Every NFL game is a big deal, but when the Chicago Bears are involved, it seems to take on an elevated level — even if just in the preseason.
There are 32 teams in today's NFL, but there is only one regarded by their fans as "Da Bears," as "Saturday Night Live" fans will recall from a popular skit 20 years ago.
The Denver Broncos have not played the Bears too often, holding an 8-7 all-time record against the team from the Windy City, but there are still some connections that are always on my mind.
When I was a young boy growing up and reading football books and magazines, I thought it interesting that there had once been a player named Bronko (with a K) — similar to the name of Denver's new football team.
Little did I realize that many years later, while working for the Broncos (with a C) when I was asked by the NFL to work my first Super Bowl (Super Bowl XVIII in Tampa), I would be on the field at the same time as Bronko Nagurski, who was an honorary captain for the coin toss and who was to make his last public appearance that day in Tampa.
One of the most notable things about Bronko was the size of his hands. He was known for his great strength and size (the biggest running back in the NFL and bigger than most linemen), but his hands were extraordinary.
One of the largest rings ever produced for a championship ring was his legendary 19 and 1/2 in 1943.
Naturally, he was in the first induction class not only for the Canton Hall of Fame but also for the College Football Hall of Fame in 1951.
I can never put the size of those hands out of my mind.
Such was his football prowess that before he joined the Bears as part of the legendary Monsters of the Midway, while at the University of Minnesota he not only was an All-American, but in 1929, famed sportswriter Grantland Rice only had 10 players on his All-American team — Nagurski was a starting All-American at both tackle and fullback.
During his days with the Bears from 1930-37 and again in 1943 (he did not want to return after a five-year retirement but Bears owner George Halas promised Bronko that he would only have to block), a long time before our Broncos began to play, the Bears won three NFL titles, including that 1943 year when "all" he did was block.
One Chicago newspaper article at the time said that in a particularly fierce drive into the Bears' sideline, he literally knocked a policeman's horse to the ground.
The Bears won lots of titles, and Bronko retired for good in 1944.
They remained "Da Bears," but championships became harder to come by. Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos (with a C) began play in 1960, reached legendary status of their own, particularly in the era of owner Pat Bowlen.
Recent years have not always been kind to the Bears, but the Broncos have become one of just nine franchises to have three Super Bowl victories and one of just four teams with eight Super Bowl appearances.
The Broncos this year are gunning for their 30th winning season under the ownership of Pat Bowlen, and his team has never had a non-sellout at home.
The most recent matchup between the Broncos and Bears in the Mile High City was a 13-10 overtime win by Denver on Dec. 11, 2011, when quarterback Tim Tebow worked his late-game magic to produce the win.
The Bears led by three in the last minute of the game, but Chicago running back Marion Barber opted not to stay inbounds but instead ran to the sidelines and out of bounds, thus stopping the clock. It was one of those things that always seemed to happen to the benefit of Tebow.
Given a last chance in the last minute, Tebow quickly passed the Broncos into field position for the remarkable tie, then led Denver to the game-winning field goal in overtime amid the euphoria of a passionate Mile High audience.
And one last note about our Chicago opponent, not known by very many fans.
George Halas, the legendary owner and coach of the team, was an alumnus of the University of Illinois, which wore navy and orange uniforms.
So when his Chicago Staleys became the Bears in 1922, the third year of the NFL, he chose the colors of his beloved Illini for his pro football team to wear.
They have been in orange and blue ever since, just as the Broncos have since 1962, and this week the two fabled franchises meet again.