The Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears.
This is the rivalry above all others in the National Football League.
A battle for football supremacy in the Midwest, pitting small town Green Bay versus giant metropolis Chicago. The winner having bragging rights over the other until the next meeting. The loser heading home, knowing they are second fiddle until they meet again.
As the Packers and Bears prepare to face off for the 187th time this coming Monday Night, it is interesting to follow the path this rivalry has taken, and how the teams have viewed each other.
At one time, this game was one of bitter hatred between the two teams. Not a sense of dislike. Not one of not caring much for the opponent. Flat out, bitter hatred. The Packers and the Bears HATED each other. And it was evident on the field.
Biting. Punching. Kicking. These were just part of the norm during Packers/Bears games for decades. The players did whatever was necessary to not only defeat but humiliate the opposing team.
And the coaches encouraged it. Packers coach and founder Curly Lambeau and Bears coach and founder George Halas shared a mutual dislike for each other on the football field. The success of their coaching hinged on the ability to defeat each other, no matter what the cost might have been.
Despite this dislike for each other on the field, there was also respect for each of the franchises off the field.
During the Great Depression, the Packers loaned the Bears $1,500 to meet payroll.
Almost as a return of the favor, Halas famously pushed for local funding of a new stadium in 1956 in Green Bay, which would later be known as Lambeau Field.
The mutual admiration between the two teams might have been evident for 363 days out of the year. But for two days every fall and winter, it was an all out war between the rivals.
The rivalry hit perhaps its apex (or low point, depending on how one chooses to view it) during the 1980s. Former opponents Forrest Gregg and Mike Ditka were now roaming the sidelines for their respective franchises. And they hated each other. As a result of this hatred, the players hated each other too.
If it wasn’t Ken Stills leveling Matt Suhey
It was William Perry running over the Packers defense in embarrassing fashion:
And then, there was this infamous play, without a doubt the low point in the rivalry:
It was the lowest of the low, and it was time for a change.
Change arrived in the 90’s. Mike Holmgren brought a sense of class missing from the Packer for some time. He instilled professionalism in the Packers on the field. Along with Bob Harlan and Ron Wolf in the front office, and players such as Brett Favre, Reggie White, and Leroy Butler on the field, the Packers reversed their 30 year run of being lovable losers.
Chicago also began a change around this time. Mike Ditka was out, ending the ties back to the Halas days, and the way things used to be. A more professional approach was taken by the Bears as well, not tolerating the feuds on the field, settling instead for hard play instead of cheap shots.
The rivalry between the two teams had shifted from a war both on and off the field. It was replaced by handshakes and hugs, and respect for both sides from their opponent both on and off the field.
There is still talk between the two sides, such as former Bears coach Lovie Smith saying “the number one goal was to beat the Packers.” But it is a far cry from the days where blood flowed on the field, and late hits were acceptable.
Packers coach Mike McCarthy said it best this week when asked about the rivalry:
“This is the game every year. In my humble opinion, this is the game in the NFL. What it stands for, the tradition of these organizations, the great players that have played before us, the great games they’ve had before us. We have an obligation to take that commitment, that emphasis and that energy into this football game.”
The days of Mudbaths and Bloodbaths in this storied rivalry are in the past. They have been replaced by handshakes and hugs, a respect not only for each of the teams, but for the history each one represents.
The Packers and Bears ARE NFL history.
Perhaps one day, the mudbaths and bloodbaths will return. But for now, enjoy the rivalry for what it is, and what it has become. It may not be as “exciting” as it used to be, but wins are more important than trash talking. That is what both teams will set out to do Monday Night, continuing the longest running rivalry in the NFL.
John Rehor is a writer at PackersTalk.com.
He can also be heard as one of the Co-Hosts of Cheesehead Radio. ---------------------
He can also be heard as one of the Co-Hosts of Cheesehead Radio.You can follow John on twitter at jrehor or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.