Still, it will be Chicago in January, and the NFL's two oldest rivals will be exhaling great clouds of steam into the bitter afternoon, and something resembling history will take place on the football field.
The Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Staleys met for the first time in 1921. The Packers were named for the Indian Packing Co., which earned the honor by giving an employee named Curly Lambeau $500 to buy uniforms for the football team he was starting on the side. Anyone who ever ran a company softball team knows how Curly must have felt leaving the office with that dough.
The Staleys were named for the A.E. Staley Co., which made food starch products. If you've ever visited the upper Midwest, you know that's a smart business decision. The Staleys played a season in Decatur, Ill., then a season in Chicago before George Halas bought out Mr. Staley for $100 and changed the team name to Bears. He moved the home games into Cubs Park (later renamed Wrigley Field), which was a nice place to play because it was only eight years old.
So, we're definitely peering back through the mists of time when the Packers and Bears take the field on Sunday. It is entirely possible that Indian Packing handled some of the products of A.E. Staley. Professional football was a loose avocation then, the province of hard men who worked with their hands and then earned a few bucks on the weekend. It was financed by companies with the same interests. No one really worried how to split the billions of dollars in television revenue.
Back to the future in the new Soldier Field, some current history will be made Sunday if the Packers, favored by 31/2 points, are able to win the game and advance to the Super Bowl. Green Bay would become the 10th team to represent the NFC in the last 10 years. During the Super Bowl era, neither conference has ever had a 10-year stretch in which it sent a different team to the championship game every year.
In order, the most recent NFC teams in the Super Bowl have been, starting with the 2001 season: St. Louis, Tampa Bay, Carolina, the Eagles, Seattle, Chicago, New York, Arizona, and New Orleans. Green Bay would make 10 for 10, and what exactly does that mean?
It could mean that the NFL's vision of parity, built on a hard salary cap, keeps teams from dominating, at least in one conference. (If Pittsburgh beats the Jets on Sunday, the AFC will have sent just four teams to the Super Bowl in the last 10 years. Indianapolis, New England, and Oakland are the others.) It could also mean that the NFC organizations don't do a good enough job of sustaining their success.
Looking at that churn, it is amazing that the Eagles under Andy Reid have been so consistent, with only one losing season since he got the thing rolling in 2000, his second year with the team. Among active head coaches with more than 200 games on their resumés, only Reid and Bill Belichick have a winning percentage of 60 percent or better.
Very nice, but also amazing that the consistency has resulted in just one Super Bowl appearance and zero championships. It raises the old question of whether you want a really hot car in the driveway, or one that starts every morning.
Green Bay hasn't been in the Super Bowl since the 1997 season, which makes the Packers' recent drought even a little drier than that of the Eagles. They have had four coaches since the last Super Bowl appearance, and are settled now on Mike McCarthy, who became the quarterbacks coach in Green Bay in 1999, taking the place of some guy named Andy Reid. It's a small world, after all, especially in northern Wisconsin.
The Packers are a good team, no question, but fortunate to be here. Only a narrow win over Chicago in the last game of the regular season got them into the playoffs as the sixth seed of the conference, and only Michael Vick's interception on a potential winning drive allowed them to survive a 21-16, wild-card decision over the Eagles.
Here they are, however, and poised to keep the NFC carousel turning in the Super Bowl. The 181 previous games between the Bears and Packers don't matter, whether looking at the one they played Jan. 2 (10-3, Green Bay) or the one they played in 1921 (20-0, Chicago).
What matters is whether linebacker Clay Matthews can get to Chicago quarterback Jay Cutler and whether Bears running back Matt Forte can keep the Packers honest. What matters is whether quarterback Aaron Rodgers continues his exceptional season for Green Bay and whether Julius Peppers of the Bears can get his first sack of the season against the division rivals.
All that matters, and a hundred other small battles. And just as it has for 90 years in this cold place where a nearly straight road along the lake links the big city and the small town, the game between the Packers and the Bears matters very, very much. This time, as a bonus, it also happens to mean a lot, too.
Contact columnist Bob Ford
at 215-854-5842 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Read
his recent work at http://go.philly.com/bobford.