THE GAME: After a somewhat stressful weekend, ultimately relieved by a favorable outcome, the Green Bay Packers (2-1) are heartened to find themselves tied with the Chicago Bears, likewise 2-1, for first place in the NFL's NFC North Division.
They will not, however, have the luxury of enjoying for long this happy circumstance, occasioned by a 37-31 victory over the Lions in Detroit Sunday when the Green and Gold helped home forces make their regular season debut in their new, $500 million Ford Field, in company with a New Orleans victory over the previously undefeated Bears.
The Packers, pleased to be home after two weeks on the road, will be too deeply absorbed in preparing for the challenge presented by the unbeaten Carolina Panthers (3-0), who invade Lambeau Field Sunday (September 29).
The surprising Panthers, after winning only one game in 2001, have made it three in a row to start the '02 season under their new head coach, John Fox, former defensive guru of the New York Giants.
THE TV-RADIO COVERAGE: Pat Summerall will call the play-by-play for the Fox Sports Network telecast of Sunday' game and Brian Baldinger will provide the analysis. Pete Macheska is the producer and Mike Frank is the director.
The game also will be broadcast 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.
THE SERIES: Though Carolina has only been in the NFL since 1995, the Packers have had frequent exposure to the Panthers, competitively speaking.
In fact Sunday's Carolina visit to Lambeau Field will mark the sixth regular season meeting between the Packers and Panthers. And, lest we forget, they also have already met once in postseason play.
For a young franchise, the Carolinians have proved to be surprisingly "anti-social," posting back-to-back victories in 1999 (33-31) and 2000 (31-14) to square the regular-season series at 2-2 before the Packers regained the overall lead with a 28-7 success at Charlotte's Ericsson Stadium last September.
From the Green and Gold's perspective, the most memorable meeting between Sunday's principals came in that postseason matchup - an NFC Championship Game in Lambeau Field following the 1996 season.
Performing before a capacity gathering of 60,216 witnesses, the Packers rebounded from early turnovers to emerge with a 30-13 victory and qualify for Super Bowl XXXI against the New England Patriots at New Orleans.
The Green and Gold thus earned their first excursion to the "Big Dance" in 29 years - in large measure because of a 205-yard offensive performance by running back Dorsey Levens in the first championship game played in Green Bay since the fabled "Ice Bowl" of 1967.
In so doing, the Packers rolled up 479 yards to establish a team all-time playoff record, with Edgar Bennett keying the 201-yard rushing attack with 99 yards in 25 attempts. Levens added 88 yards on only 10 carries and weighed in with 5 pass receptions for an additional 117 yards.
Quarterback Brett Favre augmented the productive ground game by completing 19 of 29 passes for 292 yards, a singular performance on a day which saw the temperature register a frigid 3 degrees - with a wind chill that plunged to 17 degrees below zero.
THE HEAD COACHES: Highly prepared, remarkably consistent and invariably positive, Mike Sherman has carved out a significant niche in the Packers' distinguished history in just two-plus seasons of presiding over the organization's football fortunes.
Since succeeding Ray Rhodes as head coach in 2000, he has consistently rivaled the won-lost exploits of the fabled Vince Lombardi on a game-by-game basis. So closely has he paralleled Lombardi's achievements, in fact, that his current 23-12 regular-season record as Green Bay's head coach is only a game off the Lombardi pace of 1959-61 (24-11).
Additionally, since assuming the Green and Gold's reins, Sherman has become only the fourth of the 13 head coaches in the team's history to forge a winning career record, joining a highly-exclusive fraternity which includes team founder E.L. "Curly" Lambeau, Lombardi and Mike Holmgren.
The purposeful New Englander also has matched another major Lombardi achievement by leading the Packers into the playoffs in his second season a head coach - and then went one up on the legendary Lombardi by guiding the Packers to victory in his first postseason game, Lombardi having lost his initial playoff game as Green Bay's field leader.
A year earlier, when a head coach for the first time at any level, Sherman debuted in 2000 by leading the Green and Gold to a 9-7 record, culminated by a sweep of the Packers' four NFC Central Division rivals (Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota and Tampa Bay), a rare accomplishment.
Despite assuming the challenging and additional responsibilities of executive vice president and general manager following Ron Wolf's retirement, he next escorted the Packers to an imposing 12-4 record in 2001, a single-season victory total surpassed by only three teams in club annals.
Sherman then enhanced that success by leading 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 to assume his multi-dimensional role since Lambeau last functioned in those capacities in 1949, Sherman brings impressive 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 in SB XXXII against the Denver Broncos at San Diego.
It was to be the first of three consecutive years in the playoffs for the tireless Central Connecticut State University alumnus, who returned to postseason with the Packers in 1998 and as the offensive coordinator on Holmgren's Seattle staff in 1999.
Sherman, now in his 25th year in the coaching profession, 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 respected programs as Texas A&M and UCLA.
The Panthers, meanwhile, come to Field under a new head coach, John Fox, who earned opportunity with an impressive performance as defensive coordinator for the New York Giants (1997-2001).
His 2001 Giants 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 22.5 quarterback sacks.
In 2000, 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. Against Minnesota in the NFC Championship Game, the Giants' 41-0 victory was the first shutout in a conference championship game since 1986.
From 1997 through 2001, the Giants had 153 takeaways, the seventh-highest total in the NFC, and ranked third in the NFL with 230 sacks.
