As the Green Bay Packers prepared for their first game of the season against the Detroit Lions, it triggered a question in the mind of inquisitive rookie linebacker Brady Poppinga. He asked veteran linebacker Paris Lenon about the team's most bitter NFC North rival.
"It's the Vikings," Lenon said.
The Packers lead the all-time regular season series 44-42-1, but the games versus Sunday's opponent have become more intense with each passing year.
"The rivalry has really heated up," Minnesota Vikings Head Coach Mike Tice said.
Last year Brett Favre led a 76-yard drive with 1:35 remaining to set up a game-winning 29-yard Ryan Longwell field goal. That 34-31 Christmas Eve win clinched the NFC North title for the Packers.
Poppinga remembers watching the game on television while hanging out in California with his in-laws. He saw early parts of it before flipping back to see Longwell's dramatic field goal.
"I'm like 'Oh my gosh, that's crazy,'" Poppinga said.
The rivalry further escalated with a third 2004 contest between the teams. The Vikings won that playoff game, 31-17, in Lambeau Field.
This year's game will not take place in the playoffs, but the loser may find itself close to falling out of contention. The Vikings and Packers both sit at 1-4 and one game behind the NFC North-leading Chicago Bears.
"It's a very significant game," Packers Head Coach Mike Sherman said.
With a Green Bay win and losses by the Lions to the Cleveland Browns and the Bears to the Baltimore Ravens, the Packers could earn a first-place tie. But to do so, they must win in the Metrodome where some of the Packers' most caustic losses have taken place.
"It's a huge rivalry. It's been through so many different phases," Longwell said. "When I first started playing in it, we had great teams as did they, but we could not win up there to save our lives."
The Packers lost four out of five times in Minnesota before winning in 2003 and 2004. Their lone Metrodome win between 1997 and 2003 proved to be a memorable one.
That 33-28 win in Minnesota occurred during Sherman's first year as head coach in 2000. The Packers started out of the gate slowly, going 2-4, but they finished the year with four consecutive wins against divisional opponents, including that win in the Metrodome.
"Man, it was a big win for us," Longwell said. "I remember that locker room after the game, and it was one of the best locker rooms I've ever been in. It was fun to overcome something as a team."
This week the mood in the locker room has not seemed different from any other. But there's a reason. The players need to save their emotions for Sunday's contest.
"You've got to wait until the game," Ferguson said. "You can't do that in this league -- get geeked during the week -- especially with the Vikings because you expend so much emotion out there. But when you're going down the tunnel you can tell it's a Vikings game. It's totally different."
That intensity will carry over from the tunnel to the field where a hard-hitting football game will take place.
"The play on the field will be as physical -- probably the most physical game on the field for the both of us," said long snapper Rob Davis, who has played against the Vikings 19 times as a Packer.
Although the Packers-Vikings rivalry has escalated, it has not reached the level of the Packers-Bears, the NFL's richest rivalry.
"I don't think it's topped that yet," wide receiver Donald Driver said. "But it's getting there."