Jerry Kramer was a rookie guard with the Green Bay Packers in 1958 when he learned firsthand just how deep the rivalry with the Chicago Bears ran.
A few days before the Packers and Bears were to meet in a preseason game, Kramer had just left a news stand in Green Bay when he was accosted by “a little blue-haired lady, about 65, 70 years old, nicely dressed,” Kramer recalled. “And she says, ‘Are you ready for those sons of bitching Bears?’
“I looked at her and my mouth flew open: ‘Yes, ma’am, I think we are.’ I was stunned. I walked away from that thinking, ‘Wow, that’s really something.’ ”
Former Packers wide receiver James Lofton found out early in his career, too.
“Our quarterback, Lynn Dickey, was one of the better passers in the NFL at that time. I had run a route over near (the Bears’) sideline and (the pass) had gotten intercepted. And all I heard from their bench was ‘get the quarterback, get the quarterback,’” Lofton said.
“The guy who intercepted it is going down the sideline and I’m chasing him. Lynn Dickey has now taken off and is running in the opposite direction, toward our sideline. And there are three Bears chasing him, trying to get him.
“That kind of typifies the intensity of the rivalry.”
The two cities are separated by just 200 miles. But the allegiances couldn’t be more disparate. As current Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher put it, “They don’t like us, and we don’t like them.”
On Sunday in Chicago, the Bears and Packers, who finished first and second, respectively, in the NFC North, will meet for the 182nd time. It’s the continuation of a series that dates to 1921, when the Bears were known as the Staleys and the Packers were first-year members of the NFL.
Oddly, it’s only the second time the two teams have gone head-to-head in the playoffs. On Dec. 14, 1941 – a week after the bombing at Pearl Harbor – the Bears beat the Packers, 33-14, in 16-degree cold at Wrigley Field for the Western Division title. The Bears would go on to win the NFL championship.
This time, the NFC title and a berth in the Super Bowl are at stake. “It’s a big deal for our fans and our city,” Urlacher said.
Lovie Smith was the Rams’ defensive coordinator in 2004 when he emerged as a candidate to become the Bears’ head coach.
“One of the first things (Bears chairman of the board) Michael McCaskey went over with me when I came here to interview for the job was to make sure that I knew about the rivalry,” Smith told reporters this week. “We know exactly how we’re supposed to feel about that rivalry. …
“If you look at our history together, it does have a respectful tone. But it can be nasty also. It’s going to be a physical game. We don’t like each other.”
It’s been that way for 90 years, since George Halas returned the opening kickoff and scored the last touchdown in the first game between the franchises. The Staleys won, 20-0, and along the way a punch by Chicago guard John “Tarzan” Taylor broke the nose of Packers tackle Howard “Cub” Buck.
Such was born the NFL’s longest-running and shortest-fused rivalry.