Prior to joining the Giants, Fox was defensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders in 1994-95 and a consultant for the St. Louis Rams in 1996. The 47-year-old San Diego State alumnus began his NFL coaching career as defensive backfield coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1989, subsequently moving to the San Diego Chargers in the same role for the 1992 and 1993 seasons.
THE LAST TIME: Making their first road appearance of the '01 season, the Packers registered 28 unanswered points - cashing in key turnovers - to turn back Carolina at Charlotte's Ericsson Stadium, 28-7.
The Green and Gold thus improved their season-opening record to 3-0 - for only the third time since 1982 (they opened 3-0 in '96 and 4-0 in '98).
En route, quarterback Brett Favre passed for 308 yards - his most since October 1, 2000 against Chicago - and threw three touchdown passes, all in the second half.
In so doing, Favre moved into sole possession of sixth place on the NFL's touchdown pass list with 263, 10 behind Joe Montana. He also became the 13th player in the league's 82-year history to eclipse 5,000 pass attempts, joining Dan Marino (the all-time leader with 8,358), John Elway, Warren Moon, Fran Tarkenton, Dan Fouts, Montana, Dave Krieg, Vinny Testaverde, Boomer Esiason. Johnny Unitas, Jim Hart and Steve DeBerg.
And Favre, on a first-half play, stiff-armed Carolina linebacker Dan Morgan and the defender broke his leg on the play.
The game's turning point came on the second-half kickoff, when Antuan Edwards recovered a Steve Smith fumble, setting up the Packers on the Carolina 38-yard line. Five plays later, Favre found Bill Schroeder for a 12-yard touchdown, giving Green Bay its first lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Herbert Goodman forced another Smith fumble, and K.D. Williams recovered, putting Green Bay again at the Carolina 38. Favre capped an eight-play drive with his second scoring pass, a 6-yard throw to Bubba Franks.
Defensively, Green Bay allowed only 36 yards on the ground in the second half. The Panthers' Chris Weinke and Wesley Walls ended two Packers streaks - nine season opening quarters without a touchdown and seven straight quarters without allowing a point. Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila added two sacks to keep his hold on the NFL sack lead with six.
NOTABLE PACKERS-PANTHERS CONNECTIONS:
NFL ties: Panthers head coach John Fox and Packers running backs coach Sylvester Croom were on the Chargers staff from 1992-93...Fox coached Lionel Washington, now Green Bay's defensive backs assistant, in 1994 with the L.A. Raiders...Packers scout Lenny McGill spent his last NFL season (1998) playing for the Panthers...Packers special teams coach Frank Novak and Panthers offensive line coach Paul Boudreau were together on the Lions' staff from 1995-96...Carolina tight ends coach Don Breaux spent one season (1994) on the N.Y. Jets staff with Green Bay defensive coordinator Ed Donatell, receivers coach Ray Sherman and offensive line coach Larry Beightol...Panthers offensive assistant Mike McCoy had a stint as a quarterback in the Packers organization...Panthers defensive line coach Mike Trgovac coached in a similar capacity with Green Bay in 1999.
College teammates: Brian Allen and Chris Weinke (Carolina) and Jamal Reynolds and Javon Walker (Packers) at Florida State...Deon Grant (Carolina) and Chad Clifton and David Martin (Packers) at Tennessee...Kris Mangum (Carolina) and Nate Wayne (Packers) at Mississippi...Mike Minter and Mike Rucker (Carolina) and Ahman Green, Tyrone Williams and Steve Warren (Packers) at Nebraska...Louis Williams (Carolina) and Rondell Mealey (Packers) at LSU.
Other connections: Scott O'Brien, Carolina's assistant head coach/special teams, was a defensive end for both the Packers (1979) and Wisconsin-Superior (1975-78); he also coached at UW-Superior from 1980-82...Green Bay's Vonnie Holliday and William Henderson played at North Carolina...Holliday is a product of Camden (S.C.) High School... Offensive line coach Larry Beightol coached at N.C. State from 1972-75, and at Catawba (N.C.) College from 1960-63...Tight ends coach Jeff Jagodzinski was on the East Carolina staff from 1989-96...Special teams coach Frank Novak also spent coaching time at East Carolina (1973)...Safety Antuan Edwards and Bruce Warwick, director of football administration, had stints at Clemson.
THE INJURY REPORT: "The MRI showed that (Vonnie Holliday) tore his pectoral muscle - a minimum of 6 to 8 weeks on that," GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman reported in summing up Packers injuries suffered in the Detroit contest.
"Antuan Edwards...It was decided at one point last night that maybe a plate would be installed in his (broken) wrist to bring about the stability, which would be about a 3-or-4-week injury. But, after looking at the scan this morning, we feel he can handle it himself and that the plate wouldn't be necessary, but it's still going to be a 3-to-4-week injury.
"Javon Walker...a quad contusion...We'll have to further analyze that. It's a day-by-day thing. There's a very strong possibility that he could be out this week.
"David Martin took a cheap shot to the head and had a laceration, and also was a little fuzzy in the head, in regard to that shot, so we'll have to wait and see how he feels."
Sherman also noted the presence of fullback William Henderson (knee) and right guard Marco Rivera (knee) on the injury report but said both have expressed confidence that they will be ready to play against Carolina Sunday.