Monday, January 24, 2011

NFC Championship Game

 Two teams who have met each other on the field 128 times played for the first time in the post-season since 1941. The Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears have the longest running rivalry of any team in professional football, and the 129th meeting decided who would win the Halas Trophy (named after the one-time owner and coach of the Chicago Bears) and the right to play for the Lombardi Trophy (named for the head coach of the Green Bay Packers who won Super Bowls I & II). The road to Dallas and Super Bowl XLV went through Chicago's Soldier Field.
The weather in Chicago was typical for January. Lake effect snow greeted the early tailgaters, but the sun came out with clear skies and temperatures in the upper teens. Not only was the stadium's field prepared for the last game of the 2010 season, but sand and salt was sprinkled throughout the stands for fans. With this being the biggest game of the NFC schedule, the NFL on Fox crew took their show on the road. Personalities such as Terry Bradshaw, Howie Long, Michael Strahan and Jimmy Johnson went live from Chicago an hour prior to kick off.
Aside from the rivalry of these two teams and their fan bases, the game featured one of the hottest offenses in the league taking on one of the leagues toughest defenses. Aaron Rodgers led the Packers a week before in a rout of the #1 seed Atlanta Falcons. However that game was inside, on turf and under controlled conditions. This week the defense was better than Atlanta's and the field conditions were questionable. The opening kick off provided some slipping and sliding and perhaps a pre-cursor to how the game would be played. The Chicago defense stepped up in the first meeting of the year by creating a turnover leading the winning touchdown. The second meeting in Green Bay was a defensive battle with the Packers taking the win allowing them this play-off run. These two units were definitely their respective strengths.
After an opening drive which culminated in a Rodgers keeper for seven, the Packers were also able to score seven more prior to the halftime break. Chicago's offense was sputtering with poor field position and struggled moving the ball. Bears' starting QB Jay Cutler, hurt himself in the second quarter and tried to make a go of it, but had to sit on the sidelines. After Michigan alum Todd Collins failed miserably, Chicago head coach, Lovie Smith turned to Colorado State alum, Caleb Hanie. Hanie provided a spark absent from the Bears all day and drove them on their first scoring drive of the day. However Hanie turned the ball over on an interception to B.J. Raji in the fourth quarter resulting in a touchdown. But the Bears rallied around their third-year QB. With Packer fans beginning to feel the Super Bowl with a 14 point lead with under ten minutes to go in the 4th qtr, Hanie led them on another drive cutting the deficit to 7.
The Packers were unable to seal the victory and gave the ball back to Chicago for one last opportunity to tie the game. But on the final drive, Hanie threw the ball to a Packer with less than a minute to go, giving the Packers the win, the trip to Dallas, and most importantly the Halas trophy. Due to an agreement between both teams, the Packers departed the Soldier Field sod for the warm locker room and the presentation of the Halas Trophy.
Packer fans were not ready to leave. Many stuck around waiting for the players to return. But the patience of the Green Bay fans were waning and they began to head to downtown bars to celebrate their first time to the Super Bowl under GM Ted Thompson. The Packers sealed up the first slot of the Super Bowl pairing, and the Pittsburgh Steelers won the second. The game will be played at Cowboys Stadium on February 6th with the view to the Texas skies closed.

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