THE GAME: Despite a penchant for playing with fire, a tendency which made for another "nervous" weekend for them and their loyalists, the Green Bay Packers (3-1) are right where they want to be at this juncture in the NFC North Division's race.
And that, to be sure, is leading the division at the quarter-pole - and being ahead of their most substantial rivals for ultimate primacy at season's end, the defending NFC Central champion Chicago Bears (2-2).
Poetically, the primordial enemies (the Packers' rivalry with the neighboring Bears dates to 1921 and the genesis of the NFL) now will collide next week on ABC's "Monday Night Football" at University of Illinois Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill. (October 7) where they will have at it for the 163rd time in regular-season play.
Memorial Stadium is serving as the Bears' home away from home this season while their Soldier Field structure on Chicago's lakefront is being renovated. A sellout gathering of 70,904 is expected to sit in on the proceedings.
The Packers will be in quest of a third straight victory, having defeated Detroit (37-31) and Carolina (17-14) back-to-back. On a hectic track to date, they have registered their three wins by a total of 12 points - two of them forged by the margin of a field goal - as all three contests went down to the proverbial wire.
In the most recent process, the Green and Gold had flirted with potential trauma against the Panthers, permitting them to take a 14-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. Then, after going back up 17-14, they gave their guests a second chance, allowing them a 74-yard drive to set up a "chip shot" field goal attempt by Shayne Graham, a 24-yarder, which the Panthers' new specialist obligingly shanked to the right, assuring the Packers their third success.
THE TV-RADIO COVERAGE: Al Michaels will call the play-by-play for next Monday night's ABC telecast and John Madden will provide the analysis, with Melissa Stark reporting from the field. Fred Gaudelli is the producer and Drew Esocoff directs.
The game also will be aired over the Packer Radio Network, with Wayne Larrivee handling the play-by-play and Larry McCarren offering commentary and analysis. The radio broadcast also will be available on the on the internet via www.packers.com.
On the national radio front, Westwood One/CBS Radio Sports will carry the game with Marv Albert and Boomer Esiason working from the booth and John Dockery reporting from the field.
Additionally, the game will be broadcast over ESPN International - in three languages - to over 180 countries.
THE 'MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL' RECORD: The Packers enter next Monday night's encounter with the Bears even with the board on "Monday Night Football." Since the series began in 1970, they have won 18 games, lost 18 and tied one.
The Green and Gold lifted themselves to the .500 level by winning both of their "Monday Night Football" assignments last year, shutting out the Washington Redskins in Lambeau Field, 37-0, and turning back the Jacksonville Jaguars, 28-21, on the road.
Somewhat poetically, considering the anti-social nature of their relationship, the Packers and Bears also are dead even in their competition on 'MNF,' each having won three of their six meetings.
The Bears won the first three,10-9 in 1974, 23-7 in 1985 and 25-12 in 1986.
The Packers since have prevailed in their last three meetings: 33-6 in 1994, 27-24 in 1995 and 38-24 in 1997.
From the historical perspective, the Packers own a prominent niche in 'Monday Night Football' annals. On October 17, 1983, they combined with the then-reigning Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins to mount the highest scoring game in the history of the prime-time showcase, Green Bay emerging with a 48-47 victory. Jan Stenerud's 20-yard field goal with 54 seconds remaining decided the issue. The Redskins' Mark Moseley subsequently missed a 39-yard field goal attempt as time expired.
The pointfest produced 11 touchdowns, 11 conversions and 6 field goals.
THE SERIES: Unmatched for sheer intensity and irascibility since it was launched in 1921, the Packers' long-running feud with the Chicago Bears seldom needs any added impetus.
But, for the second year in a row, there is an additional element of intriguing proportions as they prepare to clash for the 163rd time in the 81-year history of professional football's most celebrated rivalry.
It stems from their current preeminence in the NFL's NFC North Division race and where it could take them.
A year ago, the Bears emerged as champions of the former NFC Central Division with a 13-3 record - despite losing both of their 2001 meetings with the Packers, who finished second at 12-4 - as the Midway Monsters made the playoffs for the first time since 1994.
A similar scenario again appears to be developing in the current campaign with respect to the division race, with the Packers out front and the Bears just one game back. All of which suggests next Monday night's matchup will be accompanied by as much competitive hostility as there has ever been - in a rivalry that dates to the dawn of the National Football League, only in the second year of its existence when the Packers and Bears first went helmet to helmet in '21.
