Having a ball with history


A new "For Pete's Sake" blog appears each Thursday.

The Green Bay Packers were formed in 1919 and joined the National Football League (first known as the American Professional Football Association) two years later. The Chicago Bears franchise began as the Decatur Staleys in 1920 and was a charter member of the NFL. Now, that's a lot of history.

The two storied franchises meet Sunday with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line. The Bears vs. Packers is the biggest rivalry in league history as the NFC Championship Game at Soldier Field will mark the 182nd meeting between the division rivals.

And, this is a great week for football history. That's because perhaps the most astonishing fact about the Bears-Packers series is that they've met in the playoffs just once in all those seasons! So, needless to say, our research team in the Hall of Fame's archives got busy on Monday morning combing through our files for information on the 1941 playoff game. This one game has spurred so many sidebar stories that we simply don't have enough time to tell them all. Stay with this blog and I'll treat you to a nice anecdote about a game in 1938.

Now, let's jump back to 1941 for a moment. That season, the Bears and Packers posted identical 10-1-0 records with their only losses coming against each other. Chicago won the first contest at Green Bay and the Packers returned the favor five weeks later in Chicago. The one-game playoff was a first in NFL history as the winner earned the right to advance to the NFL's Championship Game. For the record, the Bears beat Green Bay and then took care of the New York Giants in the title game to become league champions. There's more on that historic game and the many sidebar tidbits that surrounded the Bears and Packers during the '41 season in this interesting story by our Researcher Jon Kendle.

Calls this week from fans and media alike prove that there's some really interesting history in Sunday's matchup. There seems to be a buzz about the '41 playoff bout. One such example is when our curator walked into my office after receiving a call from the Bears. The team fielded an inquiry from a woman by the name of Laura Janota whose father Raymond Janota donated a football to us in the mid-1960s. She thought it was a football signed by the teams in 1941 and it might be nice to be on hand on Sunday at the coin toss.

Well, as it turns out, it wasn't from 1941. Rather the ball was from a game played on Sept. 18, 1938. So we turned our attention from the three games in 1941 to this particular contest a few seasons earlier. As one might expect there was an interesting historical perspective to this ball. I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised as the Bears vs. Packers rivalry has been filled with interesting and memorable moments.

The first thing that caught our eye, aside from the very legible autographs of some of the game's all-time greats (be sure to click through the gallery below to see the authentic signatures of legends like Red Grange, George Halas, and Curly Lambeau), was that the line score drawn on the ball. The Bears won, 2-0. That got me to thinking that was a rare score indeed. With some help from Elias Sports Bureau, I can tell you that our football is from the last time an NFL game ended in 2-0 score. So, off to the files our research team went to pull a game account of this matchup.

{GALLERY}The Packers hosted the Bears at Packer Stadium in Green Bay in a torrential downpour that resulted in less than ideal field conditions. The rain, mud, and wind kept both teams off the scoreboard. Green Bay had the best chance for pay dirt but two field goal attempts by the normally reliable Clarke Hinkle sailed wide, first from the 16-yard-line and then from 36 yards away.

The goat of this game was center Darrell Lester who had two errant snaps in a row that sealed the Packers fate on this day. He hurled the slippery ball over the head of Arnie Herber who was in punt formation (typical of the day, teams attempted quick kicks on third down to surprise their opponent). The miscue resulted in a 29-yard loss for Green Bay and put the ball on the four-yard-line. On the next play, Lester again fired the snap wildly at Herber and the ball rolled loose in the end zone. Green Bay guard Tom Jones recovered the ball but was downed by the Bears for a safety that turned out to be the only points scored in the game.

Elias also shared that a 2-0 score has only occurred five times ever! That got me digging in our files to see when the others occurred. When you have a rivalry that stretches for 90 years, it shouldn't be surprising that the Bears and Packers were the teams facing each other in the last two 2-0 games.

Nov. 29, 1923 AKRON INDIANS 2, Buffalo All-Americans 0
Nov. 21, 1926 Kansas City Cowboys 2, BUFFALO RANGERS 0
Nov. 29, 1928 FRANKFORD YELLOWJACKETS 2, Green Bay Packers 0
Oct. 16, 1932 Green Bay Packers 2, CHICAGO BEARS 0
Sept. 18, 1938 Chicago Bears 2, GREEN BAY PACKERS 0

Something tells me that Monday morning we'll be talking about Sunday's NFC Championship Game as another memorable showdown in the Bears vs. Packers rivalry. I highly doubt it will end in a 2-0 score. Who knows, maybe the teams will send us a football filled with players autographs.

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