GREEN BAY – There is no better opponent for a game to honor Brett Favre than the Chicago Bears.
A significant portion of Favre’s legacy was built against the archrival to the south.
He beat the Bears with running, scrambling and diving plays in a Soldier Field monsoon on Halloween night in 1994.
A little more than a year later – exactly 20 years and two weeks ago, on Nov. 12, 1995, at Lambeau Field (pictured) – Favre not only played against the Bears on a severely swollen ankle that kept him laid up most of the week, but he blistered them on no practice reps with five TD passes to launch the first of his MVP bids.
“I’ll say this: We certainly expected him to play, knowing the man. It’s Brett,” current Packers Offensive Coordinator Edgar Bennett said this week. Bennett, a former running back, caught two of Favre’s TD passes that day on screens in the 35-28 shootout victory.
“I don’t think there was a lot of doubt as far as his teammates. I think we all knew or felt, some way somehow, he would walk out there and give us a great performance as always. He inspired others.”
That is Favre’s legacy in a nutshell, but as his retired No. 4 is unveiled on the Lambeau façade at halftime on Thanksgiving night, his run of dominance against the Bears deserves to be celebrated, too.
Favre won 10 straight vs. Chicago from 1994-98, and he was 21-5 against them until his final three years in Green Bay, when the Bears won five of six.
Still, his 22-10 career mark helped turn the tide in the all-time series, a trend Aaron Rodgers (13-2, not including the broken collarbone game) has continued. The Packers can now tie the series for the first time since the FDR administration with a Thanksgiving win.
The other legendary quarterback hoping to be in the house Thursday night, Bart Starr, was 14-5 in starts against Chicago. That’s a collective 49-17 mark against the Bears – more than half of the franchise’s 92 all-time wins in the rivalry, and less than 20 percent of the losses – and Rodgers is charged with getting win No. 50 for the QB trio.
Rodgers has legacy moments of his own against Chicago, of course. His naked bootleg and dive for the pylon scored the first touchdown in the 2010 NFC title game. The fourth-and-8 from the 48 “lob to Cobb” to win the NFC North in the 2013 finale, his first game back from the broken collarbone, is one of the most unforgettable plays of Rodgers’ career.
Linebacker Clay Matthews has enjoyed some of his best days against the Bears, too. He had 5½ sacks in the two games in 2012, and he snagged a crucial second-half interception in each of the Packers’ two most recent trips to Chicago.
“It’s funny how teams match up or players match up,” Defensive Coordinator Dom Capers said. “Clay’s made a lot of big plays against the Bears, and we’ve needed them.
“Clay’s one of those guys, he can make a big play at any point in time, and the last two times we’ve played down there, his interceptions have really changed the whole tempo of the game.”
With all the history in the air Thanksgiving night, will the thought of their legacies cross Rodgers’ and Matthews’ minds?
“I’m just finding my place each year, doing what they ask of me,” Matthews said. “Hopefully in time, it would be an honor to be mentioned with those guys.”
The “once-in-a-lifetime” atmosphere, as Mike McCarthy referred to it this week, will be worth soaking up to the very last drop.
“This is one of the great things about this organization,” Rodgers said. “When you’re a former player who’s had success, you’re welcomed back with open arms. They name streets after you, and buildings like the Don Hutson Center, and fields like Nitschke. It’s a special place to play.”
Rodgers’ name will grace something somewhere down the line. His No. 12 likely will join Starr’s 15 and Favre’s 4 on the façade someday, too, maybe during another Bears game. Not that Rodgers has pondered any of that.
“No, I haven’t,” he said. “I want to play another 10 years and then we’ll talk about it.”
We’ll look forward to it.
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