By Wanda Wiedman // @WandaW63
It started as a dream. In 1892 two sports collided, soccer and rugby. On November 6, 1869, two prolific colleges, Rutgers and Princeton played what was advertised to be the first college football game. But it wasn’t until rugby player Walter Camp from Yale decided to change the rules to gradually turn the game of rugby into the game we now call American Football.
For the benefit of readers who will argue that their team should have been chosen to start the 100-year celebration, let’s put it in perspective. There is no question as to the birth of the game of football. In 1903 Pro Football was popularized in Ohio when the Massillon Tigers hired four Pittsburgh pros to play in the season-ending game against Akron. As teams started to implement rules of the game, like touchdowns and the forward pass, the game moved. In 1919, Earl (Curly) Lambeau and George Calhoun organized the Green Bay Packers. The Packers went 10-1 that season.
But by 1920, pro football was in a state of confusion due to rising salaries, players leaving their team for the next highest bidder, and the use of college players still enrolled in school. They needed to establish a league where all members would follow the same rules and regulations. The following year the Association’s membership increased to 22 teams. A.E Staley turned the Decatur Staleys over to player-coach George Halas, who moved the team to Cubs Park in Chicago. The Staleys claimed the APFA championship with a 9-1-1 record giving Halas his first championship.
By 1922, the American Professional Football Association changed its name to the National Football League. The Chicago Staleys became the Chicago Bears. It was Halas who managed to get a college sports star in Red Grange to display his talents while still a student, bringing in crowds of people, 75,000 to be exact, who were willing to pay to watch him play. This generated the capital the league needed to continue its existence.
Why the history lesson?
Sometimes it is necessary to get a fresh perspective as to why the NFL made the right call in picking these two teams to open up the 100-year celebration of such an iconic sport. These two teams met for the first time in 1921, resulting in 198 meetings with the Packers leading the rivalry 97-95-6. The largest margin of victory came via the Bears with a 61-7 victory over the Packers in 1980.
Today, the Green Bay Packers are ranked as the third oldest team in pro football. The first being the Arizona Cardinals at 121 years (1898), followed by the Chicago Bears (1920). Lambeau and Vince Lombardi rank as the most dominant figures in Packer’s history, holding 13 NFL titles including four Super Bowl championships.
As for the Chicago Bears, their 1000-game history started in Decatur, Illinois. Halas had a 64-year reign as a Bear, and held the role of player, owner, coach, general manager, traveling secretary and entrepreneur. When he retired in 1967, he ranked as the all-time leader in coaching victories with 324, a record that stood for 27 years. The Bears hold the proud listing of the most members in the Pro Football Hall of Fame with 34 members enshrined for their impact to the team and the game of football.
This isn’t about which team would be more exciting to watch opening up the football season. The celebration is that without these two teams, their history and rivalry, the League may not have existed. In my humble opinion, these two teams deserve to open up the NFL’s 100-year celebration and rightly sharing it with the Chicago Bears. The Packers will celebrate their 100 years in 2020.
Talk history of the Bears with Wanda on Twitter @WandaW63