For me, the two weeks I look forward to more than any other are the weeks leading up to and including Packers-Bears. They are always special weeks of the year, when the NFL takes a back seat to the history of the rivalry.
The two teams have been playing since 1921, and of all the rivalries that exist from the earliest days of the NFL, this one is among the most even of all. To date, there have been 182 regular season games between the teams, as well as two playoff games. The Bears lead the head-to-head series 91-85-6, and the playoff series is tied 1-1. But that is not what makes this rivalry special.
Packers-Bears has the unique distinction of being a rivalry where both teams are tied together at the hip. George Halas, "Papa Bear" as he is known, nearly had the Packers cancelled as a franchise, but then came with financial support when the Packers needed it. Despite this fact, the fans of the two teams always took the games between the teams with tremendous pride, and, among Packers and Bears fans alike, beating the other team can make the season special even if the team finishes well below .500.
In the early years of this rivalry, the winner of the season series often won the NFL Championship or at the least represented the Western Conference in the championship game. This gave added fuel towards beating the other side, as the games represented clashes of the NFL's elite.
Need more proof? In terms of total number of NFL Championships won, the Packers are first with 13 titles and the Bears are second with 9. Which teams have the most players enshrined in the Hall of Fame in Canton? The top two are Bears and Packers.
And while this may seem like history, the fact is that fans of both teams cherish their team's history. The result is that if a Packers fan visits Windy City Gridiron or a Bears fan visits Acme Packing Company, most of the time what happens is the fans welcome the visiting fan, regardless of loyalty, and chat about football with the other team's fan. This would be unlikely to happen in a rivalry like Packers-Vikings, Packers-Lions, or Bears-Lions.
Despite all the history, whenever these teams play each other, all bets are off. Hard hitting in games between the Packers and Bears has always happened, and likely always will. Early on in the rivalry, a Bears player took a swing at Green Bay's Cub Buck and broke the Packer lineman's nose.
Even George Halas has attempted to intimidate. In the 1960s, Lombardi was preparing for the Bears game when Halas came into the coaching office, asking to see Lombardi and saying the matter was urgent. When Lombardi asked Halas what was wrong, Halas said "Coach, I just want to tell you one thing. You better have your team ready, because we're going to kick your [behind]."
The only bad thing is that this time, the game happens after a short week. Looking forward to playing the Bears, the buildup to the game on Sunday, has always been a distinguishing feature of this rivalry, as fans of both teams look forward to playing the other side. The game tonight is on a Thursday, which is too short a week to fully appreciate this rivalry and what we are seeing.
But what makes this rivalry special is the respect shown between the rival fans. That is truly what sets Packers-Bears apart and makes it better. As much as Packers fans like beating the Bears and Bears fans like beating the Packers, there is always a tradition of mutual respect between the fans.
Author's note: I originally wrote this as a front-page post at Acme Packing Company, but as it is important for both Bears and Packers fans alike, I felt it should also be posted here at Windy City Gridiron.