LAKE FOREST – More than nine years have passed since Lovie Smith stood behind a lectern and announced his first priority as the new head coach of the Bears.
“Our No. 1 goal – the No. 1 goal we’ll have – is to beat the Green Bay Packers,” Smith said.
Long story short: Smith failed to achieve his No. 1 goal with enough consistency, particularly in the previous few years, and the Bears eventually showed him the door. He lost his final six games against Green Bay to finish with an 8-11 record against his neighbors to the north.
Now, it’s Marc Trestman’s turn to go up against the Dairy Dynasty.
If you expected any big Packers-based proclamations from Trestman after Friday’s practice, then you haven’t been paying attention for the past several months.
Trestman told reporters in September that he didn’t believe in rivalry games because the concept was disrespectful to other nonrivalry opponents, and he followed that up by acknowledging this week that the Bears-Packers rivalry carried added importance “to this community.”
In other words, the rivalry exists, albeit beyond the boundaries of Halas Hall.
That sounds like a bunch of stinky cheese.
The Bears-Packers rivalry is real, and it’s as meaningful as ever in terms of both teams’ championship goals. Neighbors near the Illinois-Wisconsin border know it. Couples who cheer for opposing sides know it. And you can bet players in the Bears’ locker room know it.
Bears offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer seems to understand the bigger picture. When asked whether he needed to speak to his players – particularly his rookies on the offensive line – about the nature of the rivalry, Kromer shook his head.
“I don’t have to say anything about the rivalry because they hear it in the locker room, they hear it around town, they hear it downtown,” said Kromer, who has 23 years of coaching experience but is in his first season with the Bears. “Those kind of things just happen. The only thing we talk about in our room is what we have to do to get our job done successfully.”
The chatter extended to the locker room after the Bears wrapped up their indoor practice.
Rookie right tackle Jordan Mills grew up in Louisiana, but his eyes lit up as he discussed the rivalry, which started in 1921 at Wrigley Field. The upcoming game will mark the teams’ 187th meeting, with Chicago holding a 92-88-6 edge but having lost the past six.
As Mills spoke, he listed off names, starting with George Halas and Vince Lombardi.
“They’ve been going at it for years,” Mills said. “Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke, going back to that famous play that Vince Lombardi used to draw on the board and everything like that. I’m a football junkie, so I watch all of that.
“It goes back to the one person that started the league, George Halas. It’s a true inspiration and it’s humbling just to be a part of this team, and to actually play and represent in his honor and his name and his organization is like no other.”
That’s great stuff.
Does anyone really think another team will be offended by Mills saluting the rivalry? Somewhere out there, are the San Diego Chargers clenching their fists and swearing?
Of course not.
It was easy to poke fun at Smith for his comment regarding the Packers. I did so, and many others did the same. After all, shouldn’t Smith’s No. 1 goal have been to win the Super Bowl?
In retrospect, though, we owe Smith an apology.
Because for the Bears to win a Super Bowl, they will have to beat the Packers.
And to beat the Packers, the Bears must understand that it’s not just any other game.
• Shaw Media sports columnist Tom Musick can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @tcmusick.