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Remmel: Packers vs Steelers


It has been a decade since the Packers last engaged the Pittsburgh Steelers on Green Bay soil in a regular season matchup-a veritable eternity in professional sports.

But next Sunday's Lambeau Field matchup with the Pittsburgh Steelers renews fond and vivid memories of the Pennsylvanians' most recent visit, in part because it was Christmas Eve (of 1995) and in part because of what transpired on that cloudy afternoon, when the wind chill was a relatively tolerable 9 degrees at kickoff, balmy weaher for a late December day in Titletown.

With a generous "contribution" from their guests on that occasion, the Packers managed to emerge with their most meaningful victory in the history of the series, a rivalry launched in 1933 when the National Football League was in only its 14th season.

The Packers, having just registered a 47-yard Chris Jacke field goal, were nurturing a tenuous lead in the fourth quarter-and essentially hanging on as Bill Cowher's surging Steelers closed to within five points on a 2-yard scoring run by Tim Lester at 5:11 of that final period.

The Green and Gold, needing a victory to clinch their first NFC Central Division championship in nearly a quarter-century, mustered a pair of first downs before having to call upon punter Craig Hentrich, whose subsequent effort turned into touchback.

With more than ample time remaining for their purposes, the Steelers mounted one of the longest drives in Lambeau Field, a 20-play marathon which consumed 9 minutes and 17 seconds as they maneuvered all the way to the Green Bay 5-yard line, arriving in this threatening mode as only 16 seconds remained.

Quarterback Neil O'Donnell had returned to presiding over the Pittsburgh offense after Kordell Stewart had been temporarily inserted for what became a third down run out of the shotgun, an effort foiled when LeRoy Butler felled Stewart for a 1-yard loss at the Green Bay 6.

O'Donnell, spying wide receiver Yancey Thigpen uncovered in the left corner of the end zone, unfurled what appeared to be a perfect strike on fourth down as 60,000-plus of the Packers faithful held their collective breath.

Thigpen appeared to be pulling the ball into his hands but, as he bent down to gather in the leather, he providentially lifted his knee into the ball and knocked it to the ground.

With 11 seconds left, the Packers assumed possession and Brett Favre gratefully took a knee for an official 1-yard loss as time expired.

He thus formally sealed the Packers' first division championship since 1972, ending a 23-year drought.

Following the game, Head Coach Mike Holmgren made facetious reference to the narrow "escape" in the final seconds, while assessing the winning effort and its elements.

"To win big games, players have to make big plays," he said. "I felt that for the most part we did make the plays necessary to win, such as stopping Kordell Stewart on the draw play on their last drive."

He then deftly added, "Of course to win, you also need a little help," referring to Thigpen's drop of the pass in the end zone on Pittsburgh's final play.

(But ) "remember, Reggie White (an ordained minister) plays for us," Holmgren concluded, tongue in cheek, suggesting the possibility of divine intervention.

In any event, the last-minute success triggered a memorable postseason for the Packers, who dispatched the Atlanta Falcons in a Wild Card playoff at Lambeau Field the following week, then eliminated the 49ers in a divisional playoff at San Francisco, 27-17, before falling to the Dallas Cowboys in a 38-27 NFC Championship Game shootout in "Big D."

They didn't know it then but they were already on their way to New Orleans and Super Bowl XXXI (against the New England Patriots) the following year.

Now that "No. 4" has a 212-game starting streak to his credit, it seems that virtually every week the upcoming opponent reminds of another memorable "Brett Favre Story."

Looking back, it was the Steelers who were providing the opposition when Favre initiated that remarkable streak, taking over for the injured Don Majkowski on Sept. 27, 1992.

Favre, who had relieved the fallen Majkowski in the first quarter and escorted the Packers to a last-minute, 24-23 come-from-behind victory over the Cincinnati Bengals a week earlier, subsequently made that first start against Pittsburgh one for the memory book.

With the score tied at 3-3 late in the second quarter, Favre gave the Green Bay faithful a hint of what was to come, sending the Green and Gold out front to stay by unleashing a 76-yard scoring strike to Sterling Sharpe, Sharpe's longest reception in three years.

Closing out the day with a glossy 144.6 passer rating (158.3 is "perfect) Favre completed 14 of 19 passes en route, without an interception, and added a second scoring pass early in the fourth quarter, firing an 8-yarder to wideout Robert Brooks to put the Packers up 16-3. Chris Jacke added the game's final point.

Although it was only his first NFL start, Favre's 144.6 passer rating against Pittsburgh that September afternoon remains the fifth highest of his pro career.

Though the Steelers have won five of the last seven meetings between Sunday's principals, the Packers had more early success against Pittsburgh than any other opponent in their history. Beginning with a 47-0 triumph at Green Bay's old City Stadium in 1933, the Packers won their first nine encounters with the Steelers, then known as the Pittsburgh Pirates (the same name Pittsburgh's Major League Baseball entry still carries).

That imposing streak ended abruptly in 1947, when the Packers hosted Pittsburgh at State Fair Park in suburban Milwaukee. midway through the season and the rechristened Steelers managed to squeeze out an 18-17 win-a safety scored when Packers quarterback Jack Jacobs was felled in the end zone making the eventual difference.

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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