CHICAGO – The Bears’ 2019 campaign begins just short of nine months since the 2018 season ended, but for Kyle Long it seemed more like nine minutes.
“The ball hits the goalpost, you snap your fingers, and you’re here, honestly,” said the offensive lineman, referring to Cody Parkey’s missed 43-yard field goal that ended the Bears’ season in a Wild Card game loss to the Eagles. “It was really quick.”
Some might disagree.
The wait for the start of the 2019 campaign has been long thanks to not only the painful end to last season, but also the anticipation of what’s ahead. This year, the team has Super Bowl aspirations for the first time in nearly a decade and they’re opening their 100th season of play against their biggest rival.
In Thursday’s much-anticipated matchup against the Green Bay Packers, Matt Nagy will trot out the defending NFC North champions against quarterback Aaron Rodgers and new head coach Matt LaFleur’s squad.
Unlike Long, it’s seemed like a long wait for outside linebacker Khalil Mack, who was held out of game action during the entire preseason along with the majority of the starters.
“I’m so ready to hit somebody other than my teammate,” said Mack this week. “It’s something that we’re looking forward to, and something that will make us a lot hungrier coming out there Thursday night.”
The fact that the Bears will make team history doing so should add some motivation, since it is the first time the team will open the season on a Thursday night. More recently, the honor to host the first game of the NFL season belonged to the reigning Super Bowl champion, but an exception was made for the Bears’ centennial anniversary.
While a unique day, it’s not uncommon for the Bears to see the Packers during their first game. They’ve done so in three of their last five seasons, and they’ll open up against each other in back-to-back years for the first time since 1980 and 1981.
It’s been a while since the Bears opened up a season with a win over the Packers, as they last did so in 2006 en route to an NFC Championship. In fact, the last time the Bears beat the Packers at Soldier Field to start a season was September 2, 1979, when they snuck out a 6-3 victory.
Recently, the opener has belonged to Green Bay, winning in 2009, 2015, then in 2018 thanks to a 20-point second half comeback.
That was on a Sunday night, but it left quite an impression on Taylor Gabriel, who was playing in the rivalry for the first time. Now that the experience is heading to Soldier Field, the receiver can’t wait.
“Going into the first game, I didn’t know how big it was until I got there in Green Bay and you see all the fans,” said Gabriel. “To have that here at home – the home opener – it’s gonna be amazing. I’m excited, and I’m ready to see all the fans.”
The feeling is likely mutual for the fans, whether it feels like yesterday or yesteryear since they last saw their team on their home turf.