The Bears vs. Packers Game Forgotten In Time!

Each year, the glorious matchups between the Chicago Bears and the Green Bay Packers are eagerly awaited by fans in both NFL cities. The two clubs currently hold the top two spots for most team wins in league history with Green Bay inching ahead during the 2022 season with 790 victories compared to 786 wins for the Bears. The Chicago club had been the NFL leader in victories since the 1921 season.

However, the Packers were not always as dominant in this unique series as they have been in recent years. In fact, the Bears ruled the early seasons of league competition between the two rivals. The Bears lost just once in the first 11 games between the teams, winning seven and tying three.

In this episode of “When Football Was Football” we’ll look back at a battle between the two rivals that has largely been erased from the record books despite the game being played under the lights on Wednesday, October 17, 1934, at State Fair Park in Milwaukee, WI.

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Packers Failed Miserably

There were some unusual circumstances surrounding this game, including the fact that it was played on a Wednesday night in the unusual location of Milwaukee. Green Bay hosted its first “home” game at Borchert Field in Milwaukee on October 1, 1933, when the club fell to the invading New York Giants 10-7.

The Green Bay Press-Gazette was not happy with the result stating: “The Packers planned to show Milwaukee how professional football should be played, but they failed miserably.” On the other hand, a satisfying crowd of 13,000 turned out in support of the still rather new sport of professional football.

But why were the Packers suddenly abandoning their hometown to dip their toes in Milwaukee? Basically, we might consider a pair of sufficient reasons and both might be shackled to a common theme in the early NFL: revenue and attendance. In the 1930s, the Packers called City Stadium home, although its capacity was a mere 15,000 in 1934.

There were, of course, some whispers that Milwaukee might better serve the Packers as their home with both a much larger population as well as a larger stadium to rely on in the competitive National Football League. More fans equaled more money, which would allow a professional team to offer competitive salaries. And, would better players feel more comfortable situated in a much larger metropolis rather than Green Bay?

Eventually, The Green Bay Franchise May Be Transferred

Although not entirely popular with the Green Bay fans, the Packers began to schedule “home” games each season in Milwaukee beginning in 1933, a tradition that lasted until 1994. 

But back to 1934…

As early as August 9, 1934, columnist Keith Brehm of the Journal Times in Racine, Wisconsin wrote: “Eventually the Green Bay franchise may have to be transferred to Milwaukee or go out of the state.” The reasoning behind Mr. Brehm’s statement was quite simple (in his opinion)

“It was our contention that the Packers and pro football had outgrown Green Bay and it was not long before sportswriters throughout the state were advancing the same opinion. The Packer management must have sensed a necessity for the eventual transfer themselves for when the official 1934 schedule was released, it included three games in Milwaukee.”

With the NFL schedules pretty much in place by early October, the request by the Bears and Packers to play an “extra” game in Milwaukee on October 17, 1934, caught league President Joe Carr by surprise. The two teams agreed to have a little fun by participating in an old-fashioned money game. ]

In other words, the winning team would split a $1,000 prize above and beyond the players’ regular salaries. Both teams figured that it would not be a problem to add one more battle to their respective schedules.

$1,000 Purse Makes Game More Than An Exhibition

However, Joe Carr viewed things a bit differently and denied the request according to the Post-Crescent newspaper in Appleton, WI: “President Joe Carr refused to let the game between the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears at Milwaukee count as a league contest.

Carr objected to this contest being counted as a league game because the complete schedule had already been drawn when this game was arranged, and an additional game would throw the card out of balance. He approved, however, of the [$1,000] purse to make the game more than an exhibition contest.”

It was a bit unusual for either team to support adding a non-league game, especially in the middle of another rugged season. The Bears had just played three “away” games the previous week to run their record to 5-0, defeating Brooklyn on Sunday, October 7; Pittsburgh on Wednesday, October 10; and the Chicago Cardinals on Sunday, October 14.

