THE GAME: The Green Bay Packers, off to their best start since the Super Bowl year of 1996 (5-1), punctuated by a 28-10 conquest of reigning Super Bowl champion New England, face one more major hurdle before drawing their annual schedule bye and a welcome opportunity to heal their walking wounded.
Possessors of a 2-1/2-game lead in the NFC's North Division despite having to play four of their first six games on the road, they return to Lambeau Field for the first time in three weeks to entertain Steve Spurrier and the high-scoring Washington Redskins (2-3) Sunday afternoon (Oct. 20).
Kickoff for the contest, a season-ticket sellout (65,290), is set for 3:15 pm., CDT (Wisconsin time).
Winners of eight of their last nine regular season games, including a three-game winning streak to close out the '01 season, Mike Sherman's resourceful athletes will be in pursuit of a fifth straight victory, having defeated Detroit, Carolina, Chicago and New England in succession.
In '96, the Green and Gold parlayed that most recent 5-and-1 start into an 8-1 beginning en route to a 13-3 overall record and a subsequent, 35-21 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI.
The Packers' current start is legitimately remarkable, given the injury problems they have had, losing starting offensive right tackle Mark Tauscher in Week Two and five defensive starters in the three-week interim for varying periods - defensive ends Vonnie Holliday and Joe Johnson, cornerback Mike McKenzie and safeties Antuan Edwards and Darren Sharper.
The Redskins, meanwhile, fell to the New Orleans Saints, co-leaders of the NFC South, 43-27, in their weekend action.
THE TV-RADIO COVERAGE: Sam Rosen will handle the play-by-play for the Fox Sports Network's telecast of Sunday's game, and Bill Maas will provide the analysis, with Drew Smith reporting from the field. Mike Burks is the producer and Rich Russo directs.
The game also will be aired over the Packer Radio Network (Wayne Larrivee and Larry McCarren), with the broadcast additionally being available on the internet via www.packers.com.
The contest likewise will be aired nationally over the Westwood One network, with Dave Simms calling the play-by-play and Rick Walker handling the analysis. Larry Costigan is the producer.
THE DIVISION: Chicago, idle with a bye over the weekend, is runnerup to the 5-1 Packers in the NFC North Division with a 2-3 record, followed by Detroit and Minnesota with 1-4 records.
JUST FOR THE RECORD: For their last 25 games, in the wake of their current 5-1 start, the Packers own the league's best record, 21-5.
They also have won 17 consecutive games when leading at halftime, the longest active streak in the NFL.
Additionally, Sunday's success in New England was their third in four road games this season, matching the New Orleans Saints, the only other NFL team to have played as many four road contests to date, and a rare achievement for the Green and Gold. Over the past 30 years, they previously had won three of their first four road games in twice - in 1987 and 1996. Along the way, they did open with a 4-0 road record in the 1972 season.
Under Mike Sherman, the Packers are now 10-4 in their last 14 road games.
The Packers also have won 17 straight when leading at halftime, the NFL's longest active streak. Under Sherman, they are 19-1 with a lead at halftime and, highly consistent, have not lost consecutive games in 33 regular-season weeks, since Oct. 1-8, 2000. Only Philadelphia, of the NFL's 31 other teams, has longer active streak.
THE SERIES: Although the Packers and Redskins have met infrequently over the past 30 years, their rivalry is one of the longest in NFL history. Their series, in fact, had its origin 70 years ago, having been launched in 1932 when the Redskins were known as the Braves and based in Boston.
In contrast to the "gap" pattern of the past three decades, next Sunday's encounter will find the Packers facing the Redskins for the second year in a row.
Their 2001 meeting, on Sept. 24, occurred under somber and historic circumstances. They were mutually returning to the competitive playing field after a one-week absence in which the National Football League had postponed all games "to pause, grieve and reflect" upon the devastating consequences of the acts of terrorism that had occurred on Sept. 11.
On that emotional occasion, the Packers and Redskins found themselves on national television - ABC's "Monday Night Football" - and participants in a unique and touching moment of remembrance.
