Derailed in the desert, the Green Bay Packers (1-2) return to the familiar Midwest in search of artistic redemption, a quest they will pursue against their venerable neighborhood enemies, the 0-2 Chicago Bears, on ABC's "Monday Night Football" next Monday evening (Sept. 29).
Complicating the task of launching an early-season turnaround for the Packers will be the need to accomplish it against a unique competitive backdrop - the rededication of Chicago's Soldier Field, where the Bears will be primed to successfully "re-christen" their football home in their first appearance in the historic lakefront venue since the renovation process began early in 2002.
The kickoff for the 165th meeting between the NFL's classic rivals is set for 8 o'clock, CDT (Wisconsin time).
The Green and Gold, meanwhile, find themselves with a 1-2 record at the three-game mark in the regular season for the first time since 2000, having run afoul of the previously winless Cardinals in Phoenix over the weekend and subsequently leaving the land of sage, cactus and 100-degree temperatures on the short end of a 20-13 score.
It was the Packers' first-ever loss in Arizona, where they had compiled a 3-0 record since the Big Red's move to the desert in 1988.
With that misadventure, combined with unbeaten Minnesota's 23-13 victory over Detroit, the Packers - along with the Lions - are two games back of the Vikings (3-0) in the NFC North Division race at this stage.
THE TV-RADIO COVERAGE: Al Michaels will call the play-by-play and John Madden will handle the analysis for the ABC telecast of Monday night's game, with Lisa Guerrero reporting from the sideline. Fred Gaudelli is the producer and Drew Esocoff directs.
The game also will be aired over the 62-station Packers Radio Network, with Wayne Larrivee handling the play-by-play and Larry McCarren offering commentary and analysis. The radio broadcast also will be available on www.packers.com for NFL Field Pass subscribers.
In addition, Westwood One/CBS Radio Sports also will broadcast the game nationally in both English and Spanish, with Marv Albert and Boomer Esiason delivering the former from the booth and John Dockery reporting from the field. Armando Talavera, Alvaro Martin and Clemson Smith Muniz will preside over the Spanish broadcast.
Additionally, ESPN International will air the game in three languages to over 180 countries.
THE 'MONDAY NIGHT FOOTBALL' RECORD: The Packers, who will be making their 40th appearance on the prime time showcase, enter next Monday night's 165th matchup against the Bears with a four-game winning streak on "Monday Night Football."
They initiated the skein with a 37-0 triumph over the Washington Redskins in Lambeau in September 2001 (Sept. 24) and followed with a 28-21 win at Jacksonville (Dec. 3), then prevailed in both of their 2002 'MNF' appearances, turning back the Bears, 34-21, at the University of Illinois Memorial Stadium Oct. 7 and making it four in a row with a 24-10 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Lambeau Field the night of Nov. 4.
The four-game streak has lifted the Packers over the .500 mark on the showcase series. They now have won 20, lost 18 and tied one, the latter a 14-14 standoff against the Detroit Lions at Milwaukee County Stadium in 1971.
As might be expected, given the perennial intensity of the rivalry, the Packers' record against the Bears on Monday night is typically tight, although somewhat "streaky." The Packers own a one-game edge having won four of the seven encounters.
The Bears won the first three meetings, 10-9 in 1974, 23-7 in 1985 and 25-12 in 1986, and the Packers have won the last four in succession, 33-6 in 1994, 27-24 in 1995, 38-24 in 1997 and 34-21 in 2002.
Apart from their Monday night fortunes against the Midway Monsters, the Packers own a significant niche in the annals of "MNF." The night of Oct. 17, 1983, the Green and Gold combined with the then-reigning Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins to mount the highest scoring game in the history of the series, Green Bay emerging with a 48-47 victory.
Jan Stenerud's 20-yard field goal with 54 seconds remaining decided the issue. The Redskins' Mark Moseley subsequently missed a 39-yard field goal attempt as time expired.
