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Remmel: Packers vs. Falcons


The Green Bay Packers' association with the Atlanta Falcons, now in its 40th year, has been something of a mixed bag, although the won-lost record would not suggest it.

The Packers own a one-game overall advantage heading into Sunday's encounter with the Falcons in the Georgia Dome, having won 11 of the previous 21 meetings while losing 10.

But the won-lost record is highly deceiving. Particularly with respect to the "anatomy" of the series.

The Packers, benefiting from the fledgling Falcons' initial status as an expansion team, won the first five games in the series by an average of 25 points per game.

As often is the case of rivalries, however, things have changed to a significant degree over time. In the interim, in this instance, the Falcons have won 10 of the last 16 meetings, including three of their five most recent matchups.

From the Packers' point of view, three games stand out in their four-decade relationship with the Falcons, all for different reasons.

Noteworthy among those early Green Bay triumphs, from the standpoint of sheer productivity, was a 56-3 romp in their very first meeting, which occurred at Milwaukee County Stadium on Oct. 23, 1966. The 53-point differential remains the largest margin of victory by the Packers in their National Football League history, which dates back to 1921.

Packers Head Coach Vince Lombardi became exceedingly irate following that contest when, during his press conference, a reporter suggested that he had deliberately run up the score on the overmatched Falcons.

There were at least three reasons why the implication was off target.

One, the Packers, en route to their fourth NFL championship in six years and their first Super Bowl victory, were clearly that superior to the youthful Falcons of that early day. Two, it was not Lombardi's style to embarrass an opponent.

And, three, he would have been particularly sensitive to avoid running up the score on that occasion because the Falcons' rookie head coach, Norb Hecker, had been the defensive backfield coach on Lombardi's staff the previous seven seasons and was a friend.

Plus, in fairness to Lombardi, he had played everybody but the equipment manager before the game was over.

Twenty-eight years later, the Falcons helped the Packers make another kind of history. The Green and Gold were playing their final game in Milwaukee on Dec. 18, 1994, ending a 62-year tenure in the state's largest city, that afternoon.

The Packers, in a third down-and-2 situation at the Atlanta 9-yard-line, were trailing 17-14 with only 21 seconds to play - and had just spent their third and final timeout.

Quarterback Brett Favre, taking the snap from center, presumably was preparing to pass. But, not finding anyone legitimately "open," he took off to his right. In full flight, he scrambled into the very corner of the end zone as the time clock registered 14:46.

When, Favre later was asked, had he made the split-second decision to run the ball?

"I have no idea," he said. "Half the things I do out there just happen.

"I used to make bad decisions and get into trouble. This was one where I felt I could get in."

After Favre's head-long lunge into the end zone, Chris Jacke came on to kick the extra point and the Packers thus bid farewell to County Stadium and Milwaukee with a 21-17 victory.

Coach Mike Holmgren was so moved following the game that he paused to salute and blow kisses to the crowd.

"I don't usually get a chance to look up in the stands," he said. "To see those people and acknowledge them, it was very emotional for me. I'm a little corny that way anyway. Just glancing around, in every section I looked at, the people jumped up. It was really something. I'll never forget it."

Favre, meanwhile, said of the fans, "I hope they really enjoyed it, because I really did. It seemed like every game we played here was that kind of game. I think this was the most thrilling game I've been in in a long time. I hope they accept it (as a gift) because I definitely will."

Just a year later, the Packers were involved with the Falcons in another historic encounter - when the Green and Gold found Atlanta athwart their 1995 postseason path in an NFC Wild Card playoff at Lambeau Field.

Exhibiting a balanced offensive tack, including a franchise playoff record 108 rushing yards by Edgar Bennett, the Packers forged past the Falcons, 37-20, on a foggy, 30-degree afternoon and thus acquired their first NFC Central Division championship in 23 years.

Things did not go well at the beginning, however. Quarterback Jeff George's 65-yard touchdown pass to Eric Metcalf gave Atlanta a 7-0 advantage 3 minutes into the game, stunning the crowd of 60,453.

Fortuitously, the Packers shortly regained control, posting a pair of first-quarter touchdowns - one on an 8-yard run by Bennett and the other on a 14-yard pass from Favre to wide receiver Robert Brooks.

The Packers subsequently broke the game open midway through the second quarter when rookie Antonio Freeman became the first Green Bay player ever to return a kick for a postseason touchdown, running back a punt 76 yards.

Then, with less than a minute remaining in the first half, Favre fired a 2-yard scoring pass to tight end Mark Chmura, parlaying the Packers' lead to 27-10 heading into the intermission.

With just under 8 minutes remaining, Favre's third touchdown strike of the afternoon - a deftly arched, 18-yard spiral to running back Dorsey Levens - sealed a Green and Gold success.

Skilfully distributing the football throughout, Favre completed passes to no fewer than nine different receivers, seven of them to team leader Robert Brooks, four to Anthony Morgan and three each to Bennett and Keith Jackson.

In painful contrast to that enjoyable occasion, the Packers have unpleasant memories of their most recent experience with the Falcons.

Led by the gifted Michael Vick, Atlanta came to Green Bay on Jan. 4, 2003, and pulled off the unthinkable, stunning the Packers - and 65,358 witnesses - in an NFC Wild Card Playoff at storied Lambeau Field, 27-7.

The Green and Gold not only had been the NFL's only team to post an 8-0 record at home during the '02 season but had never lost a home playoff, having carried a perfect 13-0 postseason record into the contest.

Injuries were contributing factors to the unhappy outcome, the Packers losing Pro Bowl running back Ahman Green (knee) and top receivers Donald Driver (shoulder) and Terry Glenn (concussion) in an unsuccessful second half comeback bid. They also were without Pro Bowl safety Darren Sharper, sidelined by a knee problem.

Favre, victim of two interceptions and a fumble, found Driver with a 14-yard touchdown on the first drive after halftime, ending a 24-0 droughtwith Green Bay's only score of the game. But the Packers' misadventures continued. Driver re-injured his dislocated shoulder on the play and was sidelined for the balance of the game.

For Falcons head coach Dan Reeves, an NFL veteran, the outcome represented something akin to revenge. He had been on the losing side - as a member of the Dallas Cowboys - in the "Ice Bowl" on the same turf 35 years earlier.

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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