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Must reading: 1941 Packer-Bear playoff game

Discussion in 'Packer Fan Forum' started by JBlood, Jan 18, 2011.

  1. JBlood

    JBlood Cheesehead

    Dec 4, 2004
    Green Bay Packers' 1941 playoff game at Chicago Bears a benchmark in rivalry

    By Cliff Christl • January 17, 2011

    When the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears met in their only previous postseason matchup, it wasn’t the stakes that drew a rabid, sellout crowd to Wrigley Field.

    It was the bitter rivalry between the two teams.

    The only time the Packers and Bears have met in the playoffs in what is the most storied rivalry in the National Football League was on Dec. 14, 1941, one week after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the event that drew the United States into World War II.

    The game, won by the Bears, attracted 43,425 fans to Wrigley Field, where the Bears played from 1921 through 1970. The next week, only 13,341 paid customers showed up when the Bears played host to the New York Giants in the NFL championship game.

    “The playoff game, they were hanging in the rafters,” the late Ken Kavanaugh, an end for the Bears in the 1940s, said in an interview in 1996 for the book, “Mudbaths & Bloodbaths: The Inside Story of the Bears-Packers Rivalry.”

    “I think (George) Halas put some seats around the field. Green Bay was always sold out. But that was regular-season salary. The championship game was the one where we’d get all the money and there was nobody there.”

    Such was the state of pro football at the time.

    Thirty of the NFL’s 55 regular-season games in 1941 had drawn 25,000 or fewer people. The Bears had drawn only five crowds ever of 40,000 or more, and they were for regular-season games against the Packers in 1937, ’38, ’39, ’40 and ’41. On the two previous occasions when the Bears played the NFL title game at home, in 1933 and ’37, their gates were 26,000 and 15,878.

    The Packers and Bears met for the first time in 1921, the second year of the NFL, and bad blood has coursed its way through the rivalry ever since.

    Halas and Curly Lambeau, the founders and longtime coaches of the two teams, neither liked nor trusted one another. And cheap shots and trash talking have been a part of the rivalry since Tillie Voss of the Packers and Frank Hanny of the Bears were ejected for fighting in the third meeting in 1924.

    “They were our mortal enemies,” the late Harry Jacunski, an end for the Packers from 1939-’44, said of the Bears years later.

    The 1941 playoff settled the Western Division championship after the Packers and Bears had finished in a tie in the standings with 10-1 records, splitting their two games. The Packers earned their share of the division title when they beat the Washington Redskins on Nov. 30 in their final regular-season game. The Bears had one more to play the next Sunday against the Chicago Cardinals to clinch their share.

    Lambeau took his entire team, some 30 players, to Chicago to watch the game.

    “We were sitting in Comiskey Park watching the Cardinals play the Bears, and the news came over about Pearl Harbor,” the late Tony Canadeo, the Packers’ Hall of Fame halfback, said in 1996. “Everybody was saying, ‘Pearl Harbor. Where the hell is that?’ We had gone down on the train, went to the game and sat up in the second deck in the end zone and watched them play.”

    The Bears won, 34-24, and it was a somber train ride home for the Packers. Clearly, it wasn’t because they knew they would have to go back to Chicago the next week to play the Bears.

    “We knew we were going to war,” the late Tom Greenfield, one of the Packers’ centers, also said in 1996.

    The Bears were a powerhouse in 1941. They had annihilated the Washington Redskins, 73-0, in the 1940 NFL championship, and they had six players who would eventually be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But the Packers had stunned them, 16-14, on Nov. 2 by playing a seven-man defensive line. What’s more, they had some stars of their own: Don Hutson, Clarke Hinkle, Cecil Isbell and Canadeo.

    But the playoff game was no contest.

    The Packers scored first when Hugh Gallarneau of the Bears fumbled the opening kickoff, and five plays later, Hinkle crashed into the end zone from one yard out. The Bears responded by scoring 24 unanswered points in the second quarter en route to a 33-14 victory.

    “We absolutely destroyed them,” the late Sid Luckman, the Bears’ Hall of Fame quarterback, said in 1996. “They came up with the seven-man line (in the earlier meeting)… and we didn’t know how to block them. But we knew they were so successful, they’d use it again. So we just annihilated them. That game was unreal. We took the ball and just marched up and down the field, up and down the field.”

    While the players on both teams knew what lay ahead, the Bears seemed more emotionally ready to play football for whatever reason.

    “I don’t think our minds were on the game,” Greenfield said years later.

    The next week, the Bears won the NFL title with a similarly convincing 37-9 victory over the New York Giants and each player’s winning share was a mere $430, due to the small turnout.

    Over the next three years, 44 of the 59 players who appeared in the ’41 playoff between the Bears and Packers served in the military. One, Howard “Smiley” Johnson, a reserve guard for the Packers, was killed in action.

    The rivalry endured. Sunday’s game will be the 180th counting the two post-season games.
    Cliff Christl is a former Packers writer and sports editor for the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

    Fullback Norm Standlee scores the Bears' second touchdown of the second quarter on a 2-yard run in a 33-14 victory over the Packers in the Western Division playoff game at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Dec. 14, 1941. The Packers' Herman Rohrig (8) stands between the officials and Charley Brock (29) is at right. Press-Gazette archives

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