Coming off a three-week road "trip" and back-to-back victories on foreign turf, the 2-1 Green Bay Packers make their first home appearance of the 2003 preseason in Lambeau Field Saturday night (Aug. 23) when they host the undefeated Carolina Panthers (2-0) in the 54th annual Midwest Shrine Game.
Kickoff for the contest, a sellout (72,515), is set for 7 o'clock, CDT.
The Packers, mounting their most impressive offensive effort to date, dispatched the Cleveland Browns, 38-31, in Browns Stadium Friday night, out-scoring their hosts 31-17 over the last three quarters to post a second straight win.
The 38 points represent a preseason, single-game high for the Packers under GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman in his four-year tenure. The previous best, 37, came in a 37-24 victory over the New York Jets in Sherman's very first game as Green Bay's head coach, August 4, 2000.
A SILVER LINING: Although he couldn't have been happy with the major power outage which put Cleveland and a five-state area in darkness for all of Thursday evening - the night prior to Friday night's game with the Browns - Mike Sherman was able to find some potential good coming from it.
"In spite of the blackout thing the other night, that could end up being a positive thing," he said. "Guys sat around (in a dimly lit lobby of the Renaissance Hotel, the power provided by an emergency generator) and talked and kind of bonded with each other.
"(But) I was a little nervous," Sherman quipped, "about the guy who, when I said we didn't have air conditioning because of not having electricity, asked me if they could get fans. I worried a little about the guy that asked me that question."
Power, fortunately, was restored to the Cleveland area at approximately 1:15 Friday morning, returning electricity to the rooms for the first time since late the previous afternoon. The blackout, reportedly, was the first the Packers had encountered for a road game since a similar incident in 1965.
THE TV-RADIO COVERAGE: Saturday night's game against the Panthers will be broadcast along an expanded, eight-station state television network, with Kevin Harlan handling the play-by-play, former Packers defensive lineman Bill Maas providing the analysis and Jessie Garcia reporting from the sideline. Ross Schneiderman is the producer and Suzanne Smith directs.
WFRV-TV's Larry McCarren, the analyst for the Packers Radio Network, also will join the telecast for pre-game, halftime and post-game segments.
With the aid of a CBS Network technical crew, Green Bay's WFRV-TV and Milwaukee's WTMJ-TV will originate the telecast, which also will be carried by WKOW-ABC, Madison, Wis.; WAOW/ABC, Wausau/Rhinelander, Wis.; WXOW/ABC, La Crosse, Wis.; WQOW/ABC, Eau Claire, Wis.; WYOW/ABC, Eagle River, Wis.; and WJMN/CBS, Marquette, Mich.
The game also will be broadcast over the 62-station Packers Radio Network, with Wayne Larrivee calling the play-by-play and McCarren offering the analysis and commentary.
THE SERIES: Although it is of recent origin, the Packers' series with the Carolina Panthers has quickly evolved into a highly spirited rivalry.
The Packers lead the regular-season series 4-2 (Saturday night's encounter will be the first preseason meeting in their mutual history) but two of the Packers' victories were hardly cakewalks, coming by modest margins of 7 and 3 points, respectively.
One of the Packers' two losses to the Panthers also was most unwelcome - a 33-31 misadventure in Lambeau Field, where the Packers long have taken losing as something of an insult. It not only ended a three-game winning streak for a team presumably on a roll but also damaged the Packers' chances for a playoff berth.
Curiously enough, their first-ever meeting came in the postseason - the 1996 NFC Championship Game in "Lambeau," a matchup which saw the Packers emerge with a 30-13 victory and qualify for Super Bowl XXXI against the New England Patriots at New Orleans.
In large measure because of a 205-yard offensive performance by running back Dorsey Levens, the Green and Gold thus earned their first excursion to the "Big Dance" in 29 years - in, poetically, the first championship game to be played in Green Bay since the legendary "Ice Bowl" of 1967.
THE LAST TIME: With a modicum of good fortune in the closing seconds, the Packers slipped past the Panthers in their most recent meeting - escaping with a 17-14 victory on Sept. 20, 2002, in Lambeau Field.
