Six years ago this coming January, will be the anniversary of one of the most famous narrative driven NFL games in recent memory. Of course, we’re talking about the day time stood still- or at least should have- in the 2011 NFC championship game, where Green Bay defeated Chicago at Soldier Field en route to the organization’s fourth Super Bowl title.
That season was only the fourth time both teams had ever made the playoffs at the same time. It was only their second meeting in the postseason ever, and the first since 1941. A game of immeasurable hype that now seems like a fleeting memory in a different world.
If you’re not a fan of either team, but follow the league closely, you haven’t quite forgotten the origin of falsehoods like Jay Cutler’s lack of toughness after exiting with a knee injury or the birth of immeasurable truths in the invincible offensive monster known as Aaron Rodgers. If you’re a Bears fan, you’ve blocked the game out of your mind altogether, already numb to ascending and crippling disappointment. If you’re a Packers fan, you reminisce of better days that felt more like a launch pad rather than a peak.
That conference title game held some kind of innate meaning, whether you needed to chime in as an outsider like Maurice Jones-Drew, are remembering the good old days like Lovie Smith, or are glossing over happiness like Packers radio play-by-play man, Wayne Larrivee. Nevertheless, the rivals have been stuck spinning their tires in the mud ever since.
When it comes to the Bears, they haven’t made the playoffs in a long time. A five-year drought that will likely extend to six years this season, doesn’t seem like it’s concluding anytime soon. They’re stuck in the ever perpetual rebuild, cycling their wheels. Beyond the drastic years of abhorrent drafting and miscalculated decisions by the front office, the Bears organization has found creative ways to sink any chances they’ve had in building something special.
You can start with the multitude of unfortunate plagues like Cutler’s thumb ending all promise in 2011 or an aging defense falling apart in 2012. There’s also of course the fabled Marc Trestman era that soon followed- that practically begs for a full length ‘30-for-30’. All played into the Bears’ intense failures in recent memory. The rate at which they’ve sled down to the bottom of the mountain has been impressive to say the least.
Up in Green Bay, that glowing golden championship season was supposed to be a springboard to a dynasty. You see, expectations are different for the second oldest organization with the most championships in league history.
No one was to challenge the Packers’ throne in an era of unparalleled excellence and cheese. Aaron Rodgers- the much more efficient version of Brett Favre- was under center after all. Talents like Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb had just begun to emerge. General manager Ted Thompson was striking all the right chords.
Since they had just won a title with 16 players on the season ending injury list, what could they do at full strength over the next several years? The possibilities were endless.
Evidently enough, they did nothing but fall short.
While the Packers have beaten the Bears in eight out of 10 meetings since 2011 and have won the NFC North division title five times out of six seasons, they’ve completely dissipated altogether in the playoffs. Four first round exits to go with one of the worst collapses in franchise history in the 2015 NFC title game against the Seattle Seahawks, is quite simply, not acceptable.
It all builds to a crescendo where the one guy you can count on in Rodgers, is now enjoying the worst statistical stretch of his career over the past two years. He just doesn’t look like the same player. This is the shell of a man who carried the green and gold and made them the powerhouse that expected to be entrenched for years to come.
He, nor the Packers offense, hardly look the part anymore. This is especially true when your former jilted legend in Favre feels the need to publicly keep everyone from jumping overboard this past Sunday in Green Bay’s loss to the Dallas Cowboys.
“Aaron Rodgers is a great quarterback and that’s not going to change. Did he have spurts where you don’t play as well? Sure. And then you press and when you press usually bad things happen...”, said Favre of Rodgers in FOX’s broadcast booth.
These flaws are more deeply set than any of the Wisconsin faithful will care to admit though. It doesn’t matter if it’s a lack of fundamentals, the scheme and coaching, or the talent not up to snuff. Simply put, the elixir just isn’t there and the expected juggernaut Packers are withering away, joining the Bears in no man’s land. The Minnesota Vikings couldn’t have picked a better time for their window to open emphatically.
We now arrive at this- with all matters considered- peculiar and oddly timed Thursday night game in Lambeau Field. Beyond the 24 players between the two teams on the injury report that includes such notable names as Eddie Lacy, Cutler, and Sam Shields, there’s an interesting dynamic at play.
Half of the audience’s focus will- in all likelihood- instead be on the Chicago Cubs in their pursuit of a long-awaited title. Maybe it’s easier to ignore your football franchise’s struggles if you have a worthwhile escape to where you can bury your head in the sand. Meanwhile, the other Wisconsin half will be lustily and metaphorically crying for blood- that of head coach Mike McCarthy and Thompson’s jobs- should the struggling Packers add to their miserable woes.
Green Bay isn’t used to the kind of soul crushing routine disappointment Chicago has “enjoyed”, and given what kind of team the Packers should be, that’s rightfully so.
As we move forward, there’s no way of telling what direction the two flagship franchises of the NFL will take. Chicago is likely on it’s way towards a top five pick in next April’s draft, but who knows how they progress from this stage. On the other side, Green Bay may be on the verge of missing relevant football in January for the first time since 2008- Rodgers’ first season as a full-time starter. Their present period of dominance may already have come to an end.
Nevertheless, expect Thursday night to go one of two ways.
A game that will prove to be the re-ignition of the Packers’ torch, or one that will prove to be an embarrassing rivalry footnote that finally ushers both organizations into dynastic obscurity for years to come.
In fact, it’s hard to believe that even George Halas and Curly Lambeau would enjoy watching this unfortunate eyesore of a game.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for the Rock River Times and is a staff writer for Windy City Gridiron and Second City Hockey. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.