THE GAME: Fortified by their first taste of success in the new preseason, accomplished amid the sweltering heat of southern Arizona, the Green Bay Packers gratefully return from the depths of the desert to make their home debut against the spectacular backdrop of largely renovated Lambeau Field -- and the Cleveland Browns -- next Monday evening (August 26).
And fittingly, the somewhat historic occasion (the renovation process continues for another year) will be showcased on national television, with the Packers (1-1) hosting the Browns (2-0) on ABC's "Monday Night Football."
Kickoff is set for 7 o'clock, CDT (Wisconsin time) before a sellout house of 65,290 (the new capacity of Lambeau Field at the current stage of the renovation project).
The Green and Gold will be coming off a workmanlike, 29-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Tempe's toasty Sun Devil Stadium, where the temperature registered a torrid 105 degrees at the opening kickoff.
Immediately ahead, their matchup with the Browns will launch a demanding week for the Packers, who will be back in Lambeau Field just four days later to close out their preseason agenda against the Tennessee Titans (Friday night, August 30).
The Browns are undefeated, having opened their preseason by besting two of Green Bay's NFC North Division rivals, Minnesota (27-15) and the Detroit Lions (24-23).
The Packers' meeting with the Ohioans will mark the 42nd renewal of the Bishop's Charities Game, founded in 1961. The Packers have won 23 of the 41 previous contests, including the last 11 in a row, while losing 17, and there has been one tie.
To date, the series has raised more than $2,700,000 for the Bishop's Charities.
THE TV-RADIO COVERAGE: Al Michaels, as per custom, will preside at the play-by-play microphone - in company with a new partner, John Madden, who will be paying his first visit to Lambeau Field as the analyst/commentator on an ABC "Monday Night Football" telecast - following a combined 21-year reign as the lead analyst on the CBS and Fox Networks. Fred Gaudelli is the producer and Drew Esocoff directs.
The game also will be broadcast over the Packer Radio Network and available on the internet at www.packers.com, with Wayne Larrivee calling the play-by-play and Larry McCarren providing the analysis.
THE 'MNF' RECORD: The Packers will be making their fifth preseason appearance on ABC's Monday Night Football" - their second in Lambeau Field. They own a .500 mark in preseason play on the prime time showcase, having squared their record last year with a 22-7 victory over the Denver Broncos in their first home, non-league Monday night matchup (August 20, 2001).
The Packers, coincidentally, also are all even in 37 regular season appearances on the prime time series, dating back to its charter 1970 season, for which they are the possessors of an 18-18-1 record.
THE 'LAMBEAU SURROUNDINGS:' With Lambeau Field still under renovation, fans are reminded they will be entering a construction zone in coming to a game and thus are urged to plan ahead and arrive at the stadium early.
As was the case last season, some roads around the stadium will have restricted access. Fans should enter the stadium from any of the marked entryways, which are indicated on the backs of their game tickets.
THE SERIES: Though in different conferences, the Packers and Browns have seen each other with regularity - largely by choice - since Cleveland returned to the NFL in 1999, following a three-year absence. Saturday night's game will mark their fourth encounter over the past three seasons, including a late season matchup in "Lambeau" last December, which saw the Packers prevail, 30-7, and three preseason meetings.
Their new "relationship" was launched in 2000 when Mike Sherman's first Packers team out-scored the Browns, 34-33, in their final venture of the preseason. The Browns then returned the favor in their mutual preseason inaugural last year, 10-3, in Browns Stadium.
Taking previous history into account, the Packers and Browns will be meeting in preseason play for the 19th time. In a competitive history which dates back to 1950 and the Browns' entry into the National Football League following the disbandment of the All-America Football Conference. The Browns own a four-game advantage in the non-league "series," having won 11 of the 18 previous meetings.
The Packers, on the other hand, lead the regular-season series 9-6-0, including a 31-20 victory at Cleveland's old Municipal Stadium in 1995, just prior to that team's departure for Baltimore and a new identity as the Ravens in 1996.
The Green and Gold also prevailed in the only postseason meeting with the Browns, having scored a 23-12 victory in the 1965 NFL Championship Game (actually played on January 2, 1966) in Lambeau Field, a success that launched the Packers' drive to three consecutive league titles - the only "trifecta" under the playoff system in NFL history.
THE HEAD COACHES: Thoroughgoing Mike Sherman has made an impressive impact upon the Packers' competitive fortunes in just two years as the 13th head coach in the team's storied annals. Overall, he has matched the fabled Vince Lombardi's won-lost record for his first 32 regular-season games (21-11) and, en route, become only the fourth head coach in the team's NFL history to own a winning career record, thus joining team founder E.L. "Curly" Lambeau, Lombardi and Mike Holmgren.
Sherman, then a head coach for the first time at any level, debuted in 2000 by leading the Packers to a 9-7 record, capped by a sweep of the Packers' four NFC Central Division rivals (Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota and Tampa Bay), a singular accomplishment.
And, despite assuming the additional and imposing responsibilities of executive vice president and general manager following Ron Wolf's retirement, he escorted the Green and Gold to a glittering 12-4 record in 2001, a victory total surpassed by only three teams in the club's 81-year NFL history.
Additionally, Sherman equaled another Lombardi accomplishment by leading the Packers into the postseason in only his second season at the controls. The 47-year-old New Englander enhanced that substantial achievement by leading the Packers into the second round of the playoffs, posting a 25-15 victory over the formidable San Francisco 49ers in their initial postseason test, a wild card playoff in Lambeau Field, before falling to the Super Bowl-bound St. Louis Rams in a subsequent divisional playoff, 45-17.
