The week leading up to the Packers' game versus the Denver Broncos was full of apprehension, scoreboard watching and a whole lot of finger crossing. First, the Packers needed a Seattle loss on the road, something the Seahawks had come accustomed to throughout the season. But the Seahawks saved their playoff lives with a crucial victory in San Francisco and were now playing their own version of the waiting game. Packer playoff picture: cloudy .
And then came Sunday when the Dallas Cowboys played the New Orleans Saints, a team with only pride left to play for. If Dallas and Green Bay both won, Seattle would be left out of the playoff picture so Packers' fans were in a position they never could have imagined themselves being in: cheering for the Cowboys.
That was the scene early Sunday afternoon in the parking lots surrounding Lambeau as fans huddled under their tents, grilled brats and meatballs watching intently, hoping Bill Parcells could pull out one more victory in his surprising first season with the Cowboys.
"Hey what's the score right now?" I remember yelling to the group next to me in the K-mart parking lot.
"Three to zero New Orleans is up," somebody shouted.
I remember trying to convince myself that the Saints would soon fold and Dallas, being the playoff team it is, would prevail. But each time I received a game update my spirits dampened and shortly before we made our way toward Lambeau field, a gentleman told me Dallas was going to lose and the Packers would be out of the playoffs. Packer playoff picture: stormy.
Now the only way the Pack could clinch a spot was if the Vikings could continue their late-season slide and implode against the Arizona Cardinals, something Packer fans no is not impossible after Green Bay's let down in the desert in September. With the Packers handling their business in a demolishing fashion against the Broncos, Packer fans could only continue their scoreboard watching with their fingers still crossed. But Mike Sherman prohibited the Vikings score from being posted on the Lambeau Jumbotron, so fans relied on each other to get the score.
There was a guy behind me with his headphones giving nearby fans updates and play-by-play analysis throughout the game. He told us that Arizona was winning 6-0 at halftime but Packers' fans know all too well that one Randy Moss rainbow toss would put the Vikings in front. And soon, Minnesota began to take control. "Right now it's17-6 Minnesota in the fourth quarter," the man said with a soft, emotionless voice.
Brett Favre was soon pulled out in the fourth quarter after taking what most Packer fans thought was his last snap of the season. "Well, Brett sure did all he could do under his tough circumstances," a neighboring fan said as he began reminiscing a season of what could have been.
"The Packers just didn't win games they had to this year," I said to my friend Brad as the game was winding down. But all of a sudden, the man with the headphones shouted, "Arizona just scored a touchdown and recovered an onside kick with about two minutes to play." Packer playoff picture: clearing up.
The somber mood in Lambeau Field turned into excitement as the early-game electricity filled the stands yet again. Fans fixated their eyes on the TVs in the club boxes and their ears on anyone lucky enough to have a walkman on hand. The gentleman with the headphones said the Cardinals were moving the ball but soon after the Vikings defense began to hold and second and third downs passed without good news. "Fourth down and about 25," the man said as all fans and the Packer sideline watched intently hoping for a season-saving miracle.
Anybody who has seen a game at Lambeau Field remembers the raucous cheers after a Favre touchdown pass or goal-line stand. And as I watched the guy with the headphones, my body was frozen in suspense but after he signaled touchdown by throwing his arms in the air, I heard a roar from the Packer fans off the decibel-level charts in crazed euphoria. Packer playoff picture: bright.
I ran up and down my row hugging and high fiving everyone in my path still not believing what just happened. The "Green Bay Packers NFC North Champions" graphic flashed on the Jumbotron and Packer players were jumping around like children in a Pop-Warner celebration. I kept telling my friends how I thought the last thing that would happen would be a Vikings' loss and second consecutive division championship but the bitter feelings I had for the Cardinals after that September loss quickly faded away.
Fans filed into the parking lots where their day began cheering for the Cowboys but now their focus turns solely on the green and gold's playoff run. Car horns beeped and polka music continued to blare into the Green Bay night leaving everybody who experienced that moment feeling like a part of Packers' history.
Packer fans have at least one more week of gut-wrenching Packer football to look forward to as the emotional roller-coaster rides straight into the post-season.