Included in the team’s ledger was an opening game 24-10 win over the Packers. Meanwhile, the Packers entered the conflict with a 3-2 league mark, with all of those games taking place at home. Apparently, the $1,000 purse was enough of an incentive to encourage the two clubs to add the extra game. There was no mention of the game being played for charity, or for any other special reason. Just the purse…just one more game…

Packers Watch Dizzy and Daffy Dean

In Green Bay, the Press-Gazette happily offered guidance and additional information pertaining to the game, noting that the Packers would depart for Milwaukee on Monday, October 15, and arrive in time to catch an exhibition baseball game that night featuring ace pitchers Dizzy and Daffy Dean in a barnstorming outing.

In addition, fans who could not attend the game with the Bears in person would be able to listen to all of the action on stations WTMJ and WHBY. 

After a brief practice under the lights on Tuesday, October 16, coach Curly Lambeau pronounced the team fit for the Bears’ encounter. The Press-Gazette added that the lighting at the field was acceptable to the Green Bay squad: “The Packers were loud in their praises of the lighting system at the field.

There were no shadows and the whooping Bays had no trouble handling the ball as they drove through a vigorous practice session. The team’s morale was never better!” Of special interest to Green Bay management, who might have been considering a more permanent move to Milwaukee, over 3,000 fans watched the Packers’ practice session!

train ride advertisement in Green Bay Press-Gazette
Photo Credit: Green Bay Press-Gazette of an advertisement for a train ride to the game in Milwaukee

Packers Special Includes Recreation Car For Fans

If one thing is certain in the National Football League, it is the loyalty of the Green Bay fans. This has always been the case, beginning in 1921 when the Packers first traveled to Chicago and the team brought along several hundred vocal fans and the entertaining Lumberjack band.

For the Bears’ game in 1934, organizers in Green Bay offered an attractive travel package to Packers’ followers wishing to attend the game in Milwaukee. For the low, low price of $4.00 per person, an interested fan would receive a round-trip ticket on the aptly named “Packer Special,” including admission to the game and transportation from the train station to the field in Milwaukee. For those in the mood, the Green Bay-Press Gazette reported:

“A recreation car with music and special entertainment as well as a dining car serving both meals and short orders priced moderately will be attached to the train.” 

Although the game would not be considered in the NFL standings, the players would still be battling for that lucrative $1,000 prize. The Press-Gazette stated that this omission would not have any influence on the outcome: “The game will not count in the National League standings, but it has lost no color because of this angle, as the psychological advantage of a victory in the battle will be considerable.”

Beattie Feathers Score Dooms Packers

As for the game itself, the Bears (in their first visit for a game in Milwaukee) managed to edge the host Packers 10-6 in front of a crowd estimated at 8,000. The key factor in the victory for the visitors was a 15-yard scoring jaunt by Bears’ running back Beattie Feathers in the fourth quarter to push the winners ahead by a 10-0 margin. Green Bay closed the gap to 10-6 in the final minutes on a one-yard plunge by Joe Laws.

In the end, everyone enjoyed the outing, including Bears’ PR agent Rocky Wolf who handled the public address announcements. The Press-Gazette reported: “Rocky is as rabid a Bear fan as any Green Bay residents are for the Packers, and he liked to make them look good in his broadcast.

He had Bronko Nagurski taking the ball for substantial gains throughout the evening when most of the time one of the other Bear backs had taken the ball and perhaps lost a yard. Finally, some fan asked him near the end of the game: ‘Say, Rocky, what’s the name of the other team on the field?’”

As mentioned, the Packers continued to host home games in Milwaukee through 1994 until the continuous improvements to Lambeau Field in Green Bay made the Milwaukee trips unnecessary and no longer economically attractive. But on this night in Milwaukee, playing on the infield where the famed Milwaukee Mile auto race is held, the Bears walked away with the infamous $1,000 prize, no one was seriously hurt, and the game itself gradually faded from memory…a long-forgotten exhibition played for some reason during the middle of the NFL season. We will likely never see the like of this one again!

Thank you for joining us on this episode of “When Football Was Football” here on the Sports History Network! 

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Author and Host - Joe Ziemba

Joe Ziemba is the host of this show, and he is an author of early football history in the city of Chicago.  Here, you can learn more about Joe and When Football Was Football, including all of the episodes of the podcast.

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