For an eternity, they have been rivals.
This week, the rest of the nation can finally pay attention.
And, really, isn't it about time?
Forever, there have been the Bears, and there have been the Packers, and there has been the general annoyance one team has felt for the other. It is as if they began playing as the NFL was writing the table of contents to its history, and since then, they have played one continued, brutal game through the ages.
For nine decades, they have broken each other's bones, and they have smashed each other's teeth, and they have irrigated their fields with the blood of the other. Look it up, and you might find these teams invented the notion of disliking the opposition.
In a league that does not seem to foster lasting rivalries, theirs has endured. It is the small village against the big city, the frozen tundra against the Chicago skyline, the cheesemakers against the steelworkers. It is Hinkle vs. Nagurski, Lombardi vs. Halas, Nitschke vs. Butkus.
It is the Bears-Packers, and as a rivalry, it has had everything.
Except, of course, stakes.
That will be the coolest thing about Sunday's NFC Championship Game between Chicago and Green Bay. Even when you consider the previous 181 meetings, or the combined 57 Hall of Famers, or the combined 21 titles won by the franchises, this one means more than any of them.
This one is for the Halas Award, named for the former Chicago coaching great.
Win it, and a team gets to play for the Lombardi Award, named for the former Green Bay coaching great.
If you are wondering, Red Grange never played for either trophy. For that matter, neither did Johnny "Blood" McNally.
Here's the odd thing about the Bears and the Packers. Throughout history, the teams have rarely been good at the same time. Only once before have they met in the playoffs (a tie-breaking game in 1941 won by the Bears). Only four times in history have they even made the playoffs in the same season. Granted, the two have always played in the same division, but the NFL has had the wild-card format for 41 seasons.
Remember '66 and '67, when the Packers won back-to-back Super Bowls? The Bears were 12-13-3 over those two years.
Remember '85, when the Bears had one of the finest Super Bowl teams ever assembled? The Packers were 8-8 for the third consecutive season.
Remember '06, when the Bears last played in the Super Bowl? The Packers were 8-8.
This year, the Bears were 11-5. The Packers were 10-6.
Come Sunday, one team is going to go home with its feelings hurt.
That's the beauty of Sunday's game. It matters so darned much. It's a game that will help define coaches and quarterbacks and defenses. As far as the rivalry goes, yeah, it's going to throw a couple of logs on the fire.
In other words, this is the best game in 91 years. Oh, there was the playoff game 70 seasons ago, when the Bears won 33-14. There was 1963, when the Bears handed the Packers both of their losses and won the division by a game over Vince Lombardi's two-time NFL champions.
Pretty much, however, this game should be the definition of a Bears-Packers game. As memories go, it might last for 90 years, too.
So what's with this rivalry? Well, geography, for one thing. The two are separated by a 205-mile stretch of I-43 that runs on the western side of Lake Michigan.
Lifestyle, for another. History, most of all. As early as 1925, the Chicago Daily Tribune referred to these teams as "formidable rivals." Only two other current NFL teams — the Cardinals (then in Chicago) and New York Giants — existed that year. In some ways, these teams should always play on an icy field, in leather helmets, and the broadcast should always be in black and white.
How do you define a rivalry? How about the final regular-season game of the '41 season, when the entire Packers team showed up at Comiskey Park … to pull for the Cardinals to beat the Bears.
How do you define a rivalry? How about with silliness? Back in 1980, the Bears and Packers were tied 6-6 in overtime when Chester Marcol's attempt at a winning field goal was blocked. Marcol caught the ball as it flew back at his face, then scurried around right end for 25 yards and the winning touchdown for the Packers.
How do you define a rivalry? How about with brute force? Back in 1986, Packers nose tackle Charles Martin body-slammed quarterback Jim McMahon, one of several Bears whose names were on his "hit-list" towel. You can still hear the outrage in Chicago.
How do you define a rivalry? How about through passion? In 1940, the Tribune ran a story talking about how scalpers were getting $25 for a $3.30 ticket. The outrage!
How do you define a rivalry? By the continuing debate of whether Don Majkowski was over the line when he threw a winning pass in 1989, or why Bears defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan was still blitzing late in a 61-7 win in 1980, or why a Bears player named Tarzan Taylor took a swing and broke the nose of the Packers' Cub Buck (you can't make this stuff up) back in 1921, or what the Bears were thinking when William "The Refrigerator" Perry became a legend by plowing through Packers end George Cumby in '86, or what the odds were that Sid Luckman's nose would be broken by the Packers four different times.
How do you define a rivalry? Perhaps with the Hall of Famers involved. Name another rivalry that can match Luckman and Don Hutson and Mean Ed Sprinkle and Doug Atkins and Willie Davis and Jim Taylor and Gale Sayers.
How do you define a rivalry? Perhaps you should wait until Sunday night.
If the teams can measure up to the importance of the game, this might be the best one of them all.