It was then that the rivalry's bristling tone was set - by the respective head coaches, the Packers' Curly Lambeau and the Bears' George Halas - who made it a symbolic point never to shake hands after any of their teams' on-field encounters.
Another element that sets this venerable feud apart from all others is the fact that it is the most prolific "relationship" in NFL history. The Packers and the Monsters of the Midway are the only two teams in league annals to have met on as many as 160 occasions.
And there is eloquent evidence to indicate the competitive intensity has been there throughout, reflected by the fact that the scoring differential is a scant 1 point per game over the 80-plus years of the series. Also by the fact that the 69 of those 160 meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less.
Surprisingly, in view of the long-standing discord between the principals, the series has produced only one overtime game - that in the 1980 season opener in Lambeau Field, which saw the Packers prevail via one of the most bizarre plays in the rivals' mutual history.
With the score tied at 6-6 in overtime, Bears defensive tackle Alan Page charged through to block a Chester Marcol field goal attempt. Fortuitously, from the Packers' perspective, the ball bounced back to Marcol, who scooped it up and darted 24 yards down Lambeau Field's west sideline for the deciding score in a 12-6 Green Bay victory.
In addition to the 162 regular-season collisions, the antediluvian enemies have had one postseason showdown. Historically, it came in the first divisional playoff in NFL history - a game played at Chicago's Wrigley Field in 1941 after the Packers and Bears had tied for Western Division honors with matching 10-1 regular-season records. The Bears, then represented by one of the great teams in NFL annals, won the playoff, 33-14.
The Packers have been closing the all-time gap of late, having won 14 of the last 16 meetings, but the Bears continue to lead the series, 83 victories to 73. There also have been 6 ties.
The series has been interrupted twice since its inception - in 1922, when the teams did not meet, and in 1982 when the annual home-and-home series was wiped out by a 57-day player strike.
THE HEAD COACHES: Unswervingly committed and highly consistent, Mike Sherman has - in just over two seasons in residence - entrenched himself among the elite head coaches in the Packers' distinguished history.
Since succeeding Ray Rhodes in 2000, he has consistently paralleled the won-lost achievements of the fabled Vince Lombardi on a game-by-game basis - so closely, in fact, that his current 24-12 regular-season record as Green Bay's field leader is only a game off the Lombardi pace of 1959-61 at the same 36-game stage (25-11).
Equally impressive, from the overall perspective, Sherman has become only the fourth of the 13 head coaches in the team's 82-year history to forge a winning career record, thus joining a highly-exclusive "club" whose membership additionally includes only team founder E.L. "Curly" Lambeau, Lombardi and Mike Holmgren.
The purposeful New Englander also has matched another major Lombardi achievement by leading the Packers into the playoffs in his second season as a head coach - and has gone one up on Lombardi by escorting the Packers to victory in his first postseason game, Lombardi having lost his initial playoff game as Green Bay's field leader.
A year earlier, when a head coach for the first time at any level, Sherman debuted in 2000 by leading the Green and Gold to a 9-7 record, a season culminated by a sweep of the Packers' four NFC Central Division rivals (Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota and Tampa Bay), a singular accomplishment.
Despite assuming the additional and challenging responsibilities of executive vice president and general manager following Ron Wolf's retirement, he next maneuvered the Packers to an imposing 12-4 record in 2001, a single-season victory total surpassed by only three teams in club annals.
Sherman then enhanced that success by leading his team to a 25-15 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in a Wild Card playoff before seeing the Packers fall to the Super Bowl-bound St. Louis Rams in a Divisional playoff (45-17).
The first man to assume his multi-dimensional role since Lambeau last functioned in those capacities in 1949, Sherman brings varied and impressive credentials to his responsibilities. They include a Super Bowl following the 1997 season, during which he was a member of the Holmgren staff that led the Packers into SB XXXII against the Denver Broncos at San Diego.
It was the first of three consecutive years in the playoffs for the thoroughgoing Central Connecticut State University alumnus, who returned to the postseason with the Packers in 1998 and as the offensive coordinator on Holmgren's Seattle staff in 1999.
Sherman, now in his 25th year in the coaching profession, began his coaching career at Stamford, Conn., High School in 1978. He went on to coach in the college ranks for 16 years - including a year as offensive coordinator at Holy Cross and terms as offensive line coach at such highly respected programs as Texas A&M and UCLA.
Dick Jauron, now in his fourth year as the eleventh head coach in the Bears' long history, entrenched himself as the Midway Monsters' field leader last season by leading the Bears to the greatest single-season turnaround in team annals with a 13-3 record.
