THE GAME: Their annual bye week now in the past, the NFC North-leading Green Bay Packers (6-1) return to their 2002 agenda on home turf - in an ABC "Monday Night Football" matchup with the leaders of the AFC East, the Miami Dolphins (5-2) next Monday (November 4).
Kickoff for the contest, a customary season-ticket sellout (65,290), is set for 8:07, CST (Wisconsin time).
The surging Packers will be in quest of a sixth straight victory - and a sixth straight win in Lambeau Field, where they are undefeated to date in the '02 season (3-0).
The Green and Gold last put together a six-game, in-season winning streak in 1992. More recently, they put together a seven-game success streak over the 2000 and 2001 seasons, winning the last four games of the 2000 campaign and the first three of the '01 season.
In addition to the stakes involved for both teams - the Dolphins own a half-game lead over second-place Buffalo (5-3) in the AFC East at the moment - the Packers and their guests will be making "Monday Night Football" history in their encounter. It will be the first time they have met in the 33-year-old series, which was launched in 1970.
THE TV-RADIO COVERAGE: Al Michaels will deliver the play-by-play for next Monday night's ABC telecast and John Madden will offer the analysis, with Melissa Stark reporting from the field. Fred Gaudelli is the producer and Drew Esocoff directs.
The game also will be aired over the Packer Radio Network, with Wayne Larrivee calling the play-by-play and Larry McCarren providing commentary and analysis. The radio broadcast also will be available on the internet via www.packers.com.
In addition, the game will be broadcast nationally by Westwood One/CBS Radio Sports and by Jones Media-America Radio Network. Marv Albert and Boomer Esiason will share the Westwood One booth, with former Vikings quarterback Warren Moon reporting from the field and Howard Deneroff producing.
Alvaro Martin will handle the play-by-play and Danny Marulanda the analysis for the Jones Media Spanish broadcast , with Rafael Hernandez Brito as the host. The Spanish broadcast will originate from ABC Radio's Manhattan production facilities.
THE DIVISION: Though idle over the weekend, the Packers lengthened their lead in the NFC North Division to four full games over the Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions, both of whom lost road games - the Bears to the Minnesota Vikings (25-7) and the Lions to the Buffalo Bills (24-17) - and now own 2-5 marks. Minnesota, with its victory, also is 2-5 and four games out.
THE 'MONDAY NIGHT' RECORD: The Packers, who will be carrying a three-game winning streak on "Monday Night Football' into action against Miami, own a 19-18-1 overall record on ABC's prime time showcase.
It will be the second "MNF' appearance of the regular season for the Packers, who defeated the Chicago Bears, 34-21, in their first '02 showing on October 7.
Although the Packers and Dolphins will be meeting on Monday night for the first time in the history of the series, initiated in 1970, Miami is hardly a stranger to it.
The Dolphins, in fact, have been on "Monday Night Football" more often than any other NFL club. Owners of a 36-29 record to date, they will be making their 66th appearance since also debuting in 1970, the vehicle's charter year.
The Packers carved out a significant niche for themselves on 'MNF' two decades ago. On October 17, 1983, they combined with then-reigning Super Bowl champion Washington to forge the highest-scoring game in the history of the series, the Packers emerging with a 48-47 victory. The explosive contest produced 11 touchdowns, 11 conversions and 6 field goals.
From a frequency standpoint, the Packers are appearing on "Monday Night Football" for the 10th consecutive season, a streak that currently ranks behind only those of Miami (12 straight years) and Denver (11).
The Packers also are among four teams the NFL has featured on 'MNF" more than any others over the past seven seasons (1996-2002) - Denver, Miami and San Francisco in addition to the Green and Gold - 16 times each.
THE SERIES: To put it mildly, The Packers have not had an enjoyable relationship with the Dolphins. The series began in 1971, the year after Don Shula left the Baltimore Colts to become head coach of the Fish and, after 10 encounters with the Floridians, the Packers have one victory to show for their efforts.
The Dolphins won the first eight regular-season meetings before the Green and Gold were able to end the victory drought in 1997. In the latter, the Packers turned back Jimmy Johnson's Dolphins in Lambeau Field, 23-18 (September 14), with a brace of Ryan Longwell field goals furnishing the deciding points.
The Packers have had better luck against Miami in preseason play, having won five of nine non-league meetings.
THEY KEEP WINNING: Despite the generally leveling effect of free agency and the salary cap, the Dolphins and Packers have continued to enjoy consistent success. The Dolphins (13) and Packers (10) currently own the NFL's two longest streaks without a losing season.
Miami's most recent sub-.500 season occurred in 1988 while the Packers' last losing year was 1991.
Additionally, the Packers are the NFL's only franchise - among all the great dynasties in league history - to produce more than one non-losing decade (three times:1921-32, 1934-47 and 1992-2001).
