Is Bears-Packers rivalry headed for another major shift?

The Bears swept both games against Packers in 2007. That was the last time. But with Rodgers gone and Justin Fields showing franchise-quarterback potential, Bears fans have hope.

SHARE Is Bears-Packers rivalry headed for another major shift?

The Packers lead the all-time series against the Bears 105-95-6. But they didn’t always.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

You wouldn’t have thought it was the end of a Bears-Packers era when Brett Favre made his first start against the Bears on Oct. 25, 1992, at Lambeau Field.

The Bears were fading as a Super Bowl contender under Mike Ditka, but they were still strong enough to make Favre look like the unproven quarterback he was in a 30-10 victory.

Favre was making his fourth NFL start but was still a midweek decision over veteran Don Majkowski to face the Bears. And the Bears welcomed Favre to the NFL in their own style. On the fourth play from scrimmage, Steve McMichael sacked Favre, forced a fumble and recovered it. McMichael forced another fumble with a sack early in the second quarter, forcing the Packers to settle for a field goal after a first-and-goal at the 5, and the Bears were on their way to a rout.

Favre threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Sterling Sharpe and made some plays, but he otherwise showed little indication of the torment he was about to unleash on the Bears. He was sacked four times, fumbled twice and completed 20 of 37 passes for 214 yards with one touchdown and one interception for a 69.0 passer rating.

It was still a typical Bears-Packers game in one respect: The Packers had three unnecessary-roughness penalties (Chuck Cecil, Johnny Holland and Edgar Bennett) and the Bears two (Keith Jennings, Maurice Douglass). But the Packers and their fans only could lament another blowout loss in a one-sided rivalry. The Bears were 81-57-6 against the Packers at that point, just one game below their high-water mark of 25 games over .500 in 1960 (51-26-5).

(The Packers, 2-5 in Mike Holmgren’s first season, were in worse shape at that point than the Bears are today, with only two playoff appearances in 24 seasons since winning Super Bowl II and only one winning record in the previous 13 seasons.)

By the time the Bears faced the Packers in the rematch at Soldier Field, the winds of change already had started to blow. The Packers were starting to make progress under Favre, winning two of three games. The Bears were falling apart, losing to the Vikings (38-10) and Bengals (31-28 in overtime) at home and to the Buccaneers (20-17) on the road.

That rematch would become one of the biggest turning points in the history of the rivalry. With Favre throwing for one touchdown and running for another, the Packers manhandled the Bears 17-3 as 5 1/2-point underdogs. The Bears had no excuses.

‘‘Sometimes when you don’t have the results, it’s because the other team’s playing better, that’s all,’’ Ditka said. ‘‘And they were.’’

Whether the Bears would admit it or not, the tide was turning. But few, if any, expected it to turn so completely the Packers’ way. Ditka was fired after the 1992 season, but Favre was just warming up.

With Favre quickly developing into a three-time NFL MVP, the Packers won 10 consecutive games against the Bears and 18 of 20 through the 2003 season.

When Lovie Smith stopped the bleeding after replacing Dick Jauron, winning six of eight games against the Packers in 2005-08, it turned out to be a blip.

Aaron Rodgers replaced Favre in 2008 and, in uncanny fashion, tormented the Bears and their fans even more cruelly than Favre had. Rodgers went 25-5 against the Bears as the Packers’ starting quarterback, including a victory in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field in January 2011 — one of several soul-crushing moments of the Rodgers era. One of the Bears’ victories came after Rodgers suffered a separated shoulder on a sack by Shea McClellin and was replaced by Seneca Wallace.

Including a victory with Brett Hundley playing for an injured Rodgers in 2017 at Soldier Field, the Packers have won 26 of the last 31 meetings to lead the overall series 106-96 with six ties. The Bears haven’t won back-to-back games against the Packers since a sweep in 2007, Favre’s last season in Green Bay.

