WHAT TOOK PACKERS, VIKINGS SO LONG TO MEET IN PLAYOFFS? SIMPLY PUT, FOOTBALL FATES DID NOT 'COOPERATE' UNTIL NOW
It was bound to happen...sooner or later.
That the Green Bay Packers would meet the Minnesota Vikings in the National Football League playoffs, that is.
Now that such a confrontation is finally at hand - with the long-awaited pairing becoming a reality in Lambeau Field Sunday afternoon - it prompts the obvious and inevitable question: What took so long?
The Vikings, after all, have been in the NFL since 1961, the year they entered the league as an expansion team - and joined the Packers in the Western Conference.
Simply put, the primary reason such a meeting has never taken place is directly traceable to the teams' success - or lack thereof - in reaching the playoffs simultaneously - or the luck of the draw while advancing in the postseason.
It just hasn't happened.
From 1970 to 1990, there was a league rule which decreed that two teams within a given division could not meet in the first round of the playoffs, which would have tended to limit the chances of such a postseason meeting. But it never has been necessary to apply the rule in the case of the Packers and Vikings.
There have been two significant opportunities, however, for a postseason face-off between the Green and Gold and the Purple Gang...in back-to-back situations.
And, they occurred during the Packers' successive trips to Super Bowls XXXI and XXXII following the 1996 and 1997 seasons, when the neighborhood rivals were one game away from squaring off.
In the former, the Packers drew a first-round bye as NFC Central champions (13-3) and Minnesota was a Wild Card qualifier but fell to the Dallas Cowboys, 40-15. If the Vikings had won, they would have faced the Packers in the following week's divisional playoffs.
The Packers, meanwhile, went on to defeat the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI, 35-21.
There was a somewhat similar scenario in '97, when the Vikings qualified as a Wild Card and defeated the New York Giants, 23-22, in their opening assignment and the Packers, as division champions, had the opening weekend off.
Then with a potential meeting with the Purple for the NFC Championship in the offing, the Green and Gold defeated the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Divisional Playoffs, 21-7, but the Vikings fell by the wayside, losing to the San Francisco 49ers, 38-22.
That year, the Packers went on to defeat the 49ers for the NFC title on a windy, rain-swept afternoon in San Francisco, 23-10, to advance to Super Bowl XXXII against John Elway and the Denver Broncos.
In addition to Sunday's matchup being the first-ever postseason showdown between the Packers and Vikings, it will find the Green and Gold coming full circle against the so-called "Black and Blue Division" in the playoffs.
Translation: The Packers, after meeting the Vikings in a postseason game, will have faced all three of their current NFC North Division rivals in playoff competition.
In terms of time, this "process" has taken decades to complete.
The Packers and their feisty neighbors to the south, the Chicago Bears, were the first members of the foursome to meet in a playoff, clashing in the very first divisional playoff in NFL history - at Chicago's Wrigley Field in 1941 - before there was a designated "Black and Blue Division."
The playoff was necessitated when the Packers and the defending NFL champion Bears tied for the Western Division championship during the '41 regular season with matching 10-1 records.
The teams had split during the regular season, the Bears prevailing, 25-17, in their initial '41 meeting in Green Bay's "old" City Stadium, and the Packers returning the favor in a rematch at Chicago's Wrigley Field, 16-14.
The latter was considered a major upset, the Bears having demolished the Washington Redskins, 73-0, in the 1940 championship game and gone undefeated in '41 until they encountered the Packers in their Nov. 2 rematch.
The Green and Gold were unable to match the Midway Monsters' firepower in the playoff contest, played in Wrigley Field on Dec. 14, the Bears carrying the day, 33-14.
The Bears then went on to dispatch the New York Giants, 37-9, the following Sunday to capture the NFL championship.
The Packers have faced their other current division rivals, the Detroit Lions, twice in postseason play - and won both games, coming from behind to post a 28-24, last-minute victory in a Wild Card playoff in the Pontiac, Mich., Silverdome following the 1993 season, and a 16-12 win in another Wild Card playoff in Lambeau Field following the 1994 season.
In the former, Brett Favre's 40-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Sterling Sharpe in the final minute gave Green Bay one of the most dramatic victories in its highly successful postseason history, which has seen the Packers win 24 of 37 playoff games.
Favre's pass, a scrambling, across-the-body throw from extreme left to extreme right, found Sharpe wide open in the end zone with 55 seconds remaining.
Favre's heroic climaxed a see-saw struggle with the NFC Central Division champion Lions.
Earlier, rookie safety George Teague returned an Erik Kramer interception 101 yards for a touchdown, thus recording the longest such runback in NFL playoff history and giving Green Bay a 21-17 lead.
Sharpe also invaded the record book, tying an NFL playoff mark with three touchdown receptions, his first coming on a 12-yard Favre strike in the second quarter and the second on a 28-yard bolt in the third period.
The Lions' Barry Sanders, meanwhile, rebounded from a knee injury in spectacular fashion, rushing for 169 yards in the Lions' losing effort to treat a Silverdome house of 68,479 fans.
A Wild Card "rematch" with the Lions the following December - punctuated by a classic defensive performance from the Green and Gold - turned out to be one for the Packers' memory book...as well as the NFL record book.
The Packers outlasted the Lions in Green Bay's first playoff game since 1982. With a defense directed by coordinator Fritz Shurmur, the Packers held the Lions' redoubtable Barry Sanders to a career-low minus 1-yard on 13 rushing attempts, and limited the Lions collectively to a minus-4 yards on the ground - wiping out a 31-year-old league playoff record.
Offensively, Brett Favre directed several long scoring drives, including a 76-yard excursion on the game's opening series, climaxed by a 3-yard touchdown run by Dorsey Levens.
The Packers, controlling the football for 37-plus minutes, played turnover-free football throughout, to the pleasure of 58,125 fans. Veteran placekicker Chris Jacke contributed three field goals to the cause, including a Packers postseason-record 51-yard effort.
The Lions moved to within a field goal in the fourth quarter (13-10), on Dave Krieg's 3-yard touchdown pass to Brett Perriman, and reached the Packers' 11-yard line on their final drive in the game's closing moments.
But Shurmur's Green Bay defense settled the issue, recapturing the ball on downs before Packers punter Craig Hentrich took an intentional safety to run the day's final seven seconds off the clock.
Continuing an association with the team that is more than 55 years old, Lee Remmel was named the first official Team Historian of the Green Bay Packers in February 2004. The former *Green Bay Press-Gazette reporter and Packers public relations director, Remmel will write regular columns for Packers.com as part of his new assignment.
In addition to those articles, Remmel will answer fan questions in a monthly Q&A column. To submit a question to Remmel, click here. *