As Bears coach Matt Nagy pointed out this week, the Bears’ opener against the Packers last season was unforgettable for two reasons — Khalil Mack’s astonishing debut that sparked the Bears to a 17-0 halftime lead; and the collapse in the second half in which Aaron Rodgers threw three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter as the Packers turned a 20-0 deficit into a 24-23 victory.
Even in defeat, that season-opening game turned out to be a harbinger of better things to come: The Bears finished 12-4 and made the playoffs for the first time since 2010. It was reminiscent of previous opening-day losses that forecast better things to come: In 2001, the Bears lost 17-6 to the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens on the road — after leading 6-3 late in the third quarter — and went on a magical run to an unexpected 13-3 season; and in 2005, the Bears lost 9-7 to a playoff-bound Redskins team on the road before getting traction under Lovie Smith in his second season and finished 11-5 — a precursor to the Super Bowl season of 2006.
But by and large, the most memorable games in Bears history are victories. So it’s no surprise that this list of top 10 season-opening games has one common denominator: The Bears won.
1. 1940 — Bears 41, Packers 10 at City Stadium: In the greatest debut in Bears history — including Red Grange — George McAfee scored on a 90-yard kickoff return and a nine-yard run, threw an eight-yard touchdown pass to Ken Kavanaugh, rushed 44 yards with a fake punt as the Bears handed the defending NFL champion Packers their worst loss in franchise history.
2. 1963 — Bears 10, Packers 3 at New City Stadium: Bill George, Richie Petitbon, Rosey Taylor and Dave Whitsell all intercepted Bart Starr in a dominant defensive performance vs. the two-time defending champion Packers — who had won 26 of their previous 29 games. George Halas called it “the greatest team effort in the history of the Chicago Bears.”
3. 2006 — Bears 26, Packers 0 at Lambeau Field: Rex Grossman threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Bernard Berrian on the sixth play from scrimmage and rookie Devin Hester put the cherry on top with an 84-yard punt return for a touchdown as the Bears kick-start a glorious 13-3 season by beating the Packers for the fourth time in five games under Lovie Smith after going 2-18 vs. Brett Favre from 1994-2003.
4. 1987 — Bears 34, Giants 19 at Soldier Field: In a ballyhooed Monday Night Football game featuring the two previous Super Bowl champions, Mike Tomczak throws back-to-back touchdown passes to Ron Morris (42 yards) and Willie Gault (56 yards) and Dennis McKinnon returns a punt 94 yards for a touchdown as the Bears overcome an early 7-0 deficit.
5. 1971 — Bears 17, Steelers 15 at Soldier Field: In the first opener as tenants of Soldier Field after 50 seasons at Wrigley Field, the Bears score two touchdowns in the final 3:03 to beat Terry Bradshaw and the Steelers. Ed O’Bradovich forced a fumble that Ross Brupbacher returned 30 yards for a touchdown. After Dick Butkus forced a fumble that O’Bradovich recovered, Kent Nix threw an eight-yard pass to George Farmer with 44 seconds left for the thrilling victory.
6. 1934 — Bears 24, Packers 10 at City Stadium: In an early Bears-Packers showdown featuring teams that had combined to win the previous five NFL titles, Bronko Nagurski scored two touchdowns, including a 40-yard run and throws a touchdown pass to Bill Hewitt as the two-time defending champion Bears scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to break a 10-10 tie.
7. 1985 — Bears 38, Buccaneers 28 at Soldier Field: In a much-anticipated opener after reaching the NFC championship game the previous year, the Bears are booed in the first half after falling behind 21-7 and 28-17, before Leslie Frazier’s 29-yard interception return touchdown — off a tipped pass by Richard Dent — sparks a 21-0 second half that re-sets the Bears on course for the Super Bowl.
8. 1960 — Bears 17, Packers 14 at New City Stadium: After the Bears were totally outplayed for three quarters, Willie Galimore scored on an 18-yard run, Jim Taylor fumbled and Rick Casares scored on a 26-yard run as the Bears score 17 fourth-quarter points — capped by John Aveni’s 16-yard tie-breaking field goal with 35 seconds left — to win a thriller.
9. 1942 — Bears 44, Packers 28 at City Stadium: Down 28-27 after three quarters, the two-time defending champion Bears scored 17 unanswered points to win going away. Ray Nolting scored on a 35-yard fumble return. Two plays later, Danny Fortmann’s interception led to Gary Famiglietti’s five-yard run — his third touchdown of the day — and the Bears were on their way to an 11-0 regular season.
10. 1996 — Bears 22, Cowboys 6 at Soldier Field: Wide receiver Curtis Conway threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to running back Raymont Harris on a trick play and Bryan Cox recovered a Troy Aikman fumble — forced by Kevin Miniefield — in the end zone as the Bears upset the defending Super Bowl champion but short-handed Cowboys (winners of three of the last four Super Bowls), who came in without Michael Irvin and Pro Bowl tight end Jay Novacek among seven missing starters.