Packers-Bears Rivalry: Favre and Rodgers & the Greatest Comeback in NFL History

A comeback decades in the making

Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers at the 2013 NFL Honors Ceremony (YouTube/NFL courtesy of CBS)

*UPDATE: As of November 29, 2020 the Green Bay Packers took a 100-95-6 lead over the Chicago Bears*

There’s a reason the NFL chose this rivalry to kick off the 100th season in league history. However the rivalry is especially intriguing because of an incredible comeback.

Yes, the greatest comeback in NFL history is one you’ve probably not thought much about, or maybe you haven’t even realized it occurred. But that comeback is the Green Bay Packers’ retaking the lead in the all-time series from their rival Chicago Bears during the “Favre and Rodgers Era.”

In 1992, the Chicago Bears were up 81-57-6 on the Green Bay Packers all-time — but they, against all odds, are not on top anymore.

Thus, the two most important names in the Packers and Bears Rivalry are, by far, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

Believe us, this is not meant as some disrespect toward the Bears or the litany of transcendent stars, on both teams, that came before. The Bears truly have have dominated much of the history of this rivalry. This statement is simply acknowledging how utterly amazing it is that the Packers have taken back control of the all-time series, so rapidly, after being down by so many games.

Names like Walter Payton, Dick Butkus, Bronco Nagurski, Gale Sayers, Mike Ditka, George “Papa Bear” Halas, Red Grange, Mike Singletary and Bill George are absolutely legendary in our book. Just as Vince Lombardi, Reggie White, Don Hutson, Ray Nitschke, Bart Starr, Jim Taylor, Herb Adderley, Charles Woodson and Paul Hornung should be regarded to savvy Bears fans. Of course each franchise has other legends that could have easily been named, too.

The amount of iconic names these two franchises have boasted is unreal; but amazingly none of these people are as important to this rivalry.

Without Favre and Rodgers the story of this rivalry would be dramatically different. There likely would have never been a comeback.

Sure, the rivalry probably wouldn’t exist today without Halas’ influence on the NFL and the Packers probably wouldn’t exist without the help of their fans buying stock in the team, but these two quarterbacks have done more than anyone within the context of this rivalry.

The odds of having two back-to-back Hall of Fame quarterbacks are minuscule, but having them both equally terrorize the same rival team with unprecedented success is even crazier to think about.

The Packers and Bears rivalry is famously the oldest in the NFL, dating back to November 27, 1921, and is the most-played professional football series ever. It’s where legends are bolstered; it’s in many ways the backbone of the entire NFL.

But the reason Favre and Rodgers are so damn important to the arc of this century-long rivalry is that they led the Packers on an unbelievable comeback, a seemingly insurmountable task.

It’s one of the more impossible stats that is actually true.

Try to think of two other players that have so profoundly impacted the fortunes of two separate franchises, for nearly three decades. And these two were even teammates. It’s madness. We know you can’t.

The Chicago Bears were simply the more dominant team in the rivalry for much of its existence until Favre found his way to Green Bay. Not only did the Bears win the first three matches in the rivalry, they led the rivalry in wins in the 1920s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 70s and 80s.

In six of the first seven decades of this rivalry, the Bears were on top (although both franchises won unprecedented World Championships along the way). But now the Bears have had the better record in just six of the ten decades in which these teams have played.

Talk about a turnaround.

Before 2017, the last time the Packers held the lead in the series was in 1932 when they led the series 11-10-4. A slim lead of one game; a lead they’d lose in 1933 and not see again for another 85 years.

But it seemed like that lead would never return for the Packers. How could it? The numbers were just too stacked against them.

Or were they?

As previously mentioned, in 1992, less than two months into Favre’s tenure, the Bears held a 81-57-6 lead in the all-time series. That’s a 24 game lead (tied for the largest lead in the history of the rivalry).

