The Historic Bears-Packers Rivalry: Looking Back at 1941
The next chapter in the "NFL's oldest rivalry" puts the Bears and the Packers up against each other for a spot in the Super Bowl. Some are saying this is the biggest game in the teams' history; they've faced off 181 times before - dating back to 1921 - but only once in the playoffs, in 1941.
"For nine decades, they have broken each other's bones, and they have smashed each other's teeth, and they have irrigated their fields with the blood of the other," says the St. Petersburg Times. As this year's teams head into their rubber match, both Chicago's and Green Bay's hometown papers are reflecting on this storied rivalry and reviving the excitement of the teams' 1941 postseason matchup. Here, a look back, through Chi-town and cheesehead eyes, at that winter day:
"In 1941, both teams finished tied atop the Western Division with 10-1 records," says the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. "Each team was victorious on the other's field." But in the Western Division playoff, "the Bears potent rushing attack of George McAfee, Norm Standlee and Hugh Gallarneau rolled over the Packers, 33-14, at Wrigley Field in Chicago." The Packers had "grabbed a quick 7-0 lead on Clarke Hinkle's 1-yard run," but their "lead was short-lived" as they saw the Bears score 24 points in the second quarter.
It "was a hard-charging and unstoppable line that told the story," reported the Chicago Daily News the next day. "The Bears’ forwards yielded only 35 yards of terrain all afternoon, as compared to the 267 they helped their backs grind out." With this win the Bears "proved yesterday against their toughest and most persistent foe that they’re the greatest offensive unit in football history."
The game report included this relevant remark: "the middle of the Packer line was as full of holes as the Japenese [sic] alibi for attacking Pearl Harbor." It was included because the game had significant meaning, taking place on Dec. 14, 1941, "one week after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the event that drew the United States into World War II," reports the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “We were sitting in Comiskey Park watching the Cardinals play the Bears, and the news came over about Pearl Harbor,” Packers Hall of Famer Tony Canadeo said in 1996. “Everybody was saying, ‘Pearl Harbor. Where the hell is that?’
Amazingly, 43,425 fans turned out at the game, whereas "only 13,341 paid customers showed up when the Bears played host to the New York Giants in the NFL championship game" the following week. “I don’t think our minds were on the game,” Packers' center Tom Greenfield said years later.
Even with a large crowd on hand, the atmosphere for the game was drastically different than what we're used to today, reports the Chicago Tribune. "While fans today sport players' jerseys and cheeseheads, female fans then wore fur coats and men wore fedoras, overcoats and ties," Charles Brizzolara, who attended the title game, tells the paper. "Fans were better behaved then, due in part perhaps to the fact that vendors sold more coffee — carried in large coffee pots through the stands — than beer," he adds.
Even though the Bears went on to win the championship that year, becoming the first team to win in back-to-back years, "for most people, the Bears-Packers game was considered the championship game," Brizzolara says.
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