Rivalry With Vikings Hit Its Peak This Season

With two of the most hyped regular-season games in NFL history, the Packers-Vikings series was at its best in 2009. Of course, a guy named Brett Favre was at the center of it all. Matt Tevsh offers his commentary on why this season was like any other for one of the NFL's great rivalries.

Judging by the response on local and national sports talk shows this past week, the overwhelming sentiment from Packers fans to Vikings fans seems to be this: "How does that feel, Minnesota fan?"

Just five days ago, Brett Favre made a major blunder. His inexplicable interception in the waning seconds of the NFC Championship game cost the Vikings a shot at the game-winning field goal and their first trip to the Super Bowl in 35 years. Instead, they had to settle for overtime, and from there, the Saints took control on the first series as Garrett Hartley kicked New Orleans to Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7.

Suddenly and unexpectedly, the magical season for Vikings fans was over. Packers fans can relate to such sinking feelings. Similar plots played out for them many times over the last seven years Favre was in Green Bay.

For all Favre has achieved and overcome in his legendary career, he also has shown a knack, particularly later in his career, for making the big mistake in the biggest games. Perhaps none was bigger than last Sunday, when Packers fans, by many accounts, reveled in the Vikings' misery while commiserating with them at the same time. Such is the case when a polarizing figure is the focus of attention.

In 2009, it was bad enough that Favre, who built his legend over 16 years in Green Bay, found a way to Minnesota after a messy divorce from the Packers and a strange trip to New York. To see him get to a Super Bowl with the Vikings and possibly win the first championship for the Minnesotans would have changed everything. It would have changed his legacy. It would have changed the image of "old" quarterbacks. And, debatably, it would have made him as much a Viking as a Packer.

But in a surreal season together for Packers and Vikings fans, the ending just might have been destiny. In the least, it provided a cap on what has to be the high point for drama in the 49-year series between the teams.

For starters, it was a rarity to have both teams playing at such a high level at the same time. For just the seventh time since 1961 (not counting the strike season in 1982), both teams made it to the playoffs in the same season. The Packers finished 11-5 and the Vikings 12-4.

Additionally, the teams met with winning records for both regular-season meetings for only the fifth time. The Vikings came into the Oct. 5 matchup 3-0 while the Packers were 2-1, and by the Nov. 1 rematch, the Vikings were 6-1 and the Packers 4-2.

Will Favre return?
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All eyes of the football-watching nation were on the Packers-Vikings rivalry in 2009. The Oct. 5 "Monday Night Football" matchup at the Metrodome became the most-watched show in cable history with 21.8 million viewers. In his first meeting against his old team, Favre said that he never had been more nervous before a game in his career. Then he stuck a dagger in the heart of the Packers and their fans by throwing for 271 yards and three touchdowns in a 30-23 victory just five days shy of his 40th birthday.

Favre made his return to Lambeau Field amidst a chorus of boos on Nov. 1 and killed the Packers again. This time, he threw for 244 yards and four touchdowns, all but ending the Packers' chances of a division title. Nearly 30 million viewers tuned in for Fox's Sunday late-afternoon broadcast that day as the Vikings thwarted a Packers comeback and won 38-26.

As much as the two regular season losses to the Vikings were a black eye to the Packers, no one can deny that those games were among the biggest and most anticipated in Packers history. They have had memorable, meaningful games with the Vikings in the past, but the two meetings this season went a little deeper than the rest.

After all, Favre had a relationship with Green Bay like no other player-fan group in NFL history. Favre was not only a hero, but he was more like property of the city and the state. "He was our quarterback," the citizens might say.

So, when Favre chose to put on a purple jersey, there was naturally a sense of betrayal. Sure, the NFL is a business, but this in no way was acceptable. Not to some of the most loyal and diehard fans in the world.

Great rivalries, like the Packers-Vikings, often have geography, tradition and history in common, but the competition and fanfare elevates to a new level when personal factors weigh in. The Packers-Bears rivalry, longest in the NFL, was most passionate in the mid-1980's when coaches Forrest Gregg and Mike Ditka were going at each other, and more recently, the Packers-Cowboys rivalry spiked when Reggie White took exception to the showboating Cowboys "running up the score" during a 1996 game.

While most Packers fans learned to live with Favre's trade to the Jets in 2008, it was much tougher to understand his arrival in Minnesota. His subsequent success this season (a 107.2 QB rating, 33 touchdowns and only seven interceptions) added to the pain and even had some fans saying, "Why didn't he have a season like this in Green Bay?"

Only an ill-timed interception in a season's worth of good decisions by Favre gave Packers fans a sense of closure, if there is such a thing for this matter. For that, it will provide a final image of an unforgettable season for the series, even without the two teams directly playing each other. Add it to the two regular season games and the rivalry will never see another chapter — assuming Favre finally retires this time — like 2009.

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Matt Tevsh has covered the Packers since 1996. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com

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