Packers-Saints Preview


THE GAME: Off to a historic and successful start, the Green Bay Packers (1-0) next hit the road for the first time in the new season, invading the "Big Easy" Sunday (September 15) to take on the New Orleans Saints (1-0) in the Louisiana Superdome.

Kickoff is set for 12 noon, CDT.

The remarkably resilient Packers will be coming off a history-making, 37-34 overtime victory over the Atlanta Falcons - the third such opening day triumph in team annals and the first since 1983, when they debuted with a 41-38 sudden death conquest of the then-Oilers in Houston's Astrodome.

The Packers previously had had only one other such happy opening day experience - on September 7, 1980, when they launched the season with a 12-6 OT win over the Chicago Bears.

To add zest to Sunday's occasion, the victory was accomplished before a record Lambeau Field gathering of 63,127 fans, surpassing the previous mark of 62,668, set in the Bishop's Charities Game against Cleveland August 26.

Next Sunday's hosts, somewhat poetically, also had sudden death success. The Saints shaded the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on the road in overtime, 26-20, with an end-zone interception by rookie linebacker James Allen for the decisive score.

The Packers' opening day victory was the 46th in the their 82-year NFL history, compared to 33 losses and 3 ties. It also was the highest-scoring opener they have been a part of since that 41-38 point-fest against Houston in '83.

It was the second straight opening day victory for GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman, who led the Packers to a 28-6 victory over the Detroit Lions in Green Bay's 2001 inaugural.

The weather also made history Sunday. The temperature registered 83 degrees at kickoff, tying the club record for the warmest opening day in team history, set at their 1976 opening day against the San Francisco 49ers (September 12).

THE TV-RADIO COVERAGE: Dick Stockton will call the play-by-play for the Fox Sports Network's telecast of Sunday's game, former Dallas Cowboys running back Darryl Johnston will provide the analysis and Ron Pitts will report from the field. Bob Stenner is the producer and Sandy Grossman directs.

The game also will be broadcast over the Packer Radio Network, with Wayne Larrivee handling the play-by-play and Larry McCarren the commentary and analysis.

In addition to the 72-station radio network, the broadcast also will be available on the internet via

THE SERIES: The Packers and Saints have been infrequent opponents of late, having met only four times in the past 15 years - and not having crossed paths at all since 1995.

The Packers, however, have particularly pleasant memories of that occasion. It was a day (December 16) on which they clinched a Wild Card playoff berth with a 34-23 victory over the Saints in their Louisiana Superdome.

The Green and Gold proceeded from there to defeat Atlanta in a Wild Card playoff and San Francisco in a Divisional playoff game before falling to Dallas in the NFC Championship Game - just one step short of the Super Bowl.

Overall, the Packers hold a 13-4 advantage in the rivalry, launched in 1968 - when Green Bay turned back the fledgling Saints, 29-7 at Milwaukee's County Stadium in their very first meeting - and also own a three-game series winning streak going into next Sunday's matchup.

Green Bay will end its longest active series interruption; the Packers haven't met the Saints in the regular season since 1995. After Sunday, Green Bay's longest dormant series will be with Kansas City (1996), who hook up with the Packers next season at Lambeau.

JUST AHEAD: The Packers are playing four of their next five on the road. That hasn't happened since Nov. 29-Dec. 26, 1999, just before Mike Sherman took over as head coach.

What's more, the Packers are opening with four of their first six on the road - for only the second time in team history (also 1996, when Green Bay won Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans).

With a win, the Packers would tie the franchise's best record over an 11-game road stretch. Green Bay is 7-3 over its last 10 road ventures. (The Packers went 8-3 in road games from Nov. 24, 1996-Sept. 20, 1998 and Dec. 15, 1996-Sept. 27, 1998).

Green Bay bids to win its road opener for a second straight season. That hasn't happened since 1995-96 (wins at Chicago and Tampa Bay, respectively).

For the first time in his career, Ahman Green could string together three 100-yard rushing efforts (including his 101-yard performance in the 2001 season finale at the N.Y. Giants.

THE DIVISION: The Packers find themselves sharing the NFC North Division lead with their venerable rivals, the Chicago Bears, in the wake of the opening weekend's action. The Bears came from behind to defeat another divisional rival, Minnesota, 27-23. Meanwhile, the division's other tenant, Detroit, fell to the Miami Dolphins, 49-21.

