I wanted to start out by wishing all a Happy New Year. Last year was a great year to be a Bears fan, and here's to hoping that this year is even better!
So yesterday I was over at Acme Packing Company and a member of that site named dogc asked an interesting question:
When was the last time the Pack swept the North Division?
I had a bit of extra time, so I decided to research the query. Wow, the results were surprising to say the least. Let's review the divisions background a bit and then get to the findings.......
The NFC North has long been called "The Black and Blue Division", and for good reason. The members of this group have been beating the hell out of one another since it was formed in 1967.
At the time of it's creation, the division was called the Western Conference (WC) Central and looked the same as it does right now, occupied by the Chicago Bears, The Green Bay Packers, The Detroit Lions and The Minnesota Vikings.
The division became the National Football Conference (NFC) Central in 1970, with the NFL-AFL merger, but the division's make-up remained the same until 1977, when the Tampa Bay was granted an expansion franchise and the Buccaneers joined the rough and tumble NFC Central. So from '77 until 2001, the Central division contained five teams.
In 2002, the league re-aligned and the NFC Central became the NFC North, keeping the Bears, Packers, Vikings and Lions but losing the Buccaneers to the newly created NFC South.
Over the 44 year course of the WC/NFC Central/North Division, the Vikings have won the division 18 times, the Packers and Bears have won ten times each and the Lions and Bucs have each won the division crown three times.
For Chicago's part in this history, they were the last team to join the fray of divisional crown winners, finally accomplishing the feat for the first time in 1984 (GB won it's first divisional crown in '67, MIN in '68, TB in '79 and DET in '83) as Iron Mike Ditka burst the Bears through the glass ceiling and on to 5 straight divisional crowns and six in seven seasons. After Ditka left, the Bears wouldn't see another divisional crown until Dick Jauron led the Bears there in 2001.
Now that we have a bit of background on the division, let's head back to the original question of how many times Green Bay has swept the division. The answer is...........zero.
That's right, folks, Green Bay has never swept the division, regardless of the name at the time, since it was formed in 1967. The truly dominant '96 Packers, who were first in the league in offense and defense, lost to the Vikings. The nearly as dominant '97 Pack who were 2nd and 5th in the same categories lost to the Lions. And the '07 GB squad that was 4th and 6th in the same rankings dropped two of their three losses to the Bears.
But that's only part of the story. Sure, the Pack having never swept the division in 44 years is pretty astounding. But even more astounding is that the division has only been swept 4 times by any team since it's inception. Both Tampa Bay and Detroit have also failed to sweep the division even once.
Minnesota has swept only twice, in '69 and '73 and not once since. The Juggernaut '98 team came closest since, going 15-1 but falling 27-24 to the Bucs. They also knocked on the door a couple other times, including 1970 (lost to the Packers) and 1975 (foiled by the Lions).
Chicago would be the owner of the other two sweeps, coming in '85 when the Bears went 15-1 and lost only to the Dolphins and in '87 when the Bears went 7-0 in the division beating GB, MIN, and TB twice and the Lions once in a season that saw the other Lions game canceled due to strike. The Bears hold the distinction of being the only team to complete a sweep while five teams were members of the division.
The Bears have come close to a sweep several times in recent years. In '05, they beat Detroit and Green Bay twice and the Vikings once, only to lose a meaningless week 17 finale to the Vikings 34-10. The following season, the Bears dropped the Lions and Vikings twice and the Packers once en route to a 13-2 record, only to drop the meaningless week 17 game to the Packers 26-7.
Now the Bears have their third opportunity in the last six seasons to sweep the Frigid North when they face the Packers Sunday at 3:00pm Central at Lambeau Field. Do they fight for momentum by accomplishing something more rare than Super Bowl appearances and just as rare as Super Bowl rings by members of this Black and Blue Division? Or do they use the same tactic they used the last two times this feat was within reach and rest their starters for the playoffs? I say go for the sweep. The momentum might be the thing that was missing the last two times the Bears went to the playoffs, where they lost in the first round in '05 and in the Super Bowl in '06. It might be that little something extra that gets them emotionally over the top this time.
Hell, resting the starters didn't get the job done the last two times, why not try something different (like PRIDE) this time? Sound off WCG members and Bear Down Bears!!!!!