It’s packer week.
As our neighbors to the north evolve and they progress from communicating through stick figure etchings on the walls within the room with the moon or the star on the door to the use of the printed word, it was inevitable that somebody from beyond the cheddar curtain would write a book. While simply reading a book in green bay is normally cause for celebration, the act of actually committing words to a page has fostered thoughts up there of possibly building a library, or even a museum, to put the book on display. But that’s a story for another time; the subject of the book is the purpose of today’s lesson.
It turns out a couple of guys got together and came up with the idea of writing about their venerable stadium, which this year marks its 50th anniversary, and the most significant events that have taken place inside. These confused scribes entitled their work The 25 Greatest Moments in Lambeau Field History, while neglecting to include even one Bears victory among them. Look, if it wasn’t for George Halas that place would have never been built and they’d be playing in Milwaukee, but when it comes to gratitude it seems those lowborn northerners are a lot like the French. So, in the interest of fairness, and in keeping with the spirit of the season, I give you a slightly different version of those 25 greatest moments, in chronological order, one that we can call our own.
September 27, 1958, Bears 34 packers 20: Papa Bear returns to the bench as Willie Galimore notches three scores in the Bears’ first victory at New City Stadium. Cooper Rollow wrote that packer quarterback Bart Starr was “spilled rudely” by Bears defensive end (and 1957 first round pick) Earl Leggett, who on the play forced and recovered a fumble that the Bears turned into a touchdown four plays later.
September 25, 1960, Bears 17 packers 14: Leggett intercepts Starr late in the game, and the Bears drive for a 16-yard field goal with less than a minute to play to complete a 17 point fourth quarter rally.
September 15, 1963, Bears 10 packers 3: Above the chant “We want beer!” in the Bears’ den, head coach George Halas calls the opening day victory over the world champions “The greatest team effort in the history of the Chicago Bears.” Bart Starr was intercepted four times, as Cooper Rollow described the loser’s locker room “like the pit at the bottom of a mine shaft.” This wound up being Halas’ last win in green bay.
November 3, 1968, Bears 13 packers 10: The Bears managed to shake off the cobwebs of a restless night, courtesy of some local fan who set off the fire alarms on all eight floors of the team’s swanky high-rise hotel. Behind the running of Gale Sayers, who set a Bears record with 205 yards on the ground, the Bears squeezed out their present in a most improbable way. The game was tied with 50 seconds to play after a Jon Kilgore punt had pinned the packers at their own 15. Following three incomplete Bart Starr passes, Donnie Anderson lofted a short punt to his own 43 where Cecil Turner called for and made the fair catch. Taking advantage of an obscure rule, Bears rookie head coach Jim Dooley sent out Mac Percival to attempt a free kick on the next play. Out of the hold of Richie Petitbon, Percival nailed the field goal for the win while the packers could only stand and watch from ten yards away.
November 4, 1973, Bears 31 packers 17: In what would be Abe Gibron’s only victory in green bay, Bobby Douglass rushed for 100 yards and four touchdowns as the Bears shredded the stinkkäse. Said the Tribune’s Cooper Rollow, “Bobby Douglass obviously enjoyed himself today in Green Bay, Wisconsin, the citadel of professional football in the 1960s and nowadays the graveyard of the Green Bay Packers.”
November 28, 1976, Bears 16 packers 10: Jack Pardee notches the first of his two wins at Curly’s Place and the Bears complete their first series sweep in thirteen years. Of the 6 degree game time temperature, Don Pierson wrote, “The cold might have persuaded more clear-thinking people to stay at home and watch on TV, but this is Green Bay, and if you’re crazy enough to live here, you might as well torture yourself.” A 10-0 Bears lead evaporated in the third quarter before a pair of Bob Thomas field goals down the stretch flushed the soiled green away.
October 30, 1977, Bears 26 packers 0: Walter Payton ties Gale Sayers’ single game franchise record of 205 yards rushing, including 117 yards in the first quarter, while the Bears set a team road record of 375 yards on the ground that stands to this day. Now THAT was a Bears team that got off the bus running.
December 9, 1979, Bears 15 packers 14: Taking advantage of a pair of spearing penalties by Doug Plank, the Bears earn another sweep of their hated rivals despite not scoring an offensive touchdown in either game. Middle linebacker Tom Hicks intercepted a Lynn Dickey pass and returned it 66 yards for a 4th quarter score, and a last second 52-yard field goal attempt by the losers falls short.
