The Packers and Cowboys have an interesting history. The two teams have met 20 times in the regular season since 1960, and the series is knotted at 10 games apiece. But the teams have also met six times in the postseason, with the Cowboys having a 4-2 edge. The post-season also includes three championship games, with the Boys winning the last one in 1995. You may have heard of the other two, the last two NFL championship games of the Vince Lombardi era with the Packers. The last one was the Ice Bowl.
The NFC championship game was a turning point for the Packers after the 1995 season. The Packers actually led that game after three quarters, but the Cowboys came back to win 38-27. Dallas later won Super Bowl XXX against the Steelers that year. The Packers and Brett Favre knew after that defeat that they were a team on the rise and they ended up winning the Lombardi trophy the following year themselves.
But let's go further back in history. The 1966 NFL championship game was one that came right down to the wire, just like the Ice Bowl the next year. The 1966 game had the Cowboys at home in the Cotton Bowl, but the Packers were clear favorites to get to the first ever Super Bowl. The Packers took an early 14-0 lead and some thought the game might be a blow out. But the Cowboys proved they were very resilient and came back to make it a classic finish.
The Packers were up 34-20 fairly late in the game when QB Don Meredith hit a 68 yard TD pass and the Cowboys were back in it down only by 7. Then after a short Packer punt, Meredith had the Cowboys at first and goal at the Green Bay two yard line after a pass interference call with just a couple of minutes to go. But the Packers made a brilliant goal line stand and the drive ended as Meredith threw an interception to S Tom Brown with LB Dave Robinson draped all over him.
But if some thought the 1966 championship game was great, they saw NFL folklore on Dec. 31, 1967 in Green Bay. It was the coldest game day ever in Green Bay at -13 degrees below zero. A lot of NFL historians say that it was the greatest game ever in NFL history played that day. Just like the Championship Game of 1966, this frozen battle took almost 60 minutes to decide.
The Packers once again took a 14-0 lead in the game. But Dallas woke up after a bear-like hibernation and took a 17-14 lead on the first play of the fourth quarter. HB Dan Reeves threw a halfback option pass to WR Lance Rentzel for a 50 yard touchdown. The crowd at Lambeau Field was shocked, and so were the Packers. But the Packers were themselves resilient, and after a missed opportunity early in the 4th quarter, the Pack started their game winning trek across the frozen tundra.
There was 4:50 seconds left in the game when QB Bart Starr took the Packers on their final journey to the Dallas end zone form their own 32 yard line. Starr only completed one pass to a wide receiver on the drive, as the savvy quarterback used his running backs as his main threats. The there were many key plays in the 12 play drive. Green Bay had a 2nd and 19 at one point during the drive, but Starr hit HB Donny Anderson on two key swing passes to keep the drive alive and get the first down.
Then Starr hit FB Chuck Mercein on a 19-yard swing pass that took the Pack down to the Dallas 11 yard line. Mercein followed that up with an eight yard scamper down to the Dallas 3. Anderson then got the Packers a first and goal at the Cowboy one on his next carry. Anderson attempted two more runs to get to the Dallas end zone, but both failed. Starr called his last time out with 16 seconds left in the game. That set up what is now known as NFL legend.
Starr went back to the Packer bench and conferred with Lombardi. Starr told Lombardi that he should keep the ball on a sneak because the shadow from the scoreboard had made the icy field slick near the goal line on that end of the stadium. Lombardi simply said, "Then run it, and let's get the hell out of here." Starr called the play in the huddle, a wedge play designed to give Mercein the ball. Starr didn't tell anybody in the huddle that he would keep it himself.
At the snap, Starr followed a double team block on DT Jethro Pugh by C Ken Bowman and G Jerry Kramer and the Packer quarterback happily tumbled into the end zone and into NFL immortality. The Cowboys were stunned. They had lost two championship games in a row in the last minute, and in this case with 13 seconds to go. The Ice Bowl was the last game Vince Lombardi ever coached for the Packers at Lambeau Field. The Packers had won their third straight NFL championship and were two weeks away from winning their second straight Super Bowl.
This game tonight is about the Super Bowl as well. The winner will have the home-field advantage in the NFC to get to Super Bowl XLII. Home field does not guarantee that a team will get to the Super Bowl, but it helps, especially in a more frigid environment like Green Bay. So a lot will be on the line.
Favre and the Packers must keep doing what they have been doing recently. That is, mixing the run and the pass, and utilizing their offensive strength, the wide receivers. I expect the Packers to use their Big 5 formation quite often to create match up problems for the Cowboy secondary. The Packer offensive line must protect Favre as they have done all year and give him time to look for the big play. No offense in the NFL has had more big plays then the Packers. Green Bay has had 14 plays over 40 yards, and even the New England offense can't match that.
The Packer defense has to contain the Cowboys two headed running game and also pressure QB Tony Romo. It looks like Al Harris will get the assignment of covering Terrell Owens. The Packers must also find a way to limit the productivity of TE Jason Witten. The Packer defense has had issues all year trying to cover big play tight ends. I expect DE Aaron Kampman to once again have a big game.
The Green Bay special teams will once again have to play at a high level in this crucial game. This game could come down to a field goal, and the Packers need the return teams and the coverage units in synch. Field position will be a key in this game. K Mason Crosby is originally from Texas, and I'm sure he wouldn't mind kicking the game winner in Big D.
The 2007 Packers are 3-0 vs. the NFC East this year. Mike McCarthy is 5-0 on the road this year, and the includes tough wins at hostile places like Denver and Kansas City. Favre is having a season for the ages. The Pack is having their best regular season start since the Lombardi Packers of 1962. This is the first time since 1990 that two 10-1 teams have met in the regular season, and only the fifth time ever.
What does this all mean? Well, expect another classic confrontation on Thursday night and the winner will be in the driver's seat for a trip to the Super Bowl. There the opponent will most likely be the New England Patriots. But the Pats, Belichick and Brady must wait, because the focus is now on Dallas, Romo and Owens.
I believe this will be a two part confrontation. Once Thursday, and then again in the NFC Championship Game, wherever it is played. And I believe both of the games will be classic. Once again.