"They don't like us. We don't like them. That's how it is.”
They don’t like us. We don’t like them. The Chicago Screwjob. Last season’s Monday Night triumph. The return blowout at Solider Field. Glorious wins, stinging defeats, bitter complaints, searing pain, delicious triumph.
A “rivalry” can be any recurring matchup. Any two teams with history, any two teams in the same division, any two teams that have played each other before can be called “rivals.” But this rivalry is something different; this rivalry means more. This isn’t about Alex Karras or Dick Butkus or Gayle Sayers or Lem Barney or George Halas or Dutch Clark. This is, but isn’t just about soliders bearing the livery of Honolulu Blue and Silver and a Leaping Lion meeting soliders clad in Light Black and Grody Orange bearing the standard of that tweezers-C.
This is about two groups of men who hate each other.
This is something rare in professional sports. With its mercenary nature, massive salaries, players rarely have time to inspire true loyalty, or true contempt. With the genteel manner in which we demand the modern player behave, we rarely see two pro sports teams who truly want to kick each other’s ass.
Tonight, on Monday Night Football, the nation will see exactly that.
Of course, this means something extra to the fans, too: we won a game ball for our support on the last Monday Night Football matchup between these two teams, and restored pride to our beleaguered franchise’s national reputation. Then, the Bears returned the favor, putting a serious wobble in the Lions’ playoff trajectory and dulling the roar of the “Lions Nation Army” for most of the rest of the season.
Here in Week 7, the season’s already at stake for the Lions: win, and they pull up to .500: within a half-game of the Packers, a game of the Bears, and a game-and-a-half of the Vikings. Lose and they’re down three full games to the 5-2 Bears, with the tiebreaker unlikely.
The situation's similar for the Bears: win and they're sitting atop the division, lose and they're a mortal 4-3 with a murderous second-half schedule lurking around the corner.
This will come down, as always with these two teams, to two factors: the quarterbacks, and the defensive lines. Whichever quarterback makes more plays and avoids the other’s defensive line wins.
The hour is late; the Lions are at the gate. The Bears stand ready to defend their fortress. The rivalry is about to be renewed.
We cannot tilt the battlefield in favor of our team. We cannot intimidate their players or bully the refs or short-circuit their communications or make them commit penalties in their terrified confusion; all we can do is watch.
Watch, and hope.
Watch, hope, and hate.