It’s that time again folks: Packers at Bears with Green Bay needing the win for the playoffs. This isn’t 2010-big (more on that later), but it’s big. Primarily because it’s a “must-win”. Unfortunately, that’s not especially surprising seeing as literally every game the Packers are going to play is a “must-win”. But there are some hugely historical story lines at play on Sunday. If you’re a Packers fan that likes history–it’s an easy one to get excited about.
Remember the record. After damn near 100 years of this cold, bone-crunching rivalry here’s where we stand: 94-93-6 in favor of the Bears. Damn. Statistics can say a lot of things but I’m not even sure what to take away from that. Either life is meaningless and nothing you do matters…or this is the best rivalry in football. For my sake, I’m going with the latter. And in the spirit of positivity, the Packers can, with a victory, finally tie the series with Chicago and cast a pall over their increasingly futile season. The Bears can walk off that field knowing their days of being ahead in the win column (since 1933) are over.
Of course, the Bears can also just screw us and take the title away for another full year–guaranteed. I don’t want that to happen and I’m sure Aaron Rodgers and the Packers agree. In fact, the Bears have 1 more division title than us as well. Considering our division standing now, a win in Chicago could go a long way in putting us on top, historically and divisionally. Let’s take a look at that history first, shall we?
The Packers and Bears have been a rivalry since Gaylord “Pete” Stinchcomb led the Chicago “Staleys” to a 20-0 victory over a fledgling Green Bay squad in 1921. Stinchcomb beat a Packers team led by Earl “Curly” Lambeau in a battle that included a bunch of funny names.In reality the Chicago team was led by George Halas–the only man who could ever claim to equal Lambeau in football lore–but I wanted you to have to read Stinchcomb’s hilarious name.
Between Curly and George, there are 70 years of headcoaching experience and 12 championships. We tend to forget about the NFL’s humble origins, however there were none better than Chicago and Green Bay during those years. Chicago dominated the early decades and it’s interesting to think what those players would have to say about the Packers finally having a chance to go up in the rivalry nearly 100 years later. Through all that time, Halas and Lambeau maintained a working relationship–that was often put under significant pressure.
Halas was the big-city guy with an established franchise and all the chips on his side of the table. Lambeau was a brash up-and-comer who had played football for Knute Rockne at Notre Dame and was a hometown Green Bay boy and much more laid back. According to this wonderful article, Halas once had the Packers kicked out of the league for playing college players in professional matches (something that Halas regularly did) because he wanted one of the players for his team. Halas was forgiving, though, and allowed the Packers back into the league…of course only after he had signed the best of the college kids. That being said, men like George Halas laid the bedrock for the foundation of our favorite franchise.
Despite all the respect and mutual admiration, this game could get downright dirty in the heartland. The same year the Packers were reinstated, Halas cancelled the Thanksgiving game between the teams because the Packers couldn’t raise enough money at the gate to split with Chicago. Back in that opening 20-0 blowout win, one of the Bears players broke our Defensive Tackle’s nose. Unbelievably, during the first Packers victory in the rivalry, someone attempted to break the same guys nose–so the Packer tackle broke his arm on the field.
The Bears were largely ineffective during the Lombardi years because everybody that wasn’t the Packers suffered under his forceful command. However, once the dust cleared and the 70’s had begun, the nature of the rivalry changed along with the times. In 1971, both teams were bad and an exhibition game ended with the score of 2-0 because the Pack started a tight end at quarterback and he walked a 12-step drop right out of the back of the endzone for a safety. Yikes.
Nobody will ever forget kicker Chester Marcol returning a blocked field goal for a touchdown while high on cocaine. He also wore huge Buddy Holly glasses instead of a facemask. You didn’t need to know that, but it’s a great detail.
In probably the worst show of sportsmanship I’ve ever seen out of Green Bay, Charles Martin took advantage of an open shot on Chicago’s only Super Bowl-winning Bears QB Jim McMahon and broke his shoulder–beginning a slow, injury-riddled decline the year after he won it all. Martin became the first player suspended by the NFL for multiple games (eat your heart out Brady) and McMahon would later backup Brett Favre and become one of his most enduring influences. Small world. Then there was the time that someone sent horse manure to the visiting locker room when Chicago came to town. The following game was full of dust-ups and late hits–the surprise of all surprises.
But let’s take a look at some games I’ve found to be relatable to this Sunday in the more recent past:
Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears
December 31st, 2006
Final: GB-26 Chi-7
Yet another “will Brett retire” game. I didn’t really understand why people got so frustrated with that until I had to read 4 different articles from 4 different years bemoan possibly losing him. Anyway, this game was weird as hell. Chicago was having one of its best years since the 1985 Super Bowl. They rolled in 13-2 with one of the best defenses anyone had seen in some time–the Packers were 7-8 and featured an aging QB and a first-time head coach in Mike McCarthy. Regardless, they probably felt pretty good about adding four wins on after a terrible 4-12 record the year before, considering that was the worst season since 1988.
The stat lines for this game are ridiculous. You would think we were 13-2 coming in, not the Bears. Rex Grossman, the supposed leader of a Super Bowl bound team, was scheduled to play 3 quarters and get pulled in the fourth–a #1 seed tradition once it’s been locked up. In reality, this game didn’t matter to the Bears yet the team (and especially Rex) still managed to lose a good deal of respect anyway.
Grossman looked like a scrub: he was 2-12 and tossed three interceptions on his way to a 23-0 halftime deficit and a passer rating of 0. He was pulled earlier than they planned because of how terrible he looked against an average Green Bay defense. Even his backup (the one and only Brian Griese) was able to score a TD–though he also threw a couple picks. Chicago went on to lose to Peyton manning and the Colts in Super Bowl XLI a month later due to anemic offensive play.
Favre was able to make some progress on a generally lackluster season by throwing an 8-yard touchdown to Donald Driver–who was 31 in 2006. (I had no idea the guy was so old.) I think this was also one of the many games that really started to put McCarthy on the map. He always seems to have a signature victory late in the year. Making the NFC champs look like chumps went a long way into turning the next season into one of the best in our history.
The Packers were able to play spoiler at Chicago a decade ago–the Bears will be looking to derail us in a much more meaningful way this Sunday. Good thing we aren’t starting Rex Grossman.
Chicago Bears at Green Bay Packers
January 2nd, 2010
Final: GB-10 Chi-3
Green Bay came into this game in a very similar position. They were 9-6, needing a victory against their rivals to get into the playoffs. It was week 17 and the Bears wanted nothing more than to keep Aaron Rodgers off their playoff to-do list. This was a cold, brutal game and the scoreboard shows it. The Bears went up 3-0 early and held that lead until late in the fourth. Aaron Rodgers hit Donald Lee for a 1-yd TD to put the Packers up for good.
Much like the upcoming game, the Bears had nothing to play for except to see the Packers playing golf for the next month instead of going on a roll like they did. Many people questioned their decision to play us so hard, but it turned out to be the right call–however meaningless. The Packers, of course, went on to win the Super Bowl that year on the back of a great NFC championship game against those same Bears. The rest is history.
What this tells us about this weekend is clear: the Bears will get up to play the Packers anytime they have a chance. That’s what makes this rivalry so great. Their victory on Thanksgiving last year is another prime example for this. The Packers have unfinished business with the Bears after that game. What a way to keep it fresh after 100 years. I wonder what they’ll get us for our centennial? Horse manure, probably.