The first man to shoulder his tri-cornered role since Lambeau last functioned in those capacities in 1949, Sherman has brought multiple credentials to his responsibilities. They include a Super Bowl following the 1997 season, during which he was a member of the Holmgren staff that led the Packers into SB XXXII against the Denver Broncos at San Diego.
It was the first of three consecutive years in the playoffs for the purposeful Connecticut State University alumnus, who returned to the postseason with the Packers in 1998 and as the offensive coordinator on Holmgren's Seattle Seahawks' staff in 1999.
Now in his 25th year in his profession, the Massachusetts-born mentor launched his coaching career at Stamford, Conn., High School in 1978. He went on to coach in the college ranks for 16 years, including a year as offensive coordinator at Holy Cross and terms as offensive line coach at such highly-regarded programs as UCLA and Texas A&M.
Butch Davis, in his second year as field leader of the Browns, led them to an entirely respectable 7-9 record as a rookie NFL head coach in 2001.
The 50-year-old Tulsa, Okla., native first attracted attention professionally as defensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys in the early '90s, then established himself as a head coach in the college ranks, leading the University of Miami to lofty national rankings in five of his six years on the Florida campus (1995-2000).
At Dallas, he helped the Cowboys win back-to-back Super Bowls in 1992 and 1993, serving as defensive coordinator in '93. He also served in the role of defensive coordinator in Barry Switzer's first year as head coach in 1994, helping Dallas reach the NFC Championship Game with a defense that ranked first in the NFL in total defense (269.6 yards per game).
At Miami, Davis gained national prominence by compiling a lustrous 51-20 won-lost record as head coach of the Hurricanes, punctuated by a 4-0 mark in bowl games.
NOTABLE PACKERS-BROWNS CONNECTIONS:
NFL ties: Packers assistant head coach Bob Slowik (1999) and defensive line coach Jethro Franklin (1995) coached in Cleveland...Green Bay QB Doug Pederson (2000), and C Frank Winters (1987-88), who owns two restaurants in Cleveland, played for the Browns...Browns S Chris Akins, OL Barry Stokes, and OL Richard Mercier, appeared on the Packers roster in 2001...OL Ross Verba (1997-2000) also played for the Packers...Green Bay released FB Kevin McLeod on the eve of 2002 camp... Both defensive coordinators, Foge Fazio and Ed Donatell, coached on the same Jets staff (1990-94)...Fazio and Packers receivers coach Ray Sherman were on the Vikings staff (1995-97, 1999)...Browns nickel package coach Todd Bowles was a Packers scout from 1995-96.
College teammates: Josh Booty (Browns) and Craig Nall (Green Bay) at LSU ...Anthony Denman and Autry Denson (Browns), and Tony Fisher (Green Bay) at Notre Dame...Rickey Dudley (Browns) and Terry Glenn (Green Bay) at Ohio State...Joaquin Gonzalez and James Jackson (Browns) and Bubba Franks (Green Bay) at Miami (Fla.)...Dennis Northcutt (Browns) and Kevin Barry (Green Bay) at Arizona.
Other connections: Packers 2000 first-round draft choice Bubba Franks played for Butch Davis at Miami (Fla.)...Green Bay running backs coach Sylvester Croom and Browns offensive coordinator Bruce Arians coached together at Alabama (1980-81)...RB Ki-Jana Carter went to Westerville (Ohio) High School...Both Packers coordinators, Tom Rossley (Painesville) and Ed Donatell (Stow), are from Ohio...Packers coach Stan Drayton is a Cleveland Marshall High School graduate...Terry Glenn is a Columbus native.
THE LAST TIME: The Packers' most recent encounter with the Browns was a productive one for the Green and Gold. With running back Ahman Green rushing for 150 yards to lead them past Cleveland in a snowy, late-afternoon contest in Lambeau Field (December 23, 2001), the Packers clinched their first playoff berth since 1998 and kept themselves in contention for the NFC Central Division title with a 30-7 victory.
As the catalyst, Green registered his sixth 100-yard rushing effort of 2001 - and also established the Packers' single-season record for total offense (1,813 yards), surpassing Dorsey Levens' 1997 mark of 1,805. His longest run of the day was his last, a 43-yard excursion to set up Green Bay's final touchdown in the fourth quarter.
As a team, the Packers rushed for 222 yards - their most since they amassed 233 against Minnesota
on December 22, 1996. Ironically, on the day Green broke his record, Levens turned in his most productive game of the season, rushing for 72 yards - including a 40-yard run in the fourth quarter - and scored his first 2001 touchdown on a diving, 16-yard reception from Brett Favre for the Packers' final score.
Favre, meanwhile, completed his first eight passes - including a pair of first-quarter touchdown passes to tight end Bubba Franks. No. 4 led Green Bay on a 66-yard TD drive to open the game, then cashed a Bhawoh Jue interception on the team's second possession to put the Packers up, 13-0. Favre's strike to Levens extended his NFL record to six seasons with at least 30 TD passes.
Jue's first career interception was one of five Packers takeaways, a season high. Tyrone Williams accounted for the team's other two 'picks,' including a 69-yard touchdown return late in the first half.
Cleveland was making its first Lambeau Field appearance since January 2, 1966, a snowy day on which the Packer defeated the "original" Browns, 23-12, for the first of three consecutive NFL championships.