The 10: Fantastic Packers finishes
There are a lot more than 10 memorable endings to Green Bay Packers games throughout the team’s long history – this became very clear in researching the topic – but here’s a list of some of our favorites. Some of them are here because of the greater context that the result aided; some are here simply because they’re awesome by themselves. Some have both of those elements. In any event let us know what we may have missed or left off, either on our Facebook page or in the comments.
1. The Ice Bowl. The 1967 NFL Championship is a natural starting place and it remains hard to fathom how fingers and noses didn’t snap off like peanut brittle in the insane cold (temperature at kickoff was 13 degrees Fahrenheit below zero with a wind chill of negative-46), but that’s a big part of what adds to the grandiosity of this game between the Packers and Cowboys. Trailing by three with under five minutes to play in the fourth quarter, a workmanlike drive got Green Bay to the Dallas 1-yard line. The icy-slick turf made traction a frozen-cold pipe dream around the goal line, and the Packers faced third-and-goal with 16 seconds left and no timeouts. Then came the play, “31 Wedge.” It was a running call but nobody – including the pushers on that famous block, Jerry Kramer and Ken Bowman – thought quarterback Bart Starr was going to angle his way into the end zone himself. Until it happened. Green Bay took the 21-17 lead on the sneak, won the title, and gave us one of the most iconic plays and games in the sport’s history. That a single moment can compete with the overriding fact that toes get cold thinking about the conditions that day speaks to the Ice Bowl’s overall greatness.
2. Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren’s first win as Packers. Off to an 0-2 start to the 1992 season, starting quarterback Don Majkowski was forced out of Week 3’s home game against the Cincinnati Bengals with an injured ankle. A turnover-plagued contest saw the Packers, under first-year head coach Mike Holmgren, trailing by 10 at one point in the fourth. Later, down six, Brett Favre finished off a 92-yard drive with no timeouts by hitting Kitrick Taylor for the game-winning 35-yard touchdown pass down the right sideline with 13 seconds left on the clock. Green Bay won, 24-23. You could say the rest is history but I’m not sure that does “the rest” justice in this case.
3. “We want the ball and we’re going to score.” Everyone has those things they wish they hadn’t said, and here’s Matt Hasselbeck’s Exhibit A on the subject. A seesawing Wild Card playoff in the 2003-04 season went to overtime following a late Seattle touchdown. The Packers were decided favorites at home. The teams traded a couple of possessions in the extra period, and after picking up a first down, inching towards Green Bay territory, the Seahawks faced third-and-11. Hasselbeck dropped back, planted his foot and threw to his left side, where Packers safety Marques Anderson was coming around the edge of the line untouched. Hasselbeck’s throw was a long one to the sideline. By the time it got there Al Harris was waiting in front of receiver Alex Bannister. Harris absorbed the interception and took off for the game-winning score, his arm raised to the sky just before reaching the 40-yard line. It wasn’t a moment too soon.
4. Antonio Freeman’s Monday Night miracle. Overtimes are often ripe for classic material because their endings are so sudden. The Vikings were 7-1 entering an early November Monday night contest in Green Bay, with the 2000 version of the Packers 3-5 at the time. A scoreless fourth quarter forced overtime (more on that in a second). Green Bay received the kick and drove to the Vikings 43-yard line. On third-and-4, Favre, under pressure, rolled and lofted a pass down the right sideline to Freeman, who was battling for position with cornerback Cris Dishman as the ball descended. Freeman began to fall as Dishman almost turned in time to intercept the pass, the ball falling out of Dishman’s reach and hitting Freeman in the left shoulder. Somehow Freeman, his body turning sideways and sliding away from the falling ball, fully extended his arms, plucking the football towards his body. Before anyone knew what was happening, Freeman was upright, made a guy miss, and ran the last 15-or-so yards to the end zone for the crazy win.
