Here are 5 of the most memorable games of the Bears-Packers rivalry
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The late, great Doug Buffone reveled in anything and everything football and the Bears but rarely with more vigor than when it came to the Bears-Packers rivalry.
Buffone played in 26 regular-season Bears-Packers games from 1966 to ’79 — more than any player in franchise history at the time. And he always fondly, almost wistfully, remembered some particularly rough-and-tough, often mean-spirited battles that left him both exhausted and exhilarated and served as a perfect portrait of what the rivalry was all about.
One time, the teams combined for 170 yards in penalties, with the Bears’ George Seals and the Packers’ Dave Robinson nearly getting ejected for one skirmish. Another time, there were multiple battles, with tight end/punter Bob Parsons taking on Jim Carter — “He started swinging, so I started swinging back,” Parsons said at the time — and guard Bob Asher battling the Packers’ Andy Neloms in futility.
Those two chippy games had one other thing in common: They were preseason games, one in 1968, the other in 1974. And Dick Butkus didn’t even play in the latter one. Even in exhibition games, the Bears-Packers rivalry was everything they say it is.
“It’s raining and muddy, and we’re playing the whole [bleeping] game,” Buffone recalled. “It turned into a free-for-all, fighting with the Packers, battling. They got their [main] guys in — [Paul] Hornung’s in. [Jim] Taylor’s in. We’re fighting and smashing and trying to win.”
The Bears-Packers rivalry still is one of the best in the NFL. It’s not nearly as vociferous or edgy today as it was in the early days of the NFL with George Halas and Curly Lambeau, whose iron-strong will and unyielding competitiveness and drive helped build the league. It doesn’t have near the competitiveness of the days when Halas and Vince Lombardi ruled the NFL. And it lacks the animosity that marked the battles between Mike Ditka and Forrest Gregg as coaches in the mid-1980s.
Today, the Bears-Packers rivalry is more about respect for the history of it than the rivalry itself. “It’s an honor [to be a part of it],” said Bears Hall of Fame linebacker Brian Urlacher, who lost nearly twice as many games in the series as he won in his career (9-17). “In my opinion, it’s the best rivalry in professional sports.”
Urlacher’s career typified the current state of the rivalry and the way the chippiness of the previous eras has been replaced by respect more than anything. The Bears went 1-7 against the Packers in Urlacher’s first four seasons, when Brett Favre was in his prime. As Urlacher blossomed into a star in Lovie Smith’s cover-2 defense, the Bears went 6-2 against the Packers in his next four seasons. But with Aaron Rodgers taking over for Favre, the Bears went 2-9 against the Packers in Urlacher’s final five seasons, including a 21-14 loss in the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field in the 2010 season.
Urlacher actually won his first game against the Packers in what on paper looks like a fluke. Cade McNown outdueled Favre with touchdown passes of 58 and 68 yards to Marcus Robinson in a 27-24 victory at Lambeau Field that ultimately kept the Packers out of the playoffs at 9-7. But Urlacher lost his next seven games against the Packers before Lovie Smith turned things around.
The Urlacher era of the Bears-Packers rivalry was marked by the mutual respect of Urlacher and Favre/Rodgers, who enjoyed the competitiveness of the pre-snap game they played, with Favre/Rodgers changing the play and Urlacher trying to counter with an audible of his own.
That’s a far cry from the days of Ken Stills laying out Jim McMahon, Mark Lee driving Walter Payton over the Bears’ bench or Charles Martin body-slamming McMahon after an interception, giving McMahon a torn rotator cuff that would doom the Bears to a divisional-round loss as defending Super Bowl champions.
“Two Hall of Famers — Aaron will be one day,” Urlacher said during Hall of Fame enshrinement weekend when asked about facing Favre and Rodgers. “Brett was fun because I watched him when I was a kid — all those games against the Cowboys in the playoffs. I remember my first game at Lambeau Field, I got a sack and he realized … he didn’t know I was as fast as I was, and he tried to outrun me and I got him on the sideline.
“It was so much fun, and the energy. I remember the conversations. And I’m not talking about after the game. I’m talking about at-the-line-of-scrimmage conversation. It was fun because he knew what we were doing. We knew what they were doing. If we were in cover-2, he ran. If we were in cover-1, he [threw] it. So there was no tricking each other. We just played.”
But while animosity invigorates the rivalry and stokes Bears and Packers fans, what this rivalry needs more than anything is competitiveness. For a storied rivalry that started in the second year of professional football in 1921, the Bears and Packers rarely have been good at the same time since the Halas-Lombardi era. In fact, in the Super Bowl era, the Bears and Packers have made the playoffs in the same season just three times in 52 seasons — 1994, 2001 and 2010.
