The last time the Green Bay Packers played on New Year's Day, the stakes were very different. Vince Lombardi had his troops in the Cotton Bowl to face Tom Landry's Dallas Cowboys in the NFL Championship Game. It was one of the greatest games in league history. But many people have forgotten it in the wake of the famous "Ice Bowl" rematch played a year later.
There won't be any championship or playoff implications this Sunday when the Packers host the Seattle Seahawks. However, it should be an interesting contest for several reasons. Former Packers coach Mike Holmgren is coming to town and that's always exciting. Holmgren, who was Brett Favre's mentor, had so much to do with the Packers' great turnaround in the early '90s. I didn't play for Holmgren for a long period, but I enjoyed working with him and certainly learned a lot. Another major story line, naturally, revolves around No. 4. Will this be his last appearance as a Green Bay Packers player, or will he decide to return next season? No doubt Brett is tired of hearing that question, but it's something that he will have to address. Until he makes up his mind, all anybody can do is speculate.
If Favre has made up his mind and knows that this will be the last time he plays at Lambeau Field, there will be a lot of emotion. He's had an incredible career and he'll be facing his former coach, the guy responsible for developing him into a Hall of Fame quarterback. Even if he decides not to retire, it will be an emotional day for him because of everything that he has gone through on and off the field. Unfortunately, he's really caught the burden of the blame for the way things have gone for the Packers this year that is very unfair. The way he's had to lead this team with the surrounding talent and all of the injuries has truly been a starting quarterback's nightmare.
Finally, there is the matter of Shaun Alexander seeking to break the all-time NFL single season touchdown record. He needs just one more touchdown to get it done after tying Priest Holmes last week. I think Alexander is really wrapped up in breaking that record. If he achieves that mark in the first quarter, I think he'll be done for the game. If it takes longer, I think he'll try to play as long as he can. I heard him say in a few post-game interviews that this is one record he really wants to get. Alexander is also within striking distance of another major record that has stood for 45 years: most single-season points by an individual in NFL history. The Golden Boy, Hall of Famer Paul Hornung, holds that record. Hornung scored 176 points on 15 touchdowns, 14 PATs and 15 field goals during his phenomenal 1960 season. Alexander has 162 points heading into Sunday's game.
Seattle is certainly in a position to treat this last game of the season like a pre-season game. They have their division wrapped up, a first-round bye and home field advantage throughout the playoffs. I would think they'll play their starters for about a quarter just to keep their timing and their rhythm in tact, but they'll need to protect and rest their star players for their playoff run.
The Seahawks, in my view, have been an incredible story this year. They've won 11 games in a row and I just don't think they get the national publicity that the Indianapolis Colts have been getting. To win 11 in a row is a great accomplishment in the NFL, and it's remarkable when you consider that they did this with a group of back-up receivers. They signed Joe Jurevicius this off-season, and he really came through with an outstanding year. Shaun Alexander, obviously, has carried the offensive load for Seattle, but they've had a great year. I think Mike Holmgren has done a great job and he's got to be one of the top candidates for NFL Coach of the Year. Some say he's had a "quiet' 13-2 season but how can it be "quiet" when he's won 13 games and 11 in a row? That's an impressive accomplishment and Holmgren deserves a lot of credit.
Despite the circumstances, the Packers will do everything they can to send their loyal fans home with a win. That's the Packers way, and the fans expect nothing less.
Don "Majik" Majkowski was inducted into the Green Bay Packer Hall of Fame earlier this year. His career for the Packers spanned six seasons (1987-92), including being named to the Pro Bowl in 1989 when he led the NFL in passing yards. In addition to his duties with Packers.com, Majik provides football analysis for WSSP-AM, SportsRadio 1250 in Milwaukee, WDUZ SportsRadio 107.5 & 1400 The Fan in Green Bay, WTSO - ESPN 1070 in Madison, WDEZ in Wausau, and WIZD in Stevens Point. Visit Majik's Web site, www.majiknetwork.net, for more information.