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He grew up in the midst of a heated NFL rivalry. Twenty miles south of Wisconsin’s border, Rockford, Ill., is a town torn in two. Roughly half its 150,000 citizens root for the Green Bay Packers. The others are loyal to the Chicago Bears.

As a boy, Dean Lowry had to pick his side. His decision is now an awkward piece of history, something he’ll be able to laugh about someday soon.

“I was more of a Bears fan growing up,” Lowry admitted shortly after the Packers drafted him with the 137th overall pick in the fourth round. “It’s about half and half with Bears and Packers fans where I’m at. I know my city is very excited that I’ll be a part of the Packer family, and I’m excited to go up and play for them.”

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Lowry isn’t struggling with his transition, of course. Any player fortunate enough to be drafted into the NFL is happy with his destination, no matter the team.

Less than one week after the draft, standing in the Packers locker room after his first NFL practice, Lowry already was backpedaling into his new fan base’s good graces.

“I wasn’t a huge Bears fan,” Lowry said, “but I’ve always admired the Packers and just the way those guys play. But we’re all green and gold now, and I was green and gold in high school. So we have quite a few green and gold as well.”

Nice save.

Lowry’s roots as a Bears fan didn’t diminish the awe he had arriving in Green Bay for the first time. Driving past Lambeau Field, Lowry said, he could sense the tradition. From highlight videos to conversations with coaches and front-office personnel, each Packers rookie gets a crash course in the franchise’s storied history during rookie orientation.

“All the great players that have played here,” Lowry said. “Brett Favre and even Bart Starr, going back to the old times. It’s just a special place, and you want to give your all to the organization and the state of Wisconsin.

“It’s all football here. I think that’s what the guys love about this city and this area. The Packers mean a lot to the community.”

In reality, Lowry knows, he couldn’t have picked a better NFL home. For one, he’ll get the chance to win immediately, a byproduct of sharing a locker room with two-time MVP quarterback Aaron Rodgers.

Proximity might be every bit as special. His hometown is just a three-hour drive away. Close enough for a weekend trip to Lambeau Field.

Lowry — described by Packers general manager Ted Thompson as "a 100 percent guy all the time. ... Just one of those blue-collar football players that the more you watch, the more you appreciate" — always has played close to home. He was a three-year starter at Northwestern, a defensive leader. In Evanston, Ill., just north of Chicago, he had to think about what it might be like to play on the same team as Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.

This fall, the 6-foot-6 defensive end will try to sack Cutler.

If he does, Lowry knows his hometown will be cheering. Well, half its citizens anyway.

“There are quite a few Packers fans in Rockford,” Lowry said. “So I want to play for them, and play for the fans. I think it’s the best fan base in football. So it’s a special opportunity to play for these fans.”

rwood@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @ByRyanWood

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