On paper the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers seemed to have an easy win awaiting them against the 0-6 Chicago Bears on a warm October afternoon in the Windy City. However, the word “easy” should never be uttered when the historic rivals square off. While the Packers handed the Bears a 38-24 loss in week one in Green Bay, the Bears looked to return the favor and with zero wins to their credit thus far in the 1997 season circled the Packers as their personal Super Bowl.
Coach Mike Holmgren led his Packers’ squad to a 4-2 record through six weeks, with both losses coming in their only two road games, at Philadelphia and at Detroit. Soldier Field had treated the Packers well with the green and gold winning the previous three matchups in Chicago (and seven overall) while outscoring the Bears 97-36. The 155th game in the rivalry would be one the of the more back and forth contests in the series’ history.
Three plays after the opening kickoff, Packers’ quarterback Brett Favre was intercepted on a pass intended for receiver Bill Schroeder which wound up in the arms of Bears’ cornerback Walt Harris. Harris returned the ball eight yards to the Green Bay 21-yard line, giving the Bears immediate momentum. Bears quarterback Erik Kramer hit tight end Keith Jennings for a quick 19-yard gain and running back Raymont Harris would plunge the ball over the goal line on the next play to give Chicago a 7-0 lead and send the Solider Field faithful into an optimistic frenzy. On the Packers’ second possession, running back Dorsey Levens got going helping the Packers move the ball into Chicago territory during an eight-play drive which Levens was responsible for 37 yards on the ground before the drive flamed out and punter Craig Hentrich boomed a touchback and head coach Dave Wannstedt found his Bears in an unfamiliar position, having the ball with the lead. Low and behold, the Bears followed up with a ten-play drive which was capped off by a 41-yard field goal by Jeff Jaeger to tack onto the Bears lead, making it 10-0.
The teams would trade punts before Favre finally got the Packers high-powered offense in motion early in the second quarter. Favre went 5/7 connecting with four different receivers on an 11 play, 80-yard drive which was finished on a two-yard touchdown toss to tight end Mark Chmura to get Green Bay on the board. Five plays into the Bears following possession, linebacker Brian Williams intercepted a Kramer pass intended for receiver Bobby Engram and brought the ball back to the Chicago 28-yard line. Five plays later the Packers found themselves on the end zone’s doorstep and Favre hooked up with Levens in the right flat and Levens got into the end zone untouched for a one-yard touchdown, and just like that Chicago’s lead evaporated and the Packers were up 14-10 and would take that lead into halftime with them.
The Bears received the second half kickoff and Coach Wannstedt rolled the dice early. On fourth and one on their own 36-yard line, Wannstedt dialed up a Kramer sneak, who successfully converted. Five plays later Kramer would link with Bears’ deep threat Curtis Conway for a 37-yard reception to bring the ball all the way down to the Green Bay seven-yard line. After two short Harris runs, Kramer took it himself and called his number with a quarterback draw up the middle untouched to the end zone to regain the lead for the Bears 17-14. Todd Sauerbrun, the Bears’ punter/kick-off specialist made a big error by booting the kickoff out-of-bounds, giving the Packers the ball at their own 40-yard line to start their drive. The Bears’ defense however came up big and would stifle the Packers and force a three and out, before Hentrich was able to pin the Bears back with a 52-yard punt and the Bears would start at their own eight-yard line. The Packers’ defense answered with a stop of their own and forced a Bears’ punt which was returned 24-yards by Schroeder to give the Packers’ excellent starting field position once again, this time at their own 45-yard line. With Levens sidelined with a clavicle injury, Favre would connect with receiver Antonio Freeman on back to back plays resulting in 18 yards and 13-yard gains. Five plays later the drive climaxed when Favre hit Chmura at the four-yard line and Chmura banged into the end zone to get Green Bay back on top 21-17.
The Bears hopes were not dashed, Kramer led his troops on a 11 play, 76-yard drive which was spurred by a 37-yard pass interference against cornerback Tyrone Williams which set up the Bears with first and goal from the five-yard line. An incomplete pass sandwiched between two Harris runs brought the Bears to the one-yard line on fourth down. Wannstedt rolled the dice again, once again calling Kramer’s number. This time waiting for him were Gabe Wilkins and Bob Kuberski who stood their ground and denied Kramer, turning the ball back over to Green Bay. Favre and the offense were able to flip the field back and march to midfield before calling on Hentrich after a third and six pass attempt to Robert Brooks fell incomplete. On the Bears third play of their possession, Kramer threw a pass to Harris which bounced off him and into the hands of linebacker Bernardo Harris, for his first career interception, and the Packers took over on the Chicago 24-yard line looking to apply a dagger. However, backup running back Aaron Hayden was unable to get much traction and after an encroachment penalty on Chicago and an incomplete pass, rookie kicker Ryan Longwell knocked a 37-yard field goal in through the uprights to push the Packers’ lead to seven.
With a little over two minutes left, and no timeouts remaining Kramer quickly went to work. Starting on their own 38-yard line, the Bears utilized their aerial attack with Conway, Engram and receiver Chris Penn. On the sixth play of the drive, Kramer found Penn down the left sideline for a 22-yard touchdown strike with 1:54 remaining. With the Bears an extra point away from tying the game, Wannstedt rolled the dice one final time for the day and called out his offense to go for a time point conversion, and the lead. On the do-or-die conversion play, Kramer’s pass to Harris in the right flat fell incomplete and the Packers clanged to a 24-23 lead. The Bears’ proceeding onside kick by Sauerbrun was recovered by the Packers’ tight end Jeff Thomason and three kneel downs by Favre secured the Packers’ fifth victory and the Bears seventh defeat of the 1997 season.
In a loss, the Bears outgained the Packers 353 yards to 277 yards, and held the ball for nearly five minutes longer. The game was the 11th one-point game in series history and first since 1989. It also marked the fourth season in a row which the Packers swept the season series. Favre finished the day 19/35 for 177 yards and three touchdowns with one interception. The Packers would go on to finish the regular season 13-3 to capture their third straight NFC Central title while the Bears found themselves in the basement of the division with a 4-12 record.