The 95-point eruption, which also represents the highest scoring game in the Packers' 82-year NFL history, produced 11 touchdowns, 11 conversions and 6 field goals.
THE SHERMAN 'MNF' RECORD: The Packers' Mike Sherman has been a consistent winner on "Monday Night Football." Sherman, who leads his team into a 'MNF' matchup for the seventh time, comes into Monday's game with a 5-1 record as a head coach.
The Packers' 48-year-old field leader made his debut on the series in memorable fashion, leading the Packers to 26-20 overtime victory over the Minnesota Vikings on a rain-swept evening in Lambeau Field, 26-20 (Nov. 6). He incurred his first and, to date, only loss three weeks later, the Carolina Panthers surprising the Green and Gold, 31-14.
Since then, Sherman has escorted the Packers to four victories in a row , with Green Bay outscoring the opposition, 123 to 52 over that successful span.
THE SERIES: There are rivalries...and there are rivalries...in professional football. But none equal or surpass the venerable feud which has seen the Packers and the Chicago Bears have at it on the field - at least twice annually - for more than 80 years.
And Monday the Green and Gold and the Monsters of the Midway will be colliding for the 165th time in regular season play, thus becoming the first two teams in league annals to have reached that imposing competitive plateau.
No other two teams in league history, to underscore the frequency factor, have met as many as 150 times. The closest are the Packers' and Bears' respective series with the Detroit Lions, in which both Green Bay and Chicago have squared off against the Lions on 146 occasions, followed by the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins, who have met 135 times.
And, although the Packers have won the last five meetings, the rivalry's intensity over the 82-year span has substantial documentation. The scoring differential is a scant one point per game. There is equally impressive evidence of the hostility between these primordials is the fact that 69 of the 164 meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less.
Surprisingly enough, the series has produced only one overtime game. That scenario developed in the 1980 season opener in Lambeau Field, a contest which saw the Packers prevail via one of the most bizarre plays in the colorful history of a series that has yielded more than few.
The score was tied at 6-6 in overtime when Bears defensive tackle Alan Page, a former Viking, burst through to block a Chester Marcol field goal attempt. Fortuitously, the football bounced back to Marcol, who promptly scooped it up and sprinted down Lambeau Field's west sideline for the deciding score in a 12-6 Green Bay victory.
Since its inception, the series has been twice interrupted - the first time in 1922, when the teams did not meet, and more recently in 1982 when the annual home-and-home series was expunged by a 57-day player strike.
In addition to their 164 regular-season donnybrooks, the longtime enemies have been involved in one postseason showdown. It was, fittingly, the first divisional playoff in NFL history - a game played at Chicago's Wrigley Field in 1941 - a matchup created when the Packers and Bears had tied for Western Division honors with identical 10-1 records. The Bears, then fielding one of the great teams in league history, won the playoff, 33-14, and went on to capture the league championship with a 37-9 victory over the New York Giants.
Despite the storied animus spawned by the rivalry, both teams have enjoyed periods of dominance along the way. The Packers, for current example, have held the upper hand recently, having won 16 of the last 18 meetings, while the Bears won eight straight during a four-year span in the '80s.
The Green and Gold Monday night will be seeking a ninth consecutive victory over the Bears in Soldier Field - a 10th straight win over them on the road, including last year's 34-21 victory at the University of Illinois Memorial Stadium.
The closest they have been to parity in the series record as they have been in decades, the Packers have won 75 games, the Bears have won 83 and there have been 6 ties.
THE COACHES: Unswervingly committed, highly consistent and thoroughly prepared, Mike Sherman has ensconced himself among the premier head coaches in Packers' history with remarkable dispatch.
Since becoming the 13th field leader in team annals in 2000, the directed New Englander has repeatedly demonstrated his considerable coaching expertise, presiding over more victories in his first three seasons (33) than any other head coach in the team's distinguished annals - more than team founder Earl "Curly" Lambeau, more than the storied Vince Lombardi and more than Mike Holmgren...the other winning head coaches in the history of professional football's most successful franchise.
