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Aaron vs. Jay, Packers vs. Bears in NFC title game

CHICAGO —  

Aaron Rodgers and Jay Cutler are two young quarterbacks on the rise, blessed with slingshot arms and nimble feet. Both can handle postseason pressure, earning their first career playoff victories in recent weeks.

They’re friendly off the field, exchanging congratulatory text messages when their respective teams won last weekend to set up what might be the juiciest conference championship game ever.

And both men have a chance to cement a place among the NFL’s top quarterbacks when the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears revive their historic rivalry in Sunday’s NFC championship game at Soldier Field.

For fans, it’s a passionate fight for ultimate bragging rights. For players, the game will likely be decided by the two quarterbacks’ ability to make big plays and keep drives alive against two top defenses.

“Once you get to these games, it is a quarterback’s game,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “When they have open receivers, hitting them. Standing in the pocket, taking a couple hits if you have to, just being that leader that the team sees is out front making plays.”

But any similarity between Cutler and Rodgers ends when it comes to public perception.

Rodgers is the guy who gracefully scrambled out of Brett Favre’s shadow.

Cutler is Favre 2.0, minus much of the homespun country charm.

Rodgers remained poised and quietly confident after Favre was traded in 2008 _ even after Rodgers was booed by some of his own fans. Since then, Rodgers has won over just about everyone with his stellar play and likable personality.

If anybody in Wisconsin is still pining for Favre in green and gold, they’re doing so very quietly.

“He’s playing his best football of his career at this point, and that’s what you want, especially this time of year,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said of Rodgers. “He’s definitely a big-time quarterback. He’s everything we hoped he’d be.”

Cutler remains a talented work in progress.

His throwing mechanics sometimes break down, and he relies on arm strength and a gambling mentality that sometimes leads to head-scratching interceptions.

“I think you’re always growing,” Cutler said. “You’re always trying to get better. You’re always learning new stuff. Obviously I had to learn a little bit quicker with the new offense and Mike (Martz). You’re always seeing different defenses and always critiquing yourself and if you’re not, you’re not going to get any better.”

But Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk says Cutler has a “huge” arm and seems to have his teammates behind him.

“I think they love having a guy like Jay Cutler, because he brings a lot of energy and big-play capability to the field,” Hawk said. “And I think he’s done a really good job all year of kind of capitalizing on the defense’s mistakes that are made against him and what he can do. He seems like he just has great command of the offense, great command of the game. That’s what you want out of a quarterback.”

Given Cutler’s risky tendencies, and his at-times aloof demeanor off the field, he hasn’t completely won over some Bears fans. That could change Sunday.

“I think everyone in the locker room knows the magnitude of this game, knows what we’re going up against,” Cutler said. “But at the same time we’re going to enjoy it, we’re going to be loose, we’re going to play our game and we can’t worry about what is going to happen afterward if we win, we lose. We just have to go out there and play.”

Rodgers said Sunday’s game “takes the rivalry to the next level,” creating the kind of atmosphere he’s dreamed about playing in since he was a kid.

“It’s great that there’s so much history, the longest-running rivalry in the National Football League,” Rodgers said. “To have one of us, the winner of this game, go to the Super Bowl is pretty special.”

Sure, the quarterbacks won’t determine Sunday’s game by themselves.

Sloppy field conditions at Soldier Field could disrupt the Packers’ wide receivers, hinder the quickness of Bears defensive end Julius Peppers _ or both. Clay Matthews and the Packers’ blitz schemes could prove to be too much for a still-shaky Bears offensive line, or Chicago’s resurgent running game with Matt Forte could keep Green Bay’s defense off balance.

The Bears could capitalize on what appears to be a significant edge on special teams, beginning with returner Devin Hester.

But quarterbacks come first, even in a historic rivalry built on toughness, and Packers cornerback Tramon Williams said the Packers will be in for a long afternoon if they don’t get pass rush pressure.

