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Friendly foes? Respect rules Bears-Packers rivalry

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Even if Aaron Rodgers wanted to muster up some genuine hatred for the Chicago Bears this week, Jay Cutler has made it awfully difficult to do so.

When Rodgers' little brother, Jordan, was thinking about going to Vanderbilt to play football, Rodgers called on Cutler for advice. Cutler, who played at Vanderbilt, was more than happy to help the younger Rodgers make his decision and then get settled on campus.

"Definitely as a big brother, you thank Jay for that and appreciate his role in helping my little brother feel comfortable out there," Rodgers said Wednesday.

Talk of brotherly love between Bears and Packers, just days before the two franchises involved in the NFL's most historic rivalry play for ultimate bragging rights in Sunday's NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field?

To paraphrase Vince Lombardi, what the heck is going on here?

There was a time not too long ago that Bears and Packers players genuinely disliked each other. Games between the teams have been especially rough, even as recently as the 1980s.

Those feelings haven't really faded between the two fan bases. But those fans might be disappointed to hear that today's Bears and Packers -- gasp! -- genuinely seem to like and respect each other.

So when Rodgers and Cutler both advanced in the playoffs last weekend, the two quarterbacks text-messaged each other.

"He said, 'Good game, see you in Chicago,'" Cutler said. "I said, 'All right. See you in a week.' He's playing well. He's a good quarterback."

In addition to appreciating the guidance Cutler gave his little brother, Rodgers works out in the offseason with Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman and has gotten to know other Bears players such as Tommie Harris, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs at offseason events.

There probably won't be any texting between Rodgers and his Bears buddies this week, though.

"Jay and I are buddies, but we're not going to text this week," Rodgers said. "Charles and I are not going to probably talk this week. But there's a respect level, I think, when you're on the field."

Cutler agreed to the no-texting pact, saying "cutoff was Sunday night."

Lovie Smith might have gone out of his way to emphasize the rivalry when he took over as Bears coach, but said he did so out of respect.

"There was never any hatred toward the Packers," Smith said. "They were the team that seemed like they were winning most of the time back then. Seems like they have always been around. You can say the same thing about the Bears. That's why to have an opportunity to play in a game with all of the things that have gone before us in our history together, it's just a special time for our players."

Bears running back Matt Forte said he doesn't really hate anybody and is just focused on the game.

"I think that's more for the fans to do that," Forte said.

Packers running back Ryan Grant, who has stayed with the team after injuring his ankle in Week 1 and going on injured reserve, compares Bears-Packers to a family rivalry.

"Of course we want to beat the Bears," Grant said. "The Bears and the Packers are almost like big brother-little brother. Who's the big brother flip-flops. So there's a level of respect -- but you're going to pound your little brother."

Grant knows that attitude might surprise some fans.

"Of course, because you guys think we're all brutes," Grant said. "And sometimes we are, and I think that's important. We do have an aggressive nature. You have to be aggressive in this. But at the same time, we're humans, and we can have relationships with guys. There are guys on that team that I went to college with. There are guys on that team I literally watched grow up."

Grant said one of those players is Bears defensive end Corey Wootton, who attended the same high school.

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"I know his whole family and everything, and I literally watched him grow up," Grant said.

But bring up the Minnesota Vikings, and Grant's tone changes -- hinting that there might not be quite as much mutual respect between the Packers and their other major regional rival.

"It's just different," Grant said. "That's the best way for me to (say) it. It's just different. I respect some of those guys on that team. I've got friends on that team as well. But it's just a different relationship."

Packers coach Mike McCarthy called the idea of hating the Bears "ugly," and said he isn't worried about players on opposing teams socializing with each other -- as long as they play hard.

"They play the right way. We play the right way. But this is about winning championships," McCarthy said. "And we're going down there to play for the NFC Championship Game. And you have to beat teams like the Chicago Bears to achieve that goal. That's really what it comes down to. But there will be plenty of energy on that field. And do they like each other and so forth? I really don't referee that kind of stuff."

Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press

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