FREEMAN'S ASTONISHING 2000 RECEPTION MOST CREATIVE PLAY IN SERIES
According to Mike Eayrs, the Packers' highly precise director of research and development, there are approximately 150 plays in the average NFL game.
Considering that the Green and Gold and the Minnesota Vikings have clashed in 87 contests since the Purple Gang entered the league in I961, they presumably have shared in excess of 13,000 plays over that 44-year span.
Dealing with such an imposing number, it would be a bit of a challenge to select the "greatest' play in the history of the series - launched in '61 at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn. - a classic neighborhood rivalry that resumes at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis Sunday at noon.
However, in contrast, it would seem the proverbial slam dunk to pinpoint the most "creative" play in series annals.
In any event, here is a resounding vote for what has been appropriately described as one of the most astonishing and improbable touchdown catches in National Football League history.
To reconstruct the circumstances that prevailed in Lambeau Field on the rain-swept Monday night of Nov. 6, 2000 - and set the stage for that beautifully bizarre happening - the game was in overtime and the Packers were facing third-and-4 at the Vikings' 43-yard line on the first possession of the sudden death period...with the score tied at 20-all.
Quarterback Brett Favre, retreating from under center, unleashed a deep throw directed toward wide receiver Antonio Freeman. The latter, who remains the most frequent target of Favre's remarkably productive NFL career, was locked in man-to-man coverage with Minnesota cornerback Cris Dishman.
Dishman, convinced the ball had fallen incomplete, turned his back on the play, which proved to be a huge mistake.
As Freeman slipped and fell to the muddy turf, Dishman briefly had the football in his hands but dropped what appeared to be a "sure" interception.
The ball then providentially bounced off Freeman's left arm - until he managed to control it against his chest as he lay on his back.
Whereupon Freeman, though supine at the Minnesota 15, wasted no time in capitalizing on his good fortune. Alertly jumping to his feet when no attempt was made to assure that he was "down, " Freeman eluded Vikings defender Robert Griffith and wheeled into the end zone with the winning touchdown, touching off a boisterous victory celebration in the end zone.
The play subsequently was reviewed but the touchdown stood.
"I knew it didn't touch the ground," Freeman later said. "There was no doubt in my mind.
"As I was falling back, it just fell into my arms. I guess we just got an early Christmas present."
Freeman's improbable and highly opportune heroic was one of 57 such Favre-Freeman scoring collaborations, the most by a quarterback-receiver duo in team history and the sixth-best by such a tandem in NFL annals.
The touchdown obviously was Freeman's most noteworthy play on that occasion but it wasn't his only contribution to the cause. He closed out the misty evening with five receptions for 118 yards, a 23.8-yard average per catch.
Looking further back, the most spectacular play in the early years of the rivalry occurred at Metropolitan Stadium on Oct. 13, 1963. On that occasion, the Packers were nurturing a tenuous 30-28 lead in the closing minutes, and striving to hold off the Vikings, who were in a fourth-and-goal situation at the Green Bay 3-yard line as the 2-minute warning was whistled.
Willie Davis, the Packers' left end and veteran defensive captain, had held Tommy Mason for no gain on the previous, third-down play, prompting Minnesota's decision to opt for a field goal.
With quarterback Fran Tarkenton holding, the normally "automatic" Fred Cox put foot to ball at the Green Bay 10-yard line. Almost simultaneously, Herb Adderley blew into the Vikings' backfield and blocked Cox's kick.
Safety Hank Gremminger, fortuitously in the area, promptly scooped up the bouncing ball at the Green Bay 20 and raced 80 yards down the left sideline into the Minnesota end zone for the touchdown. Jerry Kramer, with Bart Starr, holding, then kicked the point after to finalize a 37-28 Green Bay victory.
It is the approximate 35th "anniversary" of another memorable Packers victory in the series.
The circumstances were these. The Packers and Vikings were locked in a typically tightfisted defensive duel at Milwaukee County Stadium on Oct. 4, 1970. The Green and Gold were narrowly leading early in the fourth quarter, 6-3, immediately after the Vikings had put up their first points of the afternoon by way of a 24-yard Cox field goal.
The Packers' Dave Hampton next was back to receive the ensuing kickoff. When it came, floating 1 yard into the end zone, he headed upfield, maneuvering his way through the first wave of Vikings with the aid of a block from Dave Robinson at the 25, and into the open.
By the time Hampton reached his own 30-yard line, he was essentially alone. From there, he sprinted down the left sideline into the end zone untouched, a 101-yard excursion which still ranks as the fourth-longest kickoff return in team annals.
There was understandable jubilation on the Green Bay sideline but any potential celebration had to be delayed, since nearly 13 minutes of the fourth quarter remained to be played after Dale Livingston kicked the extra point, providing the Packers with a 13-3 lead.
And with good reason. The Vikings, with Gary Cuozzo at quarterback, subsequently managed to mount a 54-yard drive, climaxed by a 12-yard Cuozzo pass to Gene Washington for the touchdown with 1:51 remaining in the game.
Cox's PAT lifted the Purple to within three points, 13-10, but the Packers were able to run out the clock following the Minnesota kickoff.
Peripheral Packers history thus was made when the final gun sounded. It sealed Phil Bengtson's only head coaching victory over the Vikings - and their legendary coach, Bud Grant, in Bengtson's three-year tenure as Green Bay's field leader.
And it had to be a highly satisfying success for Bengtson, who held Grant in high professional regard, once observing in tribute, "Bud Grant gets more efficiency out of his 40 players (then the league's per-club player limit) than any other coach in the National Football League."
- Just for the record, Metropolitan Stadium, the first home of the Vikings (who shared the stadium with its primary tenants, the Minnesota Twins) no longer exists. It was razed to make room for the Mall of America after both the Twins and Vikings moved into the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis during the early '80s.
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. *