THE COACHES: Highly consistent, unswervingly committed and thoroughly prepared, Mike Sherman has scaled a lofty plateau in Packers' coaching history in his two-and-a-half distinguished seasons as the 13th field leader in team annals.
Since succeeding Ray Rhodes in 2000, he has demonstrated his considerable coaching expertise by consistently paralleling the won-lost accomplishments of the fabled Vince Lombardi on a game-by-game basis. So closely, in fact, that he is dead even with Lombardi's pace of 1959-62 at the same 39-game stage (27-12).
What is equally impressive, from the overall perspective, is that Sherman has become only the fourth of the 13 head coaches in the team's 82-year history to forge a winning career record, thus joining an exclusive fraternity whose membership additionally includes only team founder E.L. "Curly" Lambeau, Lombardi and Mike Holmgren.
In so doing, Sherman also has matched another major Lombardi achievement by leading the Packers into the playoffs in only his second season as head coach and - moreover - has gone one up on him by escorting Green Bay to victory in his first postseason effort. The latter is an accomplishment that eluded Lombardi, who lost his initial playoff game as Green Bay's field leader.
In 2000, when a head coach for the first time at any level, Sherman had debuted by leading the Green and Gold to a 9-7 record, a season climaxed by a sweep of the Packers' four NFC Central Division rivals (Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota and Tampa Bay), a rare achievement.
Then, despite assuming the additional and formidable responsibilities of executive vice president and general manager following Ron Wolf's retirement, he next guided the Packers to an imposing 12-4 record in 2001, a single-season victory total previously exceeded by only three teams in club annals.
Sherman then embellished that substantial success by escorting his team to a 25-15 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in a Wild Card playoff before seeing the Packers fall to the Super Bowl-bound St. Louis Rams in a Divisional playoff (45-17).
The first man in a half-century to assume his multiple responsibilities - since Lambeau last functioned in those capacities in 1949 - Sherman brings impressive credentials to his tri-cornered role. 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.
The latter was the first of three consecutive years in the playoffs for the '47-year-old Central Connecticut State University alumnus, who returned to the postseason with the Packers in 1998 and as the offensive coordinator on Holmgren's Seattle staff in 1999.
Now in his 25th year in the coaching profession, Sherman began 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.
Miami's Dave Wannstedt, the fourth head coach in Miami's history, last year led the Dolphins to their second consecutive 11-5 record while reaching the postseason for a NFL-high fifth straight year.
The team's 22-10 record under Wannstedt over the past two seasons is the best in consecutive seasons for the Dolphins since 1985-85.
In 2000, Wannstedt guided the Dolphins to a regular-season record of 11-5 and the club's first AFC East title since 1994.
Earlier, he led the Chicago Bears to a 41-57 record in six seasons (1993-98) as head coach and was named NFC coach of the year as Chicago went 9-7 and won its first playoff game since 1990. He then served as the Dolphins' assistant head coach in 1999 before becoming head coach in 2000.
Wannstedt launched his NFL coaching career as linebackers coach with the Dolphins in 1989. He spent seven weeks in that post during the offseason before joining Jimmy Johnson in Dallas as the Cowboys' defensive coordinator prior to the '89 season. In 1992, the Cowboys led the league in total defense as they went on to capture the first of two straight Super Bowl titles.
The 50-year-old University of Pittsburgh alumnus coached in the college ranks for 14 seasons (1975-88) before entering the NFL. An offensive lineman at Pitt, he was selected by the Packers in the 15th round of the 1974 NFL draft. He spent the '74 season the team's injured reserve with a neck injury and went into coaching the following year.
THE LAST TIME: "Appearances" can be deceiving. The last time the Packers saw the Dolphins, they were out front 17-0 with less than four minutes gone in the second quarter - and appeared in a fair way to record their first ever, regular-season victory over the Dolphins on Miami turf.
The date was October 29, 2000, and the Packers had struck first as the game began, moving close enough for Ryan Longwell to deliver a 51-yard field goal - an effort that then matched his career long - in the sixth minute of the first quarter.
Linebacker Brian Williams' force and recovery of a Thurman Thomas fumble at the Miami 43-yard line presented the Packers with their next opportunity late in that opening period. With quarterback Brett Favre completing three passes for 32 yards en route, the Packers were in the end zone seven plays later, running back Dorsey Levens going over the right side from one yard out for the score. Longwell's conversion made it 10-0.
Favre then orchestrated what was to be the Packers' second and final touchdown drive of the afternoon on their next possession - with the aid of a 39-yard pass interference penalty on the Dolphins' Terrance Shaw that winged the Packers to Miami's 13-yard line.