Quarterback Brett Favre had found wideout Donald Driver for a 22-yard touchdown with 4:10 left in the game, putting the Packers up by what became the final margin with the aid of Ryan Longwell's subsequent conversion.
The Panthers, however, mounted a drive that carried them to the Packers' 7-yard line in the final minute, but Carolina's rookie placekicker, Shayne Graham, missed a 24-yard field goal with 13 seconds left that would have tied the game.
En route, Favre reached another major statistical milestone, surpassing Joe Montana for fifth place on the all-time completions list with the 3,410th of his distinguished career.
Driver also had the first two-touchdown game of his career, catching the first one from tight end Bubba Franks on a trick play in the second quarter - one on which Favre took the snap from center at the Carolina 36-yard line, dropped back a couple of yards and threw the ball to Franks. Franks then found Driver for a 31-yard touchdown pass.
Officials initially said the Packers had thrown two forward passes, eliciting a chorus of boos. GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman was called for unsportsmanlike conduct for charging onto the field, but replays clearly showed Favre's pass to Franks was backward, and officials agreed after reviewing the play.
THE SHRINE SERIES: The Packers' Midwest Shrine Game series, one of the oldest charity contests in the nation, dates back more than a half century. It was launched at State Fair Park in West Allis, Wis., the night of Sept. 10, 1950, when the packers edged the Baltimore Colts, 16-14, under Green Bay's then new head coach, Gene Ronzani.
The Packers, riding a four-game winning streak in the series, have won 26 games, lost 24 and tied 3 of the 53 previous contests.
The Shrine series has raised in excess of $2.6 million for the Shrine's burn centers and hospitals for crippled children.
THE HEAD COACHES: Mike Sherman, beginning his fourth season as the overseer of the Packers' football fortunes, already has carved out a prominent place for himself in the history of professional football's most successful franchise.
In his first three seasons (2000-2002), he has presided over more victories (33) than any other head coach in the Packers' 84-year history, thus heading a list which includes team founder Curly Lambeau, the storied Vince Lombardi and Mike Holmgren.
In that productive process, Sherman has established himself in a substantially expanded role (he added the titles of executive vice president and general manger to his résumé after one season as head coach), leading 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 'Coach of the Year' honors for the '02 season en route.
Shouldering the additional duties with typically total commitment and, literally, without missing a step, he maneuvered the Packers to back-to-back 12-and-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, moreover, 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 in back-to-back seasons).
Along the way, the 48-year-old New Englander also has rivaled the regular-season achievements of the fabled Lombardi over a comparable span, compiling a 33-15-0 mark in his first three seasons (16-game campaigns) compared to Lombardi's 26-12-0 (two 12-game seasons and one 14-game campaign) while he served as the Packers' s 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.
En route, the impeccably prepared Northborough, Mass., native, has made Lambeau Field an uncomfortable place for NFL rivals to visit. Since he moved in at 1265 Lombardi Avenue in 2000, the Green and Gold have compiled an imposing 21-3 home record - the best regular-season record in the NFL during that span - including the NFL's only perfect home record (8-0) in 2002.
Sherman, the first man in a half-century to take on his tri-cornered roles - since Lambeau functioned as vice president, general manager and head coach in 1949 - brings multiple credentials to his responsibilities. They include a Super Bowl following the1997 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 as tight ends coach with the Packers in 1998 and as the offensive coordinator on Holmgren's Seattle staff in 1999.
Now in his 26th year in the coaching profession, the Central Connecticut State University alumnus began his coaching career at Stamford, Conn., High School in 1978. He subsequently 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 UCLA and Texas A&M. He launched his NFL coaching career with the Packers in 1997, when he signed on as tight ends/assistant offensive line coach under Holmgren.
John Fox, the third coach in the Panthers' history, made a substantial and positive impact in 2002, his first season as Carolina's field leader.
Fox presided over a six-game improvement from the previous season, escorting the Panthers to a 7-9 record with the aid of a 3-0 getaway. The turnaround ranked second for rookie head coached since the NFL adopted the 16-game schedule in 1978.
