On Sunday night, when the relieved and exhausted Packers returned to the visitors’ locker room deep under the southern end of Soldier Field, they celebrated around the George S. Halas Trophy. That piece of shiny hardware, given to the champions of the National Football Conference, was soon shepherded away. There is a bigger prize to capture.
, its third straight road victory of the playoffs, sends the Packers to XLV against the on Feb. 6. They are searching for their 13th N.F.L. championship, and first in 14 years.
“We always felt we were a very good football team,” Green Bay Coach Mike McCarthy said. “Now we have an opportunity to achieve greatness. That’s winning the Super Bowl down in Dallas and bringing the Lombardi Trophy back home.”
The Packers shot to a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter and never trailed, but found themselves scrambling to hold on as darkness descended in the fourth quarter. Jay Cutler, Chicago’s starting quarterback, was ineffective before he left the game early in the third quarter with a knee injury. The backup Todd Collins was no better, completing none of his four passes.
The Bears, with zero points and little hope, turned to the third-stringer Caleb Hanie.
He had thrown 14 passes in his three N.F.L. seasons. But he rallied the team like Sid Luckman, the Hall of Fame quarterback who led Chicago to that playoff victory over the Packers in 1941, sparking the Bears to their only two touchdown drives.
Hanie sandwiched those scores around one of his two mistakes — a short pass into the arms of Green Bay’s B. J. Raji, a 337-pound defensive tackle who rumbled 18 yards for what proved the clinching touchdown.
With 47 seconds left and the tying touchdown in reach, on fourth-and-5 at Green Bay’s 29, Hanie was intercepted by cornerback Sam Shields at the 12.
One snap later, the Packers (13-6) kneeled to run out the clock and became the second No. 6 seed to reach the Super Bowl, after the 2005 Steelers. They have won three Super Bowls but lost their last time there, at the end of the 1997 season.
Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers completed 17 of 30 passes for 244 yards and was intercepted twice. He led the Packers to touchdowns on their first possession and again early in the second quarter.
Still, Green Bay’s 14-0 lead seemed frozen in the 20-degree temperatures for much of the afternoon.
There were 17 punts and the teams combined to convert only 3 of 24 third downs. On a third-and-goal at Chicago’s 6-yard line, Rodgers was intercepted by Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher. He chased Urlacher down 39 yards later, perhaps saving a game-altering touchdown.
Handed momentum and the ball, Collins entered for Cutler and threw three consecutive incomplete passes.
It was Hanie who re-energized a well-bundled and restless crowd of 61,171. Early in the fourth quarter, his 32-yard throw to Johnny Knox moved the Bears to Green Bay’s 1. Chester Taylor’s touchdown run cut Green Bay’s lead in half, 14-7, with 12 minutes 2 seconds to play.
After Hanie’s interception gave Green Bay another 14-point lead, his 35-yard touchdown pass to Earl Bennett with 4:43 remaining cut the lead to 21-14.
The Bears, their defense buzzing, got the ball back at their 29 with 2:53 remaining. Hanie completed a third-down pass to Greg Olsen, Chicago’s first third-down conversion of the day after 10 failures. Hanie threw his second interception moments later.
“I didn’t really know a whole lot about the third one,” the Packers’ defensive coordinator, Dom Capers, said of Hanie’s status as a third-stringer.
It was the 182nd meeting between the Bears and the Packers, but only the second in the postseason. The other was on Dec. 14, 1941, when the Bears won, 33-14, at Wrigley Field.
On Sunday, the video boards showed black-and-white clips of past games between the franchises, separated by about 200 miles of highway and 90 years of bitter competition. Amid the pregame jet flyovers and set against a backdrop of Chicago’s glassy skyline, the clips imbued a sense of nostalgia and history to the biggest game played in the league’s deepest rivalry.