What makes a great rivalry?
In the NFL, the biggest rivalries are between divisional teams (with the notable exception of the Colts-Patriots, who play every year at least once) and they are back-and-forth rivalries in which each game is important for some reason. The Cowboys-Eagles, Packers-Bears, Cowboys-Giants, Patriots-Jets, Steelers-Ravens, Browns-Bengals, Colts-Titans, and Raiders-Chiefs all fit into that mold.
But perhaps the best rivalry in the NFL is between the Vikings and the Packers. The teams will meet for the 100th time Sunday at the Metrodome and the rivalry couldn't be much closer – Green Bay has won 50 times, Minnesota has won 48 times and one has finished in a tie. When the Vikings were dominant in the 1970s and the Packers were struggling, Green Bay would find ways to beat the Purple People Eaters. The same was true when Green Bay was one of the dominant franchises. Familiarity breeds contempt and this border battle has all the elements.
Cornerback Asher Allen, who is in just his second year of the rivalry, still believes the Vikings-Packers rate as the third greatest rivalry behind Georgia-Florida and Georgia-Georgia Tech (once a Bulldog, always a Bulldog). He said that the familiarity with the teams and the personnel make this a natural rivalry from year to year.
"It's very big," Allen said. "When you play against a team over and over again for many years – this is like the 100th meeting – it's like playing your brother in the front yard. You've played 1,000 times before. You know what he's going to do, but it's just a one-point, two-point game. That's just how it is."
Packers play-by-play Wayne Larabee said earlier this week that the Vikings-Packers rivalry means more to fans under the age of 40 than the Packers-Bears rivalry, which is bigger to fans 40 and older. Vikings kicker Ryan Longwell agreed with that assessment, saying that he has seen the venom from both sides of the fence. The Packers-Bears rivalry dates back to the leather helmet era of the NFL when Duluth had a franchise, not the Twin Cities. Purists still love those longstanding rivalries, but, for a pure blood feud, it is the Vikings that are the object of derision from Packers fans, as are the Packers with Vikings fans.
"The Packers-Bears rivalry is very traditional," Longwell said. "It's been going on forever, so there is a lot of tradition involved there. The fervent hate of fans is between the Vikings and the Packers. I've been on both sides. It is intense. It's been that way since I came in the league 14 years ago."
While Longwell's entire career has been spent in the NFC North, safety Madieu Williams came from the AFC North, where the Steelers and Browns alternated as the top rival of his Bengals teams. He said there are similarities between those matchups, but that the intensity in the Vikings-Packers rivalry has been kicked up a notch by the arrival of Hall of Famer Brett Favre – revered as a god for two decades in Wisconsin only to become a member of the hated Vikings.
"The history between the two organizations and the proximity between them has definitely played into the rivalry," Williams said. "The fact that No. 4 being on our team has only added to the rivalry. We try to look at it as another game, but there is a lot of hoopla that surrounds these games and you know it's going to be high intensity because of what is always at stake."
Lito Sheppard said he can't be convinced that the Vikings-Packers rivalry can match that of the Eagles-Cowboys, where Philly fans once cheered momentary paralysis of Dallas wide receiver Michael Irvin. He said the addition of Favre on the Minnesota side of the rivalry makes it impressive, but he knows what he has gone through against Dallas over the years and said the Vikings and Pack may have a ways to go to catch up to it.
"I don't think it compares to the rivalry they have between Philly and the Cowboys," Sheppard said. "But that's just me not being in this area that long and seeing the magnitude of how the fans react to it. Dallas was always our biggest rival because of the way they used to beat up on everybody back in the day. You got to hate them and approached the game with a lot more fire. I know it's big and any time you've got Brett involved at the middle of it, it's going to be kicked up a little bit."
What has made the Vikings-Packers matchups so intense over the years is that they have remained thorns in each other's side. When the Packers won back-to-back Super Bowls following the 1966 and 1967 seasons, the Vikings found a way to beat them each of those years. From 1972-74, when the Vikings were at the height of their success, the Packers beat them twice in three years at Met Stadium. When Favre was winning MVP awards, he couldn't beat the Vikings at the Metrodome. When the Vikings were all the talk after Randy Moss arrived, winning in Green Bay was always difficult.
It is the lifeblood of the rivalry – the underdog knocking the big dog off his perch. It has run throughout the history of the matchup and nothing has changed over 50 years. The better team doesn't always win.
"There's been the ebb and flow of success," Longwell said. "We had a run of success in the mid to late '90s and the Vikings were hot from 1998 to 2000. It seemed like however good you were during your run – when we were going to Super Bowls and when the Vikings were winning the division titles – you couldn't win in the opposing team's stadium. It kind of amped up the frustration level, which makes for a great rivalry."
When the Vikings and Packers lock up for the 100th time on Sunday, the ghosts of the rivalry will be present. The fans will be deafening for both sides – expect a lot more Vikings fans to be willing to sell their tickets at inflated prices to gloating Packers fans – and the 100th episode of this ongoing drama will play itself out. They know each other like the back of their hand and it will likely be a tightly-contested game. They won't come out with something the other team hasn't seen. They won't be fooled by what the other team is trying to do. It will simply be a matter of executing with the volume turned way up – a playoff atmosphere with the season on the line for the Vikings. The fans will feel it and so will the players.
"You get a little more amped to play them because they, along with the Bears, are our top rivals," guard Anthony Herrera said. "The fans are always into it, so it gets loud and emotional. That carries over to the field. It's a great rivalry. You know them. They know you. There aren't a lot of surprises. You just go out and do your business and try to get the best of them."
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.
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