The Chicago Bears face off against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game this weekend. I bet you hadn't heard that. I bet you weren't aware that these decades-long rivals are headed into a contest that will decide and define bragging rights for years (generations?) to come. I bet you've neither seen nor heard a thing about it in your local newspaper, on TV or sports radio, or via this mysterious series of tubes we like to call "the Internet."
Oh, all right, all right. Maybe the game is already getting a little overexposed. My God, we were harrumphing over who should sing the National Anthem yesterday. But what would you have us do? This is among the greatest sports stories to come down the
pike expressway in years. A Bears-Packers playoff game to decide who advances to the freakin' Super Bowl? It's almost too good to be true! It's monumental! Historic! Thrilling! Terrifying! Argh, why isn't it Sunday already?!
But, rather than talk any trash about our delightful neighbors to the north or attempt to break down the respective passer ratings of Monsieurs Jay Cutler and Aaron Rodgers, I thought I'd look back at some of the more historical showdowns between these two great teams. Yeah, I wrote "two great teams." I'm keepin' it classy. Then again, if you expect to read about a Bears loss in the coming paragraphs, you got another thing comin'. Without further ado, here are our Top Five Bears-Packers Historical Showdowns:
1. Dec. 14, 1941 - Bears 33, Packers 14
You may have read about this one already, but it really must be considered the benchmark for this weekend's festivities. A mere week after Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawai'i, the two teams faced off for the NFL's "Western Section" Championship (and what a lovely section it was) .
The Bears had gone 10-1 that season for head coach George Halas. The Packers, interestingly enough, finished with the exact same record for head coach Curly Lambeau. And if that isn't historical drama enough, the game was held at Wrigley Field. The QBs? Sid Luckman for the Bears and Cecil Isbell for the Pack.
Green Bay scored first in the first (quarter) on a one-yard rush from fullback Clark "Hey There" Hinkle. The Bears responded with a ... hmmmm ... 81-yard punt return by "Hoppin'" Hugh Gallarneau. I like the sound of that. From there, the Bears dominated the first half, putting up 23-more points before the break. The Packers did score again in the third quarter, but the Chicago defense held strong after that and the Bears added an insurance field-goal in the fourth. Can we really expect history to repeat itself with such a relatively easy win? Probably not.
2. Nov. 3, 1968 - Bears 13, Packers 10
The '68 Bears, coached by Jim Dooley, weren't a great team. They finished the regular season 7-7, good for second in the NFL Central that year. But they had a player who football history will never forget: Galloping Gayle Sayers.
On a brisk, 36-degree day, the Hall-of-Fame running back made all the difference, rushing for 205 yards and keeping the game close. And close it was. Neither team scored in the first quarter, and the Bears were leading a mere 3-0 at the half thanks to a 10-yard field goal by Max Percival. Chicago was up 10-0 in the third quarter, but the Packers had it tied at 10-all in the fourth. The hero? The aforementioned Percival, whose late-game "free kick" elevated the Monsters of the Midway to victory! Shades of Robbie Gould? Let's hope so.
3. Oct. 21, 1985 - Bears 23, Packers 7
You can't talk Bears history without talking '85 Bears. The Super Bowl champs beat the Pack twice that year -- once on this date and again 16-10 in Green Bay on Nov. 3. This October win awarded the team a 7-0 record and pretty much cemented the growing notion that, y'know, there's something special about this team.
The Pack started the scoring in the first quarter on a 27-yard touchdown pass from QB Lynn Dickey (heck of a football name), but the Bears struck back in the second quarter with the Greatest of All Time, Walter Payton, scoring two touchdowns. The two TDs of Sweetness sandwiched a one-yard TD rush by none other than defensive end William Perry. Indeed, Chicago fans were just discovering their love of "The Fridge" around this time. Little did we know what great memories lie ahead.
4. Nov. 23, 1986 - Bears 12, Packers 10
Has there ever been a game that better summed up the Bears-Packers rivalry? Well, maybe. This was, of course, the Charles Martin Game. So named because (reportedly, allegedly, legendarily) the titular Green Bay defensive end showed up to the game with a list of Bears players' names etched onto his hand towel. Martin referred to it as his "hit list" and, after a 3rd-and-10 incomplete pass, he made good on it. Let's roll the tape:
Martin's egregious personal foul ended Bears quarterback Jim McMahon's season. And though the '86 Bears finished with a 14-2 record, they were bounced out of the playoffs on a 14-3 Division game loss to the Washington Redskins. Who knows how things may have turned out if McMahon hadn't been injured. Charles Martin was suspended for two games because of what he did and, apparently, never apologized for the cowardly throw-down. He died in 2005 due to complications from kidney failure.
5. Monday, Sept. 27, 2010 - Bears 20, Packers 17
Why is this game historical? Because when we all look back at the results of this Sunday's game, we'll not only be talking about the game itself, but also the games that came before in the season in question. This game and, yes, the Bears loss on Jan. 2 (I promised not to talk about that!), have laid the groundwork for whatever happens over the weekend. As I wrote back in November:
... it wasn’t the prettiest victory in team history. In fact, many observers
notedranted afterward that this wasn’t so much a Bears win as a Green Bay giveaway.
And that observation remains understandable enough. But this game was the first look the two teams had at each other. It was a game in which, despite the plethora of Packers penalties (say that five times fast), the Bears defense held Aaron Rodgers to only one touchdown pass. Something it would do again in January.
Sunday's game will be the third look the two teams will have at each other and, though it will be the final chapter in this unbelievably dramatic story, the two previous match-ups will always be critical ones as well. Which coaching staff will make the most of what they know? And which players will execute that knowledge most effectively? Go back and watch the tape if you have it. We'll see you on Sunday.