Vivid memories of unique series

In the wide world of football, both college and professional, there is an imposing array of rivalries ... all waged with considerable intensity.<p>

For pertinent reference, since it was just renewed over the weekend, there is the annual Army-Navy shootout.

There also is the colorful and storied neighborhood series between Michigan's Wolverines and Ohio State's Buckeyes, a yearly showdown that frequently has the Big Ten championship and a trip to the Rose Bowl hanging in the balance.

In the far west, too, there is the annual clash between USC and UCLA, perennial titans of the Pac-10.

And, though of much more recent vintage, the twice-annual tiffs between the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys, who erroneously claim to be "America's Team."

But, to me, after having been present at 111 of their encounters over the past half-century, there is none quite like the Packers' hallowed rivalry with the Bears, one that will be renewed for the 162nd time in Lambeau Field this Sunday.

For a variety of reasons, it has to be the ultimate rivalry in all of football.

Just, up front, for the element of sheer frequency alone. What other two teams have played each other 160 times in their mutual history? Further, in what other rivalry has the average point differential amounted to a mere 1.1 points per game – an eloquent testimonial to the continuing and inherent intensity of the "relationship" over an 80-year span.

Not to mention that the series is a part – a highly significant part – of professional football's very fabric. The Packers and the Bears have been skirmishing ever since 1921, the NFL's second year of existence – a time when the league was known by its original identity, the American Professional Football Association.

There also has been the fiery and impassioned leadership of Packers founder Curly Lambeau and his equally feisty opposite number, Bears founder/coach George Halas, whose personal "animosity" set the tone for the rivalry. They made it a point never to shake hands after a game.

And there are other, peripheral elements that did not occur in any other rivalry ... elements that add a unique dimension to this one. Such as:

– The Packers loaning George Halas and, thus, their arch-rivals the then substantial sum of $1,500 to permit him to meet his team's payroll during a case of the financial "shorts" in the early 1930s.

– And, on the other side of the coin, Halas making a special off-season trip to Green Bay in the spring of 1956 to throw his prestigious weight behind the passage of a Green Bay city referendum to finance half the cost of what was to become Lambeau Field. (The referendum passed by a 2-1 margin, thus assuring that the rivalry would continue, warming the cockles of Halas's heart).

– Also, Halas getting up at an NFL meeting in the early 1960s to make a successful push for equal sharing of television revenues by all member clubs, thus making sure that Green Bay could continue to financially compete for the foreseeable future.

But, when all is said and done, it has been the games themselves – the bristling, no-holds-barred battles over eight decades – that have made the Packers-Bears feud what it is.

No one's talking

I quickly learned first hand just how intense those twice-annual donnybrooks could be when – as a wide-eyed, 22-year-old sportswriter for the Green Bay Press-Gazette – I was assigned to interview Head Coach Curly Lambeau and cover the team's dressing room following their opening day imbroglio against the Bears in Green Bay's old City Stadium in 1946.

Unhappily for both the Packers and myself, as a budding professional and an ardent fan, things did not go well on the field that day. In fact, the Bears dominated the contest en route to a 30-7 victory before 25,049 witnesses.

Along the way, I was introduced to some of the mayhem that has "occasionally" occurred in one of their 160-plus matchups. On a kickoff, Carl Mulleneaux – then the "other end" to the legendary Don Hutson – was racing down field when Bears lineman John Schiecl, charging in the opposite direction – planted a massive right forearm under Mulleneaux's chin with obvious deliberation while leveraging the "lift" with his left forearm, thus knocking out the luckless Packers end and depositing him on the City Stadium turf.

At the time, I was permitted to cover the games from the sideline so I had an up-close view of Mulleneaux when he subsequently was carried to the Packers bench by trainers. His eyes were tightly shut and there were smudges of blood around them and on his face.

(As a postscript to that happening, Mulleneaux broke his nose in practice a few days later, whereupon he promptly retired from the game).

I was to have problems of my own, professionally, following the game. It was my unfortunate duty to ask Lambeau – with just the two of us alone in his compact inner sanctum just off the dressing room, for his assessment of the dismal proceedings.

Looking like the proverbial thunder cloud – losing was unthinkable to Curly and losing to the Bears was totally unacceptable, the team's founding father replied with unmistakable ire, "I have nothing to say."

Since he was indisputably the "king of the hill" with respect to the Packers at the time (vice president and general manager as well as head coach), I was, frankly, intimidated. So I stood on one foot and then the other for a veritable eternity before I decided to brave his anticipated wrath and repeat the question.

