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Packers-Vikings Rivalry



There are those who have mixed emotions, understandably, about football being played on Christmas Eve day.

And some, most assuredly, are Packers loyalists, long celebrated for their commitment to "their" team and to showing up in Lambeau Field - or on the road - for a game, any game, no matter what the date, time or temperature.

Be that as it may, one thing appears to be a given with the Green and Gold, who on Friday find themselves in that situation - playing the Vikings in Minnesota on Christmas Eve afternoon.

Christmas or not, the Packers don't seem to mind pursuing their profession on the 24th of December. Which may be traceable to the all-important "bottom line" - the fact that they have been highly successful when required to perform on the day before Christmas.

The record shows that, to date, they have played five games on that hallowed afternoon over their distinguished history - and won four of them.

The lone exception to this positive pattern was the very first one - which also remains the only one of the five contests not on the original, regular season schedule. It was a divisional playoff on Christmas Eve afternoon of 1972, when the Packers had won the NFC Central Division for the first time in five years, forging a 10-4 record under the late Dan Devine.

On that occasion, they ran afoul of George Allen's Washington Redskin "Over the Hill Gang" in the nation's capital and ultimately fell by the wayside, 16-3.

In the interim, however, the Green and Gold have mounted a four-game, Christmas Eve winning streak, launching the skein with a 20-10 victory over the Cowboys in their 1989 season finale at Texas Stadium in Irving, Texas.

Since then, the Packers have won three more in a row on the Eve of Christmas, besting the Buccaneers in Tampa Stadium in 1994, 34-19, outlasting Pittsburgh in 1995, 24-19, and shading the Bucs, 17-14, in overtime by way of a Ryan Longwell field goal in 2000 - both of the latter in Lambeau Field.

In the Washington playoff contest, the Packers auspiciously scored first, following a scoreless opening quarter, Chester Marcol kicking a 17-yard field goal at 9:29 of the second quarter. But, alas, the Green and Gold were not to advance beyond midfield for the rest of the afternoon.

Following the field goal, the Redskins went on to score on their next two possessions, putting up all the points they were to need. Wide receiver Roy Jefferson pulled in a 32-yard scoring pass from Billy Kilmer, placekicker Curt Knight adding the extra point and, on the subsequent possession, kicked a 42-yard field goal to give the Redskins a 10-3 halftime lead.

Knight later added a pair of fourth-quarter field goals, via 35- and 46-yard efforts, to close out the scoring.

Packers running back John Brockington was en route to a second consecutive 1,000-yard rushing season but had to be content with a mere 9 yards in 13 carries on this occasion by a Redskins defense designed to contain him.

As a consequence, running mate MacArthur Lane emerged as the Packers' leading rusher and receiver, gaining 56 yards in 14 attempts and snaring four passes for 42 yards. Quarterback Scott Hunter, meanwhile, hit on 12 of 24 passing attempts for 150 yards, with one interception.

The '89 win in Dallas could have been meaningful for the Packers, who needed a companion Cincinnati victory over Minnesota the following evening (Christmas Day night) to qualify for the playoffs. But the Bengals weren't up to the task, falling to the Vikings in the Minneapolis Metrodome, 29-21.

The Packers thus had to be content with a 10-6 record and a season sweep of the Cowboys, whom they had defeated earlier in the season at Lambeau Field, 31-13.

With the running game blunted by the Dallas defense (Brent Fullwood was the Packers' leading rusher with an exceedingly modest 16 yards in 12 attempts), quarterback Don Majkowski and the passing game carried the offense.

Majkowski, completed 21 of 32 attempts for 232 yards and 2 touchdowns, without an interception, hitting wideout Jeff Query with a 14-yard scoring strike in the second quarter and tight end Ed West with a 5-yard TD toss in the third period. Six of his passes went to wide receiver Commodore Perry Kemp, who closed out the day with a team-leading 85 yards.

