What memories will 49ers/Packers of today provide?
The 49ers/Packers rivalry has come back to life. As the long-time rivals prepare to meet for the second time in four months in a divisional playoff matchup featuring two of the NFL’s top heavyweights, NinersDigest looks back at the most memorable moments this series has provided us, with the promise of more to come when San Francisco and Green Bay face off Saturday night at Candlestick Park.
Since the 49ers entered the NFL in 1950, one of their longest-standing rivalries has been with the Packers. It has been a fascinating rivalry that took on a new life in the 1990s when the Packers re-emerged as a NFL power, and it provided the league with some of its most memorable moments over the span of a decade when both teams were fighting for NFC pre-eminence on a yearly basis.
The Packers had eight consecutive games against the 49ers and 13 of the past 14 meetings between the two teams before San Francisco finally reversed the trend with a 30-22 victory at Green Bay in the Sept. 9 season opener at Lambeau Field.
As the two teams meet for 62nd time – and first time in the playoffs since 2002 – the all-time series couldn’t be much closer. Only 50 points separate the two teams, with Green Bay holding a 1,302-1252 edge.
That balance isn’t indicative of the rivalry on a yearly basis. The Niners had winning streaks of six and seven games in the series during the 1950s, when the teams met at least once every season and sometimes twice.
When Vince Lombardi moved in as Packers coach at the turn of the decade, the Packers rattled off 11 victories in 12 meetings on their way to making Lombardi an NFL legend.
The series swayed back and forth after the NFL expanded in 1970 to include AFL teams. Beginning in 1971, the Packers and 49ers no longer were annual attractions on each other’s schedule. They met only six times in the 1970s and five times in the 1980s.
But in 1995 – after four seasons had passed since the last 49ers/Packers game – the rivalry took on a whole new life.
With the Packers joining the Niners among the NFL elite, the teams met seven times in a five-year span, including four consecutive seasons in the playoffs. The reborn rivalry clearly supplied the NFL with some of its most memorable moments of the decade, and they came in bunches when these two teams got together.
Here, NinersDigest shares with you 10 of those moments and the events surrounding them, as if anybody could forget them:
1. The Pack Payback Catch: Green Bay had assembled a string of five consecutive heated victories over the 49ers when the teams met in the postseason for the fourth year in a row in a Wild Card game at 3Com Park a week after the 1998 season ended. It looked every bit like the Pack would extend that hex to six games as Green Bay sat on a 27-23 lead with the Niners scrambling frantically in the final seconds to try to avert another loss to their nemesis. Then, almost magically, receiver Terrell Owens leaped into a pack of Green Bay defenders at the goal line and somehow came down with a 25-yard touchdown reception that gave the Niners a stunning 30-27 win.
2. Adam Walker’s fumble: The Niners entered the playoffs after the 1995 season as the defending Super Bowl champion, and although the Pack appeared on its way back after reaching the playoffs and winning a Wild Card game for the third consecutive year, not many were putting Green Bay in the same class as the heavily-favored Niners. That all changed on San Francisco’s first play from scrimmage. Fullback Adam Walker, playing with a cast on his hand, caught a pass in the flat, but immediately had the ball jarred loose by Green Bay linebacker Wayne Simmons. Cornerback Craig Newsome returned the fumble 31 yards for a touchdown, giving Green Bay the early boost it needed to take command. The Packers never let go of it, building a 21-0 lead and winning 27-17. It would be Walker’s last game in a San Francisco uniform.
3. Seifert’s conservative decision: In one the most rousing and consequential games of the 1995 regular season, the 49ers and Packers slugged it out on national television in a classic Monday night game in mid-October. Green Bay had rallied from a 17-6 deficit to tie the game 17-17 when the Packers took possession late in the fourth quarter deep in their own territory. Cornerback Marquez Pope then stepped in front of a Brett Favre pass, returning the interception to the Green Bay 12 with 2:13 remaining. But instead of going for a touchdown that could have finished off the reeling Packers, head coach George Seifert opted to try two running plays, then had quarterback Elvis Grbac fall on the ball to center it for a routine 28-yard field goal by Jeff Wilkins. Seifert said later he wanted to force Green Bay to use its timeouts, but Favre still was left with 1:42 on the clock after Wilkins’ field goal. That was plenty of time for him to drive the Packers to a game-tying field goal that sent the game into overtime, where the Packers pulled out a 23-20 win in the first regular-season meeting between the teams in six years.
