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Columnist
Bears show true meaning of a rivalry
By Mike Imrem | Daily Herald Columnist
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Published: 12/23/2007 10:43 PM

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Somehow the Bears-Packers rivalry endures.

There can be no other conclusion after Sunday's 35-7 Bears victory in Soldier Field.

"Beating the Green Bay Packers can cure a lot of things," Bears running back Garrett Wolfe said.

The Northern Illinois University product grew up in Chicago. Like most Bears fans, he understood early that disliking the Packers was a civic responsibility.

But this is professional football. Players are foes one day and friends the next. A common agent can bind opponents. All belong to the same labor union.

Loyalty to laundry is fleeting … except, apparently when on any given Sunday one uniform is orange and blue, the other green and gold.

"I don't think this one will ever die," Bears wide receiver Bernard Berrian said of the rivalry.

Words can't make it so. Only actions can.

This particular game was a test of the rivalry because the Packers are going to the playoffs and the Bears are going nowhere.

The Bears had no substantive motivation to compete other than the opponent was Green Bay, the weather was traditionally black-and-blue-division wicked, and two Midwestern cities cared.

Many fans bemoan that this rivalry isn't relevant anymore because the Bears and the Packers rarely are good in the same season.

The point those folks miss is that rivalries aren't built upon tangibles such as division standings and world championships. Real rivalries are built more on durably valid clichés like "you can throw out the record books" and "this game can make a team's season."

Like, you can bet Army didn't care that Navy was going to a bowl this season and Navy didn't care that Army was being flushed down an altogether different bowl.

For Army, beating Navy always matters. For Navy, beating Army always matters.

If neither team in a rivalry is good, if both teams are good, if one team is good and the other awful … well, at least one stake remains the same.

For the Bears, beating the Packers always matters. For the Packers, beating the Bears always matters.

That premise stood the test of time -- 84 years and 174 games -- and did again Sunday when the have-nots beat the haves.

You know, like late last season when the have-not Packers beat the have Bears.

"It's good for our team to see it can still play a little football," Bears head coach Lovie Smith said.

It's even better for the 6-9 Bears to see they could play a little football against the 12-3 Packers, ending Green Bay's chance to have home field throughout the NFC playoffs.

The Packers had that to play for. The Bears had nothing to play for. The Packers lost. The Bears won. The Packers-Bears rivalry lives.

"It has to, with how much hatred there is with the fans," Bears quarterback Kyle Orton said. "Walking down the street they let us know, so you learn about the rivalry pretty quickly."

Ah, yes, those fans. Bears and Packers fans alike. Dressed in team colors. Braving inclement weather. Barking inflammatory taunts. Demonstrating how much this game means to them.

"It's fierce," said Wolfe, the Chicago native. "There's a lot of history between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears."

There's more to be made, too, judging by how the Bears played on a day when they had no other reason to.

mimrem@dailyherald.com