How The Bears-Packers Rivalry Got Started

The Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers rivalry dates back to nearly 100 years ago, when the two teams first met in 1921. It’s the oldest and most historic rivalry in the NFL, with 200 matchups all time. In this video, we’ll look back at a controversial event early on that almost cost one of the team’s to lose their franchise while almost ending a legendary rivalry before it even began.

The Formation 

Before the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers became the hugely popular teams they are today, they were struggling football teams hoping to make enough money playing games to get by. To find out how this legendary rivalry began, let’s go back to how these teams got started in the first place. 

In 1920 the AE Staley food company (a manufacturing company coincidentally founded by a man also named AE Staley) was interested in creating a company football team. Because they were headquartered in Decatur, Illinois, they would nickname the team the “Decatur Staleys”. Shortly after, two men, George Halas and Edward Dutch Sternaman were hired to run the team. AE Staley believed that team sports would help build character in it’s employees, as it had already had formed a company baseball team a few years prior. Part of the agreement for Halas to run the team was that he could hire his former teammates from past football teams to work in the factory and play on the company team. The factory workers would become semi professional football players as the team would become a founding member of the American Professional Football Association, also known as the APFA.

A year later the team would move to Chicago, mainly for financial reasons in order to play in a larger market. The team name would change to the Chicago Staley, and full control over the team was turned over to Halas and Sternaman. Soon after, Halas would purchase the rights to the team for $100, and he looked to rename the club. Many teams in those days, usually inspired by the professional baseball teams in the same city, would name their football teams in a similar way. Halas took inspiration from the Chicago Cubs baseball team, and were nicknamed the Bears. Halas also adopted the orange and blue colors from his college, the University of Illinois, using it in a slightly darker shade.

Prior to the Bears forming in Decatur, another team had formed 375 miles away in Green Bay, Wisconsin. On August 11, 1919, Curly Lambeau and George Whitney Calhon created a football after Lambeau received $500 from his employer the Indian Packing Company for the team’s uniforms. Originally, Lambeau wanted to call the team the “Green Bay Indians” after the company helped fund the team’s uniforms. Lambeaus’ girlfriend at the time, making fun of Lambeau’s lack of originality, sarcastically replied, “Why don’t you just name them the Green Bay Packers?” Lambeau liked the idea, and the name stuck. They initially played teams throughout Wisconsin and Michigan during the 1919 season. Over the next two years they would be bought by the Clair Brothers (Emmet Clair and John Clair). Both of whom worked for the Acme Packing Corporation and they would change the team name to the Acme Packers. Shortly after that, in 1921 the team joined the newly formed APFA.

The Packers Get Sent Packing

Their membership wouldn’t last long however, as the Packers had their franchise revoked for having played three college players during a game. The scandal occurred when the Packers, late in the 1921 season, decided to play three college  players from Notre Dame (using fake names). Although the game itself was a non league game, the Packers were still subject to the league rule’s as a franchise member. A month later, on January 28, 1922, the Packers were thrown out of the league for violating the rules.

But this is also where things get a bit weird. During my research I found several articles with conflicting information about just what exactly took place. Mccost of the conflicting information seems to stem from a series of books about the history of the Packers published in the late 1980s, by author Larry Names. In one book, Names states that the Packers used the ineligible players in a game against the Chicago Bears and it was George Halas who uncovered the cheating scandal and brought it to the attention of the APFA. 

However, current Packers team historian Cliff Christl refutes the story as purely made up (in an article on the Packers website, which you can find here). He states that while the Packers did use ineligible players, it was in a game against the Racine Legion (who were professional football team from Racine Wisconsin) and that game that took place on December 4 1921 (and not against the Chicago Bears as Names had claimed). Christl also stated that it was the Racine Journal News that broke the story, and later the Chicago Tribune picked up the story, who then implored the APFA to ban Green Bay with George Halas having not much to do with the situation. 

