The Post-Lombardi era playoffs at Lambeau Field began with the inconsequential 1982-83 Super Bowl Tournament. It wasn't exactly a glorious way to return to post-season play after a 10-year layoff, not to mention the15-year span since the Ice Bowl, the last time the playoffs were held at Lambeau.
In that time, the names and faces had changed from Starr to Dickey, from Dowler to Lofton. Forrest Gregg was once again in Green Bay, but he had traded his linesman uniform for his coach's sansabelt slacks.
Stumped about what to do with the strike-shortened 1982 season, the NFL came up with the Super Bowl tournament.5-3-1, good for third place in the NFC Central. They lost both Bears games to the strike, finished with a loss at Detroit, and somehow got in.
The reward was a home game against the then-St. Louis Cardinals. It was an unseasonably warm day for Green Bay in January. The Packers game out like gang-busters, with Lynn Dickey capping two long scoring drives with touchdown passes to bookend receivers James Lofton and John Jefferson. Two Cardinal turnovers later resulted in two Eddie Lee Ivery touchdowns – a pass and a run. Jefferson made it 38-9 with his second TD catch of the day. Jefferson set club postseason records with 148 yards receiving on six catches including a 60-yard TD reception. Dickey also got into the record book with four TD passes. Jan Stenerud's 34-yard field goal and Neil Lomax's consolation TD pass completed scoring. The Packers went on to lose in the next round at Dallas despite Lynn Dickey's team record 332-yard performance.
DEC. 31, 1994: Packers 16, Detroit 12 – NFC Wild Card Playoff
An argument can be made that the success of Mike Holmgren's quest to return the Lombardi Trophy to Green Bay can be traced back to this day. In the first "real" playoff game at Lambeau since the Ice Bowl, the Packers turned in a stunning defensive effort combined with oustanding coaching strategy to win at Lambeau on a picturesque New Year's Eve.
Defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur held the NFL's leading rusher, Barry Sanders, to a career-low minus-1 yards on 13 attempts. Overall, they limited the Lions total rushing offense to minus-4 yards – shattering a 31-year-old league playoff record. In the team's previous meeting that season, just four weeks earlier in Pontiac, Sanders had rushed for 188 yards. p> Although the game marked one of two career playoff games in which Favre did not throw a TD pass (the other was a week later at Dallas), the QB engineered masterful drives which helped the Packers control the clock for an impressive 37 minutes. The first was a 76-yard march on the team's first possession, capped by Dorsey Levens' three-yard TD run. Chris Jacke's three field goals, including a Packer post-season record 51-yarder, gave the Packers a 13-3 lead heading into the final frame.
The Lions madethings tense with a TD pass from Dave Krieg to Brett Perriman in the fourth quarter, then, trailing 16-10, marched to the Packers' 11 yard-line in the games closing moments.The Packer defense put up a wall, turning back the Lions on downs. The Packers couldn't advance, however, and had to punt with seconds remaining on the clock. Rather than give Detroit a shot at a block or return, the Packers wisely instructed rookie punter Craig Hentrich to run out the final seconds in the end zone and accept the intentional safety.
The post-season record crowd of 58,125 erupted into a New Year's celebration which may have lasted until Dallas burst the bubble at week later at Texas Stadium.
DEC. 31, 1995: Green Bay 37, Atlanta 20 – NFC Wild Card Playoff.
Another New Year's Eve, another Packer party in Lambeau Field.
The Packers earned their second-consecutive Wild Card home game by winning their first outright division title in 23 years. Their No. 3 division winner spot brought the Falcons to Green Bay on a foggy, 30-degree afternoon.
Edgar Bennett poured on a post-season record 108 yards rushing and scored Green Bay's first touchdown. His rushing TD provided an answer for Atlanta's first strike – a 65-yard pass from Jeff George to Eric Metcalf – now a Packer.
Green Bay built their lead to 14-7 on Favre's 14-yard pass to Robert Brooks. The Packers broke it open midway through the second period when rookie Antonio Freeman returned a punt 76 yards for a touchdown. It was the first punt or kick return TD in team post-season history. Mark Chmura's two-yard touchdown catch from Favre in the half's final minute capped a 14-play, 85-yard drive to give the Pack a 27-10 lead at the break.
The teams traded scores in the second half. Favre threw his third touchdown pass of the day – an 18-yard beauty to Levens to put it away. Metcalf had eight catches for 114 yards for the Falcons.
JAN. 4, 1997: Packers 35, San Francisco 14 – NFC Divisional playoff So many things are memorable about this game: The "tundra" wasn't frozen, but instead was a rain-soaked quagmire. No shows numbered three. The Packers pounded their way to a 21-0 lead, and all the crying after the controversial call on MNF back in October was finally quieted by the lopsided affair.
It started and ended well, and except for a short stretch, was pretty darn good in between. After the Niners went three-and-out on their opening possesesion, Desmond Howard took the ensuing punt and returned it 71 yards for a touchdown. His second return went 46 yards to the 7, and Favre took over from there, hitting Andre Rison with a touchdown pass to make it 14-0. Bennett's two-yard TD run made it 14-0.
Special teams' miscues brought San Francisco back into it, if only briefly. After Elvis Grbac's bootleg made it 21-14, Green Bay stormed back with a 72-yard drive. Edgar Bennett fumbled just shy of the goal line, but Antonio Freeman recovered in the end zone for the score.
Bennett sloshed through the mud for 80 yards, wearing down the Niners. San Francisco had trouble fighting the conditions especially without starting QB Steve Young, who aggravated a rib injury and had to bow out early.
JAN 12, 1997: Packers 30, Carolina Panthers 13 – NFC Championship.
Green Bay shook off early turnover troubles to beat the Panthers for the conference championship and the right to battle for the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XXXI.
The game was an emotional triumph for the Packers, who would return to the Super Bowl after 29 years.
The first title game on this field in 29 years was played on new turf trucked in from the East Coast after the playoff game the week before ravaged the original grass. The temperature read 3 degrees, but the windchill was well below zero.
At first, the cold seemed to affect both teams. An interception and a fumble but the Packers behind, but Dorsey Levens took over when the Packers needed him, amassing 205 yards. He caught the team's first TD, a 29-yard pass from Brett Favre, after setting it up himself with a 35-yard run. Favre's six-yard TD connection with Freeman gave the Packers the lead, then rookie cornerback Tyrone Williams' diving interception off Kerry Collins set up a field goal just before halftime.
The teams traded field goals in the second half before Edgar Bennett strolled through the middle of the line untouched on a four-yard TD run late in the third quarter. The score, set up by Levens' 66-yard catch and run, gave Green Bay a 27-13 lead and let the crowd of 60,216 know they were about to witness history.
The Packers amassed a record 479 yards, thanks to superlative performances from the large cast: Bennett had 99 yards on 25 carries; Levens had 88 yards on just 10 carries and had five catches for 117 yards; Favre completed 19 of 29 passes for 292 yards.
Chris Jacke's 28-yard field goal, his third trey of the day, put the icing on the championship cake.
The George S. Halas Trophy for the National Football Conference Championship was awarded to Packers President Bob Harlan, General Manager Ron Wolf, and Head Coach Mike Holmgren at midfield following the historic victory.
Tomorrow: Part III – The Lambeau legend grows after the Super Bowl victory and continues today.