In the Wake of the News
9:48 PM CST, December 15, 2012
You never heard anybody at Halas Hall call Packers general manager Ted Thompson an idiot.
Nor will you, no matter how voluble or volatile the Bears-Packers rivalry became this week. That would be disparaging the man whose plan the Bears want to copy.
Lance Briggs can resort to name-calling of Packers tight end Jermichael Finley, which was beneath one of the most likable Bears even if Briggs was defending a teammate. Brandon Marshall can entertain us with a clever, choreographed anti-Packers rant designed to dare Dom Capers' defense into covering Marshall man-to-man. The Bears can inflame a rivalry's rhetoric, the latest sign of football desperation descending on Chicago, and pretend it all represents the urgency a fading 8-5 team has lacked.
But it simply continues a Bears-Packers tradition once summed up best by Vince Lombardi, who famously declared: "Desire is a hate for your opponent." This is just the Bears' turn to be haters.
The team getting dominated must try something when nothing else works, and the Bears have lost five straight to the Packers. After the Bears beat the Packers in 1984, for instance, in the midst of the Bears winning 10 of 11 in the series, Green Bay offensive tackle Greg Koch called his rivals "a cheap bunch of football players.'' Losing erodes a team's tolerance level and creates animosity for the opponent.
The irony is, for the supposedly renewed border war of words, the post-Jerry Angelo Bears would like nothing more than to emulate the team their players so dislike. The little we know about Bears GM Phil Emery's plan to build a championship team sounds similar to the way Thompson has constructed the Packers. When Emery talks about drafting intelligently and rewarding the Bears' own, he unwittingly brings to mind the blueprint on Thompson's desk. Perhaps their shared scouting backgrounds make that as inevitable as it is interesting.
The NFC's best team since Week 6 (7-1) arrives with one of the league's most successful homegrown rosters. Of the Packers' 53 players, 28 were drafted by the team — and 39 started their careers in Green Bay (74 percent). Nine are rookies.
The numbers reveal a front office, most notably a general manager, that not only is committed to player development but excels at it. Drafting and retaining players makes it easier over time for coaches to establish chemistry. The Packers also have found it easier to manage the salary cap by negotiating with three-fourths of a roster composed of guys they gave their first NFL jobs.
The aging Bears, in contrast, have 22 original draft picks on the current 53-man roster and 27 players who started their careers in Chicago (51 percent). Those aren't terrible numbers but show a wide enough gap to realize why Angelo is gone and Emery is trying to mimic Thompson. As the Bears prepare for a game they loudly have proclaimed as must-win, anybody else wonder whom Emery might make his Mike McCarthy if things continue to unravel?
Thompson took over as GM on Jan. 14, 2005, and fired coach Mike Sherman after the next season. Sherman had a .578 winning percentage (59-43) and won three NFC North titles with the Packers. Lovie Smith owns a similar winning percentage of .558 (82-65) and has won three NFC North titles with the Bears.
To replace Sherman, Thompson turned to a relatively unknown (and affordable) NFL offensive coordinator with no head-coaching experience. All McCarthy did was win the division in his second year and a Super Bowl in his fifth.
If Emery follows suit and fires a head coach after one season together, forget the big names already bandied about as replacements: fantasy picks Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Sean Payton and Nick Saban. Such folly makes fascinating conversation and fun poll questions. But those coaches figure to make $7 million if they ever coach another NFL game, an exorbitant fee for a Bears franchise recommitting to player development. An organization with a history of being frugal and hiring assistant coaches likely would lean heavily toward doing so again — this time a hot young offensive guru.
Three straight victories to win the division, beginning Sunday, would qualify as Lovie's Last Stand. For the Bears to get the first one, their pass rush will have to overwhelm a Packers offensive line that has allowed 42 sacks of Aaron Rodgers — 11 more than Jay Cutler. But more likely Rodgers will keep his cool, Cutler will escape fewer pockets because of a sprained knee and the Packers will survive those bombastic Bears.
Pay no attention to any postgame insults from a losing locker room. The Bears speak loudest with their attempts at imitation, the sincerest form of flattery.
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