Black and blue in '41

Black and blue in '41

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by Jon Kendle

The Championship round of the 2010 NFL playoffs is here. To the victors goes the Lamar Hunt (American Football Conference) and the George Halas (National Football Conference) Trophies along with a berth to play in Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium on February 6, 2011.

The Bears and Packers in '41
• Tragically, two members of the record crowd on hand for the thrilling Nov. 2 game at Wrigley Field suffered fatal heart attacks during the closing moments of the Packers' 16-14 win. One of the victims was George Halas' sister-in-law, Mayme Halas.
• Interestingly, the playoff game between the Packers and Bears would have gone into "sudden death" had the game ended in a regulation tie. According to the NFL by-laws if the 1941 Championship Game ended in a tie the two teams would be declared co-champions.
• The legendary Don Hutson was an integral part of all three Bears-Packers games in 1941. The Packers Hall of Fame end was the NFL's Most Valuable Player that season after he set six new league records and won the scoring title for the second consecutive season. Hutson also led the league in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns that season.
• The Chicago Bears set league records for team offense during the 1941 season with first downs – 181; total yards – 4,265; passing yards – 2,002; total touchdowns – 56; rushing touchdowns – 37; extra points – 45; and total points – 396. The Chicago offense also averaged an astonishing 20.4 yards per completion.
• Nine future Hall of Fame players and two Hall of Fame coaches, Halas and Lambeau, were involved in the '41 playoff game. The Bears players included Dan Fortmann, Sid Luckman, George Musso, George McAfee, Clyde "Bulldog" Turner, and Joe Stydahar. For Green Bay, it was Donald Hutson, Clarke Hinkle, and Tony Canadeo.

The Pittsburgh Steelers host the New York Jets at Heinz Field in the AFC championship. It's familiar territory for the Steelers who will make their 15th appearance in an AFC title game.

In the NFC there is a familiarity of a different kind as the Green Bay Packers get set to travel to Soldier Field to take on the Chicago Bears. The game marks the record 182nd time the Bears and Packers will play each other. Surprisingly, this Sunday's game will mark only the second time in this long-standing rivalry that these clubs will meet in the playoffs. The first and only other time a postseason game featured the Bears and Packers was the 1941 NFL playoff game to determine the champions of the NFL's Western Division.

Starting in 1933, the National Football League divided into two divisions. The winner of each division played for the NFL championship. Seven times in the first eight seasons of this format, from 1933-1940, the Western Division representative in the title game was either Chicago or Green Bay.

Since their first regular season meeting in 1921, the year that the Packers joined the NFL, this rivalry has been super-charged. But, as the 1941 season inched closer there was about to be even more fuel added to the fire. The Bears were coming off an NFL Championship season in 1940 where they destroyed the Washington Redskins in the title game 73-0. The Packers on the other hand were coming off a disappointing 6-4-1 campaign in 1940 after winning the league title in 1939.

The first meeting between the clubs in `41 took place on Sept. 28 in Green Bay. Chicago had won their last three games against Green Bay and sported an overall record of 22-18-4 against their bitter rival. George Halas, the Bears' owner and coach, worried that his team would come out flat since this was Chicago's season opener and Green Bay had already beaten the Detroit Lions 23-0 and Cleveland Rams 24-7, during the previous two weeks.

However, that wasn't the case as the Bears jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first quarter on a Ken Kavanaugh touchdown reception from George McAfee who had taken a lateral from quarterback Sid Luckman. Bob Snyder's extra point was blocked. Chicago built its lead before the Packers surged for 10 points in the final four minutes of the second quarter, and cut the Chicago lead to 15-10 at halftime.

When play resumed Green Bay took their first lead of the day on a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Clarke Hinkle. Trailing 17-15, Chicago answered as McAfee turned the left corner and breezed into the end zone on a 13-yard touchdown run. Holding a 22-17 edge, the Bears defense dug in and kept the Packers away from the goal line. Finally, with three minutes to play Snyder atoned for the earlier missed extra point when he kicked his second field goal of the game and all but clinched the victory. Green Bay threatened once more as the clock ran down, but was stopped at Chicago's seven yard-line when the Bears' Dan Fortmann picked off a Cecil Isbell pass.

The second matchup of the season would prove even more thrilling than the first. Played on Nov. 2, the undefeated Bears hosted the one-loss Packers, who had won four straight since falling to Chicago five weeks earlier. If Green Bay had any hope of a Western Division crown this was a "must win" game.


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