A history lesson
Before we break down the 187th meeting in the National Football League's oldest and best rivalry, the uninitiated deserve a taste of the previous 186 games played between two of the NFL's originals. Leave it to George Halas, the Papa Bear himself, to kick in some cash to Curly Lambeau to get the Acme Indian Packing company reinstated in the league's good graces after getting caught using ineligible players just a couple of seasons into it. These two needed only a three years to get taken to the woodshed by the fledgling league. The first two players to get NFL ejections for fighting in a game were the Bears' Frank Hanny and Green Bay's Tille Voss in Novmeber of 1924. The Packers dominated the league in the late 20's winning three straight titles, awarded not by a playoff, but by having the best winning percentage in the league. By 1941, Halas had the Bears on top but the Packers pulled off a huge 16-14 upset leaving the Chicago faithful to alledge cheating. Chicago exacted revenge in the first ever playoff meeting five weeks later, for the Western Division title, routing the Pack 33-14 at Wrigley Field.
My first memory of the great rivalry was as a kid, sitting in the Lambeau Field children's section in the northeast corner of the end zone, section 7 to be exact. It was a tight game in early November of 1968. Little did I know, four years earlier, Paul Hornung had helped beat the Bears with a free kick field goal. Unaware of the rule, I watched the Packers punt the ball late in a 10-10 game and the Bears called fair catch. Rather than see the offense comes out, it was kicker Mac Percival, with a tee. He put the ball down and without anyone rushing, kicked it through the uprights for a 43 yard free kick field goal that won the game 13-10. I cried all the way home.
I began covering the series in 1979 and by the following year, the emotions started to really percolate. Chester Marcol's incredible run with an Alan Page blocked field goal in the 1980 series opener lifted the Pack to a 12-6 overtime victory. The rematch in Chicago, the first game I covered in Soldier Field was an epic ambush. 61-7 was the final and Bart Starr was infuriated with Neil Armstrong throwing deep and blitzing relentlessly even after the score got out of hand. Those two coaches gave way to Forrest Gregg and Mike Ditka and that's when things boiled over. In Chicago's Super Bowl season of 1985, the Fridge was unveiled. William Perry bowled through George Cumby for a touchdown in a 23-7 Bears win in Chicago. Waiting for Chicago before the rematch was a bag of horse manure outside the Bear's lockerroom at Lambeau. The Bears still beat the Pack 16-10 in a donnybrook. Mark Lee got ejected for riding Walter Payton across the sidelines and over the Bears' bench. Ken Stills had one of the latest, late hits in NFL history blasting Matt Suhey. Ditka called the Packers "thugs", Gregg just kept twitching those bushy eye-brows until the teams met in Chicago in 1986. That's when Charlie Martin had the hit list towel, with numbers of players he wanted to take out of the game. He crossed one off his list when Jim McMahon threw an interception and Martin hunted the quarterback. Rather than throw a block, he picked up McMahon and threw him to the ground sparking a near riot. It would cost Martin a two game suspension.
Gregg didn't survive but Ditka hung around a few more seasons and in 1989, blew a gasket when Don Majkowski found Sterling Sharpe for a game winning touchdown in a 14-13 thriller. The game will forever be remembered as the replay game for Majkowski was flagged for throwing the ball across the line of scrimmage but upon further review, the call was reversed and Lambeau erupted, so did Ditka. The franchise was so incensed, the Bears placed an asterisk next to game in the team's media guide. It would be years before it was removed.
Enter Mike Holmgren and Brett Favre against Dave Wannstadt and a collection of quarterbacks. The rivalry turned one sided as the Packers dominated, none more so than on a wicked Halloween night in Chicago, With howling wind and driving rain, when Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers had their numbers retired, the Packers and Favre piled it on 33-14. When Lovie Smith became head coach of the Bears, he made no bones about the rivalry at his introductory news conference saying his first priority was to beat the Packers. He did, on occassion, ripping the Pack 26-0 at Lambeau to open the 2006 season, Mike McCarthy's first home game as Green Bay's coach.
But even when the Bears made a push to the Super Bowl under Smith, the Packers handed Chicago two of their three regular season losses. In Green Bay's Super Bowl run, they had to beat the division champion Bears in the regular season finale just to get into the playoffs, they did. Three weeks later, they wrestled the George Halas trophy away from the Bears at Soldier Field in the NFC Championship game 21-14. That's where we all learned how to do the "Raji" and where Charles Woodson delivered his unforgettable "One" speech after the game.
It's been a lot of fun. The Bears still lead the all-time series, 92-88-6, including the two playoff meetings. But since Holmren and Favre arrived and through McCarthy and Rodgers, the Packers have won 31 of the last 42 games. Not much of a rivalry of late but come Monday night, the Bears will be riled up.
Here's how I see the Monday night matchup. The Packers (5-2) have been able to withstand the rash of injuries, I'm not sure the Bears (4-3) will be able to. The defense has been thinned on the line with the likes of Henry Melton going down and with Lance Briggs on the shelf, Chicago's unit has sagged to the bottom quarter of the league in yards allowed and points allowed per game, very un-Monsters of the Midway like. Even more problematic, no Jay Cutler with his groin injury. Josh McCown has been around a while, has started over 30 NFL games but there's a reason he's been in the league 13 years and started only that many games. Green Bay will key on Matt Forte, an oustanding back, and if they keep him in check, McCown will face relentless pressure allowing little time to exploit his receiving trio of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey and Martellus Bennett. As for the Packer offense, the now extremely balanced attack with Eddie Lacy on the ground and Rodgers and company through the air will keep rolling at home. The only potential hurdle, turnovers, Chicago is one of the best I've ever seen at not only taking it away but scoring with takeaways. If Green Bay takes care of the ball, they'll take care of the Bears. I like the Packers to win 34-17.