Levens did the rest, bolting through the middle for 6 yards on first down and then sweeping left from 7 yards out for the touchdown. With Longwell's second conversion, it quickly became 17-0.
It took the Dolphins until their final possession of the first half to initiate what became their successful response. Taking over at the Miami 48-yard line, quarterback Jay Fiedler maneuvered the Floridians to the Green Bay 1-yard line in six plays, then went up the middle for the final yard himself with only 1:57 left in the first half. Olindo Mare's point after made it 17-7 going into the intermission.
The Dolphins subsequently took control of the game in the third quarter, punching home three touchdowns to take a 28-17 lead to the fourth period en route to a 28-20 victory.
They mounted a 65-yard scoring drive, capping it with a 15-yard Fielder scoring pass to wideout Oronde Gadsden, then staged a 63-yard TD march finished off by Lamar Smith's 4-yard run for the score, which gave Miami its first lead of the game, 21-17.
The Dolphins then forced a punt on the Packers' next possession and, when punter Josh Bidwell was forced to hurry his kick, receiver Jeff Ogden fielded the 25-yarder on the run and raced down the sidelines to the end zone untouched. Mare's conversion swelled Miami's lead to 28-17.
The Packers managed to interrupt with a 48-yard Longwell field goal early in that final period, reducing the Miami lead to 28-20, but it was to be their last scoreboard visit of the afternoon.
THE SHERMAN STREAK: To date, that '2000' experience - which saw them lose after relinquishing a halftime lead - has been one of a kind for Packers GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman.
In the interim, the Packers have won 18 consecutive games in which they have led at halftime, giving Sherman an overall record of 20-1 under such circumstances during his three-year tenure.
THE 'ONLY' TIME: It took the Packers a quarter-century but the Packers finally got the better of the Miami Dolphins - in their ninth regular-season meeting, with the salutary development occurring in Lambeau Field on September 14, 1997.
The Dolphins had won the first eight encounters in the regular-season series, which had begun at Miami in 1971.
In keeping with the history of the rivalry, the first win did not come easily. After three quarters, the Packers were out front by a lone point, 13-12, and the situation was tenuous.
The turning point came late in the third quarter when Miami Head Coach Jimmy Johnson elected to go for it with the Dolphins in a fourth-and-11 position at their own 32-yard line. Reggie Johnson, a tight end by trade, foiled the Dolphins' bid. Declining to "bite" on Bernie Parmalee's fake, he dropped the Miami running back after only a 2-yard gain, the Packers taking over on downs.
Seven plays later, rookie Ryan Longwell kicked his third field goal of the afternoon - in as many attempts - a 39-yarder, which gave the Packers a 16-12 lead.
Then, after Dan Marino and the Dolphins were stymied in the wake of one penalty-induced first down, the Packers forced a punt and quarterback Brett Favre proceeded to engineer the Packers' longest drive of the day, a 12-play, 83-yard march, climaxed by Favre's 10-yard pass to fullback William Henderson for the score. After Longwell's PAT, the Packers led, 23-12.
The Dolphins, however, were not yet willing to concede. And they shortly had a final opportunity. Favre fumbled on an aborted play and Miami's Dunstan Anderson recovered at the Packers' 35-yard line. Marino had the Fish in the end zone in 6 plays, completing a 29-yard pass to former Packer Charles Jordan for the touchdown. The Dolphins' subsequent attempt for a 2-point conversion - a pass intended for tight end Troy Drayton - failed.
Favre, then closing in on another major team record, threw the 150th and 151st touchdown passes of his career. Thus climbing to within one of career leader Bart Starr, who was on hand as a participant in the Packers' annual "homecoming" festivities to observe Favre's performance. Overall, Favre completed 24 of 37 passes for 253 yards - with no interceptions.
NOTABLE PACKERS-DOLPHINS CONNECTIONS:
NFL ties: Dolphins DE David Bowens and DB Scott McGarrahan played previously in Green Bay...Packers O-line coach Larry Beightol served in a similar capacity for the Dolphins (including assistant head coach) before taking his current position in Green Bay...QB Doug Pederson signed with Miami as a non-drafted free agent in 1992, rallied the Dolphins to a '93 win that made Don Shula the game's winningest coach, then was waived in 1995 and spent a month as a truck driver before signing with the Packers...Packers pro personnel assistant Marc Lillibridge spent the 1996 season on the Dolphins' practice squad...Packers assistant head coach Bob Slowik earned a Super Bowl ring working under Dave Wannstedt, Dallas' defensive coordinator, in 1992; both men are from Pittsburgh...While Chicago's head coach, Wannstedt retained Slowik as his only defensive coordinator (1993-98), and also worked with Mark Hatley, the Bears' top personnel man, now with the Packers...Furthermore, Wannstedt has early ties to Green Bay, having been a 15th-round pick of the Packers in the 1974 NFL draft; he spent the '74 season on injured reserve with a neck injury and began his coaching career the following year...Tom Braatz, now a Dolphins scout, ran the Packers' football operations from 1987-91, preceding Ron Wolf...Jeff Blumb, the Packers' director of public relations, worked for Dolphins from 1986-89, before joining Green Bay.
