The Chicago Bears faced a formidable task as they took on their arch-rivals, the Green Bay Packers, in a season-opening game on September 15, 1963. The Packers were coming off of two consecutive NFL Championships, going a combined 24-4 during the regular season in so doing, and had beaten Chicago in five straight contests. The defending champs were two-touchdown favorites to keep the streak going at home.
Head Coach Vince Lombardi was commencing his fifth year with Green Bay and the club was as formidable on both sides of the ball as their record would imply. QB Bart Starr was highly efficient and FB Jim Taylor had unseated Cleveland’s Jim Brown as the rushing leader in ’62 while also scoring a record 19 touchdowns. The receivers were good and the line excellent. If there was a major concern, it was over the loss of HB/PK Paul Hornung for the year due to a gambling suspension. Likewise on defense, the Packers had five returning players who had received at least some first-team All-NFL recognition and Lombardi felt secure enough to trade two aging veterans, DE Bill Quinlan and CB Johnny Symank, during the offseason.
The Bears, under the direction of 68-year-old owner and Head Coach George Halas, were coming off of a 9-5 record and looked to be a potential challenger in the Western Conference. QB Bill Wade (pictured above) was an able passer, there were good receivers in flanker Johnny Morris and TE Mike Ditka, and a fair stable of running backs. However, the defense, under the guidance of assistant coach George Allen, was especially impressive and contained stalwarts in DE Doug Atkins, MLB Bill George, and safeties Roosevelt Taylor and Richie Petitbon.
There were 42,327 fans in attendance at Green Bay’s City Stadium. The Packers had to punt following the game’s first series and the Bears nearly provided some excitement when Johnny Morris returned the kick 44 yards to the Green Bay 38, but it was all for naught when Chicago was flagged for clipping. Now starting from their 13, the visitors made one first down before having to punt in return.
Jim Taylor ran for eight yards but LB Larry Morris managed to force a fumble and SS Richie Petitbon recovered at the Green Bay 33. Carries by HB Ronnie Bull and FB Rick Casares picked up 11 yards before the defense was able to halt the advance. Bob Jencks came on to kick a 32-yard field goal and Chicago had a 3-0 lead.
CB Herb Adderley nearly broke the ensuing kickoff return but was tripped up by FB Joe Marconi. Taylor and HB Tom Moore ran for a total of 17 yards and Bart Starr completed passes to TE Ron Kramer and Moore to get to the Chicago 34. The drive halted there and Jerry Kramer tied the score with a 41-yard field goal.
The teams exchanged punts as the game entered the second quarter. The Bears then mounted a drive that covered 66 yards in 14 plays that included Wade running for 10 yards and passing to Bull for 22 to the Green Bay four. However, on second down Wade fumbled when hit hard by DT Dave Hanner and DT Henry Jordan recovered to end the threat. Each team came up with an interception before the first half ended as CB Jesse Whittenton picked off a Wade pass and Petitbon grabbed one for the Bears, and the score remained tied at the intermission.
Following a short series by the Bears to start the third quarter, Green Bay commenced a drive in which Taylor gained 15 yards on two carries and Starr threw to Moore for 18 to the Chicago 47. But following two short running plays, Starr’s pass intended for flanker Boyd Dowler bounced off the receiver’s hands and was intercepted by FS Roosevelt Taylor.
The Bears proceeded to put together a 68-yard drive in 10 plays. Wade completed passes to Bull for 21 yards and Marconi for 16 to the Green Bay 18 and, two plays later, he connected with split end Bo Farrington to the two. From there, Marconi (pictured at left) ran off-tackle for a touchdown and Jencks converted to put Chicago ahead by seven with less than four minutes remaining in the period.
Following an exchange of punts, the Packers began to move the ball again early in the fourth quarter. Starr made throws to Ron Kramer for 11 yards and split end Max McGee for 10 to reach the Chicago 36, but the drive halted there and, facing fourth-and-one, they punted.
The Bears were able to hold onto the ball with the help of a roughing-the-kicker penalty and the clock was down to 6:59 when Green Bay finally regained possession. CB Dave Whitsell intercepted a Starr throw and Chicago advanced into scoring position, but a Jencks field goal try was wide with 1:56 remaining to play. However, any lingering hopes for the Packers ended when Bill George picked off a short pass by Starr and Chicago pulled off the upset by a final score of 10-3.
Chicago’s domination was total as the Bears led in total yards (231 to 150) and first downs (15 to 9) and ran 59 plays to Green Bay’s 43. The point total was the lowest for the Packers since 1959, Lombardi’s first season, and they turned the ball over five times, to two by Chicago.
Bill Wade kept the passes short and completed an efficient 18 of 24 for 129 yards while giving up one interception. He also ran the ball 8 times for 26 yards, placing just behind Rick Casares, who gained 27 yards on five carries, as Chicago’s leading rusher. In addition to gaining 23 yards on 12 rushing attempts, Ronnie Bull (pictured below) led the team by pulling in 6 catches for 48 yards.
For the Packers, Bart Starr had an uncharacteristically rough outing as he succeeded on 11 of 22 throws for 83 yards and was intercepted four times. Jim Taylor was held to 53 yards on 12 carries and Tom Moore, who ran 9 times for 24 yards, gained 32 yards on a team-leading four pass receptions. Ron Kramer picked up 35 yards on his three catches. Jerry Norton, the team’s new punter obtained from the Cowboys, boomed five punts for a 48.6-yard average.
“We had nothing going,” summed up Vince Lombardi in defeat. “We couldn’t even get our hands on the ball. We were lucky to get away 10-3.”
The first week battle set up a tight race between the Bears and Packers that lasted the entire season. Chicago swept the series between the clubs and that was the difference as the Bears finished first in the Western Conference at 11-1-2 and Green Bay in second with an 11-2-1 record. The Bears came away with the NFL Championship, their first since 1946, by defeating the New York Giants.
Chicago’s defense remained stifling and led the league in ten categories, including fewest points allowed (144) and fewest total yards (3176) which included both the lowest rushing (1442) and passing (1734) yards allowed. Fittingly, five members of the defensive unit were consensus first-team All-NFL selections, including Doug Atkins, Bill George, OLB Joe Fortunato, Roosevelt Taylor, and Richie Petitbon.