Publisher’s note: This story was published on Jan. 12 by Cold, Hard Football Facts. To read the entire story, including historical links, click here.
The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers have faced each other twice each year since 1921 (with the exception of the strike-interrupted 1982 season), in the most frequently played rivalry in the NFL.
Chicago holds the advantage, 92-83-5. Green Bay has won 12 NFL championships, the most of any franchise; Chicago is second on the list, with nine.
Yet with both teams winning in the divisional round this weekend, they’ll meet in the postseason for just the second time in their otherwise storied histories.
The first and only postseason meeting came at the end of the 1941 campaign. The teams finished tied atop the Western Division with league-best 10-1 records, after splitting the regular-season series.
The Bears won at Green Bay in September, 25-17, behind a 13-yard touchdown run and 63-yard touchdown pass by Hall of Famer George McAfee. It was Chicago’s first game of the season. Curiously, by comparison with today's strict scheduling structure, Curly Lambeau's Packers already boasted wins over the Lions and Cleveland Rams.
Five weeks later, the Packers held off a two-touchdown fourth-quarter rally in Chicago to hand the Bears their only loss of the year, 16-14.
So the 10-1 rivals were forced into a rare tiebreaker playoff game for the right to face the Eastern Division champ Giants in the NFL title tilt. It was not just the first and only playoff game in Packers-Bears history, it was the first playoff game, period. The NFL introduced a championship game pitting the regular-season champs from its Eastern and Western divisions in 1933. The 1941 Packers-Bears game was the first time that two teams had to "play off" for the right to fight for the NFL title.
The Bears dominated the rubber match, 33-14, at Wrigley Field. Clarke Hinkle’s 1-yard run gave the Packers a quick 7-0 lead but Hugh Gallarneau put the Bears on the board with an 81-yard punt return. Chicago outscored Green Bay 24-0 in the second quarter behind two touchdown runs by Norm Standlee. The Packers rushed 36 times for just 33 yards while McAfee and Standlee combined for 29 carries and 198 yards.
Chicago then dominated the Giants, 37-9, in the championship game, four days before Christmas.
The Packers-Bears playoff game of Dec. 14, 1941, comes with another historic note: it was the first game played after the attack on Pearl Harbor.
Many of the men who squared off in that lone Packers-Bears playoff contest enlisted in the service right after the game. Among them was Bears coach George Halas; a World War I veteran, he re-enlisted in the Navy in World War II and served three years in the South Pacific. Halas, though, did coach Chicago for the first half of the 1942 season before shipping out.
You could argue that the 1941 Packers-Bears playoff game represents the high-water mark in the 90-year history of the rivalry. They were easily the two most dominant teams in football and found competition that year only from each other.
The Bears outscored their opponents 396-147 (36.0 PPG to 13.4 PPG), the best margin in the league. The Packers outscored their opponents 258-120 (23.5 PPG to 10.9 PPG), the second best margin in the league. And, of course, their only losses came at the hands of each other.