September 16, 1984, Bears 9 packers 7: Again without a touchdown, the Bears come away victorious on the strength of three Bob Thomas field goals, the last coming from 28 yards after a 17-play drive with 11:11 to play. The cheddar’s Eddie Garcia misses from 47 yards out with just under five minutes to play, wiping clean their last best hope and securing the first of head coach Mike Ditka’s eight* road wins in the series.
November 3, 1985, Bears 16 packers 10: After a Wisconsin radio station left a bag of fertilizer in the Bears locker room, Mike Ditka’s squad went out and spread a little of their own around their host’s living room. William Perry scored on a pass play, and Walter Payton threw down 192 yards on the ground after the packers’ Mark Lee ran him out of bounds and over the Bears bench. Lee was ejected for his effort, and Ken Stills should have been for cheap shot late hits on Payton and Matt Suhey.
September 22, 1986, Bears 25 packers 12: Ditka’s Bears score 15 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to win going away, with the defense holding the locals to four field goals and throwing in a safety to boot.
September 22, 1986 again, (no, that’s not a typo): Lacking the proper facilities for a post-game press conference, Bears coach Mike Ditka is forced to hold court near an exterior fence, shouting his responses to be heard over the profanity-laced bleats of the inebriated local fans. Feigning the toss of a coin, Ditka retorts, “Aw, shut up. Have a quarter. Make a phone call.” To which the locals exchange puzzled looks, not knowing what he means by “phone.” Soon after, the rotary dial telephone comes to northeast Wisconsin.
November 8, 1987, Bears 26 packers 24: In a game that featured five lead changes the Bears drew first blood on their first offensive play, on a 59-yard strike from Jim McMahon to Neal Anderson. Walter Payton didn’t disappoint in his final visit to Curly’s Place, scoring on a vintage line vault on a fourth down, fourth quarter play with the Bears trailing by eight. Kevin Butler later nailed a 24-yard field goal to give the Bears a 23-21 lead, but the packers edged ahead 24-23 with a minute to play on Al Del Greco’s 47-yard response. McMahon then answered, working with three time outs and moving the Bears from their own 24 to the packer 35 on passes to Ron Morris and Dennis McKinnon, and Butler provided the final word, nailing a 52-yarder as time expired for the win.
September 25, 1988, Bears 24 packers 6: After the locals missed the conversion on their first quarter touchdown, the Bears rattled off 24 unanswered points on a trio of rushing touchdowns and a 35 yard Kevin Butler field goal.
*November 5, 1989, Bears 13 packers 7: There was less than a minute to play and the packers were trailing 13-7, facing 4th down from the Bears 14. Scrambling to his right, Don Majkowski released the ball just beyond the line of scrimmage, and line judge Jim Quirk correctly threw the flag for an illegal forward pass. But wait; replay official Bill Parkinson wanted another look, and he ruled that the pass was in fact legal, giving the dirty rotten cheaters a 14-13 lead and, ultimately, the win. A week later the NFL admitted error, ruling that Parkinson didn’t have “indisputable visual evidence” to reverse the call, but the result nevertheless would stand. For the next ten years this game carried an asterisk in the Bears media guide. Here’s my vote to reinstate it.
September 16, 1990, Bears 31 packers 13: Bears force five turnovers and notch six sacks as Trace Armstrong tosses Tony Mandarich around like a rag doll. Jim Harbaugh goes 11-14 for 157 yards and two touchdowns, while eight different ball carriers run for 146 yards and another pair of scores.
October 17, 1991, Bears 10 packers 0: Bears pitch a shutout, holding the hapless farceurs to a paltry 141 total net yards. Don Majkowski went 3-16 before being pulled in favor of first year packer Mike Tomczak, who completed 4 of 9 to his own guys and another to the Bears’ David Tate.
