2019 sees the NFL celebrate its 100th season. To commemorate this, the league has scheduled a weekly game to honour landmark moments throughout its history.
The usual tradition of recent years is to have the defending Super Bowl champion host the season opening game. But due to the significance of the 100th season, this year’s opening game sees the Green Bay Packers travel to the Chicago Bears in the league’s most historic rivalry.
Between the two NFC North teams, they have won a combined 22 NFL championships (13 GB 9 CB), including 5 Super Bowls (4 GB 1 CB) and have a total of 65 Hall of Fame players.
This epic rivalry began in 1921 and since there have been 198 games between them, the most played in the league.
Let’s take a closer look at this historic rivalry…
Traditionally the Bears were the dominant winners in their rivalry. However, they no longer hold the lead. The Packers took the lead in 2017 and have now won 97 of the 198 meetings between the clubs, with the Bears collecting 95 wins.
Despite playing each other since 1921, the teams have met only in the postseason on two different occasions – the 1941 and 2010 seasons. Each time the winner went on to win the championship, the Bears in 1941 and Packers in 2010.
Why is their rivalry so special?
For this rivalry, like so many famous rivalries in sport, nothing beats the passion and emotion between the teams and their fans, both on and off the gridiron.
Even WWII didn’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. At a time when the country was devastated by war, an overflow crowd of more than 43,000 fans came to Wrigley Field to watch the Bears defeat the Packers 33-14. In comparison with the following week’s game, 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.
The first-time players were ever ejected from an NFL game for fighting was during a Packers-Bears game.
In 1924, Bears end Frank Hanny and Packers end Walter Voss were tossed from the game before the end of the first half due to scrapping between them. Hanny would be ejected once again from a Bears-Packers game in 1926, establishing the long line of bad blood between the teams.
Events during the 1980s showed just how fiery this long-standing rivalry could get.
In 1980, after a 61-7 Bears victory, Starr – who was then the Packers’ head coach – charged across the field to confront the Bears coach Neill Armstrong for blitzing heavily in the fourth quarter.
In 1985 when the Bears travelled to Lambeau Field, apparently the Packers left horse manure in the Bears’ locker room. It didn’t seem to stop them though as the Bears won that game 16-10, and indeed the Super Bowl that year.
A year later, Green Bay’s defensive tackle Charles Martin had a “hit list” of Bears numbers on a towel he was wearing. During the game, Jim McMahon threw an interception, Martin grabbed McMahon from behind and slammed him into the turf, injuring McMahon’s shoulder and ending his season.
Martin was suspended for two games, which at the time was 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. To Bears fans, Martin was one of the most hated Packers of all time.
The Bears started off the rivalry with a 7-1-3 record against Green Bay, shutting them out in four of the first five games. The Packers went on to win the next seven meetings, including five straight shutouts, but initially the Bears controlled the rivalry, posting a 49-26-6 record in that time.
That was until the 1960s, when the Packers gained some form, and notable quarterback Bart Starr. They managed to win 20 of their next 25 games against the Bears.
In the 1970s and 1980s, things seemed to tilt back in the Bears’ favour, winning 10 of 11 during the mid-80s.
One of the standout players in this period was Walter Payton. Payton was an exceptional player, arguably one of the greatest in NFL history. He was just as exceptional against the Packers.
Running back Payton played 24 games against the Packers with a 17-7 record, averaging 100 rushing yards per game. Payton rushed for a total of 2,484 yards (4.7 yards per rush) with 19 touchdowns against the Packers.
GB and their QBs
However, since the early 1990s, the Packers have taken back control. Much of their success in the rivalry against Chicago has been largely down to their star quarterbacks.
They have been hugely dominant since featuring the household names of Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers, posting a 35-14 record against them up until 2016 (including playoffs). The Bears have started over 15 quarterbacks against the Packers in modern era of Favre and Rodgers.
In one stretch under Favre, the Packers went 18-2 against the Bears. Favre also won 11 consecutive games in Chicago from 1994 to 2005.
One of the few 99-yard passing touchdowns in NFL history occurred in a Bears-Packers game. Favre hit Robert Brooks for 99 yards in 1995.
Favre’s 22 wins against the Bears as a member of the Packers are most by any quarterback in the rivalry.
Aaron Rodgers too has been a nightmare to face over the years for Chicago, his 17-5 record against them is proof of this, along with his 45-10 touchdown/interception ratio, the 5,156 passing yards, and his 103.7 overall passing yards.
At one point Rodgers won 10 of 11 against the Bears. He is also the only player to throw for six touchdowns in a Bears-Packers game. He did it in the first half of a 55-14 victory in 2014.
In the two games against the Bears that year, Rodgers threw 10 touchdowns and no interceptions.
The curse of Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers has indeed been a nightmare for Chicago over the years. He has also been a curse on the team and some of the Bears players who have graced the gridiron with him.
After Shea McClellin broke Rodgers’ collarbone on a sack in Week 9 in 2013, Rodgers returned in Week 17 to beat the Bears for the NFC North title.
Unforgettably, when Roy Robertson-Harris knocked him out with a sack last year, Rodgers returned in the second half to pull off a miraculous comeback, and he dragged the Packers back from a 17-point fourth quarter deficit on one leg.
When the Bears ended Rodgers’ NFL-record streak of 402 consecutive passes without an interception, safety Eddie Jackson sprained his ankle on the return and missed the wild-card playoff game the Bears lost by one point.
Former Bears QB Jay Cutler, in the biggest moment of his career, suffered an injury against Rodgers and the Packers that knocked him out of the NFC Championship Game in 2011.
Turning point for the Bears?
The 2019 season represents the perfect opportunity for the Bears to turn the rivalry once again in their favour.
While Rodgers’ mindset is as strong as ever, his supporting cast is not. The Packers are coming off a 6-9-1 season even with Rodgers starting all 16 games.
More importantly, the Bears are on the rise, with a top-ranked defence led by a game changer and star in Khalil Mack and a developing offence that will be hoping to take a giant leap this year with fast maturing quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
If Trubisky performs ultimately the pressure will be on Rodgers to outperform him. This will be a pressure that Rodgers has rarely faced against the Bears.
Ultimately fans of both teams should be in for a treat this season. No doubt that the rivalry is as strong as ever. Who knows what the future holds for this historic rivalry?