat the Packers".

It's the first thing a young Bears fan learns, and the only important thing he knows during Packers week. The rivalry has had it's ups and downs over the years, and free agency has threatened it's existence as transient players come to town more for the pay check than the glory. But the fan's have always remembered, and they make sure the players know that more than anything, rule number one for every man who puts on a Bears' jersey is to do whatever it takes to beat the Packers. Ask any player in Chicago, and they will tell you that at some point in their career a fan has come up to them and uttered those three simple words.

"Beat the Packers".

If the player hasn't heard this from a fan then he can be sure it is the first sign that he has been judged unworthy by those who count. This is no joke. A few years ago Chicago had a head coach named Dave Wannstedt. Wanny, or Death Spiral Dave as I liked to call him, came to town a likeable guy. Having put up a successful record as Jimmy Johnson's defensive coordinator in Dallas, Wanny was given more latitude than any head coach since the old man himself ran the team.

Unfortunately, Wanny wasn't any good. Fortunately for Wanny, Chicago fans are forgivable sorts when they have invested a lot of emotion into your hoped for success, and Bears fans had invested quite a bit in Dave. So much so, that even when Wanny exhibited a troubling inability to "beat the Packers", fans were willing to look the other way.

Then one day, one awful day for Wanny, in a desperate attempt to lower expectations and take some pressure off of another losing team, Wanny suggested that Packer week, was just like any other week. I've always wondered if Wanny knew it was over the second those words left his lips. Just like any other week? The fool. The damned fool, how could he have ever even thought he could get away with such apostasy. Death Spiral Dave spent his final years here trying to make fans believe he cared, but we knew the truth, he had failed in his one single mission.

Dave not only couldn't "beat the Packers", he didn't even care.

Just the other night Wanny, who is now a college coach and sinking fast, lost his final game of the season. The local sports guy showed highlights. We cheered.

"Beat the Packers".

It's simple. Full of the clarity that is missing in the rest of our lives. One simple mission where winning isn't enough, and beating necessarily only represents a starting point.

"Beat - the - Packers."

Some say the rivalry started between the legendary Mr. George Hallas and the cheese head with the French ancestry, Curly Lambeau. Both men loved to win, and more importantly they liked to win against each other. Both Hallas and Lambeau were NFL originals. Each man not only owned his team, but they also acted as head coach and star player. Mr. George Hallas, scored the final touchdown in the Bears first game against the Packers.

The rivalry really played out for real in that first game between two players who intentionally or not, set the tone for this brutal football classic. During that first game on November 27, 1921 Chicago's guard Tarzan Taylor landed a sucker punch into the nose of Howard "Cub" Buck, who despite being a much larger man, got the worst of the encounter. Buck's nose was broken, and his only response was to say to Taylor, "You're supposed to be a college graduate and a gentleman you know".

It sounds like the kind retort that would make a Frenchman proud, don't you think? Perhaps we could say the Pack surrendered that day, losing the game 20 zip.

Tomorrow: My brush with greatness. Ed O'bradovich and the Bart Starr kid.
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