In that salutary process, Fox also authored another major achievement. After having finished 31st on defense in 2001, the Panthers finished with the league's second-best defense. The Panthers are the only team to improve from 31st to second in total defense in one season.
Prior to joining Carolina, Fox served as the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants from 1997-2001, and his 2001 defense ranked first in the NFL in third-down efficiency, fifth in sacks per pass attempt, and included Michael Strahan, who set an NFL record with 221/2 sacks.
In 2001, Fox helped the Giants win the NFC and reach Super Bowl XXXV with a defense that finished fifth in the NFL in both scoring defense and in yards allowed per game, and second in rushing defense.
Before joining the Giants, Fox was a consultant for the Rams (1996), defensive coordinator for the Raiders (1994-95) and defensive backs coach for the Chargers (1992-93) and Steelers (1989-91).
THE OPPOSITION: Carolina Coach John Fox enjoyed a successful "homecoming" over the weekend, leading his Panthers to a 20-10 victory over the New York Giants, whom he had helped qualify for Super Bowl XXXV while serving as their defensive coordinator in 2001.
Safety Mark Minter scored on a 43-yard fumble return and placekicker John Kasay posted a pair of field goals (22 and 31 yards) in a 13-point second quarter to lead the Panthers over the Giants.
Carolina out-rushed the Giants, 148 yards to 75, and closed out the game with a 288 to 205 bulge in yardage overall.
THE INJURY REPORT: "(Linebacker Na'il) Diggs bruised his shoulder in the first half of the game," GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman reported. "But other than that, I don't think there's anything significant. Mike McKenzie did have a neck stinger - he came out of the game as well. Najeh Davenport strained his right calf muscle and he came out of the game. And Antuan (Edwards) just had the wind knocked out of him. So nothing that I think is going to keep anybody out of our Carolina game, at this point."
Sherman subsequently reported that linebacker Paris Lenon and rookie defensive lineman Kenny Peterson both suffered a neck strain in the Cleveland contest.
THE (NFL) STATISTICAL UPDATE: By dint of a highly productive outing against the Cleveland Browns, the Packers' Herbert "Whisper" Goodman finds himself all but dominating the National Football Conference preseason statistics, released today by the Elias Sports Bureau.
After three games, Goodman:
- Leads the NFC in total yards from scrimmage, 172
- Leads the NFC in most yards from scrimmage in a single game, 136
- Is tied for the lead in most points scored in a game, 12, by a non-kicker
- Is tied for second among NFC receivers with 7 catches
- Ranks fourth in the NFC in receiving yardage with 83
- Ranks fourth in NFC rushing with 89 yards in 25 attempts, a 3.6-yard average
- Leads the NFC in most rushing attempts in a single game, 19 (vs. Cleveland)
- Ranks fourth in NFC rushing with 89 yards in 25 attempts, a 3.6-yard average.
Teammate Ryan Longwell leads the conference in kick scoring with 17 points - based on perfect marksmanship to date: 3 field goals in as many attempts and 8 conversions in 8 attempts.
Goodman's fellow running back, Najeh Davenport is tied with Goodman (among others) for most points scored in a game, 12, and ranks fifth in NFC rushing with 76 yards in 27 attempts, a 2.8-yard average.
Linebacker Marcus Wilkins leads the NFC in most sacks in a game, 3.0, and most total sacks, also with 3.0.
Teammate Carl Ford is tied for fourth in pass receptions with 6 and defensive back Bobby Jackson is tied for the conference lead in fumble recoveries with 2.
Quarterback Brett Favre, who has played sparingly to date, according to plan, ranks seventh among NFC passers with a 95.9 rating, based upon 17 completions in 27 attempts for 188 yards and one touchdown, without an interception.
Punter Josh Bidwell stands fourth among NFC punters with a 45.6-yard average for 7 punts.
The Packers, 27th on offense as a team last week, moved up to 21st in the wake of their 421-yard effort against Cleveland (24th in rushing and 16th in passing). Ninth on defense a week earlier, they dropped to 17th (third against the run and 24th against the pass).