The Rodgers era finally ran its course last season, and the future Hall of Famer was traded to the Jets during the offseason. And that, predictably, has sprung hope anew that the Bears have their best chance to turn the rivalry back in their favor.

Therein lies the intrigue for the season opener against the Packers on Sunday at Soldier Field, with Jordan Love making his second NFL start for the Packers. Bears fans have been anticipating Rodgers’ demise and a turnaround in the rivalry for years. In 2019, even the Packers couldn’t deny the possibility after the Khalil Mack-charged Bears had won the NFC North at 12-4 in 2018, while the Packers had slumped to 6-9-1 even with Rodgers starting all 16 games.

With a huge buildup and the anticipation that Mitch Trubisky would blossom in his second season under Matt Nagy, the Packers seemed like a fitting opponent for the NFL season opener on ‘‘Thursday Night Football’’ at Soldier Field. Bears fans were ready for a changing of the guard, if not a coronation.

It wasn’t to be. The Bears’ offense flopped, and Rodgers found a way — despite getting sacked twice by Leonard Floyd and once each by Akiem Hicks, Roy Robertson-Harris and Aaron Lynch — to win 10-3. Rodgers was rejuvenated under first-year coach Matt LaFleur and suddenly was as good as ever, winning back-to-back MVP awards in 2020 and 2021. The Bears, meanwhile, looked for another quarterback, another head coach and another general manager.

But with Rodgers gone, Justin Fields showing franchise-quarterback potential and the Bears ready to kick-start a rebuild after a 2022 teardown in their first season under GM Ryan Poles and coach Matt Eberflus, Bears fans have renewed hope that their team can regain the upper hand.

A Packers downturn likely figures into the equation. The Bears’ only run of sustained success since George Halas retired after the 1967 season — the glorious Ditka era — came when the Packers were still in their post-Lombardi-era funk. In 1984-91, the Bears went 90-37 and made the playoffs seven times in eight seasons, winning Super Bowl XX after the 1985 season. The Packers were 49-77-1 during that same span, with no playoff appearances.

One team up while the other is down has been a part of the Bears-Packers rivalry since 1929, when the Packers went 12-0-1 under Curly Lambeau to win their first league championship, while the Bears went 4-9-2 for their first losing season. It was such a big disappointment that Halas fired himself and hired Ralph Jones of Lake Forest College as his replacement.

The Bears went 9-4-1 in Jones’ first season, while the Packers went 10-3-1 to win the league title for the second consecutive year, and the rivalry — as much between the ever-competitive Halas and Lambeau as between the players on the field — was on in earnest.

In 1929-46, the Bears or Packers either won the league or played in the NFL Championship Game 16 times in those 18 seasons (the exceptions were 1935 and 1945). Each team won six titles in that span (the Bears in 1932, 1933, 1940, 1941, 1943 and 1946; the Packers in 1929, 1930, 1931, 1936, 1939 and 1944).

The peak year was 1941, when the Bears and Packers tied for the West Division crown at 10-1, each team winning on the road against the other. The Bears won 33-14 in a playoff to determine the division winner, then beat the Giants 37-9 at Wrigley Field to win their second consecutive NFL championship and fifth overall.

The Bears-Packers rivalry, while always strong in good times and bad, reached another peak in the heart of the Halas-Lombardi era. It peaked in 1963, when the Bears beat the two-time defending NFL champion Packers 10-3 in the season opener at New City Stadium and 26-7 at Wrigley Field en route to the NFL championship.

But those rekindled glory days faded quickly, and the Bears and Packers rarely have been good in the same season. Since 1967, the Bears and Packers have had a winning record in the same season only five times in 55 seasons and not since 2012.

In fact, the first 10 times the Bears swept the Packers in the season series in the post-Lombardi era, the Packers were a combined 49-105-1 — never better than 8-8. The Bears finally swept a winning Packers team in 2007, when the Packers finished 13-3.