“Hopefully, we can get to Cutler and make him make some quick decisions back there,” Williams said. “When you watch film, if you let the guy sit back there he can be a nightmare. If you get pressure on pretty much anybody you’ll make them make quick decisions and you can make plays.”

Rodgers, meanwhile, was fairly productive in two games against Chicago this year _ the Bears won in Chicago in September, and the Packers beat the Bears in their regular-season finale to make the playoffs _ but the Bears generally do a pretty good job containing the Packers’ offense.

Rodgers said he’s looking forward to facing the Bears, especially linebacker Brian Urlacher.

“I don’t know how he feels about me. He said he voted for me for the Pro Bowl _ I don’t know if he’s lying or not,” Rodgers joked. “A lot of respect on this side for the way that he plays, the way he’s played this season. But (he’s) somebody I really enjoy playing against.”

Source: Aaron vs. Jay, Packers vs. Bears in NFC title game

To understand the Packers-Bears rivalry, check out these tales from fans, ex … – ESPN

CHICAGO — On the schedule, it was just another game. The 164th meeting between the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears, to be exact. But the night before, in the Packers’ team hotel, safety Matt Bowen struggled to sleep.

He had grown up in suburban Chicago on a steady diet of Ditka and defense yet found himself a few hours from taking the field as one of his boyhood villains: a starting member of the Green Bay Packers. As roommate Aaron Kampman snored in the bed next to him, Bowen tossed and turned. And somewhere around 3 a.m., the unthinkable happened.

“It isn’t something I’ve told a lot of people,” Bowen said.

When the Bears and Packers meet this Sunday for the NFC championship, they will play for the 182nd time. No NFL teams have ever traded helmet paint more than these two. Theirs is a rivalry built on a winning tradition: 21 NFL championships, 47 Pro Football Hall of Famers. The names from the past are all capable of standing on their own.

Halas. Lombardi. Butkus. Nitschke. Payton. Favre.

It started in 1921 with a 20-0 Bears victory and a John Taylor punch that broke the nose of Packers tackle Howard Buck. And it will continue Sunday with a ticket to the Super Bowl on the line. To put into context what it all means, to understand what makes this different from Yankees-Red Sox, Michigan-Ohio State or Alabama-Auburn, you have to hear the stories. Stories from people like Bowen, who still can’t believe how he ended up outside the team hotel wearing just a towel that night in 2002. Or from announcer Wayne Larrivee, whose voice was the soundtrack for 14 Bears seasons — including the famed ’85 campaign — but now spreads the Packers gospel through Wisconsin. You have to understand the role war played the only other time these two teams met in the postseason, in 1941, and visit places like The Brat Stop, the hole-in-the-wall tourist trap five miles from the Illinois-Wisconsin border that features an 8-foot bear hanging in effigy above the main entrance. These are the people, the places and the stories that make this rivalry what it is: one of the best in all of sports.

The Green Bay Bear

Jim Flanigan never had a choice. Born in Green Bay the son of the Packers linebacker by the same name, he spent much of his youth running around Lambeau in his dad’s green and yellow No. 55 Packers jersey.

But after an All-American career at Notre Dame, Flanigan’s life forever changed when the Bears selected the defensive tackle in the third round of the 1994 NFL draft. As soon as he arrived in Chicago, the questions began — from coaches, teammates, the media, everyone.

“It came up constantly,” he said. “That’s all people wanted to talk about. What did my family think? Was I ostracized back home? Did anybody stop talking to me? It was a big deal. And of course anytime I went home, I took a lot of crap. Sometimes I’d go home in disguise.”

It was made worse when Flanigan gave an interview in his second year and told the Chicago media, “I hate the Packers.” The quote became the headline, and Flanigan single-handedly personified the rivalry — loved in Chicago, hated in his home state.

