Whenever you see a list of the all-time greatest sports rivalries, invariably the Bears-Packers rivalry is near the top. You know, up there with Yankees-Red Sox, Celtics-Lakers, and Ohio State-Michigan. Why? I suppose it’s the fact that these have played each other consistently since 1921 and because both teams have so much history. You know the names: Halas, Lombardi, Lambeau, Nagurski, Hutson, Luckman, Nitshke, Butkus, Sayers, Starr, Payton, etc. But when these two teams play every year you know who really cares? Packer fans, Bear fans, and Chris Berman. That’s it. I know I don’t care unless I have a Packer or Bear on my fantasy football team. A great rivalry’s supposed to interest all fans everywhere. Are Chicago-Green Bay games getting great ratings every year? Seems unlikely. Now what about a Patriots-Colts game? Are you watching that? Damn right you are. So I reject Green Bay-Chicago as some kind of classic rivalry. The NFL’s not college football. The league’s greatest rivalries have always been temporary ones involving the best teams of the era battling each other for a shot at the title. Think Pittsburgh vs. Oakland and Pittsburgh vs. Dallas in the 1970’s, Dallas vs. San Francisco in the 1990’s, and New England vs. Indianapolis right now. Remember those great games? The Immaculate Reception, the 1975 AFC Championship Game, Super Bowls X and XIII, the 1992 NFL Championship Game, and last year’s AFC Championship Game. Classics all. Now what classic games do you remember from the Bears-Packers series? Well, the only time the two teams squared off in the postseason was the 1941 divisional playoff (Chicago rolled 33-14). I’m sure you remember that. The two teams did repeatedly fight it out in the leagues’ early decades before anybody really cared about pro football but in the post-war era when one team’s been good the other stinks. When the Bears dominated in the mid-1980’s, Green Bay was below-average. Vice-versa in the mid-1990’s. The Bears are now Super Bowl contenders once more while Green Bay’s rebuilding. Only once in the last 50 years have the Green Bay-Chicago games really meant anything big. In 1963 the two-time defending champion Packers faced off twice against George Halas’ last great Bears team. Chicago swept Green Bay (Green Bay’s only two losses all season), edged them out by half a game for the Western Conference title, and Halas won his final championship as coach. That was football and that was pretty much the last time that series captivated the attention of your average NFL fan. Compare that to last year’s “memorable” season-ender. The number-one seed Bears going through the motions. Favre, once again pretending like he might retire (just do it already!). Not exactly one for the ages.
Honestly, I can’t remember one classic or meaningful Green Bay-Chicago game. I’ll take the Dolphins-Jets rivalry any day. Now that’s a rivalry. Both teams and fan bases hate each other’s guts. And think of all the classic games over the last 25 years. The Monday Night comeback (ugh), the 51-45 OT shootout in 1986 (the pain), the Fake Spike game (yeah!), the 1982 AFC Championship game in a torrential downpour (sweet). No way Chicago-Green Bay measures up to that. Bronko Nagurski and Don Hutson aren’t lining up anymore. I appreciate the history they’ve got going but a great rivalry grabs the attention of every NFL fan, not just those of the two teams playing. By that measure this “rivalry” fails the test of greatness. Nobody cares. It’s a fraud.