Coming off a Super Bowl appearance, the Bears won 27-20 at Lambeau Field behind Brian Griese and 35-7 at Soldier Field behind Kyle Orton, with a helping hand from Brian Urlacher (an 85-yard interception return for a touchdown) and Charles Tillman (a blocked punt returned by Corey Graham for a touchdown).

But that’s the last time the Bears have swept the Packers. Is another new era dawning with Rodgers gone? It seems less likely that Love can repeat the Packers’ success in replacing one Hall of Fame quarterback with a better Hall of Fame quarterback.

Rodgers, the 24th overall pick in 2005, was a better quarterback prospect, expected to go No. 1 overall to the 49ers by as many analysts as actual No. 1 pick Alex Smith. Love, the 26th overall pick in 2020, wasn’t nearly as highly regarded.

It remains to be seen whether Love is the next Rodgers. But the Bears are a fitting opponent to be the first to prove the Packers wrong. The next chapter of the rivalry — still the most storied in the history of the NFL — is riding on it.


George Halas vs. Curly Lambeau (1921-29; 1933-42; 1946-49)

Strong-willed, ambitious and competitive Midwesterners, Halas and Lambeau were natural rivals. Lambeau, a Green Bay native, was a shipping clerk at the Indian Packing Company when he co-founded the Packers in 1919 at 21. Halas, a Chicago native, was working for the A.E. Staley Company — a starch manufacturer in Decatur — when he founded the Bears in 1920 at 25.

The Packers entered what would become the NFL in 1921. But, with the Bears losing just once in the first 11 meetings (7-1-3), the rivalry didn’t really kick in until Lambeau’s Packers started beating the Bears. After the Packers shut out the Bears three times in 1929 (23-0, 14-0 and 25-0) for five straight victories over them en route to the first of three consecutive NFL titles, Halas fired himself and hired Ralph Jones of Lake Forest College to coach the team. It was just the beginning of the Halas-Lambeau rivalry.

“[Lambeau] did [his job] so well that he kept beating the Bears,” Halas wrote in a published tribute after Lambeau died suddenly in 1965. “You know, that was the greatest thing that could have happened to us. He kept beating us until he started such a rivalry that I couldn’t hope would end.”

Halas returned in 1933 to win his second NFL title that season, but Lambeau led the Packers to titles in 1936 and 1939, with pass-catching sensation Don Hutson emerging as one of the leagues all-time best players. At that point, Halas led their head-to-head series 15-11 with three ties. But Lambeau had five titles. Halas had two.

“Lambeau forced me to make changes,” Halas wrote. “In fact, he did such a great job with the Packers that the Chicago Bears had to come up with something new. That’s when we went to the T-formation.”

Halas regained the upper hand, with the Bears winning NFL titles in 1940, 1942, 1943 (when Halas was in the Navy) and 1946. Halas won 13 of 16 games against Lambeau in the final 10 years of their rivalry to finish 28-14-3 overall.

And while they were bitter rivals who constantly feuded, both knew they were good for each other and that together they were good for the NFL — at a time when the league still was establishing itself. Their feud was so intense that they reportedly never shook hands after a game. Yet when Lambeau died in 1965, his long-time rival was a pall-bearer at his funeral.

George Halas vs. Vince Lombardi (1959-67)

The Bears were dominating the rivalry — 29-8-2 against the Packers from 1939-58 — when the Packers hired the Giants assistant coach, amid quite a bit of fanfare, as their head coach on Feb. 2, 1959 (Singer Buddy Holly, who had performed in Green Bay the previous night, was killed in a plane crash following his concert in Clear Lake, Iowa). And when Lombardi was hired, no one was more supportive of the hire than Halas, a rival no doubt, but also a big believer in keeping Green Bay as a viable NFL city.

“He’s a coach’s coach,” Halas said. “I wish Green Bay a lot of luck. I am sure they’ve got the right man to guide the Packers to destinies. That should clarify the entire situation up there.”