“The rivalry just sort of brings that out in you,” he said. “It becomes an emotional, personal battle out there. Especially in the trenches. And there were guys on that team at that point that I actually hated.”

The Bears struggled through much of the 1990s, and Flanigan lost his first 10 games against Green Bay. But on Nov. 7, 1999, six days after Walter Payton died, Bryan Robinson’s blocked field goal attempt as time expired preserved a 14-13 Bears win at Lambeau.

“It was as emotional of an NFL game as I’ve ever played in,” Flanigan said. “I don’t remember much of what my coaches said during my career, but I can still hear [defensive coordinator] Greg Blache, the night before the game, talking about not knowing when your last moment is going to be, how long life is going to last. Guys were getting choked up, wiping away tears. And then we went out there and played a heck of a game and did something nobody thought we could do.”

Flanigan played one more season with the Bears before signing with the Packers in 2001. Although his private investment firm is based in Chicago, he lives in Green Bay with his wife and three children and commutes to the city a few times a month. The Flanigans will be cheering for the Packers on Sunday.

“You can’t live here without being a Packer fan,” he said. “It’s part of the culture. I follow the Bears and I hope they do well, but I’m more excited about the Packers.”

Touchdown … Packers?

As a boy growing up in western Massachusetts, Wayne Larrivee carried a piece of the Packers with him to school each day on the side of his lunch box. There, a picture of Hall of Fame running back Jim Taylor lured him into cheering for the green and gold.

“I loved it,” Larrivee said. “I thought the ‘G’ was really cool. Jim looked so strong and powerful. And it just so happened they were winning championships under Lombardi at the time. The Packers became this mystical part of my childhood.”

So in 1998, when the organization approached the announcer about replacing the retiring Jim Irwin and becoming the voice of the Packers, it was a dream come true. But there was one problem. Larrivee was the play-by-play man for the Bears and had been so for the previous 14 seasons. His voice had become synonymous with Walter Payton touchdowns and Richard Dent quarterback sacks. And even though he wouldn’t have a problem getting excited about a Brett Favre touchdown pass, how would the rest of the world react?

Not well.

“It was pretty difficult,” Larrivee said. “People in Chicago got mad. They took it as if I was insulting them and the Bears by picking the Packers. And the people in Wisconsin wanted no part of the Bears voice calling Packer games. Even people in broadcasting looked at me like, ‘What are you doing? Are you nuts?'”

The transition took time. And even now, 12 years later, Larrivee admits he had no idea what he was getting into.

“From my standpoint, of course I was going to do the Packers,” said Larrivee, 55. “I figured I’m just an announcer, who cares? I didn’t realize how your voice becomes embedded as part of the fabric to those people. And looking back, if I would have gotten it, if I would have understood how difficult it would have been on both sides, I’m not sure I would have had the courage to make the change.”

On Sunday, Larrivee will sit in the press box high above Soldier Field and broadcast the NFC Championship Game to Packers fans across the globe. He is the only person ever to work as the play-by-play man for both teams.

“It’s been the highlight of my career to be part of both the Packers and the Bears franchises,” he said. “You have two amazing fan bases. And they’re so very similar. Both extremely passionate and knowledgeable. What happens in the game makes or breaks their week. And they are hard on their teams. The Packers come home after a win and all the talk is why [coach Mike] McCarthy did this or did that. And in Chicago, I think the last people to take the Bears seriously this year were actual Bears fans.

“This game? This is what we all were waiting for and hoping for. You can go back 50 years and count on one hand the number of seasons both teams were good and the games actually meant something. I can’t wait for Sunday. It’s what great football is all about.”

A deeper meaning

At 84 years old, World War II veteran Gene Rezabeck admits that his memories grow fuzzier by the day. But the die-hard Bears fan still remembers the last time the Bears and Packers met in the postseason — a 1941 clash that served a greater social significance than the outcome on the field.

