SCHMIDT: The Midwest’s bitter(sweet) rivalries

Ninety miles of graying, midwestern freeway, bushy Ditka moustaches and beer battered brats, a training ground for blue collared workers who live and die by their sports teams: The Brew Crew. The Lovable Losers. Monsters of the Midway. The Pack of the frozen tundra. Da Bulls. Fear the Deer.

The Chicago and Milwaukee rivalry spans many miles and engulfs a legion of memories. But lately, something seems to be missing from this supposed fearsome, interstate brouhaha. Something isn’t quite right.

This competition simply isn’t competitive anymore. And it’s a damn shame too.

Remember when the ‘Black and Blue Division’, the NFC North, meant Brett Favre – wearing Packer green and gold, mind you – trying to survive against a menacing, drooling Bears defense? Remember when the Bulls had Jordan, the Bucks had Glenn Robinson, and the Central Division was more about winning games than what city LeBron James was going to park his hummer?

Where’s the tension, the anticipation? Where’s the electricity? Right down there with Rex Grossman’s quarterback rating.

The state of the Packers and Bears rivalry is downright pathetic at this point. The storied franchises haven’t played a meaningful game in a half decade. The last time my Bears were relevant was 2006, when Sexy Rexy and that indomitable, impenetrable defense shuffled all the way to the Super Bowl. The Cheeseheads only won eight games that year and missed the playoffs.

In 2005, the Bears won the NFC North while the Pack finished a cellar-dwelling 4-12. Then the script flipped in 2007, with the Packers leading a revival and Chicago slipping back into mediocrity. Now here we are three years later and it’s the same old story. Green Bay is a Super Bowl contender and the Bears are just trying to keep quarterback Jay Cutler alive long enough to go into the “Bust Protection Program.”

Gee, that’s exciting. If I wanted to see a blowout I’d turn on Jersey Shore.

Amazingly, the Cubs and Brewers make the Packers and Bears rivalry look like Ali versus Foreman. The Cubs, flapping in the breeze, hopeless and helpless, are the definition of utter ineptitude. They haven’t been a legit title contender since a certain horned mammal was given its walking papers and they were cursed like a mummy hijacker.

But for the sake of arguing, let’s pretend they actually had a chance in 2007 and 2008, when they won back to back division titles. The Brewers finished two games back in 2007, which would be the closest semblance to competition we’ve seen in a long while. And there was a brief moment in 2008 went it looked like the Brewers and Cubbies both had a chance at the World Series.

Fools gold. Not happening. Not ever.

But maybe there is glimpse of hope, a flickering light that could reignite this dying feud between bitter enemies. Thank the lord for basketball.

Last season, the Bulls and Bucks both made the playoffs, the first time that miracle has occured in years. Chicago made some huge improvements in the offseason, adding All-Star Carlos Boozer and a nice collection of Robin-type sidekicks. They should be a top three team in the East.

The Bucks were maybe the biggest surprise in the NBA last season. Andrew Bogut finally turned into a star, and with coach Scott Skiles kicking, screaming and popping veins, the ragtag group fought its way to the sixth seed in the playoffs. Both teams lost in the first round, but you get the sense that they could be meeting in the Conference Finals in the near future.

Lets hope the Bulls and Bucks can get us out of this rut. The Midwest needs its sports, but more importantly, it needs the rivalries to make the wins that much sweeter, and the losses to elicit a delcious appetite for revenge.

It’s about time we get reminded why there’s a rivalry between these cities in the first place. A message to any team with a midwestern zip code: please jog our memories.