In my lifetime I’ve had the privilege of watching the Packers Super Bowl. I’ve watched magical nights like Monday Night Football against the Raiders in 2003. I got to see this year’s NFC Championship game in the flesh. I’ve loved and hated the Packers in the same way one can both love and hate family at any given moment. Deep down you really love them, but you want what’s best for them, so you hate them when you think they’re making bad decisions. At any rate, Green Bay stands on the doorstep to immortality. And to use a baseball analogy, they’re due.
Over the last 14 years, no other team has suffered more gut wrenching losses than the Packers. After their magical season in 1996, they made a return trip to the Super Bowl the very next year. Poised to challenge the Cowboys as the Team of the 90s, Green Bay went into Super Bowl XXXII as 13-point favorites. They lost in what many call the most exciting Super Bowl of all time, exciting for some, excruciating for others.
The next year, the Packers regressed. They went 11-5, took it upon themselves to host Randy Moss’s coming out party, but still made the postseason. In the NFC Wild Card Game, Favre connected with Freeman with less than two minutes left to take the lead. Again though, the Packers lost in spectacular fashion. History calls it The Catch II. It went something like,”Owens! Owens! Owens! Owens! He caught it! He caught it!”
To add insult to injury, Mike Holmgren decided he wanted front office control of the Pack. Bob Harlan thought otherwise, so Holmgren left for Seattle and the Packers didn’t make the playoffs for the next two years. By the way, Ron Wolf left Green Bay only a few years later. Then, team gave control to Mike Sherman, a completely inferior football mind. A Hall of Fame coach left the Packers when he never really had to.
The next tug on Packer Nation’s heartstrings took place in the 2003 NFC Divisional Round. If I could pick one game to represent what the Mike Sherman era was like, it’d be the 4th & 26 game. The Packers jump out to a huge lead early, control the tempo and look like the better team. Then in the second half, the play calling turns vanilla and the defense blows the game in a critical moment. Throw in a costly Favre turnover at the end and there you have it, the Mike Sherman Era in a nutshell. I don’t need to tell you why that game hurt so much. If you saw it, you know.
The last awful loss took place on the Frozen Tundra three short years ago, Ice Bowl II. The Giants missed two field goals in the fourth quarter, field goals that would have won the game. The Packers won the toss in overtime and I did what I had never done before or since. I let my guard down and totally believed the Packers would win. They didn’t.
Four soul crushing postseason losses plus the unnecessary departure of Green Bay’s best coach since Lombardi equals a tough fourteen years. I talked to LeRoy Butler earlier this week and he said that the Wild Card win in Philly gave him closure for 4th & 26, the win in Atlanta gave him closure to the Packers’ home playoff loss to Atlanta in 2002 and a win Sunday would bring him closure for losing the Super Bowl 13 years ago. I agree. After more than a decade of pain, a win would also mean closure for Cheeseheads the world over, and I can’t wait.