Top sports rivalries: Bears vs. Green Bay and Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs
In last week’s issue, I reviewed two of the top professional sports rivalries, as judged by thetoptens.com, consisting of the great New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox baseball rivalry and the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics basketball rivalry were. This week, the volatile Chicago Bears-Green Bay Packers football rivalry and the Montreal Canadiens-Toronto Maple Leafs hockey rivalry will be explored.
Chicago Bears vs. Green Bay Packers
In bleacherreport.com, Jersey Al Bracco chronicles the mystique and history of this great football rivalry, which began nearly 100 years ago in 1921 at Wrigley Field in Chicago, IL, where the first game was played. These two teams, whose home cities both sit on the shores of Lake Michigan, are separated by only 200 miles. Yet their home cities are a world apart. Chicago is a cosmopolitan city, the second largest in the country in 1921, and Green Bay was a “blue-collar paper mill town with a population of 31,00 people.” Both franchises have always been cold weather teams, playing in open-air stadiums with grass fields. Their head coaches at the outset were the legendary Packers coach Curley Lambeau and the great Bears coach George Halas.
As history of great malevolence between the teams began with the first game in 1921, which featured a sucker punch thrown by Tarzan Taylor of the Bears that broke the nose of Packer Howard Buck. In 1924, Bear Frank Hanny and Packer Walter Vos became the first two players to be ejected from a game for fighting.
However, mutual animosity alone is only part of the story of this rivalry. The two teams both have a history of excellence. The Packers have won the most championships in the history of the National Football League with twelve, and the Bears come in second with nine.
Between the two teams, fifty-two of their players have earned entry into the Professional Football Hall of Fame, including historically great players such as Bronco Nagurski, Red Grange, Sid Luckman, Bart Starr, Gayle Sayers, Dick Butkus, Ray Nitchke and the more recent stars Walter Payton and Brett Favre.
Montreal Canadiens vs. Toronto Maple Leafs
This intense hockey rivalry is explained in toronto-maple-leafs.fandom.com. Part of the rivalry is exacerbated by the competition that exists between the two large Canadian cities that have major cultural differences. Toronto is the largest Canadian city and the “heart of English Canada,” while Montreal is the second-largest Canadian city and the “heart of French Canada.”
The teams have been well matched; they have played each other 730 times, with the Canadiens winning 342 times, the Maple Leafs winning 300 times and the teams tying 88 times. Both teams have been highly successful in their 102-year histories, with the Canadiens appearing in the playoffs 83 times and winning 25 Stanley Cup Championships and the Maple Leafs appearing in the playoffs 68 times and winning 13 Championships. Of the 14 times the teams have opposed each other in the playoffs, the Canadiens have won eight times and the Maple Leafs have won six times.
As stated in ourhistory.canadiens.com, the rivalry began in 2017 when the Maple Leafs franchise entered the NHL, and the rivalry has been intensified by all-time great players switching between teams during their careers, tantamount to treason in the eyes of the fans of the teams. Superstar players who have been guilty of this transgression since 1920 include Sprague Cleghorn, Dick Duff, George Hainsworth, Frank Mahovlich, Dickie Moore, Bert Olmstead, and Jacques Plante. Perhaps the “most unkindest cut of all” was when superstar goalie Ken Dryden, who had led the Canadiens to six Stanley Cup Championships in the 1970s, accepted the position of president of the Maple Leafs.
The ingredients necessary for a storied rivalry in professional sports include successful teams with great traditions, teams who share a degree of animosity and perhaps cities that have natural rivalries. These rivalries add to the fans’ enjoyment of the sport as long as we do not take all this too seriously. After all, it’s just a game.