The hype surrounding Thursday's showdown in Dallas isn't just the battle for NFC supremacy between the Packers and Cowboys. Much of the hoopla — nationally more so than among fans of the two teams — is centered on quarterbacks Brett Favre and Tony Romo.
If not for some small twists of fate, this ballyhooed quarterback matchup wouldn't be the talk of the NFL.
Turn back the clock to the 1988 NFL season. The Packers were 2-12 entering their final two games. In Week 15 at home against Minnesota, the Packers held the NFC's second-ranked scoring offense out of the end zone in an 18-6 victory to complete a season sweep of the 11-5 Vikings. In Week 16, the Packers won at Phoenix 26-17. The Cardinals, awful most years, finished a respectable 7-9 in their first season in Arizona. Pitts put the Packers in control early by returning a first-quarter punt 63 yards for a touchdown.
Had the Packers lost even one of those final two games, they would have earned the No. 1 overall draft choice. Instead of picking second and taking offensive tackle Tony Mandarich, the Packers would have taken quarterback Troy Aikman.
The rest, as they say, is history.
While Don Majkowski remained the Packers' starting quarterback until being supplanted by Favre early in the 1992 season, Aikman guided the Dallas Cowboys to three Super Bowl championships. He retired after the 2000 season due to frequent concussions, and in 2005, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
It's interesting to consider how history might have turned out had the Packers landed Aikman.
Obviously, they never would have traded a first-round pick to Atlanta in 1992 for Favre. Would the Packers have won one Super Bowl and reached another with Aikman? Would the Packers have won two Super Bowls? Three? None?
One reason for the Packers' NFC dominance in the 1990s was Reggie White, who signed with the Packers as a free agent due in part because he was so impressed with Favre's toughness. Would God have told Reggie to sign in Green Bay anyway?
And what of Favre, who languished on the bench during his first season in Atlanta? Would the Falcons have seen the wild young man's immense talent and given him a shot? Would Favre have taken his job seriously enough to take advantage of the opportunity had the Falcons provided it? Would some other team eventually trade for Favre, and without Mike Holmgren's influence, would he become the legend he is today?
As for Romo, he almost never got a chance to blossom into a franchise quarterback with the Cowboys. Quincy Carter was Dallas' starting quarterback for parts of the 2001 and 2002 seasons before playing all 16 games in 2003. In August 2004, though, the Cowboys abruptly released Carter after he allegedly failed an NFL drug test.
Without that incident, the Cowboys' quarterbacks would have been Carter, Vinny Testaverde and the highly touted Drew Henson, the former University of Michigan quarterback who failed to blossom with baseball's New York Yankees and decided to give professional football a shot. Instead, the Cowboys kept the undrafted Romo on the roster, and he became the team's starting quarterback during the 2006 season.
So, as you savor this wonderful season and look forward to Thursday's unexpected showdown, don't forget to thank Ron Pitts for his touchdown 19 years ago that made all of this possible.
Steve Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org