In that one, Brett Favre, playing against the odds of a badly sprained ankle that he sustained a week earlier against the Minnesota Vikings, led the Packers to a 35-28 win over the Bears by throwing five touchdown passes. The Packers went on to win the Central Division and advance to play the, uh-uhmmm, Dallas Cowboys in Irving, Texas. Packers fans know the rest of that story.
Here we are in 2007, and Favre is still winless in Dallas. Another big game in Big D. The hype is under way and will only increase as Thursday night draws near. How each team handles the hype and everything around it may determine who wins or loses at Texas Stadium.
Coach Mike McCarthy and the Packers are at least attempting to be as low-key about the game as possible. They've done that weekly this season with great success. Maybe these young Packers don't know any better, and that could be a good thing, though, they have a pretty good idea of what is at stake. McCarthy, to his credit, is doing his best to not let the hype affect his players' preparation and they may be his biggest challenge aside from calling the game on Thursday night. Quarterback Brett Favre, who is 0-8 in Dallas, is doing his best to help McCarthy by calling the matchup "just another game," but did admit today that some players are getting a little jittery already.
"Practice today was not one of our better practices," Favre said. "Now we have a lot of guys out (injured) and that poses problems, but I found that the practice today was not as sharp, probably because we're 10-1. I've been on some teams with guys who were pretty loose and you didn't really worry about as much.
"We've overcome a lot of adversity this year. I consider that good and bad at the same time. No one thought we'd be 10-1. I never thought we'd be 10-1 and be as loose as we are. I worry each week that this complacency and stuff will creep up on us, and it may. I don't know. If I have to tell them it's going to be tough to win at Dallas, a team that's 10-1 and playing outstanding, probably gave New England their toughest challenge up to this point, aside from Indianapolis, and probably felt like they could play better … I look at their team (Dallas) and how they play in every phase, if we can't see that and be worried … but at the same time I don't think we can play and press. The worst thing that can happen in this game is we lose, but we do line up the following week and we play again, and we may have a chance to play these guys again. Do we want to win the game? Sure we do. Do we think we can? Sure we do. Play loose, but be ready to play, and see what happens. That's been a pretty good formula, whether guys realize it or not."
McCarthy and Favre know very well the consequences of losing, and they'll be doing everything they can to get the rest of the team ready to beat the Cowboys. The best, and only, thing they can do in the meantime is be loose, and as low-key as possible. It's been a winning formula for Green Bay thus far.
"We've always operated under the mindset that the next game is the most important game, but like I told the team today this is probably the biggest game in the NFC this year," said McCarthy. Everything at stake is evident, but it's not going to change the way we prepare, and it's not going to change the way we perform. We need to keep in tune with that and we challenge ourselves to have the best week of preparation, and as you always do, you want to go out and play your best game of football."
McCarthy is the front-runner for NFL coach of the year, but if he can get the young Packers to focus on the job at hand and beat the Cowboys in Dallas, something the Packers haven't done since 1989, the league might as well give him the trophy after the game. McCarthy, like his team, is in for its biggest challenge yet, and how it responds will probably determine if they have the inside track of advancing to the Super Bowl, or watching Dallas likely play the New England Patriots in the Big Dance. The New York Giants proved today by losing at home to the Minnesota Vikings that the NFC Championship Game will either go through Green Bay or Dallas. Supremacy in the NFC, for all practical purposes, is a two-team race.
If the Packers can focus on doing what they do best, which is control the ball on offense, minimize mistakes, generate a respectable rushing attack and limit the Cowboys' offense from making big plays, they can win. They have done it all year, preparing for each game in a productive, but laid-back fashion.
If they can do that in between the hype this week, good things will happen. If not, the Cowboys will gain the inside track toward advancing to the Super Bowl.
Todd Korth is managing editor of PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.