Quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler have formed a mutual admiration society.
Coaches Mike McCarthy and Lovie Smith couldn’t say enough nice things about each other’s teams.
The locker rooms of the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears were flooded with words of praise for the opponent this past week.
What in the name of Forrest Gregg and Mike Ditka is going on here?
The Packers and Bears are squaring off tonight in a game featuring the longest-running rivalry in the NFL, and supposedly one of the most bitter, too.
Yet Packers players and coaches spent most of the past week uttering superlatives about the Bears. If you listened long enough, you might start believing that Cutler is the next Joe Montana, Julius Peppers is the next Reggie White and Brian Urlacher is God’s gift to linebacking.
Throwing bouquets isn't unusual in the sports world, unless you truly despise your opponent.
In the case of the Packers and Bears, hatred and bad blood has been replaced by genuine respect on both sides of this border battle.
Sure, there were the obligatory comments from players about how special this game is, but it seemed contrived, as if they simply were telling reporters what fans wanted to hear.
Here is a sampling of what might be a more accurate gauge of where this so-called rivalry stands:
“We can’t let the game get bigger than what it is and what our team is and we have to make sure we approach it just like any other game,” Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk said.
“It is still one game, I think you have to keep that in perspective, one game in a 16-game season,” McCarthy said.
“We don’t get too big into the history because I think we have to kind of establish our own legacy as a team,” receiver Greg Jennings said. “That’s what we’re trying to do. We have to take it one game at a time.”
That rumbling you hear is the sound of George Halas and Vince Lombardi rolling over in their graves.
From the Packers’ perspective, beating the Bears isn’t all that matters anymore.
Gregg’s Packers teams in the 1980s approached a Bears game as if it was the Super Bowl. Of course, some of those terrible Packers teams didn’t have much else to play for since the real Super Bowl was so far out of reach.
In some of his first words uttered as the Bears’ head coach, Smith proclaimed his No. 1 goal was to beat the Packers. But not even that could fan the flames between these two teams. Smith is so likable and such a class act that it’s hard for even diehard Packers fans to get mad at him.
There’s no mistaking that tonight’s game is meaningful, primarily because both teams are 2-0 and first place in the NFC North is on the line.
But Smith learned years ago there’s more to success in the NFL than beating the Packers. And the Packers know that beating the Bears this season won’t guarantee them their ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl.
This series has become, in many ways, a spirited battle between highly competitive friends. Both want to win badly, but when it’s over, both will shake hands and express best wishes until they meet again.
No one will admit it publicly, but the Bears aren’t even close to being the Packers’ most bitter opponent, even in their division.
If you want downright dislike, contempt and hostility, you won’t find it at Soldier Field tonight. That will have to wait until next month, when the Minnesota Vikings visit Lambeau Field.
Mike Vandermause is sports editor of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.