Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bears-Packers Rivalry

The Chicago Bears and the Arizona Cardinals are the two original professional football teams that survive from the first national team organization that was established in Canton, Ohio.  The organization was called the American Professional Football Association (APFA).  George Halas in particular was not fond of the name; the league leaders changed it to the National Football League in 1922.  

At the time of the league formation, the Cardinals were called the Racine Cardinals because most of its players came from Chicago’s south side around Racine Avenue.  This has confused people from the beginning—even an official league document has “Wisconsin” typed out after “Racine.”  Eventually, the Cardinals moved from Chicago to St. Louis and then on to Arizona.  Certainly, the rivalry between the Bears and the Cardinals was passionate, especially when they were competing for the loyalty of Chicago fans.  Never-the-less, the Packers-Bears rivalry exceeds all others in the NFL for intensity. 

APFA’s first season was in 1920. The Packers joined the fun a heartbeat later in 1921.  Green Bay newspaper man George Calhoun was perhaps the prime-mover of the rivalry.  His fiery articles in the Press Gazette did much to get the fans’ blood pumping.  The Chicago Tribune stoked the fire in the Windy City.  George Halas remembered feeding Chicago newspapers stories about the Bears using hyperbole generously.  But he and other early pro football managers were fighting an uphill battle in the press because the college game was king and would remain so for decades.

Newspapers and every other media continue to stoke the competitive fires today over 90 years later. The Packers and Bears coaches and players continue to maintain the rivalry that is considered without exaggeration one of the greatest in all sports. 

Lambeau-Halas: A Personal Rivalry 

Modern fans may not appreciate the fact that there was also a strong personal rivalry between Lambeau and Halas.  In many ways, the rivalry may have been more about their likenesses than their differences. Although Lambeau only owned the Packers for one season, he was the face of the Packers and managed the team for decades as if he was the owner.  Lambeau and Halas faced each other on the field as players during the first decade and as coaches for many years.  Although football consumed both men, they both had successful business careers outside the game.  They were competitive in all they did.  Both men also had very strong ties to their communities.  Lambeau was synonymous with Green Bay.  He put Green Bay “on the map.”  Halas loved Chicago unconditionally. In later years, Halas patiently remained in Chicago while teams all over the country were moving their operations and stadiums to the suburbs.  

Lambeau and Halas attended rival universities and were excellent college athletes who played under legendary coaches. Halas had attended the University of Illinois where he played football under Coach Bob Zuppke.  Lambeau had played at Notre Dame under Coach Knute Rockne.  Both Lambeau and Halas came from immigrant families with hardworking parents.  

At some point, Lambeau and Halas took different paths.  The Green Bay story of the small city taking on the big boys would draw national attention to Curly Lambeau.  Some would say that Lambeau “went Hollywood.”  Movie-star handsome, he would seem to fit right in with Hollywood celebrities, but it did not last for long.  He spent much of his time back in Wisconsin keeping an eye on the team he had devoted his life to—the Green Bay Packers.  After his death, the name Lambeau Field would honor his memory.  Even after Vince Lombardi renewed the Packers franchise and dazzled NFL fans for a decade like no other coach had before him, Lambeau would continue to receive credit for his early work. 

Halas would not stay home with his Monsters of the Midway either in that he went to the Pacific during World War II, his second term in the service.  Following the end of the War, Halas went directly back home and to the Bears and winning football.  His position as league founder and owner would also keep a good part of his attention drawn to league business. 
As the NFL moves towards its 100 year anniversary, the Bears-Packers rivalry remains one of the most heart-felt themes in football.

Copyright 2014, Sporting Chance Press.   This post is taken from a new book called Pillars of the NFL: Coaches Who Have Won Three or More Championships by Patrick McCaskey--available at  Burghardt's Sporting Goods in Wisconsin,  a growing number of select stores in Illinois such as Lake Forest Book Store, Millikin College Bookstore, C & A Inspirations in Champaign, Love Christian Center in Kankakee, the Little Way in Crystal Lake, St. Anne's Gift Shop in Orland Park,  the Christian Shop in Palatine, and more.   The book can be bought online as well on Amazon.