So when the Bears open the 2018 season against the Packers on Sept. 9 at Lambeau Field, they will be in a familiar position — trying to catch up. The Bears have made the playoffs once in the last 11 seasons since playing in the Super Bowl in the 2006 season. The Packers have made the playoffs nine times in that span. The Bears have lost 10 games or more in the last four seasons. The Packers have won 10 games or more eight times in the last 10 seasons.
Interestingly, opening games against the Packers historically have been telltale, at least in retrospect. Since 1963, the Bears have played the Packers 10 times in Week 1. The three times they won, they made the playoffs (1963, 1979 and 2006). The seven times they lost, they didn’t.
With that in mind, here are five memorable Bears-Packers games that have helped make the rivalry one of the best in football.
Nov. 17, 1963
Location: Wrigley Field
Final score: Bears 26, Packers 7
The setup: The Bears have played the Packers twice in playoff games — in 1941 to break a tie for the Western Division title and in 2010 in the NFC Championship Game. But this regular-season game — five days before the assassination of President John F. Kennedy — arguably is the most profound Bears-Packers matchup of all time.
The Packers of Lombardi were two-time defending NFL champions. The Bears of Halas hadn’t won an NFL title since 1946. Both teams were 8-1, and only one of them would represent the West Division in the NFL Championship Game.
The game: J.C. Caroline’s devastating hit on Herb Adderley on the opening kickoff set the tone for perhaps the Bears’ best performance ever against the Packers in a game that mattered. The Packers were without injured quarterback Bart Starr and running back Paul Hornung, who was suspended for the entire season for betting on NFL games.
The Bears had five interceptions (Roosevelt Taylor two, Dave Whitsell two, Bennie McRae) and recovered two fumbles for a plus-7 turnover differential. Willie Galimore scored on a 27-yard run to lead the Bears, who finished 11-1-2, a half-game ahead of the 11-2-1 Packers. Halas called it “our greatest victory since 1946.” The game ball went to offensive line coach Phil Handler, whose starting unit — tackles Herman Lee and Bob Wetoska, guards Ted Karras and Roger Davis and center Mike Pyle — dominated from the start. The Bears beat the Giants 14-10 in the NFL Championship Game at Wrigley Field.
The quote: “I knew we had them when J.C. Caroline made that great tackle on Herb Adderley on the opening kickoff,” Handler said. “I knew we were ready then.”
Sept. 10, 2006
Location: Lambeau Field
Final score: Bears 26, Packers 0
The setup: The Bears entered the 2006 season opener with big expectations after an 11-5 record in Lovie Smith’s second season. The +3½-point spread was their lowest at Lambeau Field since 1997 (+3). And the Bears didn’t disappoint. The defense throttled Brett Favre (16-for-30, 186 yards, no touchdowns, two interceptions, 44.6 passer rating), Rex Grossman threw a 49-yard touchdown pass to Bernard Berrian on the first drive and the Bears were on their way to a surprising rout that would launch one of the best starts in franchise history — 7-0 with a 221-69 scoring margin.
The game: Danieal Manning and Charles Tillman had interceptions as the Bears beat Favre for the third consecutive game (no touchdowns, eight interceptions) after losing 19 of 22 previous games against him. Grossman was 18-for-26 for 262 yards with one touchdown and one interception for a 98.6 passer rating. Muhsin Muhammad led the Bears with six receptions for 102 yards. Special teams chipped in when Adrian Peterson forced a fumble on a kickoff and Brendon Ayanbadejo recovered to set up a field goal that gave the Bears a commanding 16-0 halftime lead.
Robbie Gould made 4 of 4 field-goal attempts (40, 39, 28, 30). And rookie Devin Hester capped an exhilarating victory with an 84-yard punt return in the fourth quarter — the first of his 20 kick-return touchdowns with the Bears — as the Bears routed the Packers to begin their journey to the Super Bowl.
The quote: “It’s very encouraging,’’ cornerback Nathan Vasher said. “To see [the offense] do it — they basically could do whatever they wanted out there — was great. They kept us fresh, and that’s why we got the shutout. We’re getting it from our offense and special teams and still playing great defense. The sky’s the limit.’’
Jan. 23, 2011
Location: Soldier Field
Final score:Packers 21, Bears 14.
