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Bears and Packers set to renew league's oldest rivalry


Chicago Bears' quarterback Jay Cutler stands on the sideline during his team's play against the Seattle Seahawks in their NFC Divisional NFL playoff football game in Chicago January 16, 2011. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes
Chicago Bears' quarterback Jay Cutler stands on the sideline during his team's play against the Seattle Seahawks in their NFC Divisional NFL playoff football game in Chicago January 16, 2011. REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

By Steve Keating

CHICAGO (Reuters) - The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers will add another chapter to the NFL's oldest rivalry on Sunday when the two teams battle in a game that will award the winner with a trip to the Super Bowl.

The teams have played each other 182 times but the January 23 clash at Chicago's Soldier Field will mark only the second time they have met in the playoffs and the first since 1941.

"It's a big deal, we have a lot of history with them," Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said after Chicago's 35-24 win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday set up the grudge match with the Packers. "We don't like them, they don't like us."

That might be the biggest understatement of NFL season.

More blood feud than rivalry, the first meeting between the Bears and Packers in 1921 had a fist fight. They have since produced some of the game's greatest names like George Halas, Dick Butkus, Gale Sayers, Brett Favre and Vince Lombardi.

The winner of Sunday's NFC championship will be handed the George Halas Trophy while the Vince Lombardi Trophy will be hoisted by the Super Bowl champions on February 6 in Dallas.

When the Bears hired coach Lovie Smith in 2004, he said his team would have three goals each season: win the NFC North, win the Super Bowl and beat the Packers.

"It just doesn't get any better the way I see it then for the NFC Championship to come down to the Packers coming down on our turf," said Smith. "The Packers and Bears to finish it up. That's how it should be."

The Windy City woke up on Monday to a tidal wave of hype that is only expected to intensify leading up to Sunday's 2 p.m. CST (2000 GMT) kickoff.

Even before Chicago finished off the overmatched Seahawks, Bears fans were chanting "We want the Packers".

As soon as the game ended the rush was on for tickets to the NFC championship, the showdown attracting Super Bowl type prices with one resale site asking $10,000 for a pair.

With Chicago bracing for an invasion of Packers fans -- known as Cheeseheads -- the hype machine was in high gear and several local TV and radio stations were already calling the showdown the biggest game ever played in Chicago.

The Chicago Sun-Times wrapped its Monday edition in an eight-page special section headlined "Say Cheese" while the Chicago Tribune's front page read "Just Say Cheese".

"With Green Bay the hype is going to be there with the rivalry what it is, the magnitude of the game," said Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, who threw two touchdowns and ran for two others in his dazzling NFL playoff debut. "We can't blow this out of proportion; it's still a football game.

The Packers and Bears split their regular season meetings with each team winning at home to set up an unexpected rubber match that appears to be the game everyone wanted.

"If you could have told us that we'd be playing the NFC championship against the Packers at home, I don't know if you could have picked a better match-up, we'd have all signed on for it," said Bears tight end Greg Olsen. "We're really excited."

(Editing by Frank Pingue)

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