GREEN BAY — Matt LaFleur’s first game as the Green Bay Packers’ coach will be steeped in history.
The Packers and their longtime archrival, the Chicago Bears, will open the NFL’s 100th season with a Thursday night game at Soldier Field on Sept. 5, the NFL announced Tuesday at the annual league meetings. The game will be on Ch. 15.
The matchup breaks with the league’s tradition of the reigning Super Bowl champion kicking off the following season. The Super Bowl-winning New England Patriots will open their season on “Sunday Night Football” on Ch. 15 three days later, though their opponent has yet to be revealed.
The league has long considered its 100th season kickoff a special occasion, said Hans Schroeder, executive vice president and chief operating officer of NFL Media, according to the Chicago Tribune.
"We're really celebrating the Bears, who were also one of the original member clubs and are celebrating their 100th season; as well as Green Bay, which celebrated its 100th season last year," Schroeder said at the NFL league meetings. "Really an iconic matchup."
Schroeder and Brian Rolapp, the NFL's chief business and media officer, dismissed the notion they moved the Patriots from the league opener because a segment of the public might be tired of the six-time Super Bowl champions, the Tribune reported.
The Packers celebrated their 100th season last year and will be recognizing the 100th anniversary of their 1919 founding in August.
This Packers-Bears matchup will be the 199th in the history of the longest running rivalry in the NFL and mark the second straight year the NFC North Division teams have opened the season against each other. In 2018, quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ one-legged return from a left knee injury helped the Packers to a 24-23 come-from-behind victory over the Bears at Lambeau Field.
“I think it’s great for our fans,” Rodgers said before last year’s opener when asked about the longtime rivals facing off. “It’s a rivalry that’s been around for a while. Sunday night football, 100th season of Green Bay Packer football … (we) might as well play our oldest rival.”
The Packers hold a 97-95-6 edge in the all-time series, including the two playoff games the teams have split. This also marks the 14th consecutive season in which the teams have met in prime time, the longest such streak in the league.
The Bears and Packers will meet again later in the season at Lambeau Field in what will be the 200th meeting between the clubs. The remainder of the NFL’s 2019 schedule is set to be released sometime next month.
In addition to their home-and-home series with the Bears, Minnesota Vikings and Detroit Lions, the Packers also are set to face the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders and Carolina Panthers at home and travel to face the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Kansas City Chiefs, Los Angeles Chargers and San Francisco 49ers.
Along with the game, there will be a free fan festival and concert in nearby Grant Park and, for the first time, the league has approved a free viewing event of the game in the park.
"We see that around other sports," said Peter O'Reilly, the NFL's executive vice president for league events. Such viewings, for example, have been a staple of the World Cup for decades, and hockey also has adopted the practice. "It will create a big festival environment."
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel invoked the name of George Halas, the team's founder, in welcoming the news.
"George 'Papa Bear' Halas and the NFL's co-founders probably didn't imagine the federation they established 100 years ago in cities and towns across the Midwest would one day be the most successful professional sports league in the world," Emanuel said in a statement. "But that's what their vision achieved. Chicago - the most American of American cities — is the perfect venue for this game."
Schroeder and Rolapp outlined other plans for the 100th season: NFL Films will produce a series that selects the 100 greatest teams, plays, games, characters and game changers; an all-time team is being chosen and will be featured in a TV series; and Peyton Manning will talk to fans around the country about the history of the NFL for another television series.
The league also disclosed plans for next month's draft that will supplement the proceedings in Nashville. Teams will make selections in eight of the original 13 towns that comprised the NFL for its first season. In Dayton, Ohio, the field used back then, Triangle Park, still exists, and a selection will be made there. The NFL also has committed to installing new turf on the field.
"This is a really special moment for our city," Dayton mayor Nan Whaley said. "We're excited that the NFL is recognizing the places that were there in the very beginning and that they are celebrating Dayton's special history in paving the way for the league with a donation that will leave a lasting impact in the community."
Each of the 32 clubs will stage a "Fantennial Weekend" during the regular season in which it will work in conjunction with local high school football teams on a Friday, stage a fan festival on Saturday, and then have former players from the NFL club at the game on Sunday. The home team also will reveal the greatest moment or play in its history that day.
Rolapp said the league is talking to DIRECTV about expanding the digital presence for its popular Sunday Ticket option that makes available all out-of-market games. The NFL could opt out of its contract with DIRECTV after next season.
"The world has really changed and how people consume games has changed," he said. "How do we broaden these rights, deliver more easily to digital platforms?"
The Associated Press contributed to this report.