I first became aware of the Packers/Bears rivalry when I was seven years old.
As you may recall, 1982 was the season the NFL players went on strike. The season was shortened from a 16 games to 9, the playoffs becoming more of a tournament than a traditional playoff format. For nearly two months that season, there was no action on the playing field, with the focus on meetings rather than touchdowns and tackles.
The Packers wound up going 5-3-1 that season, making the playoffs and winning their first round game against the Cardinals for their first playoff victory in 15 years. For the 1980s era Packers, the season was a tremendous success.
There was something missing from this season. At the time I didn’t realize it, although I had heard about it during the players strike.
My father, a devoted Packers fan his entire life, had mentioned several times that the players strike had wiped out the games against the Bears. I can remember him talking about how important these games were. That they counted for more than a game in the standings. There was a deeper meaning to them, and how not playing sapped something from this particular NFL season.
It took me a few more years to figure out what he meant by this, but I fully understand it today
The Packers vs. the Bears was, and remains today, about pride.
A heated rivalry for years, these two teams ARE the history of the NFL. All one needs to do is think of some of the names involved in this rivalry, and it is a veritable history lesson of the NFL.
Lambeau. Halas. Hutson. Nagurski. Starr. Butkus. Favre. Payton.
Those names, they are history.
The games themselves add to the legend of the rivalry. Every game has a certain build up to it. Every game means something more than a win or a loss. Regardless of what the teams records are, when the Packers play the Bears, it matters.
The team which emerges victorious from each game gets to claim the upper hand in the seemingly never ending battle of these two old foes. It is like a Hatfield and McCoy feud. The battle wages on, with no true winner in sight.
The fans of the winning team get to puff their chests until the next battle. Even if it is just for a few weeks. Even if their only victories for that season are against their rivals-if you beat them, your season is a success, figuratively speaking.
A lot has changed since I first became aware of the rivalry between these two old foes. Gone are the days of Ken Stills leveling Matt Suhey after the whistle. Or Charles Martin slamming Jim McMahon to the turf. The stupid play of years gone by has been replaced by a mutual respect by both sides. There may still be trash talk by both sides, but it is much more tame compared to how things used to be. If you are not aware of what this rivalry used to be like, I’d highly recommend picking up this book.
When the final whistle blows at the end of every Packers/Bears game, the one constant there has been for the winning team will emerge: pride. For the players, for the fans, and perhaps most importantly, for the rivalry.
At approximately 320pm this Sunday, the 186th meeting in the battle for pride will conclude. Pride is on the line for both (along with a Division Championship for the Packers). Here’s hoping pride stays green and gold a little longer.