No Packers without Papa Bear? A different take on the NFL’s oldest rivalry


How Packers fans helped the Bears, and how George Halas may have saved Green Bay's franchise.

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV)–It’s fitting that the game’s oldest rivalry kicks off the NFL’s 100th season.  Packers vs. Bears.  It doesn’t get any better than that. 

But to truly understand what the 199th meeting between these two storied franchises means, you have to go way back to the first years of football when Chicago was one of the few places Packers fans could travel to. 

By the 1930s, Chicago had two teams with the Bears and Cardinals, but since most of the other NFL franchises were located on the east coast, it was of great benefit financially for George Halas, executive and coach of the Bears at that time, to have Green Bay stay in the league.  Especially when many of the original small-town clubs had already folded. 

Fans would make the road trip to the windy city and occasionally Portsmouth, Ohio (which would eventually become the Detroit Lions) but it was clearly a relationship based on distance and community.  Halas would even refer to Green Bay as a smaller Chicago with its meatpacking and packaging roots. He had a fondness for the smaller places in the original NFL, especially since pro baseball and basketball were moving to all of the larger cities in the country. 

One of the first exchanges of loyalty was in 1932.  It was a brutal winter in the Midwest and attendance had fallen across the league.  Green Bay traveled to Wrigley Field on December 11 with a 10-2-1 record and they faced a Bears team that was 5-1-6.  In a game with 6 inches of snow on the ground and a game-time temperature of 24 degrees, only 5,000 people were in attendance.  Chicago and Green Bay battled it out to a 0-0 tie after three-quarters of play and the Bears ending up scoring 9 points in the final quarter for the win.  That would put the Bears in a playoff game the following week against Portsmouth. 

After the win over the Packers, Halas couldn’t deliver Lee Joannes, the fourth president of the then Green Bay Football Corporation, the $2,500 guaranteed payout that was customary at the time.  Instead, Halas gave Joannes $1,000 and told him that he would repay the remaining $1,500 after the season. 

Halas had so many IOU’s to his own players and other teams that the Bears nearly went bankrupt.

But Chicago managed to win the championship that year over Portsmouth and made $15,000 in the victory, allowing the franchise to move forward and make good on the debt owed to everyone else, including Green Bay.

Halas would repay the favor in more ways than one in 1956.

He led a bond drive that would eventually get the ball rolling on the construction of a newer, and economically profitable venue…now known as Lambeau Field.  

At the time the old city stadium only had a capacity of 24,000 and wasn’t in the greatest shape, especially compared to their counterparts in bigger cities.  Halas even came to Green Bay personally for a rally to drum up support and money for the project. 

Former Packers Public Relations director Lee Remmel was a reporter for the Green Bay Press-Gazette at the time and was quoted in the book Papa Bear by Jeff Davis saying, “Halas had a fund-raising rally at a place called the Columbus Club, which is right downtown.  Halas made another personal appearance explaining the Packers’ importance to the Bears.  He said it was very important for the Packers to continue in the league.  I don’t think anybody who was around at the time has ever forgotten that.  It was a great thing for him to do.”

Former Green Bay Press-Gazette reporter Art Daley, also quoted in the biography Papa Bear, knew the league would likely move the franchise elsewhere if they couldn’t come up with the funding, “Halas came up here to speak in ’56.  It was on all the radio stations and in all the papers, which was a hell of a thing.  He was a real friend.” 

It was clear Papa Bear knew that if Green Bay could be successful with a population of roughly 55,000 people, it was worth getting some help from a city that was peaking at around 3.5 million.  Within the next year and a half, the New City Stadium would be built and in September of 1957, the team had its season opener with vice president Richard Nixon on hand among other notable dignitaries.  

Fittingly, the Packers hosted the Bears.

Packers vs. Bears – Fast Facts

– Thursday will mark game No. 199 in the NFL’s oldest rivalry.

– The Packers hold a 97-95-6 edge in the series, which includes two playoff games (1-1).

– It marks the first time the Packers have opened the season against the Bears in back-to-back seasons since playing them three years in a row in openers from 1979-81.

– It marks the fourth time in team history that Green Bay has opened at Chicago (1979, 1981, 2015).

– It is the third time in five years that the Packers have opened the season against the Bears (at Chicago in 2015, vs. Chicago in 2018).

– The division rivals square off in a prime-time contest for the 14th consecutive season, tied with Dallas-New York Giants for the longest current streak.

– Six of the last seven games between the two teams at Soldier Field have been decided by single digits.

– Including the postseason, Green Bay has won eight of the last nine games at Soldier Field, including a 2010 playoff victory at Chicago.

– Green Bay has won 21 of the last 26 meetings between the rivals at Soldier Field.

– With Aaron Rodgers as the starting quarterback, Green Bay is 17-5 (including playoffs) against the Bears.

– In the 22 games against Chicago, Rodgers has an overall passer rating of 103.7.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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