To the fans, rivalry week likely seemed the same. In certain circles, the three words "Green Bay Packers" are treated with the same level of disdain as the three words "Osama bin Laden."
But, in the locker room, something seemed different.
It finally occurred to me what the difference was. Unfortunately, it took being bed-ridden with way too much time on my hands to figure out the difference – there aren't any Hatfields in the McCoy camp.
For the first time since 2005, there isn't a former Viking on the Packers roster or a former Packer on the Vikings roster. It's only seven years in actual time, but in NFL terms, it's a lifetime.
The history of the Vikings-Packers rivalry has been emblematic of the peaks and valleys of franchises. In the 1960s, the Pack dominated the Vikings. In the 1970s, the Vikings routinely won double-digit games in 14-game seasons, while the Packers were divisional bottom feeders but still managed to pull off upsets of the Vikings. Over the last three decades, both franchises saw the highest highs and the lowest lows and have seen the fate of one franchise rise while the other falls. Rarely were both franchises on top at the same time, which made losses to the lesser team all the more painful for the top dog. All the while, there was the rivalry – complete with the anger and hatred that fuels the great rivalries like the Ravens and Steelers have in the AFC.
Ironically, it should be noted that the Packers' No. 1 rival isn't the Vikings. It's the Bears. Ryan Longwell explained it best when he said that Packers fans under the age of 35 consider the Vikings their top rival, given that players like Randy Moss and Brett Favre helped define the rivalry over the last 15 years. In the minds of fans 35 or older, the Bears are the top rival – harkening back to the old-school days when a 19-16 game was viewed as a "shootout" in the local media. But what was it about this week's Packer Week that seemed a tad askew?
The problem? There was no inside dope on the other side of the fence – how the Packers viewed the Vikings. The bigger problem was that the Vikings had a trio of former Packers who all viewed themselves as a victim of a youth movement in Green Bay – all of them articulate and none of them very happy about being shown the door in Green Bay.
Darren Sharper was the King of Revenge in NFL circles. He felt he had a lot of football left in him in the spring of 2005 when the Packers cut him loose, drafting Nick Collins in the second round of the 2005 draft to replace him. Not only did Sharper relish in punishing the Packers for four years as a member of the Vikings, he turned the tables when the Vikings went on a youth movement of their own – knocking his former team out of the Super Bowl as a critical member of the New Orleans Saints championship run. When Sharp was in the locker room, the semicircle of media jackals were devouring every word.
Sharper was followed a year later by Ryan Longwell. Whether he held any resentment toward the decision for the Packers to go with a young kicker that boom kickoffs for touchbacks – a recurring theme that would eventually lead to the end of Vikings' career – he never showed it. Always willing to accommodate media interview requests, even when they asked pointed questions designed to get him to badmouth the Packers, he wouldn't take the low road. He always spoke fondly of the Packers and what their rivalry with the Vikings meant to them. He was a class act that was always front and center during Packers Week.
However, nobody ramped up the hype for Packers Week like a certain No. 4 did. The divorce between Favre and the Packers was ugly – so ugly that, when Green Bay orchestrated a trade with the Jets it stipulated that if New York turned around and traded Favre to the Vikings and the Vikings alone they would have to kick two first-round picks back to the Pack if they dared break the integrity of the trade. When Favre arrived after being released by the Jets, the circus came to town and Packer Week became blood sport.
In the two years Favre wore the horns – Vikings horns in Minnesota, devil horns in Wisconsin – the path toward the playoffs included a sweep in the series. In 2009, the Vikings swept the Packers. The Green Bay path to a championship in 2010 went through a sweep of the Vikings. Every Packer Week was something above and beyond. It not only got a flood of local attention, but the satellite trucks from national outlets were lined up like cabs at closing time downtown. Packers Week meant something.
Sharper left after 2008. Favre left after 2010. Longwell left this spring. Without replacement Packers, the rivalry doesn't have the same edge.
Maybe that's a good thing. The Vikings are in a youth movement where most of their players don't have much of a personal history between the half-century border war that has been the fodder of conversation from parents to children, friends opining at local watering holes, and workplace bets being cashed in. Unknown to many, of the 53 players on the Packers roster, 33 of them have been Packers for less than three years – an amazing amount given the success the Packers have enjoyed in that span.
On Sunday, in homes and gathering spots throughout the Upper Midwest, people will convene for the latest renewal of the Vikings-Packers border war. But, this time, it's a little different. Perhaps that's for the best as both franchises continue to overhaul their personnel.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.