GREEN BAY – Twenty-three games in twenty-five years.
That’s the gap the Packers have made up in the NFL’s oldest rivalry over the last quarter century with Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers at quarterback.
The all-time series with the Bears now stands at 94-94-6. On Thursday night at Lambeau Field, the Packers will have a chance to take the lead in the series for the first time since 1933.
The history of the series, and the significance of what’s on the line Thursday, is fascinating.
“It’s the 195th meeting,” Head Coach Mike McCarthy said this week. “That in itself is amazing.”
What else hasn’t happened in sports since 1933? Northwestern hasn’t won a Big Ten men’s basketball title since capturing its second in three years in the early 1930s. But the Wildcats qualified for the NCAA tournament for the first time in school history last year, so times are changing.
In all seriousness, though, the hole the Packers have climbed out of here is enormous.
Chicago’s high-water mark was a 24-game advantage, which it reached twice – after a win in the first meeting in 1960, and again after winning the first clash in 1992.
After that first loss in 1960, Vince Lombardi’s Packers began a run of 20 Green Bay wins over 25 games that carried through 1972, five seasons after Lombardi left. But that still only cut the deficit to nine.
Mike Ditka’s Bears dominated in the ’80s, and the gap climbed back to 23 when Favre took over as Green Bay’s QB in 1992. His opening loss pushed it to 24, at which point the all-time series was 81-57-6 in favor of Chicago, a winning percentage of .677 for the Bears.
But Favre started to turn the tide. Over the next 25 Packers-Bears games, Favre won 21 of them. His hot streak ran out, as he lost five of six over his final three seasons in Green Bay, but think about that – those five losses to Chicago from 2005-07 equaled the number Favre accumulated over his first 13 seasons. He finished 22-10 overall against Chicago, with separate winning streaks of 10 and seven games.
Enter Rodgers, who since 2008 has gone 15-4 against Chicago, continuing what Favre started and tying things up for the first time in more than eight decades. Rodgers’ longest winning streak in the rivalry is six, which includes the 2010 NFC title game.
Rodgers and the Packers had a chance to tie the series two years ago, with Favre in the house to have his retired number unveiled on the Lambeau façade on Thanksgiving night, but the Bears prevailed.
Last year, Rodgers’ last-minute, 60-yard bomb to Jordy Nelson and Mason Crosby’s walk-off field goal gave the Packers the season sweep, and the overall tie.
That pushed the combined mark of the Packers’ two most recent quarterbacks to 37-14 (.725), and they have started every game against the Bears in that time.
The starting streak nearly ended in 2013, when Rodgers broke his collarbone early the first meeting, He returned, of course, for the regular-season finale in Chicago to steal the NFC North title on the famous TD pass to Randall Cobb on fourth-and-8 from the 48. The collarbone game turned out to be Green Bay’s only loss over an 11-game stretch in the rivalry.
Meanwhile, Mike Glennon on Thursday night will become the 18th starting quarterback Chicago has used against Green Bay dating back to 1992, and the third new one in the last three games after the Bears started Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley in the two games last year.
Several players now have lined up on both sides. Packers offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett, Super Bowl-winning quarterback Jim McMahon, and defensive lineman Steve McMichael, to name a few. Future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers, offensive lineman Josh Sitton and tight end Martellus Bennett are the latest added to the list.
McCarthy annually shows his team a video during the first Bears week about the rivalry, its history and tradition, with recent tweaks and updates each year. Some players’ viewings of it have reached double digits, but it still underscores the rivalry’s importance within the NFL as a whole.
“Two teams that were there in the beginning,” Rodgers said. “Great rivalry, great fan bases.”
Great quarter-century run by the Packers to even the score, a huge part of one of football’s great stories.
No need for the chapter to end now.