Halas probably did not know just how right he would be. The Packers beat the Bears 9-6 in Lombardi’s first game — with delirious Packers players carrying Lombardi off the field on their shoulders.

The Bears won the next two meetings, but a 41-13 Packers route at Wrigley Field on Dec. 2, 1960 — with Bart Starr, Paul Hornung and Jim Taylor playing starring roles — signaled the dawn of a new day.

The Packers would win five consecutive games against the Bears — outscoring them 183-48 — en route to three consecutive appearances in the NFL Championship Game, winning it all in 1961 and 1962.

The Bears responded with a sweep in 1963 (with Hornung serving a season-long suspension for gambling). They won 10-3 at New City Stadium in the season opener and 26-7 at Wrigley Field on their way to Halas’ final NFL championship — and the Bears’ first since 1946.

But with Hornung back, Lombardi resumed his dominance over Halas, as the Packers won seven of their last eight matchups and won Super Bowls I and II. With Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus in their prime, the Bears (7-6-1) gave the Packers fits in 1967. They lost 13-10 at Lambeau Field and 17-13 at Wrigley Field. But that was little consolation to Halas, who finished 5-13 against Lombardi.

As it turned out, that season marked an end of an era of the Bears-Packers rivalry on multiple levels. Halas retired at 73. Lombardi resigned as the Packers head coach. It was the last time the Bears and Packers both finished with a winning record in the same season until 1994.

Mike Ditka vs. Forrest Gregg (1984-87)

Ditka and Gregg shared more than a birthday (Oct. 18, six years apart) as NFL coaches. Both were Hall of Fame players under legendary coaches for storied franchises — Ditka a tight end for Halas with the Bears from 1961-66; Gregg a starting tackle/guard for the Packers from 1956-70, including the entire Lombardi era (1959-67). Both finished their playing career with the Cowboys under Tom Landry, including the 1971 team that won the Super Bowl.

But their coaching rivalry was tempestuous from the start. In their first game against each other — the annual Shrine Game in the 1984 preseason — Ditka was irked by Gregg calling a time out at the end of the first half when the Bears were trying to run out the clock. A shouting match ensued and the feud was on. Despite public claims of respect, the Ditka-Gregg version of the Bears-Packers rivalry would be dominated by bad blood, cheap shots, insults and gamesmanship — and Bears victories.

Not surprisingly, it reached a peak in 1985 and 1986, when the Bears were dominating the league — going 15-1 in 1985 before winning Super Bowl XX; then 14-2 in 1986 — while Gregg’s Packers were still spinning their wheels — 8-8 in 1985 and 4-12 in 1986.

With each team inspired by its coach, the games were always physical confrontations. And while Gregg, probably rightfully, claimed both sides were responsible (“What we do is play the Bears the way the Bears play us,” Gregg said in 1986), the Packers were guilty of the most egregious infractions: Cornerback Mark Lee driving Walter Payton well out of bounds and into the Bears bench on a running play and getting ejected in 1985 at Lambeau Field; Safety Ken Stills brutally obliterating an unaware Matt Suhey with a late hit in the same game (a 16-10 Bears victory).

And the worst of all — Packers defensive tackle Charles Martin body slamming quarterback Jim McMahon after an interception in 1986 at Soldier Field. Martin was ejected and suspended two games by the NFL. But McMahon, already dealing with a torn rotator cuff, suffered a shoulder injury and never played again that season.

The Bears won the game 12-10, but the Martin-McMahon play arguably cost the Bears a second Super Bowl. They finished 14-2, but with Doug Flutie starting for McMahon in the playoffs, lost to the Redskins 27-13 in the divisional round.

Ditka dominated the rivalry, going 7-1 against Gregg before Gregg resigned after the 1987 season to coach his alma mater, SMU. And the very personal coaching rivalries that had dominated so much of the series have never been the same.

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