The Bears similarly held a 24 game lead in September of 1960, until Bart Starr’s Packers narrowed that gap significantly, to just 11 games, by the time he retired. So Starr is incredibly vital to this rivalry and without him the Packers surely wouldn’t have the all-time lead back, but as good as he was, he wasn’t Favre and Rodgers good against the Bears.

However as good as the 1960s were for the Packers against the Bears, the 1970s and 1980s were that much tougher on the Packers. The Bears, led by Walter Payton and a historic defense, became an absolute force in the NFL. This is when the Bears really started to take control of the rivalry, in the modern era, and Bears’ fans self-esteem was never higher.

I mean, they still talk about the glory of 1985 today.

In the NFL, divisional opponents play just twice a year (with the rare exception of playoff games), so making up ground is incredibly tough.

Before Favre got under center, Green Bay had lost 14 of their last 17 games against Chicago. Things weren’t looking so good.

Again, at this moment the Bears were up 81-57-6 all-time on the Packers.

If you would have bet that just 25 years later the Packers would have the all-time lead in the series, you’d have been put in a mental institution with affliction “Acute Hyperactive Homerism”. Or just called an idiot.

Do you realize how dominant a team has to be over another team to make up a 24 game deficit in just 25 years in the NFL?

In the Favre and Rodgers Era the Packers have gone 39-14 against the Bears. That’s a 0.735 winning percentage over your historic, bitter, divisional, geographic and cultural rival. We would say it’s an impossible feat — had they not done it.

And it’s not like the Bears were a pushover of a team the last 25 years. Despite the Packers’ dominance over them, they still made it to the postseason five times, won the division three times, and made it to one Super Bowl, with many star players coming through.

Of course, they would have made it to the playoffs more times had they beat Green Bay more than just 26% of the time over that span.

That’s how profoundly Favre and Rodgers have affected not only the Packers, but the Bears, too. How many more playoff games would Soldier Field have seen in recent years if not for those two guys?

Years ago we (the two of us at used to joke about the Packers someday taking back control of the all-time series, but we were never actually serious. But these two men did the impossible. And that’s why they’re the two most important names in this wondrous rivalry.

Maybe Jay Cutler should get a shoutout for helping a bit, too.

From 1994-1998 Brett Favre led the Packers to 10 straight wins over the Bears. He’d also lead Green Bay to another seven-game winning streak over the team to the south later in his career. His overall record against the Bears (as a Packer) was 22-10.

Aaron Rodgers, in his entire 11 year starting career, has lost to the Bears just four times. One loss was when he was a rookie and another loss was the time he broke his collarbone and threw just two passes in the game. 18-4 is the team’s record against Chicago since he’s been named starter (including the monumental playoff game that sent Green Bay to Super Bowl XLV).

For those wondering, Bart Starr went 16-11 against the Bears. And Chicago was really good in his era; they won the NFL Championship in 1963 and drafted Gale Sayers and Dick Butkus in 1965. Because of the talent he was up against, Starr’s record is very impressive. But again, it’s just not on the same level of mastery displayed by No. 4 and No. 12.

Had Favre not dominated the Bears and Rodgers not continued it, 1932 would have been the best this historic rivalry ever got for the Packers. Think about that. There would have been no massive paradigm shift in how football historians, and fanatics of each respective franchise, view this rivalry. The interactions between fans would be altogether different.

This rivalry used to be all about the Bears. They owned it.

Sure, the Packers were formidable in the the league’s early days and then later snuck in a dynasty in the 1960s, but that’s about it. The Bears had a plethora of historic names that permeated the rivalry and league history.

But Favre and Rodgers changed all that.

And the Bears simply haven’t been the same since Favre took over. They’re still a historic franchise, but their swagger as a giant of the NFL has been surely shaken. They’re unsure of themselves and don’t quite have the same identity that they had for 75 years of their existence.