The Bears and Packers split the season series that year and finished tied atop the Western Division at 10-1. Thus, the two teams met in the NFL’s first-ever playoff to determine who would face Central Division champion New York for the NFL championship.

But Rezabeck, then a 15-year-old kid from Berwyn, Ill., remembers the game for something altogether different — it took place one week after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and provided a much-needed diversion during a challenging time in the country.

“Everyone was in such a sobering mood,” Rezabeck said. “There was the initial shock and then this sense of disbelief, very much like 9/11. But football — and, more specifically here in Chicago, the Bears — helped bring people back together. It was important in solidifying the unity of the country behind our effort to go to war, get rid of our enemies and move on to greater pastures.”

The Bears beat the Packers 33-14 that day and the following week beat New York 37-9 for their second straight NFL championship. When the season ended and the U.S. entered World War II, many NFL players enlisted in the military, including Bears running back Norm Standlee, who scored two touchdowns against the Packers that day; George McAfee, who rushed for 119 yards against Green Bay; and Packers guard Howard “Smiley” Johnson, who was killed at the Battle of Iwo Jima in 1945. Johnson is the only former Packer to die defending his country. Bears coach George Halas joined the Navy halfway through the 1942 season and spent three years in the South Pacific, as well.

And then there’s Rezabeck, who, on his 18th birthday, motivated by what happened in Pearl Harbor, joined the Navy and spent two years in the Pacific Islands. This Sunday, Rezabeck will cheer on his Bears with friends and other World War II veterans at the Belmont Village Senior Living Center in Carol Stream, Ill.

“If the Bears can’t beat ‘em, I hope the Packers go all the way,” Rezabeck said. “But on Sunday, I want nothing more for the Packers to lose. That’s our rival.”

A fine line

The line itself is impossible to find. It doesn’t even exist, actually. But if there were an official divider between the Bears Den and Packer Country, it likely would run alongside Highway 50 in Kenosha, Wis., and end inside the cheese shop at the famed Brat Stop restaurant.

Here, 99 types of cheese are for sale, everything from Muenster to Monterey Jack. Most of it is from Wisconsin. And the preferred snack upon which to spread your cheese is, of course, a piece of Chicago flatbread.

“We try to please everyone,” owner Gerry Rasmussen says.

With his restaurant a mere five miles from the state line and just a football toss from Interstate 94, the main connector between Chicago and Wisconsin, Rasmussen has no choice. After all, this is a town in which the local newspaper every day this week featured a full-page picture of a Packer and a Bear.

Rasmussen opened this glorified roadhouse 50 years ago, and even though a fire forced him to rebuild in the 1980s, not much has changed. Five bucks gets you a Wisconsin bratwurst served in a plastic basket with a bag of chips. Carpeted and/or wood-paneled walls and Bon Jovi tunes are included at no charge.

On any given day, the customers at the Brat Stop range from truck drivers to businessmen in suits and ties. Rasmussen says the majority of his customers are Bears fans traveling to and from Chicago. A random sampling of lunchtime customers one day this week revealed 19 people who planned to cheer for the Bears this weekend and 12 who supported the Packers. Everyone had an opinion.

Rasmussen himself loves the Packers, which — despite his politicianlike “please everyone” mantra — is obvious, given the umpteen Packers signs on the wall and the plastic 8-foot Chicago Bear hanging in effigy above the main entrance. Next to the brats, the Bear seems to be the star of the place.

“I bought that up at a grocery store in Stevens Point for $200,” Rasmussen says. “The rope I think I had laying around. It’s just for fun. The Bears fans know I’m just messing around.”

At some point Sunday afternoon, lights will flash, sirens will blare and foghorns will blast when a touchdown is scored. By either team. For Rasmussen, the NFC championship matchup is truly a dream come true. Because no matter what happens, he’ll have a team in the Super Bowl.

“The way I look at it,” he says. “I can’t lose.”