THANKS FOR THE MEMORY: With good reason, the Packers nurture fond memories of their most recent visit to the Louisiana Superdome. The date was January 26, 1997, and the occasion was Super Bowl XXXI, which saw Green Bay turn back Bill Parcells' New England Patriots, 35-21, to record the third Super Bowl victory in the team's history and the first since the 1967 season.

The victory was punctuated by a record-breaking performance from Desmond Howard, who amassed 244 total return yards and was subsequently voted the game's Most Valuable Player.

Quarterback Brett Favre also played a major role in the successful project, completing 14 of 27 passes for 246 yards and 2 touchdowns, without an interception.

THE HEAD COACHES: Mike Sherman, both meticulous and resourceful, is just beginning his third season as Green Bay's head coach - he also assumed the considerable responsibilities of executive vice president and general manager in 2001 - but he already has entrenched himself among the elite leaders in the team's storied and distinguished history.

The possessor of a 22-11 regular season record in the wake of Sunday's opening victory over Atlanta, he has equaled the fabled Vince Lombardi's record for his first 33 games as Green Bay's head coach and general manager (1959-61).

And, in so doing, he has become only the fourth of the 13 head coaches in team history to compile a winning career record, joining an exclusive fraternity which includes team founder E.L. "Curly" Lambeau, Lombardi and Mike Holmgren.

In addition, the imposing New Englander matched another major Lombardi achievement by leading the Packers into the playoffs in his second season as head coach - and then went the legendary Lombardi one better by guiding the Packers one better by winning his first postseason game.

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 singular accomplishment.

Despite assuming the additional and challenging responsibilities of executive vice president and general manager in the wake of Ron Wolf's retirement, he next guided the Packers to an imposing 12-4 record in '01, a single-season victory total surpassed by only three teams in club annals.

Sherman then embellished that success by leading his team to a 25-15 victory over San Francisco in a Wild Card playoff before falling to the Super Bowl-bound St. Louis Rams in a divisional playoff (45-17).

The first man to undertake his multi-dimensional role since Lambeau last functioned in those capacities in 1949, Sherman has brought 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 in 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 Texas A&M and UCLA.

Jim Haslett, the 13th head coach in Saints history, entered his third season with the second-best winning percentage (.531) in team history.

Also with a singular achievement that distinguishes him from all of his predecessors - he presided over the team's first ever playoff victory in 2000 as a rookie head coach.

Haslett led New Orleans to 10-6 regular season record that season - the Saints' best mark since 1992.

A former NFL linebacker (Buffalo Bills), Haslett is a 12-year coaching veteran who launched his latter career as linebackers coach for the University of Buffalo in 1988. He moved into the pro ranks in 1991 as defensive coordinator for Sacramento Surge of the World League, helping the Surge win the WLAF title in 1992.

In the interim, he has served as an assistant on the staffs of the then Los Angeles Raiders (1993-94), the Saints (1995-1996, serving as defensive coordinator in 1996) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (1997-99, also as defensive coordinator).

A four-time All-American as a defensive end at Indiana (Pa.) University, Haslett was a second round draft choice of the Bills in 1979 and launched a nine-year NFL career by winning Associated Press defensive rookie of the year honors.

SHERMAN AT HOME: Sherman, who like predecessor Ron Wolf puts as high premium on winning at home as the surest route to consistent success, has "made a living" off his modus operandi to date.

He has compiled a glossy 21-3 record in Lambeau Field, including a 14-3 mark in regular season competition , a 1-0 record in postseason and a 6-0 reading in preseason play, collectively good for a lofty .875 "batting average."

THE LAST TIME: The Packers swept to a 28-7 second quarter lead in their most recent encounter with the Saints (December 16, 1995, in the Louisiana Superdome) with a display of offensive efficiency that triggered a remarkable profusion of team and individual achievements en route to a 34-23 victory.

They set the productive tone for the day promptly by driving 73 yards in 7 plays for the game's first touchdown following the opening kickoff, quarterback Brett Favre firing a 19-yard strike to split end Anthony Morgan for the score.

And, before the first half was over, Favre had thrown three more TD passes - two to Robert Brooks and another to rookie wideout Antonio Freeman - as the Packers mounted a 28-14 halftime lead.

In a largely maintenance mode in the second half, the Packers settled for a pair of field goals by Chris Jacke while limiting the Saints to a lone field goal by Doug Brien before permitting a last-play, consolation score to New Orleans on a 6-yard Jim Everett pass to Torrance Small.

Green Bay closed out the afternoon with 397 yards, including 103 rushing and 294 net passing.

