GREEN BAY, Wis. —
That goes double for the fans. Midwesterners may be warm and friendly, but they’re as provincial as any on the East Coast. Their teams are like an extension of their families, making the twice-a-season meetings with their border rivals as heated as a holiday feud. That Cheesehead nickname Wisconsinites have come to embrace? It was originally an insult by Illinoisans. There’s a reason Green Bay fans could live with Brett Favre playing for the Jets but couldn’t stomach the sight of him in a Vikings jersey.
Beat the snobby neighbor to the south (or north or east or west) and it’s worth an entire summer of bragging rights. A long winning streak is often considered evidence of an entire state’s superiority.
Add playoff implications into the mix, and the fiery rivalries could become downright combustible.
“I asked them this exact question: ‘Do I have to give a motivational speech to get us ready for THIS game?” said Vikings coach Leslie Frazier, who counts as something of an expert, having spent his playing career with the Bears.
“When you’re playing a divisional rival, those guys understand the implications and what has to get done. At this level, if you can’t get excited about this opportunity, you’re in the wrong business.”
Particularly with so much at stake.
The Packers (7-4) are a game in front of the Vikings (6-5). They play twice in the final five weeks of the season, today in Green Bay and the Dec. 30 season finale in Minneapolis. Both teams also have a game left against the Bears, who lost to Green Bay in September and beat Minnesota last week.
Do the math, and the division standings could be turned upside-down every week from here on out. So, too, the wild-card race, where Green Bay leads and Minnesota is locked in a tie with Seattle and Tampa Bay.