“We obviously want to beat the Bears every time we play them. ... We love beating those guys.”
— Aaron Rodgers, 2022
So you think we should lose to the Packers on Sunday to help our draft selection?
Well I’m here to tell you, James Allen wasn’t the problem.
Perhaps you remember (or maybe you don’t) Dec. 20, 1998. After starting 0-4 and then winning three of four for a deceptive 3-5, the Bears had a bye and promptly lost six straight. Coming off the 4-12 1997, disheartening 1996 and backbreaking 1995, I was all finished with the losing, thank you very much.
So I was probably among the minority who enjoyed watching James Allen’s shocking, historical afternoon, as the undrafted rookie running back dashed the ascending Ravens defense for 163 yards rushing — the Bears franchise rushing record for a back in his first start — leading the 3-11 Bears to a stunning 24-3 win, our first in two months. I was ecstatic. Many were not. The complaints poured in. With just two games to go, the Bears had blown a shot at a three-win season and a top-four selection.
And indeed, when the dust settled, the Bears had the 7th pick, behind the expansion Browns, three three-win teams (Philly, Cincy, Indy) and two other four-win teams (the Panthers, whose 5th pick went to New Orleans, and the Rams).
We needed a quarterback and in a QB-heavy first round, we were now out of the running for whoever Cleveland did not pick first. If we’d somehow ended up with the #2 pick, we could have had one of my favorites, Mt. Carmel’s Donovan McNabb. After McNabb, Akili Smith went #3 and Edgerrin James and Ricky Williams went 4 and 5, respectively, picks we would not have made since we drafted Curtis Enis the year before.
Instead, at #7, we were stuck with a chance to draft (*checks notes*) FIRST-BALLOT HALL-OF-FAMER CHAMP BAILEY.
Or, if we’d wanted a quarterback, we could have taken one of my other favorites, Daunte Culpepper, a player who, with all due respect to the great Jim Miller, would not have been knocked out by Hugh Douglas, as long as we’re playing the what-if game.
Instead, we traded back from 7 to 12, stacked up four more picks, used some well, used others poorly, and used the #12 pick on Cade McNown, who was off the team in two years.
That was 2001, in which one of our greatest memories was the Hail Mary to tie the Browns game...
...caught by one James Allen.
More to the point, trading back from 7 to 12 was clearly not the move, as Culpepper went to Minnesota at #11 and we were left with a dud of a franchise quarterback. In other words, we botched the #7 pick. We might well have botched the #4 pick, too.
You know what wasn’t botched?
Dec. 20, 1998.
For this Bears fan, at least, the James Allen Game lasts forever.
Which brings us, as always, to the Packers.
As I write this, the Bears are 3-9, the second worst record in the NFL, and one of three teams with three wins, the other two, Denver and the Rams, each with one fewer loss. Now we have Green Bay coming to town, and our roster, already underwhelming at full strength, is battered into incompetence.
For much of this week, that roster battering included Justin Fields, coming off of his first missed game of the season. So I was not surprised when the chatter started:
“We are better off losing to the Packers for a shot at a top-4 pick.”
As the week wore on, this thought morphed into some Bears fans actually saying that they were in favor of a loss to the Packers. Our friends at CHGO offered this question on Thursday (“Are you OK with the Bears losing to the Packers if it means securing a top 3 pick in next year’s NFL Draft?”) and the responses were, to me at least, disheartening.
First of all, as I noted in response to CHGO, any Bears fan should know that when it comes to drafting outside of #3, we have a pretty decent history, thank you very much. Walter Payton, Gale Sayers, Dan Hampton? All drafted at #4. Johnny Lujack too.
More recently, Sauce Gardner went #4 to the Jets this year, Kyle Pitts and Ja’Marr Chase went 4 and 5 in 2021, Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert went 5 and 6 in 2020, Devin White and The Other Josh Allen went 5 and 7 in 2019, and four straight Pro Bowlers were drafted from 4 to 7 in 2018, including The First Josh Allen and Quenton Nelson.
Oh, and after those guys, the Bears drafted two-time All Pro Roquan Smith. Perhaps you remember him.
Oh wait! Speaking of guys the Bears drafted outside of the top 3, there was this future MVP of a quarterback named Justin Fields who landed for us at 11.
Point being, there are hits and misses, no matter where you pick. This was true 20 years ago when I was still a rabid college football fan making my own mock drafts, and it’s true today, when I don’t get up to speed on the draft until... the draft, or when I read mock drafts from my great WCG colleagues Jacob Infante and E.J. Snyder. Thanks fellas!
