On a sunny March Sunday afternoon at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix, Bears chairman George McCaskey walked along one of the hotel's lavish outdoor corridors. To his right were the logos of all 32 NFL teams lined up in a row, displayed on triangle-shaped signage on a strip of green grass. McCaskey passed a few of the logos before coming to those of the four teams representing the NFC North.
He walked past the navy one with an orange "C" on it, the logo of a team that's been in his family for a century. Then he slyly knocked the green one over.
The Bears and Packers will meet for the 199th time on Thursday night to kick off the Bears' centennial season, which runs concurrently with the NFL's 100-year celebration. The league chose the Bears and Packers to begin the season to highlight its most historic rivalry, one that's raged along Lake Michigan for a century. Packers fans hate the Bears. Bears fans hate the Packers.
It's only fitting for these two franchises to play each other to kick off the celebration of a century of professional football.
"I guess it's like standing in a hallway, and some of these teams have short hallways in terms of their legacy," offensive lineman Kyle Long mused. "You can't see the end of the hallway in regard to the Bears and Packers rivalry. That's the beauty of it, and we get to keep adding rooms every year."
Midway through the 1992 season, the Bears had an 81-57-6 all-time record against the Packers. The team of George Halas and Sid Luckman and Mike Ditka and Gale Sayers and Walter Payton dominated the rivalry. The Bears won eight consecutive meetings between 1985 and 1988. In 1980, the Bears beat the Packers 61-7, the largest margin of victory in series history.
Then Brett Favre arrived in Green Bay. And Aaron Rodgers followed. Since the Bears had that 24-game advantage, they're 16-38 against the Packers. That's a winning percentage of .296. Fewer than one in three meetings between the two teams has been won by the Bears over the last 26 years.
The Bears lost 10 consecutive meetings from 1994-1998. The Packers won 11 consecutive games at Soldier Field from 1994-2004, then eight straight games in Chicago - starting with the NFC Championship - from 2011-2017.
But perhaps the rivalry is shifting again, at least to an equilibrium that hasn't been an aspect of it over 100 years. The Bears have a good team. The Packers still have one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.
And that the Bears will begin one of their most anticipated seasons in years with the Packers is only heightening the buzz around Chicago.
"You just approach it as another game," Jackson said, "but keep that thought in the back of your head, how much it really means to this city and to the organization."
The NFL usually has the defending Super Bowl champion play in its season-opening showcase. An exception was made for the Bears to play the Packers. As it should be.
This is a rivalry passed down across generations in Illinois and Wisconsin. Anyone who grew up a football fan in Chicago has this rivalry ingrained into his or her's brain. You, a Bears fan reading this, might remember that one person you went to grade school or high school with who was a Packers fan. There's always one. Maybe you work with a Packers fan, or married into a family from Wisconsin.
The proximity of these two fanbases, plus the century history between these two teams, makes it the best in the NFL. And for the 199th time, on Thursday night in Chicago, this great rivalry will again take center stage.
"We used to play our games in Wrigley Field, but we couldn't get into the field until after baseball season was over," Virginia McCaskey, who's assuredly seen more of this rivalry than anyone else, said in an interview with NBC Sports Chicago over the summer. "Especially in the later years when they constructed the temporary east stands, and all that took time, so we always played the first three or four games of the season as away games. And inevitably, we either opened or played Green Bay one of those early games. And it was difficult to beat them up there. It was difficult to beat them any time.
"So now we'll be on our own home ground and I hope the fans - actually, I had friends call me and say ‘I am so excited about this season, let's get to September.'"
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