What Packer fans will cherish are the countless barnburners, shootouts, and overtime thrillers that Favre orchestrated against the Minnesota Vikings. Thursday night may mark an epic end to a Viking Trilogy for Favre. Here's a countdown of his greatest battles against Minnesota (cue annoying Metrodome horn bellow here):
5. GREEN BAY 38, MINNESOTA 32 (1997)
Green Bay's quest to defend their Super Bowl title was highlighted by this September game at a sunny Lambeau Field. Favre used crafty audibles to withstand a furious Minnesota rally en route to 266 yards and five touchdowns.
"Guys were rushing him and kicking him and pushing him and spitting on him, and he's hanging in there delivering touchdowns," said safety LeRoy Butler after the contest. "Without him, we'd be lost for a little while."
The Packers raced to a 31-7 lead at halftime behind Favre's smarts, not his laser arm. On a 52-yard scoring drive late in the first half, Favre called three key audibles. The first drew a 15-yard defensive interference call on a pass to Robert Brooks. The second led to a 12-yard strike to Antonio Freeman, as the final audible resulted in a touchdown slant pass to Terry Mickens on third-and-goal. In a rare five-receiver set, coach Mike Holmgran called for a quarterback draw but Favre wisely changed the play when Minnesota kept several defenders on the line.
In a typically physical Packers-Vikings game, Minnesota had two roughing the passer penalties on Favre among several other late hits. The win foreshadowed another huge season for Favre who won a third straight MVP, fired 35 touchdowns and reached another Super Bowl.
4. GREEN BAY 26, MINNESOTA 22 (2002)
If Favre has proven anything during his 16-year career it's that early-game turnovers do not faze him, especially at the frigid frozen tundra. Facing a 3-9 Vikings team, the playoff-bound Packers faced deficits of 13-0, 19-6, and 22-13 into the final quarter as the temperature dropped to six degrees. Without blinking, Favre methodically brought Green Bay back behind 214 hard-earned yards on 22-of-32 passing and two touchdowns to Robert Ferguson of all people.
Favre led the 13-point, fourth quarter surge without his primetime weapons. Tony Fisher was in for an injured Ahman Green, as top wide receivers Terry Glenn and Javon Walker were also sidelined. Right from the get-go, it appeared Minnesota would capitalize from this, forcing a Favre fumble and picking him off early to snag a quick 13-0 advantage. But in the second half, Favre led scoring drives of 67, 54, and 85 yards to seal his 26th career game-winning comeback.
Fittingly both teams brawled in front of Minnesota bench after the game as then-Vikes' DT Chris Hovan and Favre almost engaged in a fight inside the Green Bay tunnel. The win improved Favre's mark to 34-0 when the temperature is 34 degrees or lower at kickoff.
3. GREEN BAY 34, MINNESOTA 31 (2004)
Two years later, the cold weather came back to bite Favre. Hosting the warm-weathered Jacksonville Jaguars, the Packers QB threw three picks in a 28-25 loss as the wind chill dropped below zero. But nonetheless a win at Minnesota on Christmas Eve the next week would lock up a third straight division title. In his personal house of horrors, Favre blocked out the crowd to lead yet another insurmountable comeback. He completed 30-of-43 passes for 365 yards and three scores. The Pack seemed destined to lose when Chris Claiborne returned a Favre interception 15 yards for a touchdown with 8:45 remaining to give the Vikes a 31-24 lead.
At the 3:34 mark, Green Bay faced a do-or-die, fourth-and-goal from the Vikings three-yard line when Favre placed a nifty low pass to Donald Driver for the tying score. After a defensive stop, Favre got the ball back with 95 ticks left on the clock at his own 13-yard line. No problem. Favre marched Green Bay 76 yards to set up a game-winning 29-yard chip shot field goal by Ryan Longwell.
"Never give up," said Favre after the game, reflecting on the Packers' turnaround after starting the year 1-4. "That's been this team's M.O. all season because we could've quit a long time ago."
Green Bay did fall to the Vikings (31-17) in the wild card to the tune of a Randy Moss "full moon." But in two regular season games against Daunte Culpepper, Favre proved he could still win shootouts with the best of ‘em. The two QBs combined to throw for 1,249 yards, 14 touchdowns, and only one interception in the two 34-31 Packer victories.
2. GREEN BAY 23, MINNESOTA 20 (1999)
There was a reason Ray Rhodes was fired merely minutes after the 1999 season. Had it not of been for three miraculous Favre comebacks to start the season, his team (two years removed from the Super Bowl) would have finished 5-11. One of those come-from-behind wins came against Randall Cunningham, Robert Smith, Randy Moss and the explosive Vikings offense that emphatically snapped Green Bay's 25-game home win streak the previous year.
