In the very first meeting between the Packers and the Bears in 1921, there was a single moment that would foretell a future of heated battles. Chicago’s John (Tarzan) Taylor threw a sucker punch that broke the nose of Packers tackle Howard Buck. It would prove to be the opening salvo in what became a long and tenuous rivalry between Green Bay and Chicago.
7,000 fans at Wrigley field watched the Bears shut out the Packers that day by a score of 20-0. While a mere 200 miles separates these two cities, the differences couldn’t be greater. Small town Green Bay vs. big city Chicago. In 1921, Chicago was the second largest city in the country with a population of 2.7 million people. Green Bay was a blue-collar paper mill town with a population of only 31,000 people.
But while the cities’ demographics are at opposite ends of the spectrum, they do share a common bond, one of football greatness.
With Curly Lambeau and George Halas steering the ship, these two teams established themselves early on as the standard to aspire to. The Packers have won the most Championships in NFL History (12) and the Bears are second all-time with nine. The Bears have won 17 Division Championships, the Packers 13.
A total of 52 Pro Football Hall of Fame members (28 for the Bears and 24 for the Packers) have played in this rivalry. Names like Bronco Nagurski, Johnny Blood McNally, Red Grange, Don Hutson, Sid Luckman, Bart Starr, Gayle Sayers, Paul Hornung, Dick Butkus, Ray Nitschke, Walter Payton, Bret Favre.
These two teams epitomized what football should be. As renowned sports author Dick Schaap once said, “If you want to draw a picture of football, you just draw Ray Nitschke’s face and Dick Butkus’ face. That tells you all you have to know about the game.”
Over the 90 years of this rivalry, there have been many moments that helped define this rivalry. Let’s take a look at just a few that epitomize what this rivalry is all about..
1924: Ejected for fighting: The first time players were ever ejected from an NFL game for fighting was naturally during a Packers-Bears game. Bears end Frank Hanny and Packers end Walter Voss were tossed from the game before the end of the first half, as verbal sparring led to fisticuffs. Hanny would be ejected from a Bears-Packers game once again in 1926 and the pattern of nastiness had been established.
1941: WWII can’t stop the rivalry: Exactly seven days after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Packers and Bears met in the first and only playoff meeting between these two teams. In a time when the country was devastated by the advent of World War II, an overflow crowd of more than 43,000 fans came to Wrigley Field to watch the Bears defeat the Packers 33-14. The following week, when the Bears hosted the NY Giants in the NFL Championship game, only 13,000 fans showed up to see them win their fourth title.
1964: The Free Kick Game: Vince Lombardi’s Packers were the first team to ever invoke the “fair catch free kick” rule. After Elijah Pitts fair caught a punt on the Packers 48 yard line just before halftime, Vince Lombardi informed the referees that they would be trying a free kick. There was confusion among all. Neither team had ever seen it before or practiced it.
The Packers lined up on the line of scrimmage with Bart Starr holding the ball. Paul Hornung stepped up and made the 52-yard field goal as the half ended. Everyone was shocked and the Bears were embarrassed as the Packers went on to win 23-12. Lombardi said after the game it was probably a “once in a lifetime” occurrence. He was proven wrong, however, as the Bears would return the favor 4 years later, beating the Packers on the free kick.
1980: Chester Marcol’s freak touchdown: This is one of the most memorable plays in NFL History. The Packers and the Bears were tied at 6-6 in overtime. A 32-yard pass from Lynn Dickey to James Lofton helped set up a game-winning field goal attempt by Packers’ kicker Chester Marcol. The Bears’ Alan Page managed to break through a block the field goal, with the football hitting his helmet. While it wasn’t immediately clear to the players what had happened, Marcol grabbed rebound off Page’s helmet and ran around the pile for a touchdown and the win.
1986: The Charles Martin Hit List: Packers defensive tackle Charles Martin wore a towel with numbers of specific Bears players he planned to “get” Walter Payton and Jim McMahon topped the list. AFVter a McMahon interception, as he was looking to walk off the field, Martin came up behind McMahon and body-slammed him to the turf. McMahon’s shoulder was separated and he was lost for the season.
Martin was suspended for two games, at the time the longest suspension in NFL history for an on-field incident. The Bears still finished the season 14-2, but were upset in the playoffs leaving many Bears fans wondering what might have been if the Bears still had McMahon. If Martin was sorry for his actions, he took it to his grave, as he never apologized for the incident. To Bears fans, Martin is surely one of the most hated Packers of all time.
1989: The Instant Replay game: I can hear Bears fans groaning right now. Trailing 13-6 very late in the game, Packers quarterback Don Majowski is leading the Packers downfield. After advancing to a first and goal from the seven, Majik threw two incompletions and was sacked for a loss. With 40 seconds left and a fourth and goal from the fourteen, Majkowski scrambled out of the pocket and threw a TD pass to Sterling Sharpe. But an official threw a flag on the play, claiming Majkowski had stepped over the line of scrimmage.
Packers coach Lindy Infante challenged the call and after a deliberation of over four minutes, the replay official overturned the call and allowed the TD. Packers win 14-13. Of course Bears fans are still angry over this, but the Packers and their fans were elated. It was their first win over the Bears after eight straight losses.
1995: Favre ironman act continues: The Packers entered the game trailing the Bears by one game in the standings. A win would put them in a tie and give them a sweep of the season series. QB Brett Farve’s status for the game was doubtful due to a sprained ankle. He had not practiced all week, but started the game and went on to have a classic Brett Favre game. He completed 25 of 33 passes for 336 yards and five touchdown passes as the Packers won the game 35-28.
This game was a key turning point for the Packers of the late 90s. Just 5-4 coming into the game, this win started the Packers on a streak of winning six out of their last seven games to win the Division Title with an 11-5 record. They would make it to the NFC Conference Championship game that season and to the Super Bowl the next two seasons. This was the game that put Green Bay on the winning track and sent the Bears in the opposite direction.
Of course, there have been many more great moments in Packers-Bears history. There have been better played games and even more important games than those listed here. But these were chosen for the effect they had on building and intensifying the rivalry that is Packers-Bears.
And one shouldn’t mistake rivalries for matchups. True rivalries take a long time to develop. In most cases, geography and defending ones turf was a motivating factor. As we have become more national in focus, regional rivalries have become less important. Certainly, nobody can say that Packers vs. Bears means as much today as it did earlier in the century, or even as recently as the Nineties. But reveling in the history of this classic rivalry can only help.——————
Jersey Al Bracco is the founder and editor of AllGreenBayPackers.com, and the co-founder of Packers Talk Radio Network. He can be heard as one of the Co-Hosts on Cheesehead Radio and is the Green Bay Packers Draft Analyst for Drafttek.com.