Bears-Packers: 'Cheddar Curtain' Rivals For The Ages On Sunday, the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers will face off in the NFC championship game. The two charter NFL franchises have pummeled each other 181 times since 1921. But it's been almost 70 years since they've met in a game that means as much as this one.
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Bears-Packers: 'Cheddar Curtain' Rivals For The Ages

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Bears-Packers: 'Cheddar Curtain' Rivals For The Ages

Bears-Packers: 'Cheddar Curtain' Rivals For The Ages

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

One of the greatest rivalries in sports - and the oldest in the National Football League - will be renewed this Sunday at Chicago's Soldier Field. The hometown Bears host the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship game.

The two charter franchises in the NFL have played each other 181 times since 1921.

But as NPR's David Schaper reports from Chicago, the last time the two faced each other in a game this big, Franklin Roosevelt was president.

DAVID SCHAFER: I'm standing outside of Chicago's Wrigley Field. Since 1914, of course, it's been the home of baseball's Chicago Cubs, but for decades, it was the home field of the Chicago Bears too.

And in the 90 years, the Bears and Packers have been playing and pummeling each other in some of the most hard-fought football games ever played. They've only met once before in the playoffs, and that game was played right here almost 70 years ago - December 14, 1941.

Ninety-five-year-old Elmer Possin remembers that game.

Mr. ELMER POSSIN: The Packers won the championship in '39 and in '41. They both had good teams. That's right.

SCHAFER: Sitting in his apartment in Madison, Wisconsin, this week, Possin says he's been a Packer fan since his family bought its first radio in 1927, and he's now been a season ticket holder for 60 years.

The Bears and the Packers entered that 1941 Western Division playoff game with identical 10-1 records. Their only loss is to each other. Possin remembers listening the week before when football games across the country were interrupted with stunning news.

(Soundbite of archived broadcast)

Unidentified Man #1: the 25, and now he's hit and hit hard about the 27-yard line. Bruiser Kinard made the tackle...

Unidentified Man #2: We interrupt this broadcast to bring you this important bulletin from the United Press. Flash. Washington. The White House announces Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Mr. POSSIN: And the following Sunday following Pearl Harbor, nobody really cared about the game because of the magnitude of the incident.

SCHAFER: Elmer Possin says over the 180-plus games between the two teams, fans have certainly developed animosity, though he stopped short of calling it hate.

Mr. POSSIN: Not in that way. We may say we hate them, but we don't mean it in that light. We respect them. It's a respectful hate.

Mr. DOUG BUFFONE: See, I can't say - I can't use the word hate.

SCHAFER: Doug Buffone played linebacker for the Bears in the 1960s and '70s, and in his 14 seasons played in more Bears-Packers games than any other Bear.

Mr. BUFFONE: Everybody said, well, Doug, you must've hated the Packers. I didn't hate the Packers. I mean, I love playing against the Packers. It was like whoever is left standing won the damn game.

SCHAPER: After the season, Buffone says he and his teammates were all good friends with Packer players. But during the season, Buffone says the intensity of their games was unmatched.

Mr. BUFFONE: We didn't take any prisoners. On field, it was it. It was, you know, do or die.

SCHAPER: Buffone says the two teams' respect for one another comes from their shared history as two of the founding teams of the NFL and the relationship between the Bears' founder, owner and coach George Halas and the Packers' Curly Lambeau.

Papa Bear Halas is credited with helping save the Packers in the 1950s by traveling to Green Bay and playing up the rivalry to drum up taxpayer support for a new stadium. And in 1958, when Green Bay was searching for a new coach, it was Halas who recommended the now legendary Vince Lombardi. Now, the two teams will square off Sunday for the NFC Championship Halas Trophy, with the winner advancing to the Super Bowl for the chance to win the Lombardi Trophy. And fans on both sides of the Illinois-Wisconsin border are stoked.

Mr. VLADIMIR ZINTCHENKO: It's probably the most important game in the last many years.

SCHAPER: At Murphy's Bleacher Bar across the street from historic Wrigley Field, 24-year-old Chicagoan Vladimir Zintchenko is too young to remember any Bears game this big in Chicago and he says neither can his father.

Mr. ZINTCHENKO: They both got the blue-collar, you know, winter background going on. Both play good in the snow. Both got the gritty, you know, gritty fan base rooting for them, die-hard fan base, and that's what makes it just such a nice matchup.

SCHAPER: Zintchenko will be cheering for a Bears victory Sunday right here at this bar where the sign outside, in a tribute to that last Bears-Packers playoff victory almost 70 years ago reads: Party like it's 1941.

David Schaper, NPR News, Chicago.

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