Professor Masters Presents: Bears-Packers
It turns out that football is officially old, you guys. The NCAA is celebrating the 150th anniversary of the game which has taken over America and the NFL is currently celebrating its 100th season. With insurance issues, concussion concerns and a drop in youth participation, all eyes seem focused on the future of football. But for a small while at least, we are not here to chronicle the demise of the game, but to celebrate its successes. On
Thursday, September 5th, the Chicago Bears will take on the Green Bay Packers for the 199th time. With that much history between them, there’s a lot of stories written into the fabric of the game. So here are some that you might not be familiar with. Consider it my anniversary gift to one of the best rivalries in sports.
-The Chicago Bears are one of two charter franchises in the NFL. The other is the Arizona Cardinals, you know, that team you always forget exists until they show up on your team’s schedule. The Cardinals, who were residents of the windy city decades before the league which would become the NFL, got their name from the used jerseys they bought from the University of Chicago’s football team, which perhaps a bit ironically were described as being “cardinal red”. The Bears iconic ‘C’ logo also comes from the university. For the first season of the league, the Cardinals were the only game in town.
-The Bears moved from central Illinois after their first season. They moved from Decatur (one of the most uniquely smelly places in America) to Chicago (A place that smells a lot better than it did in 1921) and renamed from the Staley’s to the Bears. What’s a Staley, you ask?
-Augustus Eugene Staley was the owner & founder of A.E Staley Manufacturing Company, a
corn starch supplier and manufacturer. Staley moved from Baltimore to Decatur after buying a defunct cornstarch plant. Staley became a titan of corn and created a semi-pro baseball & football team made up of employees that traveled the Midwest to advertise for his business. Halas was brought on as a player-coach for both teams and convinced Staley to move the football team to Chicago to try to make them profitable. Staley, who didn’t see much long-term advantage to it outside of advertising his company, eventually transferred the team to Halas completely, for a reported $5,000 fee. Halas could see farther into the future than Staley could.
-Eight of the nine total championships won by the Bears were won with Halas as head coach. The Bears nine championships rank second to only one team in the league… the Green Bay Packers.
-The Packers, like the Bears, can date their team origins to 1919, but entered the league which would become the NFL in 1921. The Packers would find success early and often under Curly Lambeau who founded the team with the help of George Whitney Calhoun. Lambeau was a shipping clerk for the Indian Packing Company’s location in Green Bay and asked Owner Frank Peck for money to equip the fledgling franchise. He named the team after the company to thank them for the leg up.
-Curly Lambeau put that equipment to good use. He would win six titles with the Packers, which is tied for second with George Halas (and some guy named Belichick) but unlike Halas, Lambeau didn’t outright own the Packers and moved on from the team in 1949. The Packers would hit a rough patch after Lambeau’s departure.
-Despite his exit from the Packers, Lambeau was so highly regarded that his name would be placed on City Field in Green Bay in 1965, shortly after his death. Lambeau was inducted into the NFL Hall of Fame in 1963.
-That also happened to be the last year George Hallas would coach a championship team, defeating the New York Giants 14-10 at Wrigley Field. The Bears had played in the Chicago Cubs’ park since moving up north. During their time in the city, the Bears have had three homes. Wrigley field, (1921-1970) Soldier Field, (1971-Present) and for a single night, Chicago Stadium, which was the home of the NHL’s Blackhawks & NBA’s Bulls until 1995.
-Yes, the Bears created arena football. The game took place December 18th, 1932 against Portsmouth Spartans. Oh yeah, this was also the NFL’s first actual championship game. The league feared low attendance if the game was played in Wrigley Field due to the terrible winter weather, so they moved the game to Chicago Stadium. In order to play indoors, the NFL shortened the field to 80 yards. The Bears won 9-0. Another indoor game wouldn’t be played until 1968 (in Houston’s Astrodome) but the practice eventually become commonplace. Playing football on an 80-yard field would not become as common.
-In fact, this has only happened twice in the history of the league. The only other time the NFL played on a shorted field was this preseason in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The teams? The
Oakland Raiders… and the Green Bay Packers. This game wasn’t held indoors. It was actually held at the home of the Winnipeg Blue Bombers, a Canadian Football League squad. The field for Canadian football is actually larger, coming in at 140 yards, with end zones included. The problem was the CFL places their goalposts in front of the end zones, instead of the back. The NFL used to do the same but changed decades ago to protect players from running into them. So, when the Winnipeg grounds crew removed the CFL uprights they left giant holes in the ground which couldn’t be properly filled up. Not wanting to risk a player stepping into the holes, the NFL shortened the field just before kickoff.
-The latter half of the 20th century wasn’t particularly kind to either the Bears or Packers. The Bears would only win one more title in the century, a Super Bowl in 1985 and only made the playoffs three times between their ’63 and ’85 titles. After Vince Lombardi led the Packers to another five titles in a seven-year span during the ’60s, the Packers would only win a single playoff game between 1968 and 1992.
-Then Brett Favre happened. The Packers traded a first-round draft pick to the Atlanta Falcons for Favre who would go on to win the Packers their first Super Bowl title in 30 years. Brett Favre would smash several QB records during his time with the Packers, but maybe the oddest achievement of his career was completing his first pro pass to himself. The ball was deflected up into the air and Favre caught the ball… for an eight-yard loss.
-It would get better for Favre, especially when facing the Bears. Between 1994 and 1998, he would win ten straight games against the Bears. While facing Chicago Favre set his personal record for most passing yards in a game, (402) threw a 99-yard touchdown pass at Soldier Field and would go on to throw 24 more career touchdown passes in Chicago’s fortress.
-After Favre left the Packers, the misery would continue. Current Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers would continue to menace the Bears, including in the 2010 NFC championship, where the Packers beat the Bears yet again in Chicago. The Packers would win the Super Bowl in their next game.
So, after all this time, looking at nearly 200 games played, how’s the record stand? Who’s winning? It’s so close. The Packers lead the series, with 97 wins, 95 losses and 6 ties between the teams. The Bears will be looking to even up the series with a sweep this season. If they do, I can’t wait for the rubber match. It'll be 100 years in the making.