The setup: The Bears-Packers rivalry almost couldn’t get any better than this — an NFC Championship Game matchup for a berth in the Super Bowl. It was only the second time the Bears and Packers met in the playoffs. But despite all the anticipation and a fever pitch at Soldier Field, the game would be an utter disappointment for the Bears, who would end up lamenting a missed opportunity to keep the Packers out of the playoffs in Week 17, when they lost 10-3 at Lambeau Field.
The game: The Packers took the opening kickoff (after the Bears won the coin toss but deferred) and drove 84 yards on seven plays for a 7-0 lead. The Packers led 14-0 when Jay Cutler suffered a knee injury late in the first half. After backup Todd Collins faltered in two series in the third quarter, third-string quarterback Caleb Hanie rallied the Bears for a touchdown to get them to 14-7. But Packers defensive tackle B.J. Raji intercepted Hanie and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown with 6:04 to play.
Hanie drove the Bears to another score to make it 21-14 and had the Bears at the Packers’ 27-yard line with 1:17 to go. But after Earl Bennett lost two yards on an ill-advised end-around, Hanie was intercepted by Sam Shields to clinch the victory for the Packers, who went on to win the Super Bowl.
The quote: “No one expected us to be here. We know that,’’ Brian Urlacher said. “It doesn’t make it any easier for us to lose this game. We expected to win this game.’’
Nov. 7, 1999
Location: Lambeau Field
Final score: Bears 14, Packers 13
The setup: Six days after the death of Hall of Fame running back and Bears icon Walter Payton, the 3-5 Bears headed up to Lambeau Field with heavy hearts and an unenviable task, even against a 4-3 Packers team struggling in Mike Sherman’s first season. The Bears had lost 10 consecutive games to the Packers, with Favre (25 touchdowns, nine interceptions) doing much of the damage.
The game: After a tough week at Halas Hall, the Bears channeled their emotion into an inspired effort — eventually, at least. After starting quarterback Cade McNown suffered a sprained knee in the first quarter, Jim Miller replaced him and threw four interceptions in the first half (one nullified by a penalty). But Miller came up big in the second half, going 13-for-18 for 120 yards with a six-yard touchdown pass to Bobby Engram that gave the Bears a 14-10 lead late in the third quarter.
The Bears were clinging to a 14-13 lead late in the fourth quarter when fate moved its huge hands in the Bears’ favor. Kicker Chris Boniol missed a 34-yard field goal that would have forced the Packers to score a touchdown. Instead, Favre settled for setting up a chip-shot field-goal attempt with seven seconds left. But Ryan Longwell’s 28-yard attempt was blocked by Bears defensive lineman Bryan Robinson for a stunning finish, an exhilarating and emotional victory and a surreal Bears-Packers moment of divine intervention.
The quote: “I think Walter Payton actually picked me up a little and boosted me into the air,” Robinson said. “I know he did because I can’t jump that high.”
Dec. 14, 1941
Location: Wrigley Field
Final score: Bears 33, Packers 14
The setup: The Bears (10-1) and Packers (10-1) were the dominant teams in the NFL at the time, combining for eight titles in the previous 12 seasons (Packers 5, Bears 3). The Halas-Lambeau rivalry was firmly established for years when they met in the first playoff game to decide a division champion. Though the Giants awaited in the title game, the Bears-Packers playoff was considered the real championship game.
The Bears, the defending champions coming off their momentous 73-0 rout of the Redskins in the title game in 1940, needed to overcome deficits of 14-0 and 24-21 in the fourth quarter against the Cardinals the previous week — Pearl Harbor Day — to qualify for the playoff. They were six-point favorites. The teams had split the regular-season series, each team winning on the road.
The game: As they had in overcoming deficits the previous two weeks, the Bears responded like the champions they were. After an early fumble by rookie Hugh Gallerneau put them in a 7-0 hole, the Bears scored 30 unanswered points — including Gallerneau’s 82-yard punt-return touchdown — for a 30-7 lead at halftime. Sid Luckman’s tackle for loss to complete a goal-line stand at the end of the half pretty much settled the matter. End George Wilson had two interceptions, and the Bears held the great Don Hutson to one catch. The Bears swamped the Giants 37-9 the next week at Wrigley Field for their fifth NFL title.
The quote: “I don’t like to single out anyone, particularly in this game where they all were tops,” Bears assistant coach Luke Johnsos said. “But Wilson didn’t make a mistake. We’ve thrown five passes to him all season. He caught every one. And he intercepted two today. He was protecting passes in the flat, and he never guessed wrong.”
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