The near-naked truth

When he tells the story now, some eight years later, Matt Bowen doesn’t even flinch. Yet there he was eight years ago, a member of the Packers on the eve of his first start against his hometown Bears, tossing and turning at the Packers’ team hotel in Champaign, Ill.

He had signed with the Packers the year before. The moment he put on the green and yellow for the first time, everything changed.

“As soon as I got there, I wanted the Bears to lose so bad,” Bowen said. “I don’t know what it was. But you put on that helmet, you put on that jersey and you just transform. I wanted to win and I wanted to see the Bears lose every week.”

Bowen played against the Bears once in his first season with the Packers, but that was in Green Bay. And that was as a backup. Although the 2002 game wasn’t played at Soldier Field, which was undergoing renovations at the time, it was still in Illinois. At the stadium the Bears were temporarily calling home. The stands would be filled with people he grew up with. He was starting. And it was “Monday Night Football” — the entire football nation would be watching.

“I was so, so, so excited,” Bowen said. “I can’t even put it into words how much that game meant to me.”

It meant so much that, when Bowen rolled over at some point around 3 a.m., he realized his sheets were soaking wet.

“I had completely pissed my bed like a 2-year-old,” he said. “And then I started thinking, ‘Now what the hell am I going to do?'”

He didn’t want to wake Kampman, his roommate. So Bowen quietly stripped his bed, wrapped the sheets in a towel and bundled them up. Then, with nothing but a towel wrapped around his waist, he quickly headed outside to throw the sheets in the hotel trash bin so no one would find out what had happened. But there was a problem: The door locked behind him.

“And of course I didn’t have my key,” Bowen said. “So I walked into the front entrance — with this shaved head, wearing just a towel — and tried to tell them that I was Matt Bowen. I played for the Packers.”

But no one believed him. For about 10 minutes, Bowen and the overnight front desk clerk went back and forth, with the strong safety reciting his Social Security number, Kampman’s name, anything he could think of to get back in his room before someone spotted him half-naked in the hotel lobby. Eventually, the clerk believed Bowen and let him back into his room, where he flipped his mattress over and went back to sleep.

“The next morning, Kampman is like, ‘What happened to your sheets?'” Bowen said. “I didn’t know what to say. I made something up that I spilled coffee or whatever. I don’t think he believed me.”

The Packers beat the Bears 34-21 that night thanks to a 300-yard, three-touchdown performance from Favre. Bowen said he had a few key pass breakups in the game but mostly remembers a pass-interference call that went against him in the end zone.

“I’ve never been more excited about winning a game in my life,” he said. “I just wanted to win so bad. And as far as what happened the night before, the bottom line is that’s how passionate I was about that game. I couldn’t wait to get on that field and play in that game against my hometown team.”

Since retiring in 2006 after a seven-year NFL career, Bowen returned to Chicago, where he earned his master’s degree and helped launch The National Football Post. He also writes from a player’s perspective for the Chicago Tribune. But on Sunday, his heart will lie with the Packers.

“I’m kind of split on the two teams. I really am,” he said. “But more of my allegiance goes to Green Bay because I wore that helmet. I was part of that incredible tradition.”

Bowen believes Sunday’s game is the biggest sporting event in Chicago since Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series between the Cubs and Florida Marlins. As for a prediction, Bowen believes the Bears will prevail 23-17, based on their superior special teams as well as their ability to stop the run and force the Green Bay offense to be one-dimensional.

“It’s tough,” he said. “My heart will be pulling for the Packers, but my head tells me it’s going to be the Bears. I guess we’ll see.”

Wayne Drehs is a senior writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at wayne.drehs@espn.com.


Source: To understand the Packers-Bears rivalry, check out these tales from fans, ex … – ESPN

Chris Harris, Desmond Clark will play

CHICAGO — Chicago Bears safety Chris Harris (hip) is active for Sunday’s NFC Championship Game and will start.

