Bear or Packer? After playing for both, usually one sticks

Rob Demovsky, ESPN Staff Writer

GREEN BAY, Wis. — Edgar Bennett was a Green Bay Packer who played for the Chicago Bears. Steve McMichael was a Bear who played for the Packers.

Rare was the player whose career included stints with both teams. In the nearly 200 years of combined football played by the two storied franchises — Sunday night’s season opener at Lambeau Field kicks off the 100th season for the Packers and 99th for the Bears — only 87 players have suited up for both teams, according to Elias Sports Bureau. Only one of them, a 1930s-era offensive lineman named Walt Kiesling, is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Among those who played for both, there’s usually an allegiance that sticks.

If there was any doubt about where McMichael’s rests, the voicemail message he left when he returned a call to talk specifically about this said it all:

“Go Bears,” he exclaimed at the end.

Known as Mongo, the 60-year-old former defensive tackle who co-hosts a Bears pregame show on ESPN Chicago WMVP-AM spent 13 of his 15 NFL seasons with the Bears, including the 1985 Super Bowl team known for its defense. He broke in with the Patriots in 1980 and finished with the Packers in 1994.

“This is the story I tell the Bears fans to make it all right — because they’re disgruntled I did that — and after I tell it to them like this they’re all right with it,” McMichael said. “For 13 years I played against the Packers and beat them every year, so I whooped their ass, right? The last year of my career I went up there and wasn’t any good anymore and stole their money.

“That’s a little satire, but it gets over with them. Because I don’t want them being disgruntled with me because I consider myself a Bear, baby.”

Steve McMichael doesn’t want Bears fans to be “disgruntled” with him “because I consider myself a Bear, baby.” Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Bennett and McMichael were actually teammates with the Packers in 1994, Bennett’s third season in the league. The running back finished his career with two years (1998-99) with the Bears.

Bennett then came back to the Packers as assistant coach from 2005-17. Just about every time the Bears came up on the schedule in recent seasons, Bennett would get questions about the rivalry and what it was like to play on both sides. He was always careful not to say anything that would stir up trouble.

“I was lucky enough to play for two great organizations,” Bennett said last year. “But I started with the Packers, and I’m still with the Packers.”

The anomaly is Julius Peppers, who shouldn’t be strictly associated with one team or the other.

Perhaps that’s why it was Peppers who — after he gave a much-talked-about inspirational pregame speech in the Green Bay locker room before his first game against the Bears as a Packer, in 2014 — expressed empathy for his old team after a 55-14 Green Bay victory.

“I’m not really here to kick them while they’re down,” Peppers said after that game.

Unlike Bennett and McMichael, who finished their careers with the rival team, Peppers’ time in the rivalry — four years with the Bears (2000-13) and three with the Packers (2014-16) — came in the middle of his career, sandwiched between his start and presumed finish with the Carolina Panthers, which will ultimately be the team he’s associated with the most.

McMichael said he signed with the Packers because Brett Favre and Reggie White were there, and it was “a chance to play with some legends.”

Then he added: “Really, the Bears said, ‘We don’t want you anymore,’ and the Packers said, ‘We do.’ So what do you do? You go to Green Bay.”

Then-Packers coach Mike Holmgren made McMichael the defensive captain for both games against the Bears that season, including the Monday Night Football monsoon game on Halloween.

“God was crying that night because I was playing for the Packers,” McMichael said.

Photo: Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images