Defensively, the Packers intercepted Dallas rookie quarterback Troy Aikman four times, linebackers Johnny Holland and John Anderson, defensive end Robert Brown and safety Ken Stills each making a "pick" as safety Mark Murphy spearheaded the defensive effort with eight tackles, three assists and one fumble recovery, the latter ending a major fourth-quarter drive by the Cowboys.

Five years later, another Christmas Eve assignment came around - this one in Tampa - and the Packers had a comparatively easy time of it in the "Sombrero" (Tampa Stadium), stepping out to a 28-6 halftime lead en route to a 34-19 success.

Doubling the Bucs' production in the process, the Packers amassed 433 yards (143 rushing and 290 passing) while limiting Tampa Bay to 214 overall, quarterback Brett Favre completing 24 of 36 passes and firing three touchdown passes - all to flanker Sterling Sharpe - who emerged with nine receptions for 132 yards.

Versatile Edgar Bennett paced the running game, rushing for 100 yards in 21 attempts and pulling in six passes for 35 more.

Exactly one year later, the Packers hosted a Christmas Eve contest for the first time, entertaining the Pittsburgh Steelers, already crowned as champions of the AFC Central Division, with the Green and Gold needing a victory to claim NFC Central honors for themselves.

Launched by a scoreless first quarter, it was a claw-and-scratch struggle all the way - one that literally came down to the last play - the Packers holding a tenuous 14-10 lead at halftime and an only slightly more comfortable 21-13 advantage after three quarters.

Chris Jacke's 47-yard field goal swelled the Packers' lead to 24-13 early in the fourth quarter, but the Steelers promptly moved 67 yards in eight plays to score, fullback Tim Lester bulling over right tackle from 2 yards out. After the two-point conversion bid failed, 9:49 still remained and the Packers' lead now was a tenuous 24-19.

On their next - and last possession - the Steelers drove all the way to the Green Bay 6-yard line with 16 seconds remaining, when wide receiver Yancey Thigpen dropped quarterback Neil O'Donnell's fourth down pass in the end zone, sealing a Packers victory and giving them their first division title since 1972.

Favre, 23 of 32 for 301 yards and two touchdowns - without an interception, said immediately following the game, "I really can't say right now what it means to me (to win the division). It really will probably hit me tomorrow how important it was."

The Packers' most recent Christmas Eve experience, in 2000, was very similar to their tense, tightfisted showdown with the Steelers. The Green and Gold led 7-0 at halftime, by dint of a 3-yard scoring run by Ahman Green.

There it remained until the fifth minute of the third quarter, when Green again scored, this time on a 2-yard run, capping a five-play, 77-yard drive.

The plot began to thicken late in the third quarter when the Buccaneers mustered their longest drive of the game to that point, moving to the Green Bay 20 before settling for a 38-yard Martin Gramatica field goal to get on the scoreboard, trailing 14-3.

The Packers, however, set out on a drive of their own, reaching the Tampa Bay 24, where Green fumbled when tackled by Bucs defensive end Steve White, defensive tackle Anthony McFarland recovering at the TB 24-yard line.

One exchange later, the Floridians proceeded to drive 84 yards in 6 plays for the tying score, quarterback Shaun King hitting wideout Keyshawn Johnson with an 18-yard strike for the score. King then swept right end for a successful 2-point conversion to tie matters at 14-all.

The Bucs then threatened to pull out a victory, driving to the Green Bay 22 and setting up a 40-yard field goal attempt by Gramatica, whose kick was wide right with only 9 seconds remaining in regulation.

The Packers won the overtime coin flip and Favre set about getting the job done expeditiously, directing them to four consecutive first downs, capped by De'Mond Parker's 21-yard burst over left guard to the 4-yard line.

With 8:32 remaining in the overtime, Longwell sent a chilled 59,692 observers home to a merry Christmas, connecting from 22 yards out for a 17-14 victory.

Head Coach Mike Sherman, noting his team had won five straight in Lambeau Field and four straight in December, said, "I hope it sends a message that things in Green Bay are getting to a point where you'd better have your chin strap buckled when you play the Packers."

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 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. *

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