A fan walked toward Soldier Field parading the head of a Cheesehead on a 10-foot pole. Another fan homed in on a mixed couple: a man wearing a Bears jersey while his girlfriend was wearing an Aaron Rodgers jersey.
“All the women in Chicago,” the fan yelled, “and you find a Packers fan.”
This was the Green Bay Packers against the hometown Bears.
Chicago is home, and there was a stretch of seasons between 1960 and 1967 when my sun rose and set with the Chicago Bears.
Unfortunately for the Bears of my era, the Packers were a dream-crushing nightmare. Most of the games against the Packers unfolded like Sunday’s, with Green Bay beating the Bears, 21-14, behind a perfectly balanced offense, a smothering defense and Chicago ineptitude.
Instead of Bart Starr , the Packers quarterback of the 1960s, converting third down upon third down to Boyd Dowler and Max McGee, it was Rodgers hitting Greg Jennings and Donald Driver for repeated clutch plays.
Rodgers led the Packers to their fifth Super Bowl appearance.
Some feelings die hard. Watching Green Bay celebrating on the Bears’ field brought flashbacks.
So much excitement and anticipation surrounded the game. This was the N.F.L.’s oldest rivalry, yet the Packers and the Bears had faced each other only once in the postseason.
Beyond that, the Bears had become invisible men, turned Cinderella, turned conference champions.
“It’s a disappointing way to end the season; it’s not the way I wanted to end it,” linebacker Brian Urlacher said. “But you know, no one expected us to be here, we know that. We expected to win this game.”
After being counted out and overlooked as a force in the conference, the Bears surged after their bye week and created visions of sugar plums, winning five consecutive games and seven of their last nine.
Jay Cutler, the Bears’ perennial mystery man, was heralded, finally, as a mature quarterback. After a spectacular game against Seattle — granted it was the — critics and Bears fans hoped against hope that Cutler would have another breakout game.
Instead, Cutler reacted the way scouting reports said he would in the face of ferocious pressure: he wilted.
This is yet another longstanding Bears tradition — erratic play at quarterback.
Rodgers, meanwhile, continued to be the ’s hottest quarterback. He ran for a touchdown and sliced up the Bears’ defense for 244 yards passing. It is possible to have been a New Yorker for so long you forget what it felt like to be from Chicago. You forget how deeply the passions and resentment between Chicago and run.
It was the 182nd game between the Bears and the Packers. This is less a rivalry than a longstanding relationship between franchises and fans who inherited a mutual disdain for each other.
Bears-Packers is less personal than institutional. Well, maybe a little personal.
During that seven-year period of my youth in Chicago, Green Bay beat every team I cared about and did it each time on a major stage.
Beginning with a spanking of the Bears at the end of the 1960 season, Green Bay annihilated Chicago twice in 1961, twice more in 1962. George Halas, the legendary Papa Bear, lost 13 of his 18 meetings with Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay teams. Three of those losses were shutouts, including a 49-0 blowout during the 1962 season.
When the Bears won the N.F.L. championship in 1963, the greatest part of that glorious season was their two victories over Green Bay.
The Packers knocked out the in two successive N.F.L. championships, the first in Dallas in 1966, then in that legendary Ice Bowl game in Green Bay in 1967. They took apart the , whom I had adopted, in I. The Packers routed my other adopted A.F.L. team, the , in Super Bowl II. Over the years, the Bears and the Packers had changing fortunes. Both franchises were up and mostly down in the 1980s — though the Bears won the Super Bowl in the 1985 season.
Beginning with the 1992 season, Green Bay had 13 nonlosing seasons in a row, 2 Super Bowl appearances and a championship.
By then, my days as a fan had long ended. For all practical purposes, my final season as a fan was 1969, when upset Baltimore in Super Bowl III a triumph — we thought — of youth over the establishment.
That year, a college teammate of mine was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys and we were both exposed to the often harsh and humorless business side of the game. One is compelled to cheer for the individual, not the franchises.
Sunday seemed like a flashback to those days as a Bears fan when you really cared and left Wrigley Field after those Packers-Bears games disappointed more often than not.
On Sunday, Cutler couldn’t deliver, the hometown team was knocked around, and the Packers are Super Bowl bound.
Green Bay gave Chicago yet another bitter memory to put in a Bears-Packers scrapbook that looked all too familiar. Even after all these years.