They’re all about defense and running the ball. Historically they’ve had some of the best middle linebackers and running backs. But not even Brian Urlacher and Matt Forte in recent years could help get this team back to where they used to be — amongst the proudest organizations in all of sport.

Perhaps running back David Montgomery and newly acquired star linebacker/defensive end Khalil Mack will help get the Bears going in the right direction. But, unfortunately for them, Rodgers is still in his prime.

Looking back at the last 25 years, the Chicago Bears have been crippled and arguably tamed because of the psychological warfare inflicted upon them from the Packers (specifically the passing game). They’ve watched as their bitter rival somehow overcame an impossible deficit in the all-time series.

Again, the Bears fumbled away a 24 game lead in the all-time series in just a 25 year stretch. It’s astonishing.

And it’s all because of Favre and Rodgers.

Think about the PTSD that Bears fans must deal with when hearing those names uttered today. We ask again, have two players on any one franchise ever so systematically decimated the hopes of another franchise with more precision than Favre and Rodgers have to the Bears?

Furthermore, had the Packers not made this comeback on the Bears, who knows what Green Bay’s football (and community) identity or pride would look like today. That’s scary to think about.

The two teams split their season 1-1, with the Packers winning the season opener in prime time in the greatest comeback in the history of the rivalry.

We are going to keep saying it: The greatest stat in Packers history is the team erasing a 24 game hole in just 25 years against the Bears.

Look at it this way, the Bears hit the 80-win mark in this rivalry in 1991. The Packers didn’t hit the 80-win mark until 2008. And the Packers still got to 95 wins before the Bears!

Think about that. I mean, really let it soak in.

The Packers currently hold a 99-95-6 lead over the Bears all-time following their 10-3 win to kick off the NFL’s 100th season (below it’s explained how and when that “comeback” was completed) and their Week 15 matchup, another Packers win. The teams are 1-1 in playoff games against each other. The Bears won in 1941 and Rodgers and the Packers won in 2010.

After decades of losing to the Bears with regularity, a new normal has been established in the rivalry.

Without trying to sound too harsh, it’s laughable how many hands you’d need to count the amount of quarterbacks Chicago has employed against Green Bay since 1992. This disparity in quarterbacks is directly responsible for this comeback.

If someone would have had you bet on who would get to 100 wins first back in 1992, when the Bears were up 81-57-6 you would have placed every cent you own on Chicago. We would have, too.

But then came Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers. And everything changed.

There’s something incredibly satisfying in rooting for the underdog. And even though the Packers had won a couple more World Championships than the Bears as of the early 1990s, Green Bay was still the overwhelming underdog in this rivalry.

This is a comeback story for the ages, and its beauty is intensified when understood within the “small town vs. big city” narrative in which this rivalry exists. The big city team had a big lead, but no more.

Although this rivalry is so interesting on many levels. Both teams have, throughout the years, helped each other out financially. And they are each others closest divisional rivals, geographically speaking — and in terms of overall success.

The Bears are the NFL’s winningest team, but the Packers are gunning for them. Favre and Rodgers have narrowed that gap significantly. The Bears have the most Hall of Fame inductees, but again, the Packers are narrowing that gap. Green Bay has the most World Championships and the Bears are second on that list.

Success and history oozes from this rivalry. As does hatred and respect.

But would there be as much shared respect had Favre and Rodgers not brought the Packers back to prominence? Would there be as much hatred from Bears fans if these quarterbacks hadn’t brought so much pain these last few decades? Of course not.

But this comeback didn’t just happen; it was orchestrated by the two right arms of two very different quarterbacks. You could argue that one of the only things Favre and Rodgers really have in common out on the field is their beating of the Bears.

There were some monumental moments along the way, by these two guys, that helped this rivalry change so dramatically toward success for the Packers in the last 25 years. Favre quite literally broke the Bears’ will and Rodgers decided he’d crush their collective soul. Of all the legendary players the Packers have had, these two took it to another level against Chicago.