Just before the pre-game introduction of the Packers' starting lineup and the singing of the national anthem, Packers linebacker Chris Gizzi sprinted the full length of Lambeau Field while leading his teammates out of the stadium's north tunnel immediately prior to the introduction of Green Bay's defensive unit.
A chant of U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A! gained vocal momentum when 150 policemen and firefighters from Green Bay and northeastern Wisconsin moved out from the sidelines to unfurl a huge, 90 x 120-foot American flag in the center of the field, then rose to a crescendo as the Packers players ran to the center of the field to join the police and firemen in holding up the flag, setting the stage for Martina McBride's stirring rendition of the "Star Spangled Banner."
Although conditions have largely returned to normalcy in the interim, there will remain a substantial security presence at Lambeau Field in connection with Sunday's game to remind fans and players of the national tragedy that is now little better than a year old.
The Redskins will be returning to Green Bay under a new head coach, Steve Spurrier, the highly successful former University of Florida mentor who has become the 25th field leader in Redskins history.
Overall, the Packers have won 14 of 27 regular season meetings, the Redskins 12, and there has been one tie, a 7-7 stalemate played in Green Bay in 1933.
The longtime rivals also have had two postseason encounters. The first occurred in the 1936 NFL championship game, played in New York because the Redskins (they changed their name in 1933) had announced they were moving the franchise to Washington in 1937 and they thus were not overly popular in Boston. With home-grown Arnie Herber throwing touchdown passes to Don Hutson and Milt Gantenbein, the Packers prevailed 21-6.
In a more recent postseason matchup, the Redskins scored a 16-3 victory over the Packers in a 1972 divisional playoff game at RFK Stadium in Washington, placekicker Chester Marcol providing Green Bay's points with a second-quarter field goal.
The series also has been punctuated by the highest scoring game in both Green Bay's 81-year NFL history and that of "Monday Night Football," which had its genesis in 1970. It saw the Packers outlast the Redskins, 48-47, a contest which produced no fewer than 11 touchdowns and 6 field goals, not to mention 11 conversions.
Jan Stenerud's 20-yard field goal with 54 seconds remaining decided the issue, though a final, dramatic flourish was added when the Redskins' Mark Moseley missed a 39-yard field goal attempt as time expired.
THE COACHES: Impressively committed and extensively prepared, Mike Sherman has - in little more than two years - entrenched himself among the elite head coaches in the Packers' distinguished history.
He has, since becoming the 13th field leader in team annals in 2000, demonstrated his coaching acumen by consistently paralleling the won-lost accomplishments of the legendary Vince Lombardi on a game-by-game basis...so closely, in fact, that he is even with Lombardi's pace of 1959-61 at the same 38-game stage (26-12).
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.
En route, the purposeful New Englander 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.
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, a season capped by a sweep of the Packers' four NFC Central Division rivals (Chicago, Detroit, Minnesota and Tampa Bay ), a singular achievement.
Then, despite assuming the additional and formidable responsibilities of executive vice president and general manager following Ron Wolf's retirement, he next maneuvered the Packers to an imposing 12-4 record in 2001, a single-season victory total previously surpassed by only three teams in club annals.
Sherman then embellished that imposing 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 in a half-century to assume his tri-cornered role - since Lambeau last functioned in those three capacities 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 staff that led the Packers into SB XXXII against the Denver Broncos at San Diego.
It was to be the first of three consecutive years in the playoffs for the thoroughgoing 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 respected programs as Texas A&M and UCLA.
Steve Spurrier, who succeeded Marty Schottenheimer as Washington's field leader in January of this year, assumed the role with imposing credentials. A former Heisman Trophy winner, he forged a brilliant 122-27-1 record during his 12 years as head coach of the University of Florida's Gators, including a national championship in 1996. His teams won seven Southeastern Conference titles and he posted 10 or more wins in nine of his seasons at Florida.
Spurrier's extensive list of coaching accomplishments include the best win total in history for a major college coach over his first 12 seasons, and reaching 100 career victories faster than any major college coach in the 20th century.
