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Bears-Packers buzz will be loud

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Dan Parr

dparr@pfwmedia.com
Associate editor

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By Dan Parr

Bears S Chris Harris was hurting after Chicago's 35-24 victory over the Seahawks on Sunday. He injured his hip while making a tackle in the first quarter and was relegated to the sideline in the second half after trying to play through the pain for a while.

A wise veteran, Harris said he suppressed his instinct to try to tough it out and take the risk of costing the Bears their first postseason win in four years by not making plays because he was at less than 100 percent.

In front of his locker after the game, a reporter asked him if he thought he would be able to play next week. He could have hesitated or decided not to speculate, but he didn't do either.

"My leg would have to be cut off for me to miss next week," Harris said.

He was joking. I think.

The tone of Harris' response will resonate with the type of people who start to see red when the Packers' green and gold comes into view. Some Bears fans might give a limb of their own for a conference title win over Green Bay.

Considering the league's oldest rivals will be squaring off with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line, this NFC championship game doesn't need much extra hype. Yet, Sunday's battle at Soldier Field between the Bears and Packers will get it.

It's only the second time the two clubs have met in the postseason — the last time was in 1941 — and for some fans of the two teams, this game will be bigger than the Super Bowl.

"With Green Bay, the hype is going to be there," Bears QB Jay Cutler acknowledged. "With the rivalry and what it is, the magnitude of the game. We're going to have to do the same thing we did last week. We can't blow this out of proportion.

"It's still a football game."

Cutler is right. It's a team the Bears already have beaten once and have matched up against twice this season, including earlier this month in Week 17 of the regular season. He just has to hope that his teammates completely buy in to that mindset. That said, good luck selling the "just another game" approach outside of Halas Hall during the next week.

There are no blinders powerful enough to ignore what a win on Sunday would mean to everyone who feels like they have a stake in this rivalry. And because of that, the Bears will have to strike a delicate balance between acknowledging the moment and not allowing the weight of it to distract them from preparing to play a Packers team that a lot of people think is much better than they are.

Of course, head coach Lovie Smith has done nothing but add lighter fluid to the fire of the Bears-Packers rivalry during his tenure. He said beating the Packers twice a year was his main goal at his first press conference seven years ago, and he was criticized for not saying that collecting Super Bowl trophies was his priority.

He didn't suddenly change course after beating Seattle or try to minimize what was about to happen.

"It just doesn't get any better as I see it," Smith said. "... The Packers and Bears to finish it up, that's how it should be."

Perhaps he forgot to mention that the Bears and Packers are not going to finish it up on Sunday — there's still one more game after that, on Feb. 6 in North Texas.

But in Chicago and Green Bay, at least for some people, the Super Bowl is being played early this year.

 

Pro Football Weekly's annual awards issue (dated Jan. 23) is on sale now, featuring All-NFL, All-Conference and All-Rookie teams, MVP, Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Offensive Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Most Improved Player of the Year, Executive of the Year and Assistant Coach of the Year — all selected by PFW editors and contributors along with members of the Professional Football Writers of America — as well as a Golden Toe Award selected by PFW editors only. The print edition also contains a preview of the draft outlook for the first four teams to make selections in April, as well as previews of the two conference championship games. The print edition is available at retail outlets around the country and also online at PFWstore.com, where you can purchase a print copy or an electronic (PDF) version.

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