The marriage seemed everlasting. Favre was the wild kid with the even wilder right arm. Holmgren was the Bill Walsh, West Coast-disciple that tamed Favre into a three-time MVP. Together they were 83-39 (including playoffs) with three division titles, two NFC crowns and one Super Bowl victory. The Super Bowl 32 post-loss pain didn't last too long because it was assumed Favre and Holmgren would be back again, and again, and again.
Yet one season later, he was gone to Seattle. Simultaneously, the Packers' mini-NFC dynasty was broken into pieces (although Jerry Rice still fumbled in Holmgren's final game).
Favre and his mentor have faced each other five times since the split. Green Bay has won three of them, with the 2003 Wild Card game as the pinnacle.
This Saturday is an entirely new monster.
Favre and Holmgren will match wits for the right to play for a spot in Super Bowl XLII the following week. The stakes haven't been this high at Lambeau Field since the 1997 Green Bay-Tampa Bay divisional playoff game. Saturday's showdown will be a rare occasion in which reality actually lives up to the hype. The Favre-Holmgren duel cannot be underestimated. They completely rebuilt the Green Bay Packers. For them to meet not once, but twice in the postseason is nothing short of poetic.
Here is a recap of the Favre-Holmgren reunions that got us to this point:
Seattle 27, Green Bay 7 (1999)
Favre: 14-for-35, 180 yards, 1 TD, 4 Int., 26.8 rating
Favre vs. Holmgren I was the beginning of the end for Ray Rhodes and the '99 Green Bay Packers. Green Bay entered the Monday Night game at 4-2. They had just dominated San Diego, 31-3 in addition to Favre's three last-minute comebacks against Oakland, Minnesota and Tampa Bay – all at home. Talks of a fourth MVP began to surface.
Then Favre laid an egg.
Favre threw four picks and lost two fumbles, while Seattle's Jon Kitna tossed two touchdowns in the first of three straight Packer losses. Favre hit Corey Bradford on a slant that Bradford took 74 yards for a score, but the Seahawks scored 20 unanswered points and humiliated the Packers in front of a national audience. Favre's backup (and future Seahawk), Matt Hasselbeck, saw mop-up duty in the blowout.
Granted, Rhodes inherited an aging team on the decline but with playmakers such as Favre, Dorsey Levens and Antonio Freeman still in their prime, Rhodes should have done much better than 8-8. The '99 Packers boasted a 1,000 rusher, two 1,000 receivers and a 4,000 yard quarterback, yet lacked Holmgren's discipline. To be three sneezes away from 5-11 certainly justified Rhodes' firing. Sorry, Jesse Jackson, you were out of your league. (Reader, please check out Jackson's written letter to the Green Bay Packers on a Google search.)
Favre-Holmgren I carried an eerie emotion. The sight of Favre and Holmgren sporting different colors made plenty of Cheesehead hearts skip a beat. The sight of Favre embarrassingly turning the ball over six times made hearts skip again.
Green Bay 35, Seattle 13 (2003)
Favre: 19-for-25, 185 yards, 2 TD, 0 Int., 122.9 rating
Favre at his best.
In his second meeting against Holmgren, Favre led the Packers on five consecutive touchdown drives, throwing touchdowns to Donald Driver and William Henderson. Along the offensive clinic, Ahman Green had two touchdown runs and backup Tony Fisher had one.
The blowout didn't carry a spooky '99 vibe. Four years removed from the split, Favre and Holmgren were well-ingrained in new playoff-ready, programs. Still, the win was extremely satisfying. Seattle gave up on Ahman Green three years earlier. For Green and Favre this early season win was a reunion. And revenge.
Center Mike Flanagan didn't play Mr. Politically Correct after the game.
"You know, there's that ‘Did Mike make Brett or did Brett make Mike?' Obviously, Ahman, they thought he was expendable," Flanagan said. "All that stuff, it makes it personal. Maybe they won't say it, but it is."
In his fourth year with Mike Sherman, Favre wouldn't take any extra pleasure in defeating his former coach.
"No, maybe in ‘99, but we needed this game for a lot of reasons, not who was on the other sideline," Favre said.
The win improved Green Bay to 3-2, as Seattle (3-1) lost its first game of the season. Following the game, Holmgren was equally as dejected as Favre was after the '99 loss.
"We'll bounce back," Holmgren said. "But this is a tough one to lose because it's a special place for me. A loss is a loss, but I have a lot of friends here and you want to do well in front of them. I didn't do so well today. Just like me wanting to impress my friends, I'm sure they wanted to play well against me."
Green Bay 33, Seattle 27 (OT) (2004, Wild Card)
Favre: 26-for-38, 319 yards, 1 TD, 0 Int., 102.9 rating
The game needs no introduction.
-- The Packers were riding divine intervention. Following the death of his father, "Big Irv," Brett Favre made sports fans everywhere believe in angels. On Monday Night Football against Oakland, he threw for 399 yards and four touchdowns in surreal passing windows. The next week, Arizona's Josh McCown threw a fourth and 24 touchdown prayer to Nathan Poole against Minnesota to send Green Bay to the playoffs.
-- Seattle was out to avenge its early-season spanking at Green Bay.
-- Holmgren was returning to the field where he went 5-0 in the postseason.
-- One year after being upstaged by Michael Vick at Lambeau Field (27-7) for his first home playoff loss ever, Favre had a chance to re-mark his territory.
-- Ahman Green had another opportunity at payback. In a sense, the same could be said for Hasselbeck. Both excelled. Green only had 66 yards, but busted through goal-line defenses for two key short touchdown runs. The loss was Hasselbeck's coming-out party. The former Favre understudy threw for 305 yards on 25-for-45 passing, despite numerous drops.
