Bears-Packers Last Playoff After Pearl Harbor

Packers end Hal Van Every hands the ball to an official after scoring  in the third quarter of a 33-14 loss to the Bears in the Western Division playoff game in 1941.

In their long, storied and successful histories, the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers have combined for 21 championships and faced one another 181 times — but only once in the playoffs.

That game was played exactly one week after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, on a cold, Sunday afternoon at Chicago’s Wrigley Field on December 14, 1941, nearly 70 years ago. It marked the first playoff game to determine a divisional champion in NFL history.

The George Halas-coached Bears, the famed Monsters of the Midway, were heavy favorites to win their second straight NFL title in 1941, coming off a record 73-0 win over the Washington Redskins in the 1940 NFL Championship game.

The Bears were led by Hall of Famers Sid Luckman at quarterback and George McAfee at running back. The great receiver Don Hutson and Clark Hinkle starred for the Pack, along with quarterback Ceci Isbell, below, being clotheslined by defense end George Wilson of the Bears in the playoff game.

The  Bears and Packers wound up tied for the NFL West Division title that year, both with 10-1 records, necessitating the playoff.

The Bears beat the Pack, 25-17, in the opening game of the season at Green Bay. The Pack got payback several weeks later when they held on for a 16-14 win in Chicago.

The Bears had played the previous Sunday, December 7, when the news about Pearl Harbor broke. They needed to beat their Windy City rivals the Cardinals at Comiskey Park that day to grab a share of the West Division title with idle Green Bay and force the playoff. And they did, 34-24.

Day of Infamy
Three scheduled NFL games were played the day the Japanese first attacked Pearl Harbor. Public address announcers in Chicago, and at New York’s Polo Grounds — where the Giants lost 21-7 to the Brooklyn Dodgers — interrupted their commentary to tell all servicemen to report to their units.  But without transistor radios — much less smartphones — many of the fans in Chicago and New York did not learn of the attack until they reached home.

At Washington’s Griffith Stadium, where the Redskins were playing the Philadelphia Eagles, the announcer paged high-ranking government and military personnel who were in attendance, but did not mention the Pearl Harbor attack.

The following Sunday, the Bears broke open the West Division playoff game against the Packers early, scoring 24 points in the second quarter, fueled by a pair of rushing touchdowns by fullback Norm Standlee. They went on to win the West, 33-14, in front of 43,424.

And on December 21, the Bears hosted the Giants at Wrigley Field with the NFL championship on the line. The Giants had finished the season 8-3, but didn’t face either the Bears or Packers that year.

Bears Win Title
In the championship game, the Giants tied the score early in the third quarter on a Ward Cuff field goal, but the Bears then proceeded on a 28-0 run — again with a pair of Standlee touchdowns — to win going away, 37-9.

In 1942 the Bears, chasing their third straight championship, finished the regular season unbeaten at 11-0. But the Washington Redskins got revenge in the championship game with a 14-6 upset victory.

When the Bears and Packers square off Sunday for the NFC title, it will mark their latest meeting in a rivalry that extends back to 1921. Chicago leads the all-time series 92-83-6.

Oh, btw, the Steelers and Jets have also squared off once previously in the playoffs. Pittsburgh beat New York, 20-17, on a Jeff Reed field goal in overtime in the 2005 playoffs. The Patriots went on to win the Super Bowl that year.


6 Comments on “Bears-Packers Last Playoff After Pearl Harbor”

  1. Paul Neuman says:

    If you hadn’t joined IBM when you were still a kid, you’d probably be a star on ESPN today. But who knew there was going to be an ESPN?

    • sportslifer says:

      Actually interviewed some of the ESPN guys back in the early 80s for a TV-Radio column I wrote for the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.

  2. Bob DiLallo says:

    A nice one… all those 1940s guys… I so remember my father and his cronies lionizing them. It was as if I knew Hutson, Luckman, et al.

  3. Thomas Brokl says:

    Question about 1940’s football: I was just looking at the box score for the Bears 73-0 win over the Redskins in 1940 and was surprised to see that the Bears did not have a designated kicker, they had FIVE different players kick successful PATS and possibly more players who were unsuccessful. Assuming this was a Dropkick era game, did a player on the field for the touchdown have to kick the PAT?
    NOTE: The Wikipedia account for the game indicated the referees were running low on footballs, so they requested George Halas run or pass on the last two PATs attempted so they could conserve the remaining footballs.

  4. sportslifer says:

    Thomas, good question. I think you hit on it, they were running out of footballs. And Halas probably figured extra points were like rubbing salt into the wound.

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