October 25, 1992, Bears 30 packers 10: In his final visit, Mike Ditka celebrated with a blowout for his eighth* road win in the series. Danny Abramowicz introduced the “Rambo” play on a punt, with the Bears appearing to get set before frantically motioning alleged extra man Mike Green off the field. Green stopped short of the sideline, though, and turned upfield at the snap as Chris Gardocki hit him in stride for a 43-yard gain. A certain first-year packer quarterback made his initial start in the series, of whom Bernie Lincicome wrote, “It is doubtful [he] is going to be any more of a savior than Don Majkowski was before him. [He] is, in fact, much more reminiscent of Mike Tomczak, easy to confuse and full of happy feet. It is very good for the Bears to have a twice-a-year tonic to cure inevitable doubts.” Looks to me like Bernie was the one who was confused.
November 7, 1999, Bears 14 packers 13: On the Sunday following his death Walter Payton made his first contribution from the afterlife, placing the hand of Bryan Robinson in the direct path of a game-winning 28-yard field goal attempt as time expired, preserving the Bears’ greatest victory in the history of Curly’s Place.
October 1, 2000, Bears 27 packers 24: Proving that the previous year wasn’t a fluke, Bears head coach Dick Jauron gets his second victory in as many trips as the 0-4 Bears move into the win column. Cade McNown directs a 9 play, 99-yard drive to start the second half, culminating in a 58-yard touchdown strike to a Marcus Robinson leaping over two defenders. Phil Daniels hits The Billy’s throwing arm on his last ditch effort, the pass falling incomplete before Jauron’s favorite play runs out the clock.
September 19, 2004, Bears 21 packers 10: Lovie Smith gets his first victory as a rookie head coach, winning on the home turf of the team he marked as enemy number one at his introduction. Thomas Jones rolls for 152 yards on the ground and a touchdown, and Mike Brown sprints 95 yards for a score, led by Brian Urlacher’s uncalled illegal block in the back of #4.
January 9, 2005, Vikings 31 packers 17: No list of great moments at Curly’s Place would be complete without mention of a home playoff loss to a divisional rival. Although the Bears have never had the pleasure of voiding there during the postseason, this is a worthy alternative, complete with Randy Moss celebrating a touchdown with a pantomime moon followed by using the goal post as his personal roll of Charmin.
December 25, 2005, Bears 24 packers 17: Playing the first Christmas game in their history, the Bears complete a season series sweep for the first time in fourteen years and receive their gifts from Santa, brand new NFC North Division Champions caps, while leaving a steaming lump of something other than coal on Curly’s midfield “G.”
September 10, 2006, Bears 26 packers 0: It’s opening day, and settling for field goals on four trips into the red zone isn’t all that bad when your opposition never travels past your 35. Rookie Devin Hester returns a punt 84 yards for his first score, the defense holds the losers to 267 total yards, and Rex Grossman survives a couple of dangerous early throws to post an 18-26, 262 yard day with a touchdown.
October 7, 2007, Bears 27 packers 20: The 1-3 Bears hand their undefeated rivals their first loss of the season. Charles Tillman forces two critical first quarter fumbles to keep the Bears in the game, a boneheaded illegal formation call on the packers on a Bears field goal attempt keeps a second quarter Bears touchdown drive alive, and the Bears use two more second half takeaways to rally from ten points down and come away with the win. On the game’s final play The Billy throws his 277th interception, tying George Blanda’s record for most interceptions in a career, although the field announcer neglects to announce this ignominious feat to the crowd.
Honorable mention goes to the “good riddance” appearance of Dave Wannstedt in his last game at Curly’s Place. Wanny never won there in six tries, making him the only head coach in the Bears’ storied history to lose every time he ventured beyond the cheddar curtain. For the record, Paddy Driscoll lost his only appearance in what at the time was New City Stadium, the inaugural game in 1957, although he more than made up for it the year before by coming away with a 37-21 victory in the old City Stadium on his way to winning the Western Conference championship. The place was renamed after the death in 1965 of Curly Lambeau, the franchise founder and former coach who unceremoniously turned his back on the franchise and “tendered his resignation” on January 31, 1950. Ironically, Lambeau also ended his career as head coach of the Washington Redskins, just like Vince Lombardi. Come to think of it, Lombardi walked away from the packers, too.
For those who are interested, I’m told the authors of The 25 Greatest Moments in Lambeau Field History will be signing copies of their book this weekend at the local Mills Fleet Farm. If you go, be sure to bring along two witnesses for when they mark their “X” on the inside cover.