There are a lot of teams that have storied rivalries. The Cowboys and Redskins have had some memorable games. The Bengals and Browns play twice a year for bragging rights of Ohio. The Broncos and Raiders have never liked each other. But it would be difficult to say that a rivalry has been more intense or more heated than the Vikings-Packers rivalry.
The teams have played 92 times since their first game in 1961. The Packers have won 46, the Vikings have won 45 and one game has ended a tie. In the early years of the rivalry, the Packers dominated. In the 1970s, the Vikings held the clear edge, but would get upset by Green Bay every now and then. Over the past 15 years, the teams have traded victories back and forth. Record hasn't mattered. Whoever was the favorite hasn't mattered. The last 10 meetings have all been decided by less than a touchdown. That is a rivalry.
For the fans of both teams, the rivalry dates back decades. For the players, they've been exposed to it for a much narrower window of time. But everything seems to ramp up a notch during Packer Week at Winter Park. But for some of the former Packers now with the Vikings, they've seen both sides of the Border Battle and their take is a little different than the others.
"It's always been a week that things just seem a little different," said kicker Ryan Longwell, who played eight years with the Packers before coming to the Vikings. "I can remember each year having to come into the dome and hear the fans screaming so loud it gave you a headache. It was the same way when the Vikings would come to Green Bay. There was just a little extra excitement and it always seemed like it was a close game that came down to the end."
For those who spent a large portion of their careers with the Packers, the bond between city and team is as strong as anywhere in the NFL, and coming back to Lambeau as a visitor or seeing so many friends and former teammates on the opposite sideline can be a bit disconcerting.
"To be honest, I had never been in the visitor's locker room (at Lambeau Field)," said Darren Sharper, who spent eight years playing safety for the Packers before coming to the Vikings in 2005. "That was kind of a shock to the system. That and seeing all that green and gold on the other sideline and the other side of the ball. But, you have to put the friendships out of your mind once you hit the field."
Sharper, who was released for salary cap reasons in 2005 and was hoped to be re-signed at a reduced contract, made his leap across the border when the Vikings showed a belief that he was still one of the top safeties in the league. He rewarded that faith with a career-high nine interceptions in 2005 and got his first pick of Brett Favre late last season. While Sharper said there is no animosity, the rivalry has taken on a whole new look for him.
The same is true for Robert Ferguson. Released in the preseason by the Packers, this will be his first opportunity to play his former team and he's looking forward to it.
"I realize this is a business and they made the decision they made based on what they thought was best for their team," Ferguson said. "I don't hold anything personal against them, but you always want to show them they made a mistake by letting you go."
Each of the three current Vikings has played a role in helping the Packers in previous games. In 2002, Ferguson caught six passes for 105 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winner, in a 26-22 win. Sharper intercepted Daunte Culpepper three times in 2000 as Green Bay swept the Vikings – including their only home loss of the season – and prevented them from getting home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs in which they lost on the road to the New York Giants. Longwell kicked a pair of field goals as time expired in 2004 to give the Packers two wins over the Vikings.
But now their contributions are on the other side of the rivalry and, as the tradition continues, they're looking to make history for the other side, because the team that used to be a sworn enemy is now where they call home.
"We all had some great times in Green Bay and enjoyed some big days," Sharper said. "But those days are over. With free agency and the salary cap, a lot of players don't spend their entire career with one team. We bleed purple now and that's all that matters."
Former Packers: ‘We Bleed Purple Now'
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