The oft-forgot, also crazy part of this game? With seven seconds left in the fourth, Minnesota was on the Packers 15-yard line. Lining up for the winning field goal, holder Mitch Berger shuffled the snap in his hands, disrupting the play’s timing and forcing him to give up on the kick. He rolled out to the right side of the field. As Berger, a punter, neared the sideline with a Packers defender closing, he lollipopped a throw that was intercepted by Tyrone Williams at the five-yard line, forcing overtime and giving Green Bay another chance.
5. The 1993 NFC Wild Card playoff against Detroit. The Packers lost in the last week of the regular season in Detroit, 9-7, before this playoff rematch a week later. Green Bay rallied from a 10-point second half deficit, thanks in-part to a 101-yard interception return for a touchdown by George Teague. But they were back down by three, driving with just over a minute left in regulation. Before a play from the Lions 40-yard line, Sterling Sharpe, after a reception on the previous down, seemed to be signaling for a substitute while lining up on the right side of the field. Favre was hurrying the offense to the line, though, and Sharpe took off at the snap. The quarterback scrambled out of an open space on the left side of the pocket, only to quickly spin back around to his right and snap off a deep ball. As the ball left the television screen, cameras panned downfield and there was Sharpe, five yards ahead of his defender, streaking into the corner of the end zone, getting under and turning around to catch the beautifully thrown ball as he stepped backwards. Sharpe stood there looking tired and stunned at what he’d just done. Favre ripped his helmet off, jumping around in his first postseason victory.
6. The 1995 regular season finale. Against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Christmas Eve at Lambeau Field, the Packers had an opportunity to claim their first NFC Central Division crown since 1972. The Steelers had the AFC Central Division title and a first-round bye already in the bag, but were aiming for their ninth straight victory nonetheless. It was fourth-and-goal for Pittsburgh on the Packers 6-yard line with 16 seconds remaining in the game. Green Bay, now up 24-19, had already held three separate 11-point leads. Five wide receivers flank quarterback Neil O’Donnell, who takes the snap, scans and throws to his left side where an egregiously wide open Yancey Thigpen is alone in the end zone. Thigpen adjusts his body to the left at the last moment and puts up his hands. The ball is in his hands for a split-hair of a second as he tries to bring it into his body, but gravity pulls the ball down and out of his grasp. Thigpen tries to snatch it again but his reactive knee jerk knocks the ball out of bounds. He drops the pass. As Thigpen falls to his knees, LeRoy Butler jumps into the same end zone crowd that would’ve sat in stunned silence had the last five seconds gone differently, or as they probably would most any other time. Lambeau goes absolutely bonkers. The Packers run out the clock. Afterwards Thigpen says, “Merry Christmas, Green Bay. That’s their Christmas present. Santa Claus came a day early.”
7. The 1983 Monday Night barnburner. The Packers scored some points in 1983 – they averaged 26.8 points per game, fifth in the NFL – but no output was on a bigger stage or against a better opponent than when they defeated the defending Super Bowl champion Washington Redskins, 48-47, in Green Bay on Monday Night Football in October of that season. Its 95 total points remain the highest combined scoring output in Monday Night Football’s history, and it was back-and-forth until the end – the lead changed hands five times in the fourth quarter alone. Jan Stenerud’s 20-yard field goal with under a minute to play gave the Packers the 48-47 lead, but Washington, led by quarterback Joe Theismann, drove within striking distance to set up a 39-yard field goal attempt for the win with three seconds left. (Defense wasn’t even lightly encouraged in this game.) It looked as though Washington, who went on to win the NFC later that season, would draw last blood. Redskins placekicker Mark Moseley’s attempt went wide right, however, and Green Bay survived to come out one point better in the historical shootout.
8. The 1966 NFL Championship. One year before the Ice Bowl, the Packers were defending NFL champions going for two in a row against the Cowboys in Dallas’ Cotton Bowl. Green Bay led by 14 early and by the same margin again with about five minutes remaining in the fourth following Starr’s fourth touchdown pass of the game. Dallas, young and dangerous, trimmed the lead to 34-27 and got the ball back, driving to the Packers 2-yard line looking for the tie. After three plays and a penalty brought them to fourth-and-goal from the 2, Cowboys’ quarterback Don Meredith, being pressured by Packers’ linebacker Dave Robinson, threw a pass intended for Bob Hayes. It never got there, as Green Bay safety Tom Brown intercepted the hurried throw in the end zone with 28 seconds left on the clock. The Packers advanced to the first-ever Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs, and did pretty well in that one, too.