In the overall process, Favre, running back Edgar Bennett and wide receiver Robert Brooks posted record-breaking performances:

-Favre set a club mark for most touchdown passes in a season, 36, thus tying the third-highest single season total in NFL history, and became the third quarterback in Packers history to pass for 4,000 yards in a season, thus joining Lynn Dickey and Don Majkowski. Only Dan Marino, at that point, had thrown more touchdown passes in a season than Favre's 36).

By throwing for 308 yards, Favre also tied the team record for most 300-yard passing games in a season, 6, set by Majkowski).

-Bennett, meanwhile, became the first Packers running back to rush for 1,000 yards since 1978, swelling his season total to 1,010 yards with an 80-yard afternoon (in 26 attempts). Terdell Middleton had been the last Packer to scale the 1,000-yard barrier, gaining 1,116 yards in '78. Bennett became the fifth running back in team annals to rush for 1,000 yards, joining Tony Canadeo, Jim Taylor, John Brockington and Middleton.

Bennett also set a club record for most rushing attempts in a season, 301.

-Brooks, with 118 yards on 5 receptions, set a new Packers single season record with his eighth 100-yard receiving game, eclipsing the standard of seven set by Sterling Sharpe in 1992 and matched by Brooks a week earlier.

Defensively, the game was highlighted by the "miraculous" return to action of the NFL's all-time sack leader, Reggie White, who four days earlier had been scheduled to undergo surgery for repair of a hamstring injury suffered in the Cincinnati game two weeks earlier. White, experiencing major improvement after opting to forego surgery, returned to practice the Thursday before the game and was cleared on Saturday to play against the Saints. Employed primarily on obvious passing downs and held out of the game in the late going when victory appeared assured, White registered one tackle along the way.


NFL ties: Packers DE Joe Johnson ranks fifth in Saints history with 50.5 sacks (21 over the last two seasons)...Saints QB Aaron Brooks, dealt to New Orleans with TE Lamont Hall before the 2000 season, is one of four former Brett Favre backups now starting in the NFL (Mark Brunell, Kurt Warner, Matt Hasselbeck; see Page 117 of Packers media guide)...Saints offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy coached Green Bay quarterbacks in 1999...New Orleans S Jay Bellamy, CB Fred Thomas and LB Darrin Smith, and Packers RB Ahman Green were teammates in Seattle...Running backs coach Sylvester Croom signed with the Saints as a free agent in 1975, spending his only NFL season in New Orleans...Packers front-office members Mark Hatley, Marc Lillibridge and Brian Gutekunst also spent time in the Saints organization...WR Jake Reed and Packers receivers coach Ray Sherman were in Minnesota together for four seasons (1995-97, 1999).

College teammates: Keyuo Craver (Saints) and Steve Warren (Packers) at Nebraska...Hall (Saints) and Antuan Edwards (Packers) at Clemson...Kevin Houser (Saints) and Na'il Diggs (Packers) at Ohio State...Roger Knight (Saints) and Mark Tauscher and Bill Ferrario (Packers) at Wisconsin...Tutan Reyes (Saints) and Nate Wayne (Packers) at Mississippi...Donte' Stallworth (Saints) and Chad Clifton and David Martin (Packers) at Tennessee...Kyle Turley (Saints) and Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila (Packers) at San Diego State.

Other connections: Favre is from Kiln, Miss., about an hour drive from the Superdome...WR Javon Walker (Lafayette, La.), QB Craig Nall (Alexandria, La.) and RB Rondell Mealey (Destrehan, La.) also come from the area...John Jones, Green Bay's executive vice president and COO, is from New Orleans, taught at Loyola University and launched a journalistic career with the Times-Picayune...Mealey (LSU), Nall (LSU, Northwestern State), strength coach Barry Rubin (Northeast Louisiana, LSU, Northwestern State), defensive backs assistant Lionel Washington (Tulane) and tight ends coach Jeff Jagodzinski (LSU) have college ties to the state...Brian Cox (Saints) and Frank Winters (Packers) both played at Western Illinois.

THE ROSTER: Veteran tight end Tyrone Davis, waived 48 hours earlier (September 7) was re-signed, returning the active roster to full, 53-player strength.

The practice squad roster, meanwhile, was reduced to four members when offensive tackle Darnell Alford was signed to the New York Jets' active roster.

THE CONFERENCE CALLS: Saints head coach Jim Haslett will be available to members of Wisconsin's sports media via conference call in the media auditorium of the Packers' administration building at 12:30 Wednesday, to be followed by quarterback Aaron Brooks at 4:15.

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