The Bears had gone 5-and-11 in 2000.
In the process, the former Packers aide (he was Green Bay's defensive backfield coach from 1986-94), directed Chicago to its first division title since 1990 and coached the team in its first playoff game since 1994.
Jauron earlier warmed the hearts of Bears loyalists by becoming the first coach in team history to defeat the Packers at Lambeau Field in each of his first two trips.
Prior to taking over the Midway Monsters, Jauron was the inaugural defensive coordinator at Jacksonville, where he was instrumental in the early success of the Jaguars, which included three playoff berths in the franchise's first four seasons and a run to the 1996 AFC Championship Game.
A running back at Yale as a collegian - he held the school's career rushing record for 27 years - Jauron was drafted by Detroit in the fourth round of the 1973 draft and played eight years as a defensive back in the NFL with the Lions (1973-77) and Cincinnati Bengals (1978-80), earning a trip to the 1975 Pro Bowl.
THE LAST TIME(S): The Packers swept the Bears in 2001 for the first time in three years - in a pair of close-to-the-vest contests, prevailing 20-12 in Chicago on November 17 and 17-7 in the rematch at Lambeau Field (December 9).
The Packers posted their eighth consecutive victory at Soldier Field in the first of these, quarterback Brett Favre passing for a pair of touchdowns and the Packers' defense more than doing its part, holding the Bears out of the end zone en route to a 20-12 victory.
The road victory lifted the Green and Gold in the NFC Central Division lead with a 6-2 record.
The rematch was equally competitive, finding the Green and Gold leading by a modest 14-7 margin at the three-quarter mark. Running back Ahman Green was Green Bay's key performer in this one, rushing for 125 yards and a touchdown as the Packers took sole possession of first place in the division with only four games remaining.
Favre, presiding over his ninth victory in 10 games against the Bears in Chicago, erased an early 6-3 deficit in the first game when he found Bill Schroeder in the corner of the end zone, a 41-yard strike with 45 seconds left in the first half.
In the third quarter, Favre guided the Packers on an eight-play, 74-yard march, culminating with a 9-yard bullet to Antonio Freeman. The pass, representing the 55th time Favre and Freeman had connected for a touchdown, tied the duo for sixth on the NFL's all-time list. It also improved the Packers' lead to 17-9.
Defensively, the Packers held an opponent without a touchdown for the third time in the 2001 season (Sept. 8 vs. Detroit, Sept. 24 vs. Washington). The Packers stiffened on each of the Bears' three red-zone penetrations and did not allow a snap inside the 15-yard line.
The game hinged on the first snap of the fourth quarter, a third-and-one from the 50. Chicago handed off to receiver Marty Booker and Darren Sharper dropped him for a 4-yard loss. Sharper (3 tackles for loss, 11 total) kept momentum away from the Bears, who had posted miraculous comebacks in each of their two previous games. Green Bay took the ensuing punt and drove 68 yards to kick a field and extend its lead to 20-12.
In the second matchup, at Lambeau Field Field, Green's 125-yard rushing performance saw him become the first Packer since John Brockington (1971-73) - and the third ever, including Jim Taylor (1960-64) - to compile consecutive 1,000-yard rushing seasons, surpassing the milestone with a 15-yard burst in the second quarter. He also turned in the first 100-yard effort against Chicago in 20 games - since Minnesota's Robert Smith on October 15, 2000.
Green also played a major role in the Packers' longest 2001 scoring drive, a nine-play, 91-yard trek in the third quarter. Green carried four times for 43 yards on the drive, including a 29-yard rumble that put Green Bay on the Bears' doorstep, and a 12-yard touchdown that broke a 7-7 tie and ultimately put the game out of reach.
On the ensuing Chicago drive, Darren Sharper picked off a Jim Miller pass, setting up the Packers at midfield. Capitalizing on the turnover, Ryan Longwell then extended the Green Bay lead to 17-7 with a 27-yard field goal. Sharper also halted Chicago's last gasp drive, stepping in front of Marty Booker to break up a fourth-down pass.
Although playing without two starters - John Thierry and Gilbert Brown - and losing leading tackler Nate Wayne (back injury) in the second quarter, the Packers held Chicago to only 189 total yards, 50 on the ground. Green Bay thus combined in its two games vs. Chicago to hold the Bears to just 97yards rushing.
Brett Favre, meanwhile, earned his 100th career victory and reached 3,000 yards passing for a 10th straight season, an NFL record.
