Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM
This is almost too much.
Packers-Bears would be a big game if both teams were winless and playing in a snowstorm in Lincoln Park. In 1945, the Bears were 0-5 and going nowhere, the great Sid Luckman was benched and a sellout crowd of 45,527 packed Wrigley Field when the Packers came to town.
So when both teams are good, it gets bigger. And when it’s late in the season, it gets even bigger than that. And when the Super Bowl is on the line? It literally can’t get any bigger than that.
The only way the Bears (12-5) against the Packers (12-6) for the NFC championship and a berth in the Super Bowl could be any bigger would be if George Halas and Vince Lombardi were on the sidelines, Red Grange was in the backfield and the halftime entertainment was Jack Dempsey vs. Gene Tunney.
It’s that big. Bigger than the 2006, 1988 and 1985 NFC Championship Games. Bigger than the 1963 showdown with the Packers at Wrigley Field. Maybe even bigger, some would argue, than the 1963 championship game against the New York Giants.
It might be the biggest football game ever in Chicago.
‘‘I think it’s possible this is one of the biggest games in the history of the National Football League,’’ said Hub Arkush, the longtime publisher of Pro Football Weekly and a former analyst on Bears radio broadcasts. ‘‘And I think it’s possible that it’s the biggest sporting event in the history of Chicago. It’s Bears-Packers. The Bears have the most Hall of Famers. The Packers are second. It’s Lombardi and Halas. It’s 31/2 hours [between Green Bay and Chicago]. It’s huge. I’m not sure we can overstate it.’’
The perfect storm of the Bears-Packers rivalry, the winner-goes-home aspect of the game, the Super Bowl being on the line and the magnifying effect of 21st century media have created unprecedented interest in the 181st Packers-Bears game Sunday at Soldier Field.
It’s an unstoppable force. After the Bears beat the Seattle Seahawks 35-24 in the NFC divisional playoff game at Soldier Field on Sunday, the Packers dominated most of the postgame conversation. There was a betting line on the Packers-Bears game before the Seahawks-Bears game was even over. And, of course, the Soldier Field crowd was chanting ‘‘Green Bay sucks’’ in the fourth quarter. What took them so long?
Arkush, who watched the 1963 NFL championship game and has been attending Bears games since 1957, is a sideline reporter for Westwood One who worked the Seahawks-Bears game and is also an NFL analyst for WSCR-AM. ‘‘At this time of the season, my phone starts ringing off the hook for various interviews,’’ he said Monday afternoon. ‘‘In the last 24 hours, I’ve already had three times the requests I normally get this week.’’
The volume of the interest and hype for Sunday’s game is unparalleled in Bears history. But the intensity of interest arguably has been as great or greater in the past. In 1963, the regular-season game between the defending champion Packers and first-place Bears drew national-television attention, a sellout crowd and record prices for scalpers.
And when the Bears reached the championship game against the Giants that season, even the NFL championship game was blacked out on local television, whether or not it was a sellout. The interest in the Giants-Bears game was so great that NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle allowed the game to be shown on closed-circuit television at McCormick Place, the Amphitheatre and the Coliseum.
And the demand was even greater for the debut of Red Grange on Thanksgiving Day in 1925. Mounted police had to be called out on several occasions at the downtown location and Wrigley Field to control the chaotic crowds trying to get tickets to see the former Illinois star, who filled Cubs Park to its 36,000-seat capacity and could have done it three times over, according to Halas.
And despite the hype, this year’s Packers-Bears game is not the Super Bowl. The 1963 game against the Giants was for the NFL championship.
‘‘This game is obviously going to be bigger because of the hype, but it’s certainly not more important [than the 1963 title game]. It’s not for a world championship,’’ said Don Pierson, who covered the Bears and the NFL for the Tribune for 40 years. ‘‘Don’t discount those early championships. Those were just as important to those players and fans as the Super Bowl is now. So there’s no way you can say it’s a bigger game than the 1963 championship.’’