Over that exceptionally productive three-year span (2000-2002), Sherman also proceeded to entrench himself in what have become substantially expanded responsibilities (he added executive vice president and general manager titles to his résumé after one season as head coach) while escorting Green Bay to three consecutive winning seasons and - in 2002 - to its first division championship since 1997 en route to a second consecutive playoff appearance, earning Sherman Staples 'NFL Coach of the Year' honors for the '02 season.
Shouldering the additional duties with typically total commitment, and literally without missing a step, Sherman led the Packers to back-to-back 12-4 records in 2001 and 2002, the Green and Gold thus becoming the winningest team in the league over that two-year span (24-8). The 12-4 marks have been exceeded by only four teams in the club's 82-year NFL history and the 12-12 parlay was only the second such coupling in team annals (12 or more victories, back-to-back).
En route, the methodical New Englander also has rivaled the regular season accomplishments of the fabled Lombardi over a comparable span, compiling a 33-15-0 record in his first three seasons (16-game campaigns) compared to Lombardi's 26-12-0 over a similar stretch (two 12-game seasons and one 14-game campaign) while he served as the Packers' head coach and general manager (1959-61).
Additionally, Sherman equaled another Lombardi accomplishment by leading the Packers into the playoffs in only his second season (2001) at the controls.
In the process, he has made Lambeau Field a most uncomfortable place for NFL rivals to visit. Since establishing residence at 1265 Lombardi Avenue in 2000, the Green and Gold have forged an imposing 22-4 record in "Lambeau" under his leadership - the best regular season home record in the NFL during that span - including the league's only perfect home record (8-0) in 2002.
The first man in a half-century to take on his tri-cornered role - since Lambeau functioned as vice president, general manager and head coach in 1949 - Sherman brings multiple credentials to his responsibilities. They include a Super Bowl following the 1997 season, during which he was a member of the Holmgren coaching staff that led the Packers into Super Bowl XXXII against the Denver Broncos at San Diego.
It was to be the first of three consecutive years in the playoffs for Sherman who returned to the postseason with the Packers in 1998 and as the offensive coordinator on Holmgren's Seattle staff in 1999.
Sherman, now in his 26th year in the coaching profession, began his coaching career at Stamford, Conn., High School in 1978. The Central Connecticut State University alumnus went on to coach in the college ranks for 16 years, including one year as offensive coordinator at Holy Cross and terms as offensive line coach at such highly regarded programs as Texas A&M and UCLA.
The Bears' Dick Jauron, a former member of Green Bay's coaching staff, earned NFL 'Coach of the Year' honors in 2001 after leading the Bears to the greatest single-season turnaround in team history with a 13-3 season record (an eight-game turnaround from a 5-11 record in 2000).
Jauron directed the team to its first division title since 1990 and coached the team in its first playoff game since 1994.
Jauron became the first Bears coach to beat the Packers at Lambeau Field in each of his first two trips with a 27-24 win Oct. 1, 2000. Jauron guided the Bears to four wins in their final eight games to finish 5-11 in 2000. Chicago posted six victories during Jauron's rookie season of 1999.
Earlier, as Jacksonville's first defensive coordinator, he was instrumental in the early success of the Jaguars, which included three playoff berths in the franchise's first four seasons and a run to the 1996 AFC Championship Game.
Jauron coached defensive backs for nine years in Green Bay (1986-94) before moving to Jacksonville. His coaching career began with the Buffalo Bills in 1985. He moved to Green Bay the following year and served as the defensive backs coach for three different coaches: Forrest Gregg, 1986-87, Lindy Infante 1988-91 and Mike Holmgren, 1992-94. Jauron accepted the defensive coordinator post with the expansion Jaguars in 1995. Career record: 28-38.
As a collegian, Jauron played running back at Yale from 1970-72 where, for 27 seasons, he held the school's career rushing mark with 2,947 yards. Drafted by the Detroit Lions in the fourth round of the 1973 draft, he played defensive back for the Lions from 1973-77 and was named to the Pro Bowl after the 1978 season. He joined Cincinnati in 1978 and played with the Bengals until retiring after the 1980 season.
