On September 10, I heard something on TV that prompted a fiery rage in me. The Fox Sports announcer proclaimed the Bears-Packers game would be a renewal of “the National Football League’s oldest rivalry.” Wrong! The NFL’s oldest rivalry does not include the Packers. Rather, it’s the Bears and Arizona Cardinals, and it began here in Chicago in 1920. That rivalry will play out again December 24 at Soldier Field.

The Lead-up

In 1899, brothers Chris and Pat O’Brien organized a football team called the Morgan Athletic Association in the Englewood neighborhood. Over the years, the name changed several times. By 1916, the club was known as the Racine Cardinals, referring to the site of its home games, at Racine Avenue and 61st Street, at a baseball field called Normal Park. That same year, the Decatur Staleys, a team initially made up of employees of the A.E. Staley Manufacturing Company in downstate Decatur, recruited young engineer George Halas as a player-coach. The ambitious Halas then brought in several former All-Americans.

The Birth of the NFL — and a Rivalry

In 1920, Chris O’Brien and Halas were both invited to a meeting in Canton, Ohio, that resulted in the creation of the American Professional Football Association (which later became the NFL). In the minutes from that first meeting, O’Brien’s team was geographically misidentified as the “Racine Cardinals, Wisconsin.” Before the start of the inaugural season, the team was renamed the Chicago Cardinals. The Staleys moved to Chicago in 1921 and changed their name to the Bears the following year. The Bears and Cardinals are the only two original league members still in existence. (The Packers didn’t join until 1921.) On November 28, 1920, the Cardinals hosted the Staleys at Normal Park in their first-ever meeting. It was the Staleys’ only loss of the season, depriving them of the league championship. Halas later claimed that the ballpark’s tiny confines allowed Cardinals supporters to interfere with his defenders, who were attempting to stop the winning touchdown late in the 7–6 game.

Long-Distance Foes

In 1960, the Cardinals moved to St. Louis with a little nudge from Halas, who offered them $500,000 for “moving” expenses, allowing the Bears to control the expanding TV rights in Chicago. Twenty-eight years later, the team transplanted again, this time to the Phoenix area. Since the Bears and the Cardinals are in different divisions and no longer play each other every year, the rivalry’s intensity has diminished, but never disappeared. In 2006, the Bears erased a 13-point fourth-quarter deficit to beat the Cardinals, inciting Cards coach Dennis Green to utter his memorable “They are who we thought they were!” line in a postgame diatribe. So who’s the daddy of this rivalry? Da Bears, who lead the series 57–29–6.