Packers: The crazy history of the Packers-Cardinals rivalry

Green Bay Packers, Aaron Rodgers (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)
Green Bay Packers, Aaron Rodgers (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images) /

The Green Bay Packers will face off with the Arizona Cardinals on Thursday night in what will be the 76th meeting between two of the NFL’s oldest franchises. This will be the first time the two teams have ever squared off midweek.

Thursday night is already shaping up to be pretty weird. It’s not often you see a matchup between two of the league’s best teams where one team is favored by almost a touchdown!

Who knows what could happen? We could witness a blowout at the hands of Kyler Murray, or a vintage Aaron Rodgers performance to take down the last remaining undefeated team, or absolutely anything in between.

What I do know is this: If you want any indication as to what the outcome of this game may be, don’t look towards the history books, because you’ll find a litany of weird, wacky and wonderful games between the Red Birds and the Cheeseheads.

A series of one-sided streaks

The Packers currently lead the all-time series 45-26-4 over the Cardinals but upon closer inspection, you’ll find each team has gone on lengthy winning streaks within that series, before reversing roles with each other.

The two franchises have established a more stable level of parity in the 21st century, with a series record of 5-5 since 2000 and trust me, we’ll get to those games! However, prior to the turn of the century, the one-sidedness of this series is pretty spectacular.

The early days (1921 – 1936)

It’s rare now to see a Chicago team dominating the Packers, but in the early 1920s, the Chicago Cardinals went undefeated in their first five matchups against the Packers. Green Bay soon found their footing and won 12 of the next 15 matchups, allowing a total of just 37 points across those 12 victories. Man, what a time to be alive.

The next streak began when the teams inexplicably played each other five times in a one-year period, and the Cardinals won all five.

Don Hutson’s punching bag (1937 – 1946)

1937 was the start of a ludicrous winning streak for the Green Bay Packers led by legendary pass catcher Don Hutson.

Green Bay went 16-0 against the Cardinals over the next decade en route to three NFL Championships in this time frame. It’s interesting to see how the Cardinals kept so many of these games close, with a 55-24 thumping in 1942 being the only blowout to speak of.

The ensuing dark days (1946 – 1949)

Following Hutson’s retirement, the Packers hit an all-time low in the late 1940s. Immediately following Green Bay’s 16-0 run, the Cardinals bit back with a 7-0 streak of their own culminating in 1949.

The Cardinals had assembled one of the league’s best teams and won the NFL Championship in 1947 — which remains their most recent title to this day.

The Lambeau curse? (1950 – 1975)

Curly Lambeau — the man credited with founding the Packers, whose name has been immortalized by the iconic stadium on Lombardi Ave, and the man who coached the Packers from their inception, jumped ship to the soaring Cardinals in 1950.

Lambeau didn’t last long with the Cardinals, but his departure from Green Bay coincided perfectly with yet another shift in this all-time series. Following Lambeau’s move, the Packers didn’t lose another game to the Cardinals for a quarter century!

The Lombardi Packers were a well-oiled machine but even after that legendary team was gone, the Packers held a firm grasp of this series for a while thereafter.

Meanwhile the Cardinals — who had since shifted south to St. Louis — basked in mediocrity and the memories of their pre-Super Bowl era heroes.

Packers take care of business (1976 – 2006)

The Cardinals finally set up shop in Phoenix in 1988, but their team was not much to speak of. They made the playoffs only two times in this 32-year period, never reaching an NFC Championship Game.

In 1983, their old friends up in Green Bay ousted them in the Wildcard Round. It was the only playoff meeting between the two sides up until 2009.

While it wasn’t quite as extreme as the previous streaks, the Packers typically had their way with the St. Louis/Arizona Cardinals, going 8-3 in this time period.

2009 NFC Wild Card Game

There have been a few weird and wonderful encounters between these two teams in the last 12 years, starting here in Aaron Rodgers’ first ever playoff game.

This game got weird from the jump, as Rodgers’ first career postseason pass attempt was an interception. Then his second attempt resulted in a fumble lost by Donald Driver. It was a nightmare start for Green Bay who found themselves down 31-10 in the third quarter.

Following a wild string of plays from Greg Jennings which gave the Packers a glimmer of life, they successfully recovered a surprise onside kick and marched down the field to make it a one-score game.

In the fourth quarter, Rodgers played one of the best quarters of football I’ve ever seen, and the Packers scored three touchdowns to force a tie game. The Cardinals had a chance to win it in regulation, but kicker Neil Rackers — who hadn’t missed a kick in 15 games — shanked a 34-yard game winner, and we went to overtime.

On the first play of OT, Rodgers missed a wide open Greg Jennings by a hair on what would’ve been a walk-off touchdown, and then just two plays later a strip-sack returned to the house gave the Cardinals an epic 51-45 victory.

All in all, after 1,000 total yards and the highest-scoring playoff game in NFL history, it was heartbreak for Packers fans.

2015 NFC Divisional Round Game

The franchises were back six years later for another crazy overtime playoff game. The Packers offense struggled with a receiving corps reduced to Jared Abbrederis, TE Richard Rodgers and something called Jeff Janis.

This game was normal for about 56 minutes, before all hell broke loose. The Cardinals took a 20-13 lead with 3:45 left in the fourth quarter by way of a wobbly, ricocheted pass that fell into the waiting arms of Michael Floyd.

Then in the greatest sequence of events I’ve experienced in my lifetime. Aaron Rodgers converted on fourth-and-20 from inside his own five with a 60-yard laser on a rope to Jeff Janis.

A few plays later with five seconds left in the game, Rodgers heaved up a prayer from 55 yards out with his body virtually sideways, and seventh-round pick Janis somehow came down with the reception in the end zone over All-Pro CB Patrick Peterson.

After Mike McCarthy elected to kick the PAT and play for overtime — a decision that would likely be grounds for dismissal if it occurred five years later — Aaron Rodgers never got the ball again. It took just two plays of the extra period for the legendary Larry Fitzgerald to crush Packers fans’ hopes and dreams for the second time in the same stadium.

2018 Week 13

The most recent (and least thrilling) of the Packers-Cardinals series came in 2018 when the sides met in Lambeau Field.

The Packers’ season was tailing off in a depressing manner while the Cardinals — led by first-year quarterback Josh Rosen — looked even worse. After the Packers lost four of their last five, it was time for them to beat down on the lowly Cardinals. They did not.

On a damp and drizzly Wisconsin day, the Packers found themselves in a dog fight with the worst team in the league. Mason Crosby’s game-ending missed field goal capped off a disastrous loss.

Following this game, head coach Mike McCarthy was fired, and in came Matt LaFleur a few months later. How times have changed since then. The Packers lost nine out of their 16 games in 2018. They’ve lost nine of 35 since. Maybe we should thank Josh Rosen and the Cardinals for putting the McCarthy era to an end.

On that fateful December day, we saw two franchises at their lowest. Just over a thousand days later, it’s 6-1 vs. 7-0, and a battle for first place in the NFC.