PHOENIX — For reasons that completely escape me, many seemed surprised when the NFL confirmed Monday what has been rumored for weeks: the 2019 season will open on Thursday night at Soldier Field with the Chicago Bears hosting the Green Bay Packers.
In Boston and surrounding areas there seemed to be genuine disappointment that the league will buck what has become one of its newer traditions — with the New England Patriots becoming the first defending Super Bowl champions not to play in the Thursday night opener since 2003.
Speculation ranged from the NFL choosing to stay away from New England owner Robert Kraft’s pending legal issues to the national audience’s Patriots fatigue and even the suggestion the champs were being punished for a 2017 lackluster performance at home in the Thursday opener in a 42-27 loss to the Chiefs.
Pure silliness, all of it.
The Pats will be featured in the Week 1 Sunday-night tilt against an opponent to be determined, with the smart money currently on the Kansas City Chiefs in a rematch of January’s AFC title game. It will be huge, and reality is, the decision on the Thursday-night opener has absolutely nothing to do with the Patriots.
In fact, Brian Rolapp, COO of NFL Media and President and CEO of the NFL Network, told the media at a press conference here in Phoenix Monday that the league had focused on the Bears hosting the Thursday-night opener this year well before the playing of Super Bowl LIII and knowing that the Patriots would be the defending champs.
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But if you’re thinking the spotlight was trained on the Bears because of their resurgent 2018 season and NFC North title, their owning the NFL’s No. 1 scoring 'D' which dominated at times in a manner not seen in years, the fact that in Ryan Pace and Matt Nagy the Bears have the league’s reigning Executive of the Year and Coach of the Year, that they are once again one of the league’s best draws and play in the NFL’s No. 3 TV market, that they are somehow the early pick to be champs in 2019 or that this will be a rematch of last season’s Sunday-night opener at Lambeau Field that the Bears lost in an instant classic and will now be seeking revenge, you’d be every bit as wrong as the New England media and fans.
While all of that is nice, it has absolutely nothing to do with this decision.
There is no business we know of that is better than the NFL at marketing itself and constantly finding new ways to generate new and greater revenues, and the 2019 season will be all about celebrating the league’s 100th anniversary.
So, is it because the Bears and Packers are the NFL’s oldest continuous rivalry?
Is it because they have met 198 times, with Green Bay holding a 97-95-6 margin and out-scoring the Bears 3,405-3,361, a miniscule 44 points or just two-tenths of a point per game separating them?
Is it because the Packers have the NFL’s most championships (13) and the Bears are second (9)?
Is it because the Bears have the most players in the Pro Football Hall of Fame (33) and the Packers are second (30)?
Is it because the two franchise are located just 180 miles apart and Wisconsin is loaded with Bears fans while the northern half of Illinois is riddled with Packers faithful?
Could it be that along with Bill Belichick, George Halas and Vince Lombardi comprise the three most famous and best NFL head coach/general managers?
Nope, that’s all just gravy.
The Bears will host the Packers to open the NFL season because, like the league, the Bears will be celebrating their 100th anniversary, and the game will be in Chicago because the Packers will actually be turning 101.
At the league and 32 individual franchise levels, the entire 2019 season will be about how much extra revenue can be driven by mining its 100-year history.
Kicking it off with its oldest and best rivalry seems like the logical place to start.