4. Stuck in the muck: In coach Steve Mariucci’s first season as Niners’ coach, San Francisco advanced to the NFC title game, where the defending Super Bowl champion Packers – Mariucci’s former NFL team – were waiting. With torrential downpours having soaked 3Com Park throughout the week, the 49ers were always a step behind the determined Packers, who were much more adept offensively in the muddy, sloppy conditions. The game wasn’t as close as the 23-10 final score, Green Bay’s third playoff win over the Niners in three years.
5. Lightning strikes twice in Favre form: In another wildly entertaining game at Lambeau Field, Favre burned the 49ers with an 80-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Freeman on the game’s first play from scrimmage. Less than five minutes later, Favre hit Robert Brooks with a 30-yard scoring pass, and the Packers had a shocking 16-0 lead early in the first period. The resilient Niners later rallied to take a 22-19 lead into the fourth quarter, only to see Favre connect with Freeman again on 62-yard touchdown bomb that sent Green Bay on its way to a 36-22 victory – its fifth in a row over the Niners.
6. Desmond’s dashes: After winning a Wild Card game over the Philadelphia Eagles, the 49ers got their much-anticipated rematch with the Packers, who had beaten them in overtime in a hotly-contested Monday night battle in the 1996 regular season. But the tone for this one was set early by kick returner Desmond Howard. After the Niners went three-and-out on the game’s opening possession, Howard took a Tommy Thompson punt, split San Francisco’s coverage down the middle of the field and raced 71 yards for a touchdown. Minutes later, Howard took another Thompson punt and returned it 46 yards to the San Francisco 7, setting up another touchdown that sent the Packers to a commanding 21-0 lead on their way to a 35-14 win.
7. Passing out - Young version: With the Niners falling behind 21-0 early in the divisional playoff game following the 1995 season, Young valiantly attempted to lead a comeback by carrying San Francisco’s offense on his shoulders in an exhaustive individual effort. Young threw an NFL postseason-record 65 passes and also led the Niners in rushing with 77 yards, but it was to no avail as the Packers held on for a 27-17 win.
8. Passing out - Favre version: In that thrilling 1995 Monday night game in which the Packers prevailed in overtime, they never would have done it without the determined passing of Favre, who kept coming at the 49ers even though – through most of the evening – it was with limited success. But that wasn’t the case when it counted. Favre passed the Packers down field in the closing seconds of regulation to set up the field goal that sent the game in overtime. Once there, Favre passed on five of six downs to set up Chris Jacke’s game-winning field goal in a 23-20 win. When it was over, Favre and the Packers still were standing after the quarterback had attempted a team-record 61 passes.
9. Young’s winning drive: For all his playoff success with the 49ers, Young also was known for his failure to lead the team from behind in the fourth quarter of several postseason losses. And it was looking like more of the same after the Packers had taken a 27-23 lead in the Wild Card game following the 1998 season. Young and the 49ers took possession at their own 24-yard line with just 1:50 remaining, and it was looking like the Packers would stretch their winning streak over the Niners to six wins in four seasons. But Young answered with the signature drive of his career and one of the more memorable sequences in team history. Young completed seven of nine passes on the drive, ending it with a picture-perfect 25-yard rope to Terrell Owens through a maze of Green Bay defenders for the winning touchdown with three seconds remaining. On that play, Young stumbled and almost fell as he dropped back to pass, but he still delivered what some say was the greatest pass of his career.
10. The great charade: Young injured his ribs in San Francisco’s Wild Card victory over Philadelphia to begin the playoffs following the 1996 season. During the next week, as the Niners prepared for a playoff rematch with the Packers, coach George Seifert continued to announce that Young’s ribs were bruised and not – as was being rumored – broken, and that he would start against the Packers. Young did start. But he could barely move with two ribs that actually were broken, and he had to be replaced after two series by Elvis Grbac. The demoralizing loss of San Francisco’s team leader seemed to affect the 49ers’ psyche from the start as they fell behind 21-0 and ultimately produced a season-low 196 yards in a 35-14 loss. It would be Seifert’s final game as 49ers coach, as he was pressured into resigning a few weeks later so the team could hire Steve Mariucci to replace him.