Does youth wave on Packers, Bears signal new era, renewed rivalry?

The Green Bay Packers have the youngest roster in the league.

The Chicago Bears aren’t far behind.

Yet they are part of the NFL’s oldest rivalry, dating back to the very beginning.

What a juxtaposition. 

It signals a new era in the two franchises’ storied history. Maybe in this one, the Packers will actually come to see the Bears as rivals.

It’s a symptom of so much turnover in the NFL year in and year out. There are only three Bears players on the 2023 roster who were on the team when Chicago last beat the Packers in 2018. There are only four Packers who know what it’s like to lose to the Bears.

As a result, these two teams take drastically different approaches to the season-opening matchup (Sunday at 4:25 ET on FOX and the FOX Sports app).

The Bears are hoping the ushering in of Jordan Love under center in Green Bay means they can turn the tides on series history. To them, youth is an opportunity. 

“I think you have to state what it is,” said Bears head coach Matt Eberflus this week. “It’s a heck of a rivalry. It’s the best rivalry in football. You’ve got to state that. That’s a fact. The other thing is this is one game. This is the only game we can control. And we control one play at a time. This preparation for this week, playing against this opponent, Week 1. So you’ve got to micro it down for them, too. That’s how you win the game. You do it one play at a time and you do it all the way through the game. You just talk to them that way.”

There are of course, those three players on the team who know exactly what this rivalry means: Guard/center Cody Whitehair, safety and defensive captain Eddie Jackson and long snapper Patrick Scales.

“I’ve played them roughly 20 times, and I’ve beat them one time,” said Scales. “Every chance I get to play them, I want to play them, and I want to beat them.” 

Eberflus did do the quintessential coach thing, relying on axioms like ‘it’s one game’ and ‘control what you can control.’ But there’s an undercurrent there for those without Scales’ experience. One that shows the Bears have a chip on their shoulder that’s trickled down generations of rosters. The Packers have been the monkey on their backs. What Eberflus is also doing, as a result, is instilling that history as a means of motivation.

It’s worked for some. After infamously voicing his displeasure with Packers fans as a whole, second-year Bears DT  Justin Jones had more choice words ahead of the first Bears-Packers week. 

“I know I haven’t gotten a win since I’ve been here against the Packers,” said cornerback Jaylon Johnson. “I’m definitely looking forward to changing that around.”

Flipping the script means a Week 1 win, after all.

“I didn’t really watch football a lot growing up, so I didn’t really know about rivalries,” said rookie right tackle Darnell Wright. “You hear about it in the building, though. It’s definitely something I’m learning now. I never really grew up hating the Packers. But there are some guys in here that do. So I guess I’m falling in line. I guess that’s how it is right now.”

Meanwhile safety Jaquan Brisker, in just his second year in the league, dove right in.

“I can’t [wait],” Brisker said. “I’m itching [to play] […] People hate Green Bay. I hate Green Bay. So I can’t wait.”

What’s at stake for Justin Fields, Jordan Love in Packers vs. Bears?

DeMarcus Walker, who just arrived in Chicago this offseason, knows enough to know what it means not only to the team but to the entire city. The Bears have suffered from little-brother syndrome long enough and a win on Sunday would snap an eight-game losing streak where Chicago fell further behind in the annals after leading for much of the 20th century. Green Bay now leads 105-95-6. They’ve won all but three games over the Bears in the last decade. 

“Honestly, you know, I beat Aaron Rodgers last year.  It makes no difference for me. It’s going out there and doing it for the city of Chicago, doing it for my teammates because obviously it’s been long overdue, so being blessed and having a good opportunity to come out there and showcase what we’ve got going on.” 

The Packers, conversely and maybe predictably, have a lot less to say about their foes to the south. Head coach Matt LaFleur didn’t even try for any extra motivation. He’s not talking new leaf or new era. He was asked about what this rivalry means to him to open the season.

“Nothing. It’s about going 1-0,” he said.

[Do you want more great stories delivered right to you? Here’s how you can create or log in to your FOX Sports account, follow your favorite leagues, teams and players and receive a personalized newsletter in your inbox daily.]

There weren’t many juicy tidbits to glean from the Packers’ locker room, either. Green Bay has been focused on getting to the postseason. They were used to letting Aaron Rodgers carry the trash-talking stick. But they always came out on the right side of those contests so why would they be concerned now? When they have all the faith in the world in their quarterback, still.

“My thing is, I just got here,” said Packers cornerback Rasul Douglas. “They were in a rivalry. For me, I haven’t ever lost to the Bears in all my seven years. So it’s not really a rivalry to me. I think more of a rivalry would be back in the day, it’s a rivalry if you’ve been on the same team for 12 years or something like that, and you’re going back forth every year. Maybe that’s a rivalry to you, but to me it’s like I don’t really care. I don’t have a rivalry in the NFL, so it’s hard. I mean, some players might feel like that. I just know that it’s like it’s being put on you because you’re in the atmosphere. 

“It’s like you’re best friends with somebody and they don’t like somebody. You don’t know why, you don’t care. You just can’t like the person because your best friend don’t like them. It’s kind of like that. I don’t know why they don’t like the Bears, and I don’t care. It’s just they don’t like them, I don’t like them.”

2023 NFC North Preview ft. Bears, Lions, Packers & Vikings

For Bears players, it’s personal. For Packers players, it’s business as usual.

In FOX’s Game of the Week on Sunday, we find out if a new era means a renewed rivalry.

Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.

Get more from National Football League Follow your favorites to get information about games, news and more

Source link