So hell no, I don’t want to lose to the Packers. And no, I won’t be happy if we do. I don’t care about the draft until about a week before the draft. That’s how I’m built. When a game is on, I pull for wins, especially in the division.
Especially in revenge games.
ESPECIALLY against the Packers.
“We obviously want to beat the Bears every time we play them, but we’ve definitely got the best of them,” Aaron Rodgers said for the new podcast series “American Football,” about the first decade of the NFL. “We’ve actually flipped the all-time series (from) when I got in the league, and even when (Brett Favre) became the starter, we were way behind in the head-to-head and now we’re ahead. ... We love beating those guys.”
I can’t stand Aaron Rodgers but he’s got one thing down pat: He loves beating us. And we should love beating them too. And quite frankly, you should have a thirst to dominate every team in the division. They are a third of your season. They are your quickest path to the playoffs. They represent the most immediate threat to your success. And they are important wins to the fanbase.
Sunday’s win is too, for four reasons.
From a team standpoint, I think back to a caller on the Score at the end of the 2005 season, with the Bears preparing to rest their starters in Week 17 against the Vikings before the playoffs. She made a point that always stayed with me: “You never get better by losing.” I think that’s true. There are players on this team who will be here next year. “Losses build character,” sure, but wins build muscle memory.
The players who play Sunday and are still here in 2023, I want them to experience this win. I want them to see how we react to a Packers win. That includes Justin Fields, who as of yesterday is fully healthy and our projected starter tomorrow. I want Justin to get a win on Aaron Rodgers just as I wanted Lovie’s Bears to put a nail in Brett Favre’s Packers coffin.
Well I've got news for you all. Justin's going to play on Sunday and we're going to beat the Packers and keep our NFL wins record for one more week. Then we're going to get whatever damn draft pick we get and Ryan Poles is going to draft a HOFer and we're going to win SB LVIII. pic.twitter.com/mhbX4m9xLS— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) December 1, 2022
When James Allen was streaking down the field on Nov. 4, 2001, hoping against hope to catch a batted ball and help tie the Browns game, I’m sure he did so with the confidence of every great game and great play of his career — including the 163 against the Ravens.
And I want Matt Eberflus to join his nine Bears predecessors (including Ditka in ‘83 due to the ‘82 strike) and bag a win against the Packers in his debut season.
Second, along the same lines but from the opposite perspective, you never know when Rodgers is going to leave Green Bay, whether for retirement or another team. I want to make sure we send him out with a loss, akin to what we did with Favre, sweeping him in ‘05, giving him his first career shutout in ‘06, sweeping him again in ‘07, knocking him out of home field advantage for the NFC championship in ‘09 and then literally knocking him out of the NFL in 2010.
I want this with Rodgers. I thought we had it in 2018 when Leonard Floyd tossed Rodgers to the Soldier Field grass like a backyard barbeque host chucking grease-soaked paper plates in the garbage. We haven’t beat him since.
Third, from a historic standpoint, the Bears and Packers are now tied with 786 wins all-time. The last time we did not hold the NFL wins record outright: Week 8 of the inaugural 1920 season, when the Decatur Staleys and the Buffalo All-Americans each had seven wins. In Week 9 of the 1920 season, we beat the Hammond Pros 28-7, Buffalo lost to the Canton Bulldogs, and we’ve owned the record ever since.
So yes, the Packers will pass us. But just as I did not want Bill Belichick to pass George Halas against the Bears (and he didn’t!), I don’t want the Packers to pass us against us.
As always, amazing history from Packers team historian Cliff Christl. h/t @jeffash26— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) December 1, 2022
This graphic should make Bears fans sick. We've played 34 (!) more games than the Packers and have the same # of wins, with the tie to be broken AGAINST THEM on Sunday.https://t.co/pJZ5AN8QoK
And lastly, I want us to beat the Packers because we should always want to beat the Packers.
I was under the impression that we didn’t need a reason.
Jack M Silverstein is Chicago’s sports historian, Bears historian at Windy City Gridiron, and author of the forthcoming “6 Rings: The Bulls, The City, and the Dynasty that Changed the Game.” His newsletter, “A Shot on Ehlo,” brings readers inside the making of the book, with original interviews, research and essays. Sign up now, and say hey at @readjack.
Check out “American Football” on Audible and other podcast sources, where Jack Silverstein is one of the historians! Interview subjects include an incredible list of NFL royalty, including George McCaskey, Mike Singletary, Mike Ditka, Barry Sanders, the Manning brothers, Tony Gonzalez, Rob Gronkowski, Roger Goodell, Cris Carter, LeRoy Butler... and yes, Aaron Rodgers.