College teammates: Jim Bundren (Dolphins) and Antuan Edwards (Green Bay) at Clemson...Deon Dyer (Dolphins) and Vonnie Holliday (Green Bay) at North Carolina...Travis Minor (Miami) and Jamal Reynolds and Javon Walker (Green Bay) at Florida State...Todd Wade (Dolphins) and Nate Wayne (Green Bay) at Ole Miss...Seth McKinney (Dolphins) and Robert Ferguson (Green Bay) at Texas A&M.
Other connections: Chris Chambers and Jamar Fletcher played collegiately at Wisconsin...Bubba Franks and Najeh Davenport played collegiately at Miami (Fla.)...Offensive line assistant Pat Ruel coached for the Hurricanes in the early 1970s, after graduating from Coral Gables High School...Green Bay scout Alonzo Highsmith also played college ball in Miami and, earlier, played as a prep with current Dolphins coach Mike Shula at Miami's Columbus High School...Miami high schools produced three current Packers: Davenport (Central), Mike McKenzie (Norland) and Torrance Marshall (Sunset).
ALL-TIMERS: Football Digest has taken it upon itself to select all-time teams for 31 of the NFL's 32 teams (the Houston Texans, new this year, were omitted for obvious reasons). In the process, its editors named four current Dolphins, who will be on display in Lambeau Field Monday night, to Miami's all-time team - defensive end Jason Taylor, linebacker Zach Thomas, cornerback Sam Madison and placekicker Olindo Mare.
Quarterback Brett Favre was the only current Packer named to Green Bay's all-time team, although safety LeRoy Butler, who retired just prior to this year's training camp, also was chosen.
Additionally, punter Craig Hentrich, still active but now a member of the Tennessee Titans, also was named to Green Bay's all-time team.
THE (NFL) STATISTICAL UPDATE: Despite sitting out the weekend with a bye, the Packers moved up one place on both offense and defense in official statistics released by the Elias Sports Bureau following Sunday's games.
Eighth on offense a week ago, they now rank seventh (12th in rushing and sixth in passing).
Twelfth defensively a week earlier, they now stand 11th (24th against the run and ninth against the pass).
In another major category, the Packers continue to lead the NFL in the takeaway-giveaway computation with a plus-12 reading. It is based upon 23 takeaways (12 interceptions and 11 recoveries of opponent fumbles), compared to 11 giveaways (3 opponent interceptions and 8 lost fumbles).
The San Francisco 49ers, tied for second a week ago with a plus-6 reading, now rank second alone with a plus-10 mark after posting a net of 4 in the turnover table during a 38-28 victory over Arizona Sunday.
Individually, quarterback Brett Favre continues to lead the league in passing with a 102.0 rating, based upon 153 completions in 233 attempts for 1,706 yards and 14 touchdowns, with only 3 interceptions.
Favre also ranks sixth in the NFC in third-down passing with an 85.6 rating, based upon 39 completions in 65 attempts for 463 yards and 2 touchdowns, with one interception, and seventh in fourth-quarter passing with an 86.7 rating, based upon 27 completions in 43 attempts for 253 yards and one touchdown, without an interception.
Teammate Ahman Green continues to hold second place in NFC rushing with 640 yards in 143 attempts, a 4.5-yard average, and third place in total yards from scrimmage with 797.
The New Orleans Saints' Deuce McAllister leads the NFC in rushing with 836 yards and in total yards from scrimmage with 1,070, followed by the St. Louis Rams' Marshall Faulk with 934.
Green also ranks fifth in the NFC in the production of first downs with 35 (28 rushing and 7 receiving).
Ryan Longwell is tied with the Atlanta Falcons' Jay Feely for the conference lead in kick scoring with 65 points, having made all 23 of his extra point tries and 14 of 19 field goal attempts.
Wide receiver Donald Driver ranks fifth in the NFC in receiving yardage with 527 yards a 16.5-yard average, and is tied with Tampa Bay's Keyshawn Johnson for 10th place in receptions with 32 catches.
Fellow wideout Terry Glenn is 13th in receiving yards with 401, a 14.3-yard average.
Driver and Green also are tied for seventh in NFC non-kicker scoring with 30 points apiece.
Josh Bidwell ranks seventh among NFC punters with an average of 42.9 yards for 32 punts.
Safety Darren Sharper is tied for second among NFC interceptors with 3 thefts and teammate Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila is tied for 11th in sacks with 5.0.