Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011
Posted: 11:04 a.m. Updated: 1:15 p.m.
By John Mullin
Its 9 oclock on a Saturday, the regular crowd shuffles inPiano Man, Billy Joel
Its a few more than just the usual crowd, as you might suspect.
You just knew this is something big when a couple of guys in really nice suits showed up to place the shined, unscratched Bears and Packers helmets on a cloth-covered table in front of the Halas Hall auditorium podium, and the National Football Conference Championship backdrop screen was in place early.
And then about 11:15 a.m. a league official with a very official-looking hard case comes in, opens the case, puts on white gloves, and takes out the Halas Trophy for display with the two team helmets.
The Halas Trophy on display at Halas Hall. ... Its appropriate.
The crackle was almost audible Wednesday as the national and even international media began pulling in. Actually the crackle was audible; its called static, and getting wires pulled and cables hooked up in sub-freezing temps was causing a bit of it.
And as for media turnout? I asked one Bears staffer what the number of credential requests was looking like. His simple answer was better than any figure: Infinity.infinity.
Bears-Packers doesnt mean that normal business stops at Halas Hall. The Bears shuffled their practice squad Wednesday, adding linebacker Patrick Trahan and terminating the contract of wide receiver Rashaun Greer.
Best guess is that they need more bodies at linebacker to run the Green Bay 3-4 defensive scheme in practice for the Bears offense.
Earlier the Bears had signed quarterback Matt Gutierrez to a reservefutures contract, lining him up for work with the Bears this offseason. Gutierrez was an emergency addition last training camp when Caleb Hanie went down with a shoulder injury.
The Halas Trophy (Ive chronicled the arrival here) that the Bears won in 1985 (the game was in 86) was nicer than the one theyre using now. The oldn had an elegant wood base with, I believe, a glass football as the main element.
This new one (an NFL official just told me this is the first year for it) is very high-tech looking, chrome, a sorta-football with four strips of the chrome forming the football.
Jay Cutler has not had his best games against the Green Bay Packers. Far from it. The Bears quarterback has faced the Packers five times, four as a Bear, and has a combined passer rating of 65.0, with 5 TD passes and 9 interceptions.
Three of his four Bears games against Green Bay have been losses. His one passable (pun intended) Chicago performance came in the first meeting this year when he posted a rating of 82.5. He delivered a 95.7 mark in a loss as a Denver Bronco but that was in 2007 before the Packers completely overhauled their defense and its staff.
Notably for current purposes, that Denver game was the only one in which he has not thrown an interception against the Packers.
Last year we had an entirely different scheme, Cutler said. The last time we played them they did a lot of different things to disrupt our passing.
If Cutler plays well and the Bears win, hell never buy another drink in Chicago. But the history of a moment can be a burden at a time when he and teammates dont need any more on their minds plates than is already there.
Itll be tough with all the preparation, Cutler said. Weve got to keep our mind on the game with all the other stuff going on.
Everyone in the locker room knows whats at stake in this game but were going to enjoy it, were going to play our game, going to be loose and just focus on that.
More than perhaps at any press meeting this year, Cutler seemed to be enjoying himself. He looked directly at questioners as they were posing their queries, smiled repeatedly at various points and was visibly at ease.
Its fun to be in this rivalry in this position, Cutler said.
The high-tech Halas Trophy is probably polished chrome (a league official is checking on exactly what its made of) but Peggy Kusinski had the best guess on its composition: If its the Halas Trophy, its probably nickel, Peggy said, with a deft reference to Papa Bears throwing nickels around like manhole covers, attributed to Mike Ditka.
Looking at time
Linebacker Lance Briggs was in this position four years ago when the Bears were a game away from a Super Bowl they ultimately reached with a win in Soldier Field. This time feels different.
That was a first time, Briggs said. You dont know what to expect. I had to drive all the way downtown for press events put on a big suit. This time were playing a very familiar foe and its in Soldier Field again. So really it just having been through the experience.
The Bears defense has a number of key members (Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Julius Peppers, Israel Idonije) past the age of 30 but that doesnt make this into a last-chance kind of thing as far as Briggs is concerned.
Im 30, not dead, Briggs said. I dont how many years Ill play but Im going to enjoy it.
Briggs acknowledged the locker room was sour after Peppers was signed and the Bears released defensive end Alex Brown. Not because of Peppers, Briggs corrected quickly. Because of Alex being released.
When Matt Forte has gotten the ball, the Bears have gotten wins. They were undefeated (6-0) in games where Forte had 17 or more carries. Its just that simple.
Its not that simple, Forte said, smiling. But he did note that if we get more carries, it allows the running back to get in rhythm and it helps the offensive line get into a rhythm as well.
The mild-mannered running back will leave any Bears-Packers venom to somebody else this week. As far as hating the Green Bayites, I think thats more for the fans to do that, he said. I dont really hate anybody. I just concentrate on going out there and playing good football.
Forte has played six games against the Packers, with only modest success. He has average 3.6 yards per carry and scored just once. Oddly perhaps, he averaged 2.6 yards per carry in the Game 3 win but 6.1 in the final-game loss at Green Bay.
The biggest Bears-Packers names
A number of famous Bears and Packers names will be popping up all week. Coach Lovie Smith started with two of the biggest Wednesday.
Im sure George Halas and Vince Lombardi are pretty pumped up about their teams this week, Smith said.
Since beating Green Bay was his first stated goal when he was hired, and winning the Super Bowl was the third and final goal, this game is particularly appropriate as far as Smith is concerned.
No matter where you are, there is always a team you have to beat, Smith said. To have to beat the Packers to get to the Super Bowl, our ultimate goal, is the way it should be.
Smith thought this team was the best he has had since coming in as Bears coach and said so to anyone who was interested in listening. That the Bears werent expected to be a factor, and certainly werent expected to be where they are right now, has at times amused Smith. And on another level, it wasnt particularly amusing.
Its definitely been a part of what weve dealt with this year, Smith said, then pulled back to look at the bigger picture. Its hard to see how a team would be an underdog in the playoffs.
Dont over-think it
The NFC Championship will be the third time in 2010 that the Bears and Packers will see each other. It is the third time they have prepared for each other, watched film on each other, prepared for the football games and mind games.
It can be possible, coordinator Mike Martz said, to over-think your game plans in these situations.
The mistake in these situations can be assuming that the opponent knows more about you than they do, Martz said. I think you have to be very careful of it. If youre not careful you can get away from why youre there in the first place and do some things that you didnt need to do.
The final regular-season game is one that Martz probably hopes the Packers study in detail. Because that game was not one that Martz will put on his Bears resume.
In a game with no meaning in the standings for the Bears, Martz called 45 pass plays, 6 of them resulting in sacks of Jay Cutler, and only ran 20 times, albeit for 110 yards.
I did not do a good job of calling the game at all, got away from some things we do well, Martz said. It was uncharacteristic of who we are. You go back and look at some of the things you did in that game and try to correct them.
John "Moon" Mullin is CSNChicago.com's Bears Insider, and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.