Under ordinary circumstances, the week leading up to a Vikings-Packers game is as intense as any in football. While the 2011 season finds the teams heading in very different directions – the Vikings are wallowing at 1-5 while the Packers are the lone undefeated team in the league at 6-0 – when the Packers come to town it remains something special to fans and players.
Anthony Herrera, who has always maintained that each game counts the same in the standings, admitted that the Packers rivalry is something special that adds to the drama of the moment.
"It's beautiful," Herrera said. "Whether it's here or it's there – even more so there, because it's a college atmosphere – it's lovely. It's a game that you want to play. You know it's going to be a hard-fought game. They're coming and they're going to bring their all and we'll going to give them our all."
For those who are new to the rivalry, they're getting a crash course in the border war. Throughout the league there are rivalries that have similar amounts of passion – Oakland-Kansas City, Dallas-Washington, Philadelphia-Giants, Patriots-Jets, Steelers-Ravens, etc. Each has its own specialty because, when teams meet twice a year, there are personal feuds that exist as well as team-related competition.
Offensive tackle Charlie Johnson said he's getting acclimated to the Packers rivalry, but said he comes from a place where the top rival wasn't a division opponent, but a team that his Colts played every year he was there.
"It may sound crazy, but in Indianapolis our biggest rivalry wasn't with a division team, it was with the Patriots," Johnson said. "We played those guys every year since like 2000 and sometimes twice in a year. They weren't in our division, but we were always good and they were always good and it seemed like we always met during the season and it was a big game, and met in the playoffs, which was a bigger game. There always seemed to be a lot at stake in those games, so, while it isn't like the Vikings-Packers rivalry, that was the game we always look for when the schedule came out."
Being part of a Packers rivalry is nothing new to Devin Aromashodu. He's been part of it for years with the Bears, whom most believe the Packers view as their own biggest rival. He said most of the same ratcheted intensity has carried on with his move north from Illinois to Minnesota.
"We always viewed the Packers as our top rival because of the history of it," Aromashodu said. "The Vikings have that same feeling for Green Bay. You can feel it. It probably isn't as big a deal this time around because we're not both at the top of the division fighting it out, but there is a lot of excitement about going out there and being the team that finally beats them."
Greg Camarillo was new to the Vikings-Packers border war but said his battles with the Patriots and Jets were ones that he thought were his biggest grudge matches. He said he got indoctrinated to the Minnesota-Green Bay series and that it ranks up among any in the NFL for excitement and intensity.
"For us in Miami, it was always New England and the Jets," Camarillo said. "New England was a rival because they were always one of the league's best teams and you want to prove something. The Jets were one because their fans are a little heated and always liked to talk some extra mess. I learned right away about the Packers rivalry. It brings a lot of extra excitement and you can feel it building as the week goes along. By the time we play on Sunday, it will have a playoff feeling to it. Seeing that we're going to play each other in two of our next three games, it brings the intensity up even higher."
The last couple of years saw the Border War pushed to a higher level thanks to the signing of Brett Favre – an icon in Packers lore. Percy Harvin said it will be a little different without Favre in the mix, but said he expects to see the same sort of emotion when the two teams take the field Sunday.
"Favre added a little juice to it," Harvin said. "But it was a big rivalry before he came over here. I'm expecting it to be no different, getting a chance to play the defending champs."
Someone who has been on both sides of the rivalry is kicker Ryan Longwell, who spent years with the Packers before coming over to the Vikings. He said the feeling goes both ways – whether they've been up or down, the Packers know how much the games mean to the Vikings and they found the Vikings inching closer in the heated nature of the fan hatred. He theorized that Packers fans over the age of 40 view the Bears as Green Bay's biggest rival, while those under the age of 40 view the Vikings as their biggest rival. The combination has always made the Vikings-Packers game must-see type events.
"There's a different amp up and attitude and excitement to play against your biggest rival," Longwell said. "It's even more because they're the defending Super Bowl champions and we have a chance to end their perfect season. The rivalry is one of those that is one of the best in the league because it seems like one of the two teams has always been on top, but it doesn't really matter what the records are. Both teams usually bring their best to that game and it has a playoff atmosphere."
Aaron Rodgers said the rivalry goes both ways. While the Packers come into Mall of America Field as prohibitive favorites, which he believes has lessened fan interest somewhat, it doesn't affect the feelings of the players – many of whom believe the Vikings resort to shenanigans to make things tougher on the road team, especially when it's the Packers.
"It's a little different matchup this year because of the records and the personnel for the fans' perspective, but not for us," Rodgers said. "We know what kind of game this is. They play better at home and have the potential of pumping in noise that may or may not go on. It's a tough environment to play in."
There were hopes that when the Vikings and Packers met Sunday at the Metrodome it would be for first place in the NFC North. As double-digit underdogs at some Las Vegas sports books, the Vikings are as big a home dog as they've been in decades. Most believe the Packers will blow out the Vikings, which Chad Greenway said will take some of the pressure off the Vikings and let them play as if their records were the same.
"It's different, just because of the situation they're in and the situation we're in," Greenway said. "We haven't played up to par so far, so they're going to come in with the upper hand and favored by a lot. We get to play the underdog and use the underdog mentality and play four quarters and see what happens."
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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