CHICAGO - The legacy of both the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears is a long, and at times, storied one.
At no position on either team is there a more colourful and ferocious list of athletes than those who roamed the field as linebackers.
Historically, the linebacker slots on both teams were glory positions, filled with gladiators who are now the stuff of legend.
On the Bears there are the likes of Dick Butkus, Mike Singletary and if you want to go way back in time, Bronco Nagurski.
The Packers, meanwhile, are led by the legend of the great Ray Nitschke as well as the likes of Dave Robinson and Fred Carr.
On Sunday in the NFC Championship game, the spotlight will very much be on two excellent linebackers from both sides — veteran Brian Urlacher of the Bears and second-year whiz Clay Matthews of the Packers.
Both players are the blood and guts of the two respective defences with Urlacher, a six-time Pro Bowler and 11-year vet, the old school rugged knuckle-dragging middle linebacker while Matthews and his long blonde mane is a heat-seeking missile who is a pass-rushing maestro.
Both defences run through these guys and both will have plenty to say about the eventual outcome.
"He's having a tremendous, tremendous season," Green Bay coach Mike McCarthy said of Matthews.
"He's an impact player for our defence. He really sets the tempo and the tone for our outside linebacker position. (Ex-NFL star) Kevin Greene does an excellent job coaching those outside 'backers.
"That's a primary position on our defence. We've had a lot of guys play it. The linebacker body type is something that we value here, and we're getting a lot of production out of it, so we're very pleased with their production."
For much of his time in Chicago, Urlacher seemed to be the lone gifted player on the team. Even now he means more to the Bears' overall success than Matthews does to Green Bay's.
"It's hard to measure somebody," Bears defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli said when asked to compare Urlacher to the other great linebackers of the past. "You look at his stats, which obviously are awesome — (Bears) all-time leading tackles and all those things.
"He's got a knack for the big play. He just has a way about him. You've seen it all year. He stacks up with anybody in the league like that. As you know, this man, in our system, he's unparalleled in terms of his leadership and his knowledge of our system. Those guys look to him for that leadership, not just a strong, loud, good player, but his adjustments gameday, the checks, he's got it all. He's the full package. That, to me, is what really separates him from others."
Despite the years and all the knocks, bumps and bruises that come with the territory, Urlacher is having a rebirth of sorts this season. Last year he injured his thumb in the first game of the season and was lost for the year.
"Personally, I was fresh," he said of his inspired play in 2010. "I had a lot of time off to get my body right. I think I got better as the season went on, trying to work myself back into it through training camp and the first couple of games. Then just getting situated back on the field again, playing football again. There are still things I want to do better. But for the most part I think I got better as the season went on."
Matthews, meanwhile, ended the season ranked second in the NFC in sacks with 13.5 and is in the running for defensive player of the year.
He takes great pride in his position and knows its place in history.
"With Urlacher in Chicago and with myself in Green Bay, there's so much history. Nitschke and other great players," he said. "It's only my second year but we can take another step in the right direction with a win this weekend."
Despite his youth, he is a player that commands respect, both in his own locker room and the opposition's.
"Even though I'm in my second year, I feel like I'm a veteran on this team in the fact that I was brought in here last year and I was able to start within four or five games," Matthews said.
"They look to me to be kind of a leader on this team through how I play and my voice."
If Matthews needs any inspiration, he need only look across the field.
"I can't remember when I started remembering him, but I know he's been around for a while," Matthews said when asked about Urlacher.
"He's been holding it down out there for a long time, and he still plays with that same energy, drive and emotion. He still plays with that energy and continues to make plays that I admire."
Both teams will lean on the two and their respective abilities and need their contributions to emerge with a victory.
One thing for certain is that neither team will be disappointed by what they get.