NOTABLE PACKERS-BEARS CONNECTIONS:
NFL ties: Dick Jauron coached the Packers' defensive backs under three head coaches (Forrest Gregg, Lindy Infante and Mike Holmgren); Jauron is one of nine current NFL head coaches who've previously coached in Green Bay (more than any other franchise)...Bears defensive coordinator Greg Blache joined Jauron on the Packers' staff from 1988-93...Packers vice president of football operations Mark Hatley, the Bears' top personnel man from 1997-spring 2001, drafted consecutive Associated Press Rookies of the Year - Brian Urlacher (2000) and Anthony Thomas (2001)...Bears LB Keith McKenzie (1996-99) and DT Keith Traylor (1993) played in Green Bay...Packers fullback Tony Carter signed with the Bears as a non-drafted free agent in 1994 and started most of their games from 1995-97...Green Bay coaches Tom Rossley (1997-98) and Bob Slowik (1993-98) served previously as Bears assistants...Bears quarterback Henry Burris spent the 2001 season in Green Bay...Director of player development Edgar Bennett spent his final seasons as a player, 1998-99, in a Chicago uniform...Packers long snapper Rob Davis held a similar capacity for the Bears in 1996...Bob Wylie, Bears offensive line coach, served on the N.Y. Jets staff with current Packers coaches Ed Donatell and Larry Beightol from 1990-91...Phillip Daniels and Ahman Green were Seahawks teammates from 1998-99...Adrian White, uncle of Bears WR Dez White, played for the Packers in 1992.
College teammates: Ted Washington (Bears) and Joe Johnson (Packers) at Louisville...Mike Gandy and Bobbie Howard (Bears) and Tony Fisher (Packers) at Notre Dame...Mike Brown (Bears) and Steve Warren (Packers) at Nebraska...Christian Peter (Bears) and Ahman Green and Tyrone Williams (Packers), also at Nebraska...Larry Whigham (Bears) and Doug Pederson (Packers) at Northeast Louisiana...Joe Tafoya (Bears) and Kevin Barry (Packers) at Arizona.
Other connections: Center Frank Winters played at Western Illinois, while Packers assistants Jeff Jagodzinski (Northern Illinois), Frank Novak (Western Illinois) and Pat Ruel (Northern Illinois) coached at nearby schools...Safety Matt Bowen, an all-state quarterback at Glen Ellyn (Ill.) High School, makes his off-season home in Chicago...Assistant trainer Bryan Engel's mother was Bowen's fifth- and sixth-grade science teacher in Glen Ellyn...Engel is from Hanover Park, Ill. and graduated from Hoffman Estates (Ill.) High School...Bears receiver Ahmad Merritt played at Wisconsin...Packers defensive line coach Jethro Franklin was Bears DE Bryan Robinson's position coach at Fresno State...Both Mike Sherman and Dick Jauron attended high school and college in the New England area...In 1985, Sherman replaced Wylie as offensive line coach at Holy Cross...Both tight ends coaches, Jagodzinski and the Bears' Pat Flaherty, were on the Boston College staff in 1992.
THE CONFERENCE CALLS: Bears head coach Dick Jauron will be available to Wisconsin's sports media via conference call in media work room H of the Packers' administration building at 1:25 Wednesday afternoon, to be followed by linebacker Brian Urlacher at 1:45.
THE ROSTER: Offensive tackle Barrett Brooks has been re-signed as a free agent, GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman has announced. Wide receiver Chris Jackson, signed on Saturday, was placed on waivers to make room for Brooks, a seven-year pro who most recently had been with the Denver Broncos until the final roster reduction for the regular season September 1.
MEMORABLE (PACKERS-BEARS) MOMENTS: Capsules of 18 of the more significant and memorable games in the Packers-Bears rivalry, most of them from the Green Bay perspective, follow:
-1935: Don Hutson, a rookie playing in only his second NFL game, gathers in a pass from tailback Arnold Herber, throwing from his end zone on Green Bay's first offensive play of the game, and Hutson races the distance (83 yards) for what proves to be the only score of the contest as the Packers shade the Bears, 7-0. What was to become the justly famed "Herber-to-Hutson" passing combination thus was born.
-1935: Hutson again provides the major heroics in the Packers' 1935 rematch with the Bruins. With the Packers in arrears 14-3 and most of their fans already en route to the railroad station for the return trip to Green Bay, Hutson catches 2 touchdown passes from Herber in the last 21/2 minutes of the game to pull out a memorable, 17-14 victory.