THE LAST TIME(S): The final scores were similar as the Packers swept their season series with Chicago in 2002, besting the Bears in a Monday night matchup at Champaign, Ill., 34-21,Oct. 7 and winning the rematch in Lambeau Field, 30-20, on Dec. 1, but the anatomies of the success were somewhat different.
For example, the Green and Gold charged to an early 14-0 lead in the Champaign contest, quarterback Brett Favre unfurling 85- and 19-yard scoring passes to wide receiver Donald Driver and tight end Tyrone Davis, respectively.
The Bears interrupted with a 4-yard TD pass to Marty Booker, prompting retaliation from Favre, who found tight end Bubba Franks for a 5-yard score.
The Bears again responded, Miller hitting tight end John Davis with a 1-yard TD pass, paring Green Bay's lead to 24-14.
Longwell drilled home a 49-yard field goal as the first half ended, putting the Packers up, 24-14, at the intermission, and defensive end Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila essentially settled matters when he intercepted a Miller pass and returned it 71 yards for a touchdown midway through the third quarter.
Running back Ahman Green rushed for 107 yards and wide receiver Terry Glenn turned in his premier performance of the season, snaring 8 passes for 154 yards.
The Packers' victory in the Dec. 1 rematch was historic, sealing Green Bay's first division title in five years by forcing five turnovers and getting an outstanding performance by rookie running back Tony Fisher, stepping in for the injured Ahman Green in the third quarter.
Fisher, an undrafted free agent from Note Dame, replaced Green, who hurt his left knee, and Fisher ran 17 times for 91 yards and a touchdown.
The Packers (9-3), who were coming off two straight losses, clinched the NFC North.
On a cold, windy day, Favre threw two second half touchdown passes and beat the Bears for the 18th time in 22 tries. In contrast to their October meeting, however, the Packers trailed 14-6 at halftime and appeared on the way to another defeat - until nose tackle Rod Walker recovered Jim Miller's fumbled snap at the Green Bay 1 early in the third quarter, averting a potential Chicago touchdown. It came one play after Booker's apparent touchdown catch was called an incompletion, and the Bears lost the challenge.
Green Bay then drove 90 yards - with Fisher accounting for half of them - and went ahead for the first time on Longwell's 27-yard field goal that made it 16-14. Favre added an 8-yard touchdown pass to Bubba Franks and Fisher scored from 2 yards out with 1:10 left to make it 30-14.
THE (NFL) STATISTICAL UPDATE: Running back Ahman Green continues to rank among the NFC's statistical leaders in three major categories following the first three weeks of the '03 regular season.
Green is third in conference rushing with 266 yards in 59 attempts, a 4.5-yard average, ranks fourth in total yards from scrimmage with 371 (including 105 yards receiving) and is tied for the lead in non-kicker scoring with 18 points.
The fifth-year professional also is tied for 15th place in NFC receiving with 13 catches.
Rookie middle linebacker Nick Barnett is tied for fifth place in interceptions with 2, punter Josh Bidwell ranks fifth in the NFC in net punting average with a 40.9 mark for 13 punts and placekicker Ryan Longwell is tied for ninth place in kicker scoring with 19 points, having made all 7 extra points and 4 field goals that he has attempted.
Quarterback Brett Favre ranks 12th in conference passer ratings with a 67.6 mark, based upon 63 completions in 102 attempts for 625 yards and 4 touchdowns, with 6 interceptions.
From the team perspective, the Packers are 14th on offense (13th in rushing and 17th in passing) and 22nd on defense (17th against the run and 23rd against the pass).
THE INJURY REPORT: Guard Marco Rivera suffered an eye injury which forced him to leave Sunday's game and wide receiver Robert Ferguson had what GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman termed a "reoccurring" knee injury but neither concern is expected to keep either player out of next Monday night's game against the Bears.