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Zuba: Bears and Pack: R-E-S-P-E-C-T (Nov. 6)

Samantha Zuba | Tuesday, November 5, 2013

A weird sort of respect exists between longtime rivals.
Bears and Packers fans understand. Since the storied franchises first played each other in 1921, Bears and Packers fans have been more than a little suspicious of one another. Bears fans can’t understand the allure of those silly cheese hats, and Packers fans hate how Chicagoans drive like highway speed limits don’t exist and state troopers will never catch them.
But somehow, the fans and teams from Green Bay and Chicago respect each other.
The crazies in green-and-yellow and navy-and-orange acknowledge they need each other. The Bears might despise the Packers, but without those ridiculous Cheeseheads, there is no rivalry. Without the Bears and the lunatic drivers who are their fans, there is no rivalry.
This does not mean the Bears or the Packers would like to see each other succeed. Absolutely not. Come Sunday (or Monday or Thursday), both sides would like to see the other get obliterated.
Still, with pride comes the necessity of having someone to wield pride over. It’s even better when a team can hold their success over the heads of another historic team.
The Bears beat the Packers 27-20 Monday, but they earned more than the right to brag about one game.
When the tides turn in the Bears-Packers rivalry, the winner takes over more than 80 years of bragging rights. The Bears and the Packers respect each other because their collective history makes the rivalry exciting and one of the best in professional sports. Their collective success is even stronger than one team’s history.
Monday night’s storyline would have been interesting without the background of the rivalry. Behind backup-turned-starting quarterback Josh McCown, the Bears and rookie NFL head coach Marc Trestman challenged the division-leading Packers, who had beaten the Bears in six consecutive matchups.
Years of rivalry supercharges this kind of atmosphere. Now it’s about Chicago’s laborious struggle to find a franchise quarterback, while Green Bay has been a quarterback factory, training home-grown products in Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. Now it’s about the Bears’ vendetta against Favre for years of precision torture and B.J. Raji for his interception, touchdown and dancing celebration during the 2011 NFC Championship Game in Chicago.
Green Bay and Chicago have caused each other sporting pain for decades, so both organizations know how it feels both to lose excruciatingly and to win triumphantly in the rivalry. It’s a strange form of respect, but this understanding of defeat and victory connects the teams and fans.
It creates a weird appreciation for the rival’s success, too.
During Favre’s career, Bears fans couldn’t stand him. By the end of his career, neither could Packers fans. But Bears fans couldn’t help but appreciate some of Favre’s great performances – in a complicated way.
Chicagoans gave Favre a pat on the back for being absurdly talented, while promising, at the same time, to make him cry next time around. “Brett,” Bears fans seemed to say, “You are not welcome in our homes, but thanks for keeping the rivalry great.”
The feeling is at once resentful and begrudgingly grateful.
It’s not the same when the Packers play anyone else. Losing to, say, the San Diego Chargers would annoy a typical Packers fan, and perhaps anger a belligerent one. But only a loss to the Bears can keep a Packers fan up at night with nightmares about the Chicagoan next to him in the stands wearing a Ditka mustache and chanting for “Da Bears.” Only a loss to the Packers can keep a lactose-tolerant Bears fan up at night, worrying about cheese.
That’s special. That’s a rivalry.
And somehow, that’s respect.

Contact Samantha Zuba at szuba@nd.edu
The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.