GREEN BAY – As the Packers board their plane and fly out to San Francisco this Saturday, it'll have been exactly five years to the day since Tramon Williams last appeared in an NFC Championship Game.
After that game, a 28-22 overtime loss to Seattle, the Packers' longtime cornerback spent his next two seasons with Cleveland and another year in Arizona before reuniting with Green Bay.
His teams were a combined 24-39-1 during that stretch with none of four campaigns producing a playoff berth. It wasn't an easy pill to swallow for a veteran player who only knew winning during his first seven years with the Packers.
Despite what many perceived to be a rebuild under new Head Coach Matt LaFleur, Williams felt confident in the makeup of the roster and the direction the team was headed. So the 36-year-old cornerback returned for a 13th NFL season, fulfilling the second half of the two-year contract he signed in March 2018.
And now, after an unexpected 13-3 campaign few outside of 1265 Lombardi Ave. saw coming, Williams will get his chance to play in another NFC Championship Game this Sunday against the San Francisco 49ers.
"It's definitely an exciting feeling, really, more than anything," Williams said. "I'm trying to stay even-keeled about it. I don't know if you see my demeanor because I know we do have unfinished business."
Williams, one of four remaining players from the Packers' Super Bowl XLV team, has continued to be a portrait of durability and dependability throughout his time with Green Bay.
The veteran cornerback played in all 16 games for the 10th time in his career and was one of nine defensive starters to play at least 750 snaps. Nobody else in that group is older than 27.
At 36, Williams is currently one of the oldest defensive players in the NFL – and he's doing it at a position that typically is skewed to younger players. The next oldest player in the DBs' room is Ibraheim Campbell, who is nine years Williams' junior.
"He doesn't look 36 because I remember what I looked like at 36," said defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who also coached Williams in Cleveland. "He's just one of those rare athletes. You see players that play deep into their 30s and even their 40s, but that's usually kickers and quarterbacks. It's rare that it's a corner, a guy that runs that much and that's reliant on their movement skills."
After filling in at safety during the second half of the 2018 campaign, Williams has been productive since shifting back to his more natural position as a nickel cornerback. He recorded 39 tackles, eight pass breakups and two interceptions.
Speaking with reporters last week, quarterback Aaron Rodgers recalled hearing the stories about Williams' exploits and accomplishments on the Packers' now-defunct "Green Machine" traveling basketball team during the offseason.
Even today, the two-time MVP quarterback is still in awe of the veteran cornerback's drive, determination and wisdom.
"From the first day he got back here, he's got that 'wow' factor and he always has, from the first time he was in here," Rodgers said. "Just hearing about his athleticism to the pick-six against Atlanta in the '11 playoffs to him coming back and continuing to make plays at, for football, his advanced age. Especially for his position, not many guys are able to do it for that long."
To advance to another Super Bowl won't be easy. The Packers travel into the same building where they fell 37-8 to the 49ers back in late November. At the same time, both LaFleur and San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan talked this week about how different both teams are entering Sunday's showdown.
Defensively, the Packers are playing as well as they have all season. Aside from having difficulty corralling the ever-elusive Russell Wilson in the second half of Sunday's 28-23 win over Seattle, Green Bay is defending the run better and has cut down on the big plays that haunted the defense earlier this season.
Williams agrees with LaFleur's assertion the Packers are "a better team today than we were then." Whatever questions and criticisms have been thrown around outside the building, Williams and the locker room are concentrated on themselves.
"The only thing that matters is the guys in this room," Williams said. "We're confident in what we can do. We still have the man behind center. We have a pretty good defense. If you have those things and you can win in the playoffs, that's what we plan on doing."
The Packers may be underdogs this Sunday but Williams doesn't buy into the notion of home-field advantage. He uses Wilson as evidence of how special players can make any game interesting at this juncture of the season.
He also leans back on what he learned from the 2010 Super Bowl team that won in Philadelphia, Atlanta and Chicago before capturing the franchise's fourth Lombardi Trophy in Dallas and the Super Bowl rings that came with it.
"Man, to get my first one, we went to everybody's house," Williams said. "When it comes to the playoffs, every team is tough. Every team is battle-tested. Every team can win on the road and that's the way we see it."