It will be interesting to see how long Harris lasts in this game. As Brad Biggs of the Chicago Tribune reported, Harris has a torn muscle in his hip and needed a pain-killing injection Sunday morning. Rookie Major Wright will be available in reserve.

As expected, Bears tight end Desmond Clark will play in this game after being deactivated for 11 games during the regular season. As a result, the Bears have four receivers and four tight ends active for this game.

Here are the Bears’ eight inactive players:

Source: Chris Harris, Desmond Clark will play

Steelers vs Jets: 2011 AFC Championship Game Live Score and Coverage on CBS

Published: January 24, 2011

Steelers vs Jets: 2011 AFC Championship Game Live Score and Coverage on CBS

Pittsburgh Steelers vs New York Jets 2011 AFC Championship Game Live Score and Broadcast on CBS – The Pittsburgh Steelers hold membership in a very exclusive club, one they’ll be trying to prevent the New York Jets from joining when the two teams get together at Heinz Field for Sunday’s AFC Championship.

Live from the Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the Pittsburgh Steelers vs New York Jets 2011 AFC Championship Game will have a kick off time of 6:30 pm ET, Sunday, January 23, 2011.

Roethlisberger has the Steelers (13-4) in their fourth AFC championship game in his seven years in the league after it looked like his team might be one-and-done at halftime last Saturday against Baltimore.

“(Manning and Brady) approach things a little different,” said Ryan, who lost the 2009 AFC title game in Pittsburgh as Baltimore’s defensive coordinator. “Roethlisberger will beat you up. … I’ve never seen a guy take the hits he can take and also make people miss the way he does and be as accurate on the run.”

Apparently, New York helped earn itself a spot in this year’s AFC postseason field with a gritty 22-17 win at Heinz Field on Dec. 19, and its remarkable success on the road under second-year head coach Rex Ryan has carried into the playoffs. The Jets knocked off the defending conference champion Colts in a 17-16 squeaker during the Wild Card Round, then backed up a week’s worth of bulletin-board chatter by downing the top-seeded and previously-rolling Patriots by a 28-21 count this past Sunday to reach the AFC title game in back-to-back years for the first time in franchise history.

On the other hand, New York helped earn itself a spot in this year’s AFC postseason field with a gritty 22-17 win at Heinz Field on Dec. 19, and its remarkable success on the road under second-year head coach Rex Ryan has carried into the playoffs. The Jets knocked off the defending conference champion Colts in a 17-16 squeaker during the Wild Card Round, then backed up a week’s worth of bulletin-board chatter by downing the top-seeded and previously-rolling Patriots by a 28-21 count this past Sunday to reach the AFC title game in back-to-back years for the first time in franchise history.

The sixth-seeded Jets have gotten through Peyton Manning and Tom Brady to punch a ticket to their second straight AFC championship game, leaving Roethlisberger’s Steelers as the last obstacle to their first Super Bowl appearance in 42 years.

“We don’t care what people say or whether they like us,” All-Pro cornerback and Pittsburgh native Darrelle Revis said. “We just focus on what we need to do to win games.”

Based on their game series history, the New York’s above-noted Week 15 win over the Steelers stands as its only positive result in eight lifetime visits to Pittsburgh. That includes the lone postseason encounter between the foes, a 2004 AFC Divisional Playoff at Heinz Field in which the Steelers came through with a 20-17 victory.

Catch the players live via FOX on the said date and time and don’t miss this chance to witness your favourite team Pittsburgh Steelers vs New York Jets for the 2011 AFC Championship Game as they battle for the win the 2011 AFC Championship Game . Enjoy watching the game now.

GAME RESULTS AND RECAP:

Rodgers ran for a score and made a TD-saving tackle in leading the Green Bay Packers into the Super Bowl with a bone-jarring 21-14 victory Sunday over Chicago.

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Source: Steelers vs Jets: 2011 AFC Championship Game Live Score and Coverage on CBS


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