After Moss caught a TD lob from Cunningham with less than two minutes left, visions of last season's 38-24 drubbing resurfaced.
But the stage was set. Down 20-16. 1:51 left. Two timeouts. Seventy-seven yards to paydirt. This signifies Green Bay vs. Minnesota and the sheer will of No. 4.
Like a surgeon, an unfazed Favre steadily gained dissected Minnesota on the final drive. A 22-yard strike to Corey Bradford got the ball rolling. Consecutive check down passes to Dorsey Levens sandwiched a timeout while tacking on 23 more yards as Green Bay reached the Vikings 32-yard line. Following an incompletion, Bill Schroeder caught a six-yarder in the middle of the field which forced Green Bay to call their final timeout with 43 seconds left.
On third-and-four, the Pack caught a terrible break when Levens caught a three-yard pass and was tackled in-bounds, setting up an unfriendly fourth-and-one. A spike would end the game. There was no time to huddle up for a play call. And even if the Packers completed a first down, time would probably run out.
With no time to contemplate, Favre raced to the line of scrimmage as the clock suddenly evaporated to 16 seconds. A Favre pump fake froze cornerback Jimmy Hitchcock who anticipated a slant. Bradford kept gliding and snagged the game-winner in stride. Game over.
Said Rhodes, "That was close to a miracle, if not a miracle."
1. GREEN BAY 26, MINNESOTA 20 (OT) (2000)
One man who can definitely detect a "miracle" is play-by-play extraordinaire, Al Michaels. Maybe the Green Bay Packers vs. Minnesota Vikings isn't quite the USA against the USSR. But after this overtime stunner, Antonio Freeman quickly became the Mike Eruzione of the new century. In the words of Michaels, "He did what?"
You could almost feel Vince Lombardi's spirit hovering above Lambeau Field on that Monday night, especially when automatic Vikings kicker Gary Anderson lined up for a potential 32-yard game-winning field goal with seven seconds left. Green Bay called a timeout, when suddenly a sprinkle turned into a full-fledged monsoon at Lambeau Field. Mitch Berger couldn't handle the snap, was flushed outside of the pocket and instead of simply chucking the ball out of bounds (which would have given Minnesota another FG attempt), Berger threw an interception to Green Bay cornerback Tyrone Williams.
The rest is history. In overtime, Green Bay faced a third-and-four from Minnesota's 43-yard line when Favre's "slant-and-go" victimized the Vikings again. Only this time the ball hung in the Lambeau air a little longer and gradually adapted a mind of its own. It bounced off Dishman's right hand, left arm, onto the shoulder of Freeman who had dove into the ground. The ball took one more bounce off the receiver's facemask, and Freeman was off to the races.
Favre didn't light up the stat sheet (17-36, 235 yards, 2 TD) but this game will forever live in Lambeau lore. Its unconventional sequence signifies Brett Favre's style of play. The Packers were outgained 407-298. Green Bay punted twice as much as Minnesota. Favre's first touchdown was an underhand scoop to running back Ahman Green. And even the often confused Bill Schroeder made a key 22-yard diving catch in OT. But it was the game-winning pass which went from a sure interception, to a thankful incompletion, into a touchdown that will forever haunt the Viking faithful.
"If your star player wants the ball, give it to him," Favre said. "He made a play. I don't even know if you can call it a play. That was remarkable, unbelievable."
Thursday night's game
In the Green Bay-Minnesota rivalry Favre has always been the catalyst, win or lose. In 2004, Favre's four picks spelled doom whereas his 347-yard, 2 touchdown performance earlier this year willed the Packers to victory at the Metrodome. On Thursday night, this shouldn't have to be the case. It's time for a healthy dose of Ahman Green and Vernand Morency. Green is primed for his sixth 1,000-yard season, as Morency has become one of the league's most underused backs. He is churning out five yards per carry, yet has only received roughly five attempts per game.
That being said, the game still will probably boil down to Green Bay's 37-year old quarterback. Despite setting the NFL completions record on Sunday, Favre will be playing with a chip on his shoulder. His melancholic tone at the postgame press conference Sunday carried a pinch of anger. Playoff talk aside, Favre has a lot to prove. With the defense vastly improved over the past two weeks, it's time for the offense to respond.
And what better atmosphere to do so than at home against their nemesis? Favre has faced Minnesota 29 times, but none will be as emotional as Thursday's battle. After all, this could be the final time that he butts heads with his most fierce rival. It may be his final game at Lambeau Field. And who knows, maybe an overtime pass will ricochet off hands, shoulders, feet and into Ruvell Martin's hands as it did for Freeman six years ago (cue "Bang the Drum All Day" here).
Tyler Dunne is a journalism student from the Buffalo, N.Y., area and frequent contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.