It's difficult to decide what would be rougher to do with the Chicago Bears, play them or debate them.
They play tough one day, they talk tough the next. It's an intimidating routine.
The Bears (16-1) will face the Los Angeles Rams (12-5) at Soldier Field Sunday at 12:30 p.m. EST for the NFC Championship, but today, they stiff-armed the entire National Football League.
"I don't think we come in great favor with certain people," Chicago Coach Mike Ditka said this afternoon at Halas Hall, hidden among the snow-capped mansions of Chicago's North Shore.
"I think it's the same reason people look with disfavor on the (Los Angeles) Raiders. There are some teams that are fair-haired; there are some teams that are not fair-haired.
"There are teams named Smith; there are teams named Grabowski. The Rams are a Smith. We're a Grabowski."
The Bears, who defeated the New York Giants, 21-0, in an NFC semifinal playoff Sunday, were angered last week when NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle fined linebacker Wilber Marshall $2,000 for a hit on Detroit quarterback Joe Ferguson during the last game of the regular season.
Marshall was not penalized on the play.
The players said they won't let Marshall pay for the fine and are taking up a collection. They also are angered by the attention they have received from the league, particularly regarding reports that Chicago's defensive players had offered each other free dinners for knocking players out of a game.
The players denied they are getting or giving free meals for vicious hits, and Pro Bowl middle linebacker Mike Singletary said if he had a chance to hit a player like Marshall did, he'd do it.
"We thought it was a great hit," Singletary said today. "(Rozelle) can fine us till the well runs dry. If we can go to the Super Bowl like that, we're going to do it."
He added that the fine was "totally absurd."
Don't you hate a team that minces its words?
The Bears lost to the Rams the last two times the teams played, 21-14, in 1983 and, 29-13, in 1984. In those two games combined, Rams running back Eric Dickerson rushed for 276 yards and scored four touchdowns.
After what the Bears did to Joe Morris and the Giants' running game Sunday -- knocking Morris out of the game with a mild concussion and allowing New York just 32 yards on 14 rushes -- one might think the Bears believe they can stop anyone at any time.
That's not necessarily so. Morris did gain 20 yards his first two tries before averaging one yard per carry the rest of the way.
"Yesterday, we made some tackles on Morris with one arm," Singletary said. "I definitely don't think that's gonna happen this week.
"Dickerson is like Morris, except he has more speed and is more powerful . . . The thing about Dickerson is he is a mixture of size, speed and desire. You don't come across that too often."
Ditka figures the Bears will be fine if they keep Dickerson's total to about 140 yards, provided the rest of the Rams' offense doesn't do much else. The rest of the Rams' offense hasn't done much else most of the season; the passing game ranked last in the NFL this year.
Of Dieter Brock, the Rams' 34-year-old, 6-foot quarterback from the Canadian Football League, Ditka said, "He's short, and we plan to make him shorter."
The Bears appear to face an easier task this week than last, what with such an unbalanced offense coming to town. Perhaps that is why Ditka said he doesn't expect to blitz Brock all that much.
The Bears also don't want to give up the big play, he said. They are concerned about the speed of receivers Henry Ellard and Ron Brown, who are faster than the Giants' receivers, he said.
"Some people criticize the Rams' offense and the way they do things," Ditka said, "but it doesn't matter how many guys you have in motion or whether you are called a genius or not.
"It's if you use the people you have the right way, and they do."
Figuring one of the few ways the Rams will beat them is by causing turnovers, the Bears are saying they can't make any mistakes Sunday.
In this, they have experience.
"We had no quarterback sacks, no penalties on offense, no turnovers," said Ditka of a frigid yet flawless performance Sunday.
"It's pretty hard to beat a team when they don't make any mistakes on offense."
The Bears packed up today for a flight to Atlanta to practice again this week at the Falcons' training site in Suwanee, Ga. Ditka promised hard work and bed checks. "We can't afford to get into a circus atmosphere," he said.
Third-year defensive end Richard Dent continues to pop up in conversation as he did in the Giants' backfield Sunday.
Dent, a two-time Pro Bowl selection, is making $90,000 this season, which is quite a bit less than most Pro Bowlers make. His agent doesn't think that's enough and is threatening a holdout during the Super Bowl.
Ditka said he hopes the situation is resolved soon.
"It'd be hard to find a more dominant player in the league," he said.