Even though he's retired now, former Bears receiver Rashied still… (Brian Cassella / Chicago…)
Once a rival, always a rival. With the Bears taking on Green Bay on Sunday in the season finale, RedEye spoke with retired Bears Jerry Azumah, Rashied Davis and Hunter Hillenmeyer to get their take on the Packers now that they're done playing. Spoiler alert: They're still not fans.
What was your knowledge of the rivalry before you came to the Bears?
Azumah (drafted by Bears in 1999): I've always been a Chicago Bears fan. I was a fan of Walter Payton growing up, and my father watched two teams: Pittsburgh and the Bears. So I've actually known about the rivalry since I was a little child. Being able to play for the Bears was fantastic and a wonderful opportunity. And then to actually play in a rivalry that I watched growing up as a kid has been even better.
Davis (signed with Bears in 2005): I knew they were rivals. That's about it. [Laughs.] You know, I'm from Los Angeles, so I didn't know a ton about the Bears-Packers rivalry before I became a Bear.
Hillenmeyer (drafted by Green Bay in 2003, waived, signed with Bears in 2003): I think everybody has this intuitive knowledge of the Bears-Packers rivalry. At least for football fans. I didn't grow up—other than thinking Mike Singletary was really cool—with any particular allegiance to either team. Maybe I'm biased, but I think you hear "rivalry" and across sports one of the ones that you think about is Bears-Packers. It in my mind is the best rivalry in professional football.
What's your favorite memory of playing in the rivalry?
Azumah: I just remember going up to Lambeau for the very first time. That was probably one of my favorite stadiums just to play at. My fondest experience was getting to run out of that tunnel for the very first time and knowing about that story, that history, that rivalry. To be able to go out there and play in front of everyone and go against the Packers for the very first time was pretty incredible.
Davis: I have lots of fond memories of playing in the rivalry. One would be my first catch [in the 2006 season opener in Green Bay]. I was being covered by Charles Woodson. And I remember watching Charles when I was at San Jose State and he was with the Raiders. And then when I was in Arena, I met him once or twice. But having my first catch be against him was huge for me.
What's it like to defend Brett Favre?
Hillenmeyer: The M.O. on Favre for all of those years was he's great, and he doesn't really get rattled, so he's not going to panic and screw up. But he's so confident in his abilities that he'll throw you the ball two or three times a game, so our goal was always to limit the big plays, and to catch it when he threw it to us. The m.o. was always, like, "Just catch it. You're going to get a pick when you play Green Bay. You just need to catch it when he throws it to you."
Would you ever root for the Packers? Like in 2012, with the Bears needing a win plus a Packers win to make the playoffs?
Azumah: This is kind of weird how I'm going to put this, but we weren't really hoping that the Packers would win. We were just hoping that the Minnesota Vikings lost. That's how we got away with that one.
Hillenmeyer: Maybe it questions my commitment to the rivalry, but I had no problem cheering for the Packers. And if the Bears weren't in the NFL, I probably would cheer for the Packers. I knew a lot of guys there. I played for them. I certainly want the Bears to kick their butt every time they play, but I have no conflict of interest there.
How do you feel about the Packers now that you're retired?
Azumah: It's still the same thing: I just don't like them. [Laughs.] There are a couple of guys on the Packers team that I'm very good friends with, but I just don't like them. When it's game day, whether I'm playing or I'm not playing, just being a former player, I just don't like them.
Davis: I still hate the Packers. [Laughs.] It was drilled into us. And even though one of my good friends plays for the Packers, James Jones, I really can't stand the Packers. It's hard for me to root for the Packers even though he's on the other team. It's really hard.
Hillenmeyer: I don't know. There's a lot of people there that I still identify with. I think Aaron Rodgers is probably a pretty good dude. He seems like a likable dude and he's an amazing quarterback. So there's not a lot of people there to hate.
Jack M Silverstein is a RedEye special contributor.
Want more? Discuss this article and others on RedEye Sports' Facebook page.