The hype machine continues to build as the Vikings and Packers prepare for their collision on Monday night. While the media has kicked its coverage into overdrive – something that will continue to build as the game draws closer – the players are trying to block out the distractions and treat the game like any other game … or so they say.
The game will be the first for Brett Favre against the Packers – something ESPN has been reminding fans of since the day he signed with the Vikings – and he will be the center of attention when the game finally arrives. As another former Packer who knows what it's like to be on both sides of the rivalry, kicker Ryan Longwell said Favre asked him for some advice about how he felt when he played against the Packers for the first time.
"We talked a lot in the offseason, but by far the longest conversation was about what it's like to play the Packers here and at Lambeau Field," Longwell said. "I told him honestly that it's different, it's weird. You feel uncomfortable doing it, but once the games starts, we'll be the most excited guys ever because then it's just a football game."
As if a Vikings-Packers game wasn't reason enough for the intensity to be ramped up an extra notch or two, having the game on national television in prime time only adds to the attention the game will garner. For the players, performing on the national stage as the lone NFL game being played is exciting – even though it plays havoc with the typical work week leading up to the big game.
"Everybody likes playing on Monday night," defensive end Ray Edwards said. "It messes up your schedule a little bit, but you know the rest of the players are watching. Having it come against Green Bay makes it that much bigger for both teams."
As creatures of habit, NFL players get into a steady routine of practice building up to a game. But on Monday night games, everything is pushed back a day and players need to convince themselves that Thursday is really Wednesday, Friday is Thursday and so on as they gear up for prime time.
"The biggest thing about Monday night games is the schedule," linebacker Chad Greenway said. "It throws your week off. What you usually do Wednesday you do on Thursday, etcetera leading up to the game. You can't wait for the game to get started, because Monday gets pretty long waiting for game time to come."
For players who are new to the Vikings-Packers rivalry, they get brought up to speed by veteran players about what the rivalry means to both teams and their fans. Rookie Phil Loadholt has been through a similar rivalry in college, where his Oklahoma Sooners annually play the Texas Longhorns – which he sees as being preparation for what to expect for the Packers game Monday.
"It feels quite similar to that," Loadholt said. "You know that the crowd is going to be in it and it's a big rivalry game. You can't ask for much more than that."
Safety Madieu Williams said his first taste of the Packers rivalry was reminiscent of his biggest rivalry game in his four years in Cincinnati. The Bengals and Steelers are always a violent, bone-jarring affair twice a year and said that prepared him for the rivalry games with Packers.
"When it came to the Bengals, it was always Pittsburgh," Williams said of playing in a longstanding rivalry game. "You could see what happened last week as to how much that game means to those guys. Every team has a rival like that and for us it's the Packers."
Jared Allen got acclimated to the rivalry last year and said it matches just about every grudge match they had in Kansas City, with the possible exception of when they played the Oakland Raiders.
"This is pretty intense, but Raider Week was something else in Kansas City," Allen said. "We don't put ‘Green Bay Week' up in our locker room, but down there, we put ‘Raider Week' signs up. It meant something. We won like 10 straight games. It lost its luster a little when both teams were 2-12, but it was still intense. This one is probably equal. Right now, this one is a little more intense because of the records and what it means to both teams."
With the waiting game being played on Sunday and during the day Monday, as game time nears, the intensity level will be high as players look to do spectacular things with the NFL world watching.
"When you play on Monday night and you know everyone is watching, you have to bring your A game," wide receiver Sidney Rice said. "You get really pumped up knowing how much the game means and the fans are always really loud and into it. The atmosphere is great and it brings out the best in both teams."
Once the game begins, things will return to normal for the players, but perhaps the worst part will be the waiting. As the hours tick down on Monday, the players will be antsy for the game to get started and the time will move relatively slowly for them.
"It's a hurry up-and-wait kind of mentality," Allen said. "You sit around all weekend and all day Monday. There's nothing but soap operas on Mondays. You don't watch ‘Young and the Restless' to get in the mood to hit somebody. We'll be more than ready when game time finally comes."
MNF: The waiting game begins
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