In either case, the APFA moved to terminate Green Bay’s franchise, with Halas voting in favor of the termination. Five months after being banned, Curly Lambeau successfully appealed to the APFA, and the Packers were approved (with a new entry fee of $50). Coincidentally, at the same league meeting the APFA decided to officially change their name to the National Football League. However much Geroge Halas was involved or not, this controversial incident would go down in the Bears-Packers lore as the start of their legendary rivalry.

Notable match-ups

The NFL began to organize teams by divisions in 1933, and since then both the Bears and Packers have always played in the same division. Here are just a few notable highlights from some of their early matchups.

The first meeting between the two teams on the field took place on November 27, 1921. The Chicago Bears (seen here striking an excellent prom pose) dominated the game, with Gaylord Pete Stinchcomb scoring the first touchdown on a 45-yard run. Chicago beat the Packers 20-0.

It would take Green Bay four years before they finally beat Chicago for the first time. On September 27 1925, while at home the Packers managed to defeat the Bears in a close game 14-10.

On September 28, 1930 the Packers beat the Bears 7-0 completing their fifth straight shutout over Chicago. As of the recording of this video, it’s the longest consecutive shutout streak in the series.

The first playoff meeting between the two teams took place on December 14, 1941. This was a one game playoff to determine the winner of the Western Division Championship. The Bears handedly beat the Packers 33-14. This would be the only playoff meeting between Chicago and Green Bay for the next 69 years, when they finally met again in early 2011.

Lasting Legacy

While the Bears-Packers have the longest standing rivalry in NFL history, there have been a few moments where they put the rivalry aside.

During the great depression, The Chicago Bears like many businesses had fallen on hard times. George Halas had trouble being able to meet payroll to pay his players. He was forced to borrow money from his own mother, and mother-in-law just to keep things afloat. The Green Bay Packers offered to lend Halas $1500 dollars in 1932, and Halas gratefully accepted the loan.

Many years later, Halas would return the gesture by actually helping to save the Green Bay Packers franchise in 1956. The Packers were trying to get a new stadium built in Green Bay, but were facing the threat of relocation if they couldn’t get enough public funding to help build the stadium. Halas, who was passionate about keeping the Bears-Packers rivalry alive, came to Green Bay and publicly spoke out about supporting the measures that would eventually build the new city stadium. A year later, the new stadium opened and in 1965, shortly after  Curly Lambeau’s death it was renamed to Lambeau field in his honor.

It was also Halas who suggested that the Packers hire Vince Lombardi to be their new head coach, after Packers team president sought out his advice. Lombardi in return had great respect for Halas, and supposedly was the only person Lombardi would refer to as “coach”. Halas’ recommendation would pay off huge for Green Bay, Lombari helped lead the Packers to five NFL championships and two super bowl wins.

As of recording this video both teams have met 200 times, with the Packers winning 99 games and the Bears winning 95, and they tied 6 times. The longest winning streak is held by the Packers at 10 consecutive games, from 1994 to 1998. The Bears hold the largest margin of victory in the series, with the 61-7 win that took place on December 7 1980. Curly Lambeau, Geroge Halas, and most recently Bill Belichick have the distinction of coaching their team’s to the most NFL championships (with each having done it six times). 

Over the years it’s been clear that Chicago and Green Bay’s rivalry has had a long lasting impact on the growth of the game. Each team, while becoming heated rivals on the field, recognized the need for a strong and worthy competitor in each other, in order to help motivate and drive each other to further success. No two teams have played each other more, no teams have won more combined championships, and no two teams have had more combined Hall of Famers inducted. 

So that does it for this post on legendary rivals, what did you think about the Packers being kicked out of the league for playing college players? And what’s been one of your favorite moments from the Bears-Packers rivalry? Let me know in the comments below! If you’ve enjoyed this post make sure to hit the like button and feel free to share it with anyone else who might also enjoy it. For more Sports History, check out my YouTube channel, and follow my social media pages which I’ve posted the links to in the description. Thanks for reading!


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