Favre to Sharpe

A special connection
ByWalter Rhein
Special to Packerland Titletown USA

In 1993, we still didn’t know what we had.

Holmgren came to Green Bay in 1992 and his famous line was, “Get the ball to Sterling Sharpe.” Indeed, Sharpe was the only legit playmaker on the roster. Holmgren, having been the offensive coordinator in San Francisco in 1991, knew how to utilize a wide receiver. But the question remained, was our quarterback good enough to make Sharpe fly?

Majikowski started in 1992, and played decently, but couldn’t get the wins. By the third game of the season, Majikowski was hurt, so Holmgren trotted out a young QB with a cannon of an arm and a name that he seemed to be either misspelling or mispronouncing. Success ensued and the Packers ended up with nine wins.

Brett Favre started off his Hall of Fame career by slinging the ball in the direction of Sterling Sharpe. Favre — shown here with his wife, Deanna — was feted at Lambeau Field in 2015.

The Pack finished second in the NFC North (it became NFC Central in 2001), losing out to the Rich Gannon/Sean Salisbury-led Vikings, but hopes were high for 1993. Hopes got a little higher in the offseason when GM Ron Wolf signed that guy from Philadelphia who was known for applying a pretty adequate pass rush (Reggie White for the uninitiated).

During the 1993 season, the Packers wore a shield on their jersey commemorating their 75th season. The addition of the shield could not quite be called a uniform change, but it had an effect. Instantly there was a visual reference that this was not the same Packers squad that had been fielded in years’ past. There’s something of an emotional rebirth that happens when you make a uniform tweak like that, and anything that adds firepower to the arsenal is welcome.
Going into the final game of the season, the Pack was sitting at 9-6 and set to play the Wayne Fontes-led Detroit Lions in the Pontiac Silverdome with the division title on the line. Erik Kramer was the Lions’ signal-caller, and he was a better player than anyone remembers. The Lions were capable – you don’t get a winning record in the NFL by accident.

The good news was that win or lose, the Packers’ nine wins were good enough to guarantee the first playoff birth in 21 years (disregarding the strike-shortened ’82 season). The nine wins also meant the Packers had managed consecutive winning seasons for the first time since ’67. Everyone was discussing the scenarios.
“Win or lose, we play Detroit in the playoffs, so why don’t we just sit everyone?”

“Because, you fool, the NFC North crown is on the line!”

“So what?”

“So what! If we win, we play at Green Bay, and you know what that means?”

“Uhhh …”

“The Packers HAVE NEVER LOST a playoff game at Lambeau?”

In 1992, the Packers’ Lambeau playoff dominance had not yet suffered a blemish, and the presence of a mystical frozen field of victory hung over all of us like a highway paved of glistening gold leading directly to the Super Bowl.
It was a wonderful time; Packers fans were intoxicated. We had a great wide receiver, a clever head coach, and a punchy quarterback who seemed to be the real deal. No matter what happened in the next couple weeks, we knew that this was the start of an era, and that we had years of contender status ahead of us.

“Come on Pack! Punch the Lions in the teeth and then we’ll finish them off at Lambeau!”

But we got more nervous as kickoff approached. It’s hard to beat the same team twice in a row, even if you gain home field advantage.

The regular season finale came on January 2, 1994. For three quarters, the Packers hung in there, even though

Favre’s four interceptions didn’t help things. The Packers held a 20-16 lead going into the fourth quarter, but then two Lions’ TDs sealed the Packers’ fate: final score, 30-20 Lions. The hope of Lambeau magic evaporated.

“That’s OK, we’ll get ’em next time!”

Again came the refrain, “It’s tough to beat the same team two weeks in a row.”

But the loss had chipped our confidence.

We pumped our chests and bit our nails and waited until January 8th to finally see our Packers in the playoffs, and by the end of the week we felt ready to fight again.

The playoffs!

For those who missed the era of Packers football in the 1970s and ‘80s, it’s hard to imagine how important simply making the playoffs was back then. After so many years of coming up short, finally this was a legitimate team. We were in the tournament, we were on the national stage!

The game turned into a nail-biter. Barry Sanders was on that Lions team and even against a defense commanded by Reggie White, Sanders managed to put up 169 yards. But, unlike the previous week, a few more of the bounces went the Packers’ way. In the third quarter, George Teague picked off a pass and took it 101 yards to the end zone, giving the Packers a 21-17 lead. The Lions were resilient, however, and marched right back down the field to regain the lead at 24-21.

With time winding down, the Packers took over. According to post-game reports, Sharpe had noticed something earlier in the game and approached Favre. I imagine the conversation went something like this:
“When I’m running a fly pattern on the right and you roll to the left, the corners get lazy and drift.”

“Why do they do that?”

“They don’t think you can throw it forty yards deep from across the field.”

“Pshaw!”

It was second down from the Lions’ 40 with one minute left in the game when the modern era of Packer contention began. The ball was snapped. Favre looked to pass and then pulled the ball down and scrambled left. He looked back to the right at Sharpe, but to throw right he’d have to stop, twist his body, set his feet, and launch.

That’s exactly what happened.

It was one of those passes that spent an eternity in the air. At home we watched, thinking quietly, mouthing prayers and profanities beneath our breath or at full volume. The ball was in the air, and Sharpe was in the vicinity, and all we could do was track the ball as it dropped down, down, down, ticking more slowly than the second hand on the clock a minute away from quitting time.

You can watch a recording of the play, but the video doesn’t convey what that pass meant to Packers fans. The ball hung in space and as it traveled, we realized it carried the potential to obliterate 25 years of playoff futility. True to Sharpe’s words, the corner backs had drifted, but the distance was far, and they were scrambling to catch up. But Favre put that thing in the back of the end zone, and Sharpe had to twist himself to catch it, cradling the ball in his stomach before stomping both feet in bounds.

Favre’s arms went up in celebration.

Sharpe just stood and stared down the world.

Packers win!

If your team goes to the playoffs and wins a game, you’ve had a successful season. That gets lost in the lure of championships sometimes, but in 1994 that victory warmed Packer fans to their very souls.

The ride ended in Dallas the following week, but that’s okay. We got payback for that elimination to end the 1992 season. The bigger setback came in the 1994 regular season, when Sharpe went down with a stinger never to return to the field. His three-touchdown game in Detroit in the ‘93 playoffs was followed by six receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown at Dallas, in what would be Sterling Sharpe’s last playoff appearance.

It’s easy to wonder what might have been if Sharpe had stayed healthy and continued to be on the receiving end of Favre passes. Maybe those two would have put the record books out of reach, but then again maybe Favre wouldn’t have developed into a quarterback who learned to consistently spread the ball around to nine or 10 different receivers.

It’s easy to hope for more, but it’s more important to appreciate what we have. Favre’s throw and Sharpe’s catch in the 1993 playoffs was one of the greatest moments in Packer playoff history. Revel in it even as you anticipate and enjoy the further victories that are to come.

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