Bears-Packers rivalry gets pushed to higher level
The Bears and Packers meet for the 182nd time in the NFC Championship Game. The winner goes to Super Bowl XLV. The loser must deal with the most stinging loss in a series that dates to 1921.
Linebacker Doug Buffone had not put on a Bears helmet for the first time when he learned what it was like to play the Packers.
As a kid from the hills of western Pennsylvania who had played at Louisville, he had no idea what more than four decades of Bears-Packers battles had produced when he arrived to play in the 1966 College All-Star Game before heading to training camp as the Bears' fourth-round pick. It so happened the college kids were playing the defending NFL-champion Packers.
"It's an all-star game, and they came out to pounce our ass," Buffone said. "I remember what Jimmy Taylor's first words were: 'You guys didn't come up here to play football, you came up here to count your money.' I told him as he was screaming at me, 'Look, you (jerk), I was drafted by the Bears. There is no money.'
"It turned into a free-for-all. I got into it with Taylor. There was fighting and kicking. It was unbelievable. That's how I got my first taste of it."
When Buffone arrived for training camp, his new teammates busted his chops for weeks for losing to the Packers, 38-0. Buffone, who played 14 seasons from 1966 to '79, played in more games in the rivalry than any Bear. Until 1975, the teams played annually in the preseason Midwest Shrine Game, including a classic in 1971.
"We lost 2-0 in a (bleeping) storm in exhibition season in Milwaukee, and Dick Butkus and I played the whole game," Buffone said. "Exhibition games were World War III."
The Bears and Packers meet for the 182nd time (not counting preseason) in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday at Soldier Field. The winner goes to Super Bowl XLV. The loser must deal with the most stinging loss in a series that dates to 1921, one year after the formation of the NFL, when John "Tarzan" Taylor of the Chicago Staleys reportedly sucker-punched Cub Buck of the Packers.
Cheap shots, championships, Hall of Famers and rich history have followed in the league's longest-running rivalry, but this is just the second postseason meeting. That makes this game so special.
"You've got to understand, there's football games and then there's Bears-Packers," said Dave Robinson, a three-time Pro Bowl linebacker and member of three Packers championship teams in the 1960s. "You don't need this game to be the NFC Championship Game to bring out the best of both teams."
Buffone said, "players have softened on the deal maybe a little bit, but fans never have."
In 2003, Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said "Green Bay doesn't count any more than anybody else."
The arrival of coach Lovie Smith the next season changed the tenor of the locker room for Packers week. In a move to please owners and fans alike, Smith listed beating the Packers as his No. 1 goal. Never has more been riding on it.
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