-1941: Packers invade Chicago's Wrigley Field (November 2) and upset the undefeated Bears, ranked as one of the greatest teams in pro football annals, 16-14. It is the only game the Bears will lose over the '41 and '42 seasons.
-1947: Unveiling their version of the "modern" T-formation, the Packers surprise the defending NFL champion Bears, 29-20, in their season opener in Green Bay's old City Stadium. It is to be the last victory over the Bears in the 31-year Green Bay coaching career of team founder E. L. "Curly" Lambeau.
-1953: Packers, Bears battle to 21-21 tie in Wrigley Field, forging the most recent standoff in series history.
-1957: Quarterback Vito "Babe" Parilli comes off the bench to direct a late scoring drive and leads the Packers to a 21-17 victory over the Bears as "new" City Stadium (now known as Lambeau Field) is dedicated (September 29).
-1959: Packers surprise favored Bears 9-6, in season opener in Green Bay by way of a Paul Hornung field goal to make debut of new head coach Vince Lombardi a success.
-1964: Paul Hornung kicks the first free-kick field goal in Packers history in season opener, a 52-yarder which ties the club's existing FG distance record, in the process of a 23-12 victory over the Midway Monsters.
-1968: Bears' Gale Sayers rushes for 205 yards, a Lambeau Field record, to key a 13-10 Chicago victory, provided by Mac Percival's 43-yard, free kick field goal n the final minute of play.
-1970: Bart Starr, not known as a running quarterback, surprises the Bears, scoring on a 3-yard bootleg into the right corner of Lambeau Field's south end zone with only 3 seconds remaining to give Green Bay a 20-19, come-from-behind victory over the Bears, Dale Livingston's conversion providing the winning margin.
-1973: With John Brockington rushing for 142 yards and MacArthur Lane for 101, Packers amass 298 yards on the ground, a Green Bay record for the series, and shut out the Bears in Chicago's Soldier Field, 21-0.
-1974: Steve Odom returns a punt 95 yards for a touchdown, an excursion which remains a Packers record, to key a 20-3 Green Bay victory in the only regular-season game in the history of the series to be played in Milwaukee (at County Stadium).
-1977: Walter Payton rushes for 205 yards, tying Gale Sayers' Lambeau Field record, to key a 26-0 Chicago victory.
-1980: Placekicker Chester Marcol picks up the bouncing football in the wake of his blocked field goal attempt and races down the west sideline into the end zone, 24 yards away, at the 6-minute mark of the sudden death overtime as the Packers edge the Bears, 12-6, in the only overtime game in the history of the series.
-1989: In one of the most dramatic finishes in team history, quarterback Don Majkowski fires a 14-yard strike to wide receiver Sterling Sharpe in the heart of the end zone for a tying touchdown with only 32 seconds remaining to play, and rookie Chris Jacke kicks the decisive extra point for a 14-13 win. The play is first negated by the officials, ruling Majkowski's throw had been delivered from beyond the line of scrimmage, but the instant replay official subsequently reverses the call and rules it a touchdown.
-1993: Packers amass 466 yards to Bears' 210, with Brett Favre passing for a career-high 402 yards, but the Chicagoans capitalize on 5 Packers turnovers to carry the day, 30-17.
-1994: Slogging through a driving rainstorm and gale-like, 51-mile-and-hour winds, the Packers rush for 223 yards and roll up a 27-0 halftime lead before permitting the Bears a consolation touchdown with only 5:55 remaining in the game en route to a 33-6 victory.
-1995: Brett Favre, hobbled by a severe ankle sprain incurred at Minnesota a week earlier, shows no perceptible effects of the injury, mounting a record-tying performance. Passing for all 5 Green Bay touchdowns, the young field general ties a 53-year-old Packers record - shared by Cecil Isbell, Don Horn and Lynn Dickey - in leading Packers to a hectic, 35-28 victory over the Bears. In all, Favre completes 25 of 33 passes for 336 yards, including a pair of scoring passes to running back Edgar Bennett, two to flanker Robert Brooks and the other to fullback Dorsey Levens. A LeRoy Butler interception in the back of the end zone with 1:53 left helps preserve the victory.
-1997: Bears score with 1:54 remaining in season's rematch at Chicago (October 12), reducing Packers' lead to 24-23, and elect to attempt 2-point conversion. An Erik Kramer pass, intended for Raymont Harris, is incomplete, and Packers run out clock to preserve a 24-23 victory.