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Packers Time Capsule: The day the Packers turned the tide in the Lombardi Era

The Packers hammered the Bears in their second meeting of the 1960 season, setting the tone for the rest of the Lombardi era.

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

The Packers and Bears have faced each other more than 200 times, but their matchup on Sunday will be just the second time they’ve played on December 4. That date, in particular, isn’t terribly significant, and the fact that these two storied teams have only played one other time on that date wouldn’t be worth mentioning except for its rarity.

But the last time the Packers saw the Bears on December 4, it marked something of a turning point in the rivalry.

On December 4, 1960, the Packers thrashed the Bears, pummeling their rivals on the ground and through the air en route to a 41-13 victory at Wrigley Field, and it set the tone for the rest of their showdowns with the Bears in the Lombardi era.

It was the fourth time the Packers had faced the Bears with Vince Lombardi as their head coach. In the first game of the 1959 season, the Packers had stolen a 9-6 win over Chicago, starting Lombardi’s tenure with a win over his new team’s oldest foe. Chicago took the rematch, though, handing the Packers a 28-17 loss later that season.

Chicago also downed the Packers in the first game of the 1960 Packers, moving to 2-1 over the Packers in the Lombardi era.

But something changed for the Packers between their first and second games with the Bears that season. We could spend all day explaining exactly what happened, but the quickest explanation is that the Packers finally became Lombardi’s team. The legendary players we know as icons of the franchise today settled into their roles under their exacting head coach, and the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

By the time the Packers faced the Bears again, Bart Starr was firmly ensconced as the team’s starting quarterback, Jim Taylor was on his way to his first 1,000-yard season, and Paul Hornung was putting together his first All-Pro year. On defense, Willie Davis had arrived from Cleveland, Henry Jordan was amid his first great Packers season, and Ray Nitschke was growing from a bit player into a leading role. Other players were still figuring things out — we haven’t even mentioned any of the great offensive linemen the Packers had under Lombardi — but the point stands: the Packers were showing signs of growing into the team that would dominate the 1960s.

And the Bears were about to get a firsthand look.

The Bears had been a bit inconsistent coming into their showdown with the Packers. At 5-3-1, they were actually ahead of the 5-4 Packers in the standings, but weren’t a dominant team by any stretch of the imagination. They’d never won more than two games in a row, and had overachieved in close games a bit, going 2-1-1 in games decided by a touchdown or less.

The Packers, meanwhile, had been dominant for much of the 1960 season, hammering teams in most of their wins through the season’s first eight weeks. They’d fallen to the defending champion Baltimore Colts, but there was no shame in that, and they’d lost a shootout with the Rams before getting pantsed by the Detroit Lions 23-10 on Thanksgiving to send them to Chicago having lost three out of four games.

But if there was some confusion due to the two teams’ records, the Packers quickly cleared it up.

After a scoreless first quarter, the Packers dominated the rest of the game. They took a 13-6 lead into halftime thanks in part to a defensive touchdown by Willie Davis, then outscored the Bears 28-7 after the break.

Bart Starr was sharp, completing 17 of 23 passes for 227 yards and two touchdowns, throwing no interceptions and (unofficially) taking just one sack. He did most of his damage throwing to Max McGee who, at age 28, presumably still partied hard but was perhaps a little bit better at handling hangovers. He caught six passes for 121 yards and a score.

Paul Hornung caught Starr’s other touchdown as a part of an all-around solid game. Hornung finished with three catches for 32 yards and a touchdown and also carried 14 times for 68 yards and another touchdown. He also kicked five PATs and two field goals — just a typical Sunday for a guy who could do it all.

Jim Taylor, his backfield mate, did the rest of the work for the Packers’ offense. Ever a bludgeoning runner, Taylor pounded away for 140 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.

Meanwhile, the Packers’ defense hectored the Bears all day. After starter Ed Brown left the game, future Packers’ backup Zeke Bratkowski managed just nine completions on 19 attempts. He did throw a touchdown, but the Packers also intercepted him twice.

The win put the Packers on the path to a championship, launching them into a tie for the Western Division lead. They’d win the remaining two games on their schedule, setting themselves up for a championship bout with the Philadelphia Eagles. They would lose the 1960 championship game — but that would never happen again. Lombardi’s Packers reeled off five titles in the next seven years.

During that span, they’d also dominate the Bears. The December 4 win pulled them to 2-2 in the Lombardi era, and over the next seven years they’d meet 14 more times. The Packers won 11 of those games, turning the tide (periodically, at least) in the NFL’s most storied rivalry.