9. The Chester Marcol Game. The 1980 regular season opener saw the Packers welcome the Chicago Bears to Lambeau Field. It was a snoozer for most of the afternoon, the Packers leading 6-3 at halftime behind two field goals (41 and 46 yards) from Chester Marcol – who would be waived by the team later that season. Chicago tied the score in the third. The game went into overtime and Green Bay got into position again for Marcol, this time a 35-yarder for the win. Snap, hold, thwap – the kick was blocked, credited to the Bears’ Alan Page. But the ball shot directly back to Marcol, who instinctively caught it and instantly began scampering. Sporting black-framed glasses under his helmet, Marcol careened down the left sideline for the touchdown. He didn’t stop running until he hit the padded wall surrounding the field. Marcol directly scored all 12 of the Packers’ points. Teammates mobbed him in celebration as he went into the tunnel.
10. The Instant Replay game. An ending still remembered vividly by both sides today, Don Majkowski was having a rough game against the Bears in November of 1989, and a rough ending to one last drive. Two Majkowski turnovers in the red zone had stopped the Packers earlier in the contest, and the quarterback had just been sacked and thrown consecutive incompletions, bringing up fourth-and-goal from the Chicago 14-yard line with 41 seconds left in the game, Green Bay down 13-7. Adding to the tension, the Packers hadn’t beaten the Bears in eight straight meetings. Majkowski took the snap on fourth down, looked to his left, then stepped into a crumbling pocket and scrambled right. Running out of room, two Chicago defenders bearing down, Majkowski pumped once, moved right a few more steps until out of room on the sideline, finally throwing side-armed back towards the middle of the field to an open patch of the end zone surrounded by four Bears defenders … and occupied by Sharpe, who looked in the game-winning touchdown catch.
After initial jubilation, referees let the air out of Lambeau, saying Majkowski had crossed the line of scrimmage before throwing the pass. The play went for instant replay review. After a long look, officials determined Majkowski had in fact been behind the 14-yard line while letting go of the ball (he landed ahead of it after releasing). Lambeau and the Packers erupted again. Chicago, meanwhile, marked the game with an asterisk in their media guide for years to come.
The 1: additional game(s) because seriously there are too many good ones: Basically the entire late-season and playoff run in 2010-11. The Packers had to scratch out a 10-3 win in Week 17 over the Bears just to make the postseason. It wasn’t iced until Chicago’s Jay Cutler, after driving to the Green Bay 32-yard line, threw too high over the middle and was intercepted by Nick Collins with less than 20 seconds remaining. In the Wild Card against the Philadelphia Eagles the next week, the Packers hung on for a 21-16 win after a shoestring tackle in the open field by Desmond Bishop kept the blurry DeSean Jackson from potentially flying in for a long game-winning touchdown. It was sealed by Tramon Williams’ last-minute interception in the end zone with less than a minute to play.
(Brief pause for the complete destruction of the Atlanta Falcons in the Divisional round.)
In the NFC title game, the Packers’ defense again had to withstand a high-pressure, last-ditch drive, as Sam Shields intercepted Bears’ backup quarterback Caleb Hanie as Chicago was driving with under a minute to play, clinching a trip to Super Bowl XLV. Where, one more deep breath, Green Bay again had to get a stop to win a game. Against Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a modern master of the improvised, last-minute win, Williams broke up a fourth-and-5 pass intended for Mike Wallace with 49 seconds left. That wrapped up quite the stomach-in-your-throat road to a championship. It may have taken years off my life but I’d do it again starting tomorrow.
And remember there are so many more out there. What are your other favorites?