The abuse started nearly 25 years ago.

Favre’s longest touchdown run of his career came against the Bears in 1994, in the midst of a 33-6 win in a vicious rainstorm in Chicago, despite playing with a badly bruised hip. It was the night Butkus and Sayers’ numbers were retired. But the following year his legend as a “Bear-Killer” would really be born.

In November of 1995, Favre got his first real chance to forge his “Iron Man” legacy. He fought through a badly sprained ankle and had limited mobility due to the massive amount of tape, but still threw for five touchdowns in a gutsy 35-28 victory over the Bears, with first place in the division up for grabs.

But that singular moment doesn’t live up to how Rodgers has specifically tortured the Bears.

Rodgers’ 4th and 8 game-winning, division-winning and playoff appearance clinching throw to Randall Cobb in 2013 (after coming back for the final game of the season from an injury he sustained against the Bears earlier that year) is an all-time moment in this rivalry.

John Kuhn made a great block on future Hall of Famer Julius Peppers (and Peppers actually joined the Packers the next season) before Rodgers heaved that legendary ball with less than a minute to play. The Bears would have won the division that year, and seemed to be on their way, but the Packers did instead. The Packers have since been to the playoffs three times since that throw, the Bears still haven’t been since 2010.

Speaking of the 2010 season, Rodgers’ tackle of Brian Urlacher after an interception in the 2010 NFC Championship Game was, maybe, the biggest play in the rivalry for the Packers. Even after an interception, reduced to a would-be tackler, Rodgers still found a way to haunt the Bears. Urlacher was almost certain to score on that play and potentially send the Bears to the Super Bowl. But it never happened.

Although Rodgers’ first half against the Bears in 2014 wasn’t too bad either. He threw six touchdowns in the first half of a 55-14 Packers victory. Yes, in the first half alone.

In 2016, when the Packers finally tied the all-time series, it was Rodgers (of course) that threw a 60 yard pass to Jordy Nelson, on third and 11 from the Packers’ 26 yardline, with just over a minute to play. Mason Crosby would kick the game-winning field goal seconds later; the Bears haven’t been on top of the all-time series since that moment.

However the moment, 85 years in the making, when the Packers finally took back the lead in the all-time series again came on September 28, 2017.

None other than Aaron Rodgers threw for four touchdowns in the game; the greatest comeback in football history had been completed in front of a sold-out Lambeau Field.

For the Bears, their largest lead in franchise history had been officially squandered. Anyone else want to cheers to that?

However the following season, 2018, perhaps the other greatest comeback in the rivalry’s history occurred. When Rodgers, coming back from injury, lead the Packers back from a 17 point deficit in the fourth quarter to win 24-23. It was the largest comeback in Packers history.

The amount of amazing moments in this rivalry is staggering.

But the focus shouldn’t just be on Rodgers, as Favre did throw 53 touchdowns in his career against the Bears (as a Packer, 60 in his career). Without Favre, what Rodgers is doing wouldn’t have the same impact or affect. It would be dominant, but not as historic. That said, Rodgers is already up to  42 touchdown passes against Chicago in his career.

We suppose it should be mentioned that Favre’s NFL record 99-yard touchdown pass to Robert Brooks on Monday Night Football came against the Bears, too. ‘Cause of course it did.

The combined “Favre and Rodgers Era” is a truly historic time in a historic rivalry.

If these two men hadn’t come to Green Bay, this rivalry would have an entirely different feel today. Who knows how we’d view it. But one thing is certain, the Bears would still be the undisputed king. The impact of these two players cannot be adequately quantified.

Favre and Rodgers changed everything, for better and worse, for both franchises.

And what an amazing comeback it was to watch.

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We seek to bring more context to, and share interesting stores about, the history of the Green Bay Packers and the NFL as a whole. Clickbait be damned. "We" are Daniel and David Zillmer; hit the about or contact to learn more.

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