Again, he irascibly rejoined, "I have nothing to say," with even heavier emphasis on 'nothing.'

Convinced there was no point in pursuing the matter any further with him, I walked out into the locker room, hopeful of acquiring a "quote" or two that might help me flesh out some kind of a story. But no players in that somber group were talking, either.

So, eventually, I left that funereal atmosphere for the Press-Gazette office, sick at heart because I felt I had failed miserably in my first major assignment in Packers coverage. Upon arrival there; told two of my colleagues – who were writing about the game and related subjects – of my plight, adding, "As you can see, I have nothing to write about."

Whereupon one of them said, "Why don't you write about what they didn't say ... and how it was?"

Although unconvinced anything worthwhile would come from that, I pondered the situation before eventually sitting down at the typewriter.

I managed to compose nine paragraphs, built around the bleak and silent atmosphere in the dressing room, and concluded by noting, "All-pro fullback Ted Fritsch was the last to leave, and he closed the door after him – quietly."

And, as it turned out, it was one of the better things I have written.

It was, to be sure, an unforgettable introduction to the series and its explosive dynamics – even though a losing venture for the Packers – and one that remains vividly in my memory to this day.

Payback in '47

A year later, the Packers were to gain appropriate revenge for the indignity they had suffered in that '46 opener. The Bears were coming off their seventh world championship and clear-cut favorites when they invaded City Stadium for the teams' mutual 1947 inaugural.

Lambeau that year had abandoned the team's longtime offensive system, the Notre Dame Box, and adopted the T-formation – then rapidly becoming the offense of choice around the NFL – and installed the colorful Indian Jack Jacobs as his quarterback.

Jacobs proceeded to lead the Green and Gold to a 29-20 upset of the Midway Monsters, achieved in large part because of five interceptions by the defense – one of them by the multi-talented Indian Jack, who also played defensive back.

Rivalry moves to 'new' City Stadium

A decade later, fittingly, the Bears were on hand to help the Packers dedicate their new stadium on Green Bay's southwest periphery (Sept. 29, 1957). Typically, it was a tightfisted, close-to-the-vest struggle, one which found the Bears nurturing a 17-14 lead in the fourth quarter with then Vice President Richard M. Nixon and NFL Commissioner Bert Bell looking on from the stands.

At that juncture, quarterback Vito "Babe" Parilli was summoned from the bench to save the day. And he proceeded to do so, directing a late scoring drive to pull out a 21-17 victory, hitting Gary Knafelc just left of center in the end zone for the deciding touchdown. Fred Cone added the conversion as a capacity crowd of 32,132 Packers loyalists left their new, $960,000 venue with a happy glow.

Nixon, a devout football fan, visited the Packers dressing room to congratulate the Packers and made it a point to shake hands with every player.

The Bears swept the annual home-and-home series in 1958, a year in which the Packers won only one game, but a better fate awaited when the Packers made their 1959 debut – on City Stadium grass – against the Bears under their new head coach, Vince Lombardi.

It was, once again, a taut defensive struggle, Green Bay eventually emerging with a 9-6 victory by way of a Paul Hornung field goal – one the players celebrated by carrying Lombardi off the field at game's end – a historic development since it was the first time in the Packers' then 40-year history that a Green Bay head coach had been carried from the field after a game.

Sayers shines in '68

The Packers went on to dominate the rivalry under Lombardi during the '60s, winning 12 of 16 meetings while en route to five championships over a seven-year span (1961-62 and 1965-66-67).

Yet it was the Bears who swept the season series in 1963 to deprive the Packers of a record, third straight NFL title, the Chicagoans squeezing out a 10-3 win in Green Bay and then prevailing in the Windy City rematch, 26-7. The Bears thus captured the '63 title with an 11-1-2 record, the two ties deciding the issue when the Packers finished with an 11-2-1 record.

The venerable enemies' 1968 meeting in Lambeau Field remains one to remember – primarily because 50,861 fans were privileged to sit in on a rare display of greatness. On that November 3 occasion, future Hall of Famer Gale Sayers rushed for 205 yards (a Lambeau Field record equaled by fellow Chicago Bear Walter Payton in 1977).

Oddly enough, Sayers' imposing production was not sufficient to produce victory by itself. It remained for placekicker Mac Percival to deliver a 43-yard free kick field goal, another rarity, in the final minute to give the Bears a 13-10 win.