-- Before overtime Matt Hasselbeck proceeded to give football fans the most eventful coin flip since Jerome Bettis and Phil Luckett nearly dropped the gloves on Thanksgiving Day in 1998. "We want the ball and" ahhh… you know the rest.
-- It was one of the best-coached, most disciplined Wild Card games in recent memory. Neither team turned the ball over through four quarters, and only seven total penalties were committed. Holmgren and Sherman knew each other's schemes and traded wits each possession. After Seattle succeeded in three- and four-receiver sets, Green Bay altered its defense in the second quarter and by halftime, 16 of the Seahawks' 28 plays had gone for zero or negative yardage.
-- No call was better than one play in overtime that will forever be showcased on a poster board in the team hallway. Al Harris' decisive interception was a perfectly executed play by guess who – Ed "fourth-and-26" Donatell. The defensive coordinator, who was fired the next week, called on all-out blitz entitled "Thrilla," on third-and-11 from Seattle's 45-yard line. It was risky. All four Packer cornerbacks were in one-on-one coverage. One long pass completion would have put the ‘Hawks in field goal range. After taking the snap, Hasselbeck saw the seven other Packers coming fast and he quickly fired an out-route to Alex Bannister. Al Harris jumped it and took the easy interception 52 yards to paydirt.
-- Lost in the shuffle was a brilliant game from Favre, who orchestrated two fourth-quarter touchdown drives and turned a 20-13 deficit into a 27-20 lead. He completed passes to nine different receivers, consistently taking what Seattle's defense gave him. The end result was bragging rights over his former coach. As Flanagan would say, on this day it appeared, ‘Favre made Holmgren.'
Green Bay 23, Seattle 17 (2005)
Favre: 21-for-37, 259 yards, 1 TD, 1 int., 76.3 rating
If seeing Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren's first match-up was eerie in '99, it was emotional in '05. As the Packers beat Seattle to cap their worst season in 13 years, it sure looked like the end. The Week 17 bench-clearer had that Rocky III feeling of finality. This was it. Favre embraced Holmgren on the same field that they woke up from the dead. The pair hugged and exchanged words. To everybody watching, it was clear: Favre would retire.
But the Rocky series never stops and neither does Favre. It took nearly four months after this game, but Favre finally announced he would return.
The game itself was not something Favre would want his last impression to be. Green Bay did beat Seattle's second- and third-stringers. Holmgren rested his top guns for a Super Bowl run and Favre capped off his worst season ever on a positive game. But it was like watching a Hall-of-Famer in the middle of a preseason game. Just plain awkward.
The Packers stalled in the red zone three times, settling for a trio of short Ryan Longwell field goals. Instead of dueling with Hasselbeck, Favre traded blows with Seneca Wallace. Ahmad Carroll was returning kicks. A bartender, Ryan Flinn, was Green Bay's punter. A fifth-string running back, Noah Herron, had 23 carries and Antonio Chatman caught Favre's only touchdown.
Maybe the farewell standing ovation made it look like the end for Favre, but the preseason atmosphere didn't feel like the end.
Seattle 34, Green Bay 24 (2006)
Favre: 22-for-36, 266 yards, 1 TD, 3 Int., 58.3 rating
One week prior to this loss, Favre was knocked out against New England after injuring his elbow, which numbed his fingers. Favre didn't practice until the Friday before Green Bay traveled to Qwest Field for another Monday Night reunion with Holmgren.
A channel surfer probably assumed the Packers were the home team and opted to wear their white uniforms in this game. This was Packer weather. Snow encased Seattle's field and it wasn't stopping.
The Packers seemed to gain momentum as snow thickened.
Green Bay jumped to a 14-9 lead when Abdul Hodge returned a Hasselbeck fumble 29 yards for a touchdown. That lead increased to 21-12 after Favre hit Donald Driver on a slant for a 48-yard score.
But while Hasselbeck made the mistakes early (three int., two fumbles), Favre made them late. Favre also threw interceptions and lost one fumble, killing any hope for a comeback. The Seahawks ended the game on a 22-3 run behind Alexander (40 carries, 201 yards), who benefited from Nick Barnett's absence. Alexander attacked Hodge continuously up the gut and became the first back in 17 years to surpass 200 rushing yards against the Packers.
After the game Favre immediately ran across the field to meet Holmgren near Seattle's sideline. They hugged, exchanged pats on the back and Favre exited to the locker room.
Favre v. Holmgren VI will magnify a special match-up to a new stratesphere. Like the '04 Wild Card game, Saturday is do-or-die. But do-or-die has a new meaning this time around. Favre and Holmgren are nearing the end of their careers and while the "r-word" has been rare, whoever loses this edition will hear it immediately.
Favre and Holmgren are running out of time.
One comment by Favre in an NFL Greatest Games interview summed up their relationship best. In the 1998 Wild Card, Holmgren's last game with Green Bay, Favre used a dummy audible to fool San Francisco's Darwin Walker. Favre knew that Walker knew the Green Bay's audible for a slant route (an "O" symbol). So he faked it. Antonio Freeman cut in for a slant, Walker bit badly, Freeman faded to the corner and Favre hit him for a touchdown.
The play was risky in that if Walker didn't bite, Favre had basically nowhere to go with the football.
Holmgren refused to look at Favre when the jubilant quarterback returned to the sideline. What would he have said? Favre had an idea ...
"He'd say, ‘Great, but you're p***ing me off.'"
Tyler Dunne is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report magazine. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.