Packers, Bears joined by small groups of fans in linking arms during anthem

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- A loud ovation and chants of "USA, USA" rang out before the national anthem Thursday night at Lambeau Field, where players and staff from both the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears linked arms as country singer Tyler Farr sang "The Star-Spangled Banner."

However, it appeared only small groups of fans joined in linking arms in the stands, as the Packers players had invited all fans to do.

Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers downplayed the lukewarm participation after Green Bay's 35-14 win.

"It was an invitation to join us. The beauty is, it's a free country, so they can choose to do it or not," Rodgers said. "The messaging of this unfortunately needs to continue to be redirected, I think. It's never been about the national anthem, it's never been about the military. We're all patriotic in the locker room; we love our troops. This is about something bigger than that: an invitation to show unity in the face of some divisiveness from the top in this country."

Rodgers said he is proud of his team and that this has been "a galvanizing situation."

"In the locker room, and outside the locker room ... there's been some great conversations that have been started, and as much as some people want us to just shut up and play football, and keep the politics to the politics, sports and politics have always intersected," he said. "And if we can help continue a conversation through demonstration of unity like tonight, I think that's a good thing."

There was an increased security presence on the field during the anthem, including armed guards near the benches. One sign behind the Packers bench read: "Shame on the NFL. Vets stand for the flag."

"We could hear some 'USA' chants as it started, which is fantastic. Could also hear some negativity being yelled during the anthem," Rodgers said. "Semantics there, right? What's disrespectful to the anthem? Yelling things during it, or standing at attention with arms locked, facing the flag? That's for you to decide."

Packers tight end Martellus Bennett also said he heard yelling during the anthem.

"It's just some m-----f----- yelling, 'Put your hands on your heart,'" he said, chuckling. "That's all I heard. Somebody kept saying, 'Put your hand on your heart, put your hand on your heart.' It's like, back the f--- up."

The Bears joined the Packers in locking arms during the anthem. Chicago decided last week before its home game against the Pittsburgh Steelers that all Bears players would link arms in a sign of solidarity.

This game came four days after most of the Packers players -- except for tight ends Bennett and Lance Kendricks and cornerback Kevin King, who all sat on the bench -- and staff on the sideline stood with arms linked during the national anthem before their game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Bennett, however, was one of the driving forces behind the statement the Packers players issued Tuesday after Rodgers had said they planned to ask fans in the stands to join them in linking arms.

On the eve of the game, Bennett said he wasn't concerned about what the reaction would be.

"It really doesn't matter, but it comes down to being unified within," Bennett said. "If we can show the form of unification like we said -- this is one of the most diverse workplaces in the world, we've got guys from all different types of background, and if we can come together and be unified for one goal, which in this metaphor that common goal is a Super Bowl or winning games, the Super Bowl in life is one where everyone can live in harmony, peace and everything could be unified. So we're a walking testimony that it can be done, that you can work with people who aren't like you, from different backgrounds, and reach a common goal if everybody wants the same thing.

"I think change starts to happen when conversations start to happen. That's part of change. Because people are going to avoid the conversation, so I think without the conversation, change isn't going to happen. So maybe the first part of change is having conversations."

Since the preseason, Rodgers has been leaving free tickets for fans at various locations around Green Bay and even on the road, but on Thursday, he posted on Twitter:

ESPN's Jeff Dickerson and Michele Steele contributed to this report.