He began his coaching career in 1978 as quarterbacks coach at his alma mater, Florida, before moving to Georgia Tech as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach for the 1979 season. He joined the Duke Blue Devils in the same capacity from 1980-82, and then moved on to the USFL as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Bandits. With the Bandits from 1983 through 1985, Spurrier complied a 35-19 record with two straight playoff appearances. His 1984 team was the first in pro football history to produce a 4,000-yard passer and two 1,000-yard rushers in the same season.
Spurrier returned to Duke as head coach in 1987 and turned around a struggling program to produce winning seasons after an initial 5-6 year. During his three-year tenure, he compiled a 20-13-1 record and led his team to its first Atlantic Coast Conference championship in 24 years.
THE LAST TIME: Reflective of the final score, the Packers were impressively dominant en route to a 37-0 victory over the Redskins in their "Monday Night Football" meeting in Lambeau Field on Sept. 24, 2001, before a capacity house of 59,771 fans.
So dominant, in fact, that they amassed 386 yards offensively to Washington's 137 and, in the process, permitted the Redskins past midfield only once until less than 2 minutes remained in the game.
The other key statistics further documented the Packers' superiority:
- They ran off 72 plays to the Redskins' 44;
- Rushed for 160 yards to Washington's 71;
- Passed for 236 yards to the Redskins' 102; and
- Controlled the football for 37 minutes, 5 seconds, to the Redskins' 22 minutes, 55 seconds.
Quarterback Brett Favre, distributing the football among eight different receivers with the aid of solid protection from a cohesive offensive line, completed 20 of 31 passes for 236 yards and 3 touchdowns (to Antonio Freeman, Bill Schroeder and tight end Bubba Franks).
Running back Ahman Green contributed 146 yards of offense to complement Favre's efforts, gaining 116 yards rushing in 25 attempts and 30 more with 6 pass receptions coming out of the backfield.
Although the Packers were out front by "only" 10-0 at halftime - they doubled that to 20-0 in the third quarter, then put the visitors away with a 17-point fourth quarter, there never was great concern about retaliation, in large part because of the relentless pressure from the Packers' attacking defense, which harvested 5 quarterback sacks - one each by Vonnie Holliday, Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila, Santana Dotson and a half-sack apiece by Nate Wayne and John Thierry.
NOTABLE PACKERS-PATRIOTS CONNECTIONS:
NFL ties: John Schneider, the Packers' personnel analyst to the general manager, spent the 2001 season as the Redskins' vice president of player personnel...Defensive tackle Rod Walker signed with Washington as a non-drafted free agent and spent his first NFL training camp with the 'Skins, in 1999...Santana Dotson, now on IR, played six seasons in Green Bay...Redskins defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis coached in Pittsburgh in 1992, Hardy Nickerson's final season with the Steelers...Washington quarterback Danny Wuerffel served as the Packers' No. 3 quarterback in 2000, behind Brett Favre and Matt Hasselbeck, playing in one game...The Packers' signed Washington kicker James Tuthill during the week of their Nov. 18 loss to Atlanta last season.
College teammates: Ladell Betts and Zeron Flemister (Washington), and Matt Bowen and Aaron Kampman (Green Bay) at Iowa...Andre Lott (Washington) and David Martin and Chad Clifton (Green Bay) at Tennessee...Antonio Pierce (Washington) and Kevin Barry (Green Bay) at Arizona...Brenden Stai (Washington) and Tyrone Williams (Green Bay) at Nebraska...Dan Wilkinson (Washington) and Terry Glenn (Green Bay) at Ohio State.
Other connections: Packers No. 3 quarterback Craig Nall competed against Washington quarterback Patrick Ramsey in high school, in both Louisiana football and javelin competitions...Safety Darren Sharper (William & Mary), coach Larry Beightol (William & Mary), tight end Tyrone Davis (Virginia) and coach Frank Novak (Virginia) spent time playing/coaching at Virginia colleges...Davis (Halifax), William Henderson (Chester), Martin (Norfolk) and Sharper (Richmond) hail from Virginia high schools...Long snapper Rob Davis and center/tackle Mike Flanagan were both born in Washington D.C.
THE INJURY REPORT: Offensive tackle Chad Clifton suffered an "MCL sprain" in the New England game, GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman reported, adding, "It looks like he'll miss one to three weeks."