Packers versus Bears. The mere mention of this matchup evokes the lore and legacy of the NFL, the images of Halas, Lambeau and Lombardi in a rivalry that spans decades. In my nine years with the Packers (1999-2008), even with dips in performance by one team or the other, the Bears rivalry was always the most passionate of any. Here are a couple top-of-mind memories from the 18 games I experienced.
• My first encounter with the rivalry, in 1999, came days after the death of Walter Payton. Although the game was at Lambeau, I remember feeling the power of Payton throughout the game. The Bears won on a blocked field goal by Bryan Robinson, although it seemed like another hand was involved in that block. It definitely felt as though something bigger than all of us was there that day.
• In 2002, we had a Monday night game played in Champaign, Ill., where the Bears played their home games during the renovation of Soldier Field. It felt strange to play the game at a college stadium rather than Lambeau or Soldier Field, very much like it was a preseason game, which it obviously was not.
• The final game of the 2006 season was on New Year's Eve at Soldier Field. The game was "flexed" to the evening because many thought it would be Brett Favre's last regular-season game. Favre's actions after the game -- he became emotional in interviews and took photos with his offensive lineman -- only fueled the story. I had experienced premature retirement speculation for years before that, and I knew Favre was not retiring. (He didn't even want to retire when he did two years after that.) That was also the game in which Rex Grossman said he "wasn't prepared to play" -- the Bears had clinched home-field throughout the playoffs and would go on to the Super Bowl -- and had a passer rating of 0.00. After the game -- and our season -- was over, we rang in the new year in a security line at the airport to fly home.
• An unseasonably warm October night at Lambeau in 2007, for whatever reason, brought the stars out to Green Bay. Ashton Kutcher and Demi Moore were there, as were Justin Timberlake and Jessica Biel. Timberlake, who I discovered was quite the football fan, was from the same town -- and a guest of -- lineman Chad Clifton. Here I am with him in my 20-second brush with Hollywood fame.
• The last game in the rivalry I experienced was in Chicago at the end of the 2007 season. It was as cold a game as I had experienced (only to be surpassed by the NFC Championship Game at Lambeau a month later against the Giants). A piercing arctic wind made playing conditions brutal. We had clinched our playoff position, and I could tell many players, including Favre, did not want to be there. Kyle Orton was able to slice the ball through those winds to win this meaningless game in bitter conditions.
The Bears were always a team we respected, and the two organizations sometimes thought alike. I remember how we tried to trade up in the 2000 draft to select Brian Urlacher, whom Ron Wolf coveted, but the Bears were locked in on Urlacher and weren't budging. I also remember hearing the coaches game plan around Urlacher every game since.
And I remember when we hired Bears former general manager Mark Hatley, a joy to be around and a skilled personnel evaluator. When he tragically died of a heart attack on the eve of training camp in 2004, our staff commiserated with that of the Bears; we had all lost an admired friend and colleague.
A final note on the Packers-Bears rivalry: Any discussion of this rivalry would be incomplete without mentioning the Packers' venerable public relations director Lee Remmel, who worked more than 120 Packers-Bears games. The press box at Lambeau Field is named after him. He is in poor health and unable to attend games anymore, but his presence is strongly felt, especially on nights like tonight.