If you believe in God or some higher power, you could make a case that said entity would have more pressing issues than how Brett Favre plays on Monday Night Football or whether some receiver named Nathan Poole makes an improbable catch on fourth-and-a-mile for a touchdown. But then again, who's to say omnipotence doesn't extend to the gridiron?
Favre, whose father Irvin died a week and a half ago, said he felt his father was watching him when he lit up the Oakland Raiders for four touchdowns the previous Monday. This week it could've been Poole and the Arizona Cardinals who were being watched. They overcame an 11-point deficit in the final minutes of their game to not only deny the Minnesota Vikings a division title, but also a trip to the playoffs. Instead, the Packers were recipients of both prizes. When asked about Sunday's occurrences, Favre could only offer that ‘something is going on here.' I'd be inclined to agree with him.
There were times in the first half of the 2003 season when the Packers seemed to play with a heart the size of the Grinch (which if you recall Dr. Seuss, was two sizes two small). The lowest point seemed to come in a loss to the lowly Arizona Cardinals in Week Three. Surely, if Green Bay missed the playoffs, this disaster in the desert would be the game they would look back on with regret. Turns out that while Green Bay was pummeling a JV version of the Denver Broncos sans six offensive starters, their trip to the postseason would play out in that very same desert in a most surreal unfolding of events.
Divine intervention, as it would turn out, had nothing to do with the Saints, who needed only to beat the offense-impaired Dallas Cowboys in the early game to help Green Bay with their ‘strength of victory' tie-breaker and secure a game in the NFL's postseason. But what happened to the Vikings, who began the season with a 30-25 win over the Packers before cruising to a 6-0 start and almost assuredly the NFC North Division title, could only be described as miraculous to anyone in green and gold.
By now, everyone has seen the replays of Minnesota's meltdown against the Cardinals, as it has instantly become the stuff of football lore and legend. Everyone has seen Cardinal quarterback Josh McCown hit tight end Steve Bush on fourth-and-one for a score with 1:54 remaining, cutting the lead to 17-12. Everyone has seen Arizona somehow recover the onside kick. And everyone has seen McCown connect with Poole in the corner of the end zone for a 28-yard score on fourth down as time expired. As if the game needed extra drama, the play was even reviewed; confirming that Poole had control of the ball and one foot down when he was pushed out of the end zone.
Packer coach Mike Sherman had instructed team officials to keep the score of the Vikings contest off the scoreboard, but news of arguably the greatest choke job in NFL history spread down to the field in a sort of top-to-bottom wave. Fans who had their backs to the field watching the luxury box televisions and listening on head phones spun around to cheer in celebration until the pandemonium flowed down onto the Packer sidelines where players jumped around like they just won the Powerball jackpot.
Even the media was sucked into the mirage in the desert as nary an eye paid attention to the game Green Bay and Denver were playing out, focusing instead on the televisions overhead and a game 2,000 miles away. And when Arizona recovered their onside kick, the normally-reserved, highly-objective press box let out a bevy of shouts that drew an announcement reminding all that ‘under rules of the National Football League, cheering is not permitted in the press box.' No one bothered with a second announcement when Poole's dip in the end zone drew an even more boisterous reaction.
Fan, player or even media, the instant Poole pulled in that pass will be one of those ‘where were you when' moments that will not be forgotten for anyone with a connection to the Packers. Even though it had nothing to do with the game they were actually playing or any they played up to that point, that will be forever known as the play that gave Green Bay the NFC North Division crown in 2003.
Now comes the sticky part about this talk of miracles and divine intervention relating to football: how far will it get you? Is it enough to just make the playoffs or is this something that carries all the way through to the Super Bowl? What conclusions, if any do you draw if the Packers were to lose to Mike Holmgren and the Seattle Seahawks this Sunday or maybe the next week against another opponent? There's no playbook on divine intervention; at least none anyone down here has access to.
If nothing else, maybe this intervention was more of a push. A nudge for a team that could use a bit of help from above and especially a quarterback whose only solace from his grief might be the three hours he's out there throwing the ball like his father taught him. But there's a chance the Packers might just be on their own when Seattle comes to Titletown this weekend. Fortunately, Green Bay is the hottest team in the NFC right now, winning seven of their last nine games while scoring more than 30 points in each of their last four.
And if all they've got to get by on the rest of the way is their God-given talent, then maybe that's all the divine intervention that's needed.
W. Keith Roerdink is a freelance writer from Wausau, Wis. and a longtime contributor to the Packer Report. Check out his weekly Hot Read column every Thursday.