Things were not going well as the Packers launched a new decade in 1970, but the new season was punctuated by one of their more memorable victories in the series. Quarterback Bart Starr, not known as a running quarterback, surprised the Midway Monsters, scoring on a 3-yard bootleg into the right corner of Lambeau Field's south end zone with only 3 seconds remaining to give Green Bay a 20-19, come-from-behind victory over the Bears, placekicker Dale Livingston's conversion providing the winning margin.

Dramatic finishes

Surprisingly, considering the depth of intensity inherent in the twice-annual encounters, the series has yielded only one overtime game. But, resolved by one of the most bizarre finishes likely to be seen, it was worth waiting for.

With the score tied at 6-all in the sudden death period, placekicker Chester Marcol lined up to deliver a routine 25-yard field goal attempt. But Bears tackle Alan Page had a different mindset and he burst through to block the kick.

Fortuitously, the ball bounced back toward Marcol. Scooping it up, he raced down the west sideline into the end zone, 24 yards away, for the winning touchdown and a 12-6 victory before the Bears realized what had transpired.

In terms of a dramatic finish, that electrifying denouement was rivaled in 1989 by what has come to be known as the "instant replay game," It saw quarterback Don Majkowski fire a 14-yard strike to wide receiver Sterling Sharpe in the heart of the end zone with only 32 seconds remaining to play, tying the score at 13-all, after which specialist Chris Jacke kicked what presumably was the decisive extra point.

The score was first negated, however, by the officials, ruling Majkowski's throw had been delivered from beyond the line of scrimmage. But the instant replay official subsequently reversed the call, ruling it a touchdown – and, thus, a Packers victory.

The Bears' Mike Ditka was so incensed by the decision that he directed then Public Relations Director Bryan Harlan to place an asterisk – and the designation, "instant replay game" – next to the result of the game in the team's media guide every year until he left the team.

Fright night game

The immemorial enemies often find themselves playing each other amid wet and/or frigid weather, the Midwest climate being what it is, and one of the most "elemental" such encounters occurred at Chicago's Soldier Field on Halloween night in 1994.

Slogging through a driving rainstorm and gale-like, 51-mph winds, the Packers rushed for 223 yards and barged to a 27-0 halftime lead before permitting the Bears a consolation touchdown with only 5:55 remaining in the game en route to a 33-6 victory.

Appropriately, the Packers were wearing their "throwback" uniforms for the occasion – for the fourth and last time – in celebration of the NFL's 75th year of existence – and the Bears were celebrating their own history, retiring the jersey numbers of Chicago greats Dick Butkus and Gale Sayers at halftime.

Favre's five TD passes

A year later, under considerably different conditions (scattered snow flurries and a frosty temperature of 22 degrees), the ancient adversaries staged one of the most memorable shootouts in their long history at Lambeau Field (Nov. 12, 1995).

At the time, quarterback Brett Favre was hobbled by a severe ankle sprain incurred at Minnesota a week earlier and there was concern that the highly durable field general might not be able to take the field. But, showing no perceptible effects of the injury at kickoff time, he proceeded to mount a remarkable, record-tying performance.

Passing for all five Green Bay touchdowns, he tied a 53-year-old Packers record – one shared by Cecil Isbell, Don Horn and Lynn Dickey – in leading the Green and Gold to a hectic, 35-28 victory. In all, he completed 25 of 33 passes for 336 yards, including a pair of scoring passes to running back Edgar Bennett, two to flanker Robert Brooks and the other to fullback Dorsey Levens.

And LeRoy Butler, a man with a highly developed knack for the big play, preserved the victory, intercepting an Erik Kramer pass in the back of the end zone with 1:53 left to play.

Many other great moments

There are, of course, at least 50 other games that might be included in this review – there have been, after all, no fewer than 69 of those contests decided by a touchdown or less over the 80-year span.

And also, in company with them, countless associated memories. Like the time, in 1964, when George Halas was honored by, believe it or not – the Green Bay Elks Club – for leading the Bears to the 1963 NFL Championship at the relatively advanced age of 68.

When he took the rostrum to accept his award, the urbane and quick-witted Halas smoothly began, "Good evening, ladies and gentlemen...and friends of the Chicago Bears."

Which, inevitably, triggered a mixture of applause and good-natured boos, the latter to Halas's obvious delight.

And that's the way it has always been and, presumably, always will be ... in the unique Packers-Bears rivalry.

Editor's note: This column appeared in Packer Report in November of 2001.

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