Jacke gets his kicks reuniting fans and alumni
By Kelly O’Day, Editor, Packerland Pride
The Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers, two heavyweights of the 1990’s, found themselves in a knockdown, drag-out fight on that fateful Monday night of October 14, 1996. Green Bay, behind a franchise record 61 attempted passes from Brett Favre, had pushed into the red zone several times before the 49ers’ defense stiffened to keep them from scoring a touchdown.
Each time kicker Chris Jacke made sure the Packers got something for their effort. His first two field goals gave Green Bay a 6-0 lead, and his third try tied it at 17-17 with 3:35 left in the game. Favre’s second interception of the game led to an easy 28-yard kick for the 49ers’ Jeff Wilkins with 1:50 to go. But Favre would engineer a late 10-play, 69-yard drive, even scrambling 12 yards for a first down, and Jacke would convert another kick with just eight seconds left to throw the game into overtime at 20-20.
Green Bay’s defense – top-ranked at the end of the season – would force a quick three-and-out to start overtime. The Packers crossed midfield a short while later, but for the first time Jacke would face a real challenge. His first four attempts only called for kicks of 30, 25, 35 and 31 yards. To seal the deal he would have to convert a 53-yard kick, the longest overtime conversion in NFL history.
“I was fortunate,” Jacke said. ‘It was my fifth kick of the night. I had already made four, so from a confidence standpoint, I felt very good. It was a prefect evening for football. There was no wind, and it wasn’t too hot or too cold. From a weather aspect, everything was in my favor.”
When did he know it was good?
“As soon as it came off my foot,” Chris said. “On impact it felt good right away. I looked up and right off my foot it was right down the middle. Since there wasn’t any wind, I knew it was going to be true.”
It’s one of my personal favorite memories involving the Packers, that Monday Night Football game spent with a crew of friends in Lambeau. And when it comes to memories of Jacke, I’m hardly alone.
“That’s probably the #1 memory (of me) with fans,” Jacke said. “That was the turning point of our Super Bowl season. Not just because of me. Don Beebe, filling in for injured Robert Brooks, had a heck of a game. The defense played extraordinary.
“It was such a hard-fought game, just back-and-forth. The offenses were playing as well as they could and got close to the red zone or in the red zone, but there weren’t a lot of touchdowns. There were a lot of defensive stops.”
“We had finally beaten another team that was considered elite. We thought, ‘We’re for real!’”
Beebe broke free for 220 yards receiving on 11 catches after Brooks sprained his knee on the first series. Beebe raced 59 yards for a third-quarter and his last reception was a 13-yarder that helped set up Jacke’s last long try. The touchdown was the controversial play where Beebe dove for the reception, Marquez Pope may have touched him as he flashed past while Beebe was down on the turf, but Beebe rolled over, jumped up and raced untouched for the score.
The defense held San Fran to 256 yards, while the Packers finished with 463. Favre completed just 28 of those 61 passes, but he and the receivers racked up 395 yards to go with another 68 rushing.
Green Bay left that game with a 6-1 record, while San Fran fell to 4-2. The Packers enter the playoffs with a 13-3 record and the 49ers ended up 12-4. The Packers would crush San Fran 35-14 in their playoff opener, continue with a 30-13 mauling of Carolina in the NFC Championship before the memorable 35-21 triumph over New England in Super Bowl XXXI. Chris converted three field goals in the Carolina game and hit two more in the title game.
That Super Bowl season ranks as one of the best in his career, with a second-best 114 points and a third-best 77.8 conversion percentage. His best season came in 1993, when he was voted First Team All-Pro with 128 points and a 83.8% conversion rate.
Jacke’s percentage of makes pales to today’s kickers, but his career mark of 76.2% was lowered by the number (24) of long attempts he was asked to attempt. He converted 15 (63%).
“I always enjoyed kicking the long ones, because there wasn’t as much pressure,” he noted. “Back then, if you hit 50% of your attempts from over 50 yards you were doing well. Obviously, the standards are different today with how the position has evolved. With a career-average of 76% I don’t think I’d have a job today.”
Yet Jacke’s career spanned 11 years, eight in Green Bay as a sixth-round draft pick in 1989 through the Super Bowl title after the 1996 season. He took a bigger contract from the Pittsburgh Steelers the next season, suffered a thigh injury to his kicking leg and was eventually cut before being picked up by Washington for a game late in the season. Jacke caught on with the Arizona Cardinals for two seasons before finally hanging up the cleats.
“When you first come in you hope to play three or two or one years,” Jacke said. “I made it 11 years. I’m proud of that. I wish it could have been more, but God has a plan.
“Arizona was nothing like Green Bay. It was quite a shock. It was the first time I dealt with an owner holding the purse strings. The culture was different. The guys were great, but in my opinion the ownership was not really concerned with winning. I think it’s changed quite significantly. They’ve done some good things down there since I left.”
Some even have the Cardinals as the pre-season favorites in one of the toughest divisions in football, the NFC West that includes Seattle, San Francisco and St. Louis. Their defense keyed a run into the 2014 playoffs, but mass injuries at the quarterback position led to a quick 27-16 exit for the 11-5 Cardinals at the hands of the 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers.
Jacke’s exit wasn’t quick, but it was inevitable.
“My body really started falling apart,” he said. “A back injury and ankle injuries were bothering me and I was still having problems with that rectus (femoris) injury that happened in Pittsburgh.
“I had won a Super Bowl, I had a lot of fun with the guys I played with. After my last year in Arizona, I didn’t pursue it any more. My body was telling me very loudly that my time was over.”
After a decade of working in the financial realm, Chris began to explore other options. He came up with the idea to form P.A.R. 13 (Player Alumni Resources 13).
“When I was being inducted into the Hall of Fame, I was finding myself doing a lot of speeches and golf outings,” Jacke said. “I had been involved in financial planning since 2000, the turn of the century, and it became a very difficult business. I wasn’t looking forward to going to work each day.
“This opportunity kind of fell into my lap. I was going to just do it for myself, but as I was doing outings, I ran into other alumni and said, ‘Why don’t you guys come on with us.’ We decided to make it a one-stop shop. Not everyone’s a golfer or a speaker, but they want to stay connected with the fans.
“It’s been a lot of fun. It’s exciting every day waking up. If there’s a fit, we’ll make sure they get the alumni they want.
“Just being in the public, seeing the fans, it’s very unique. A lot of fans say they wish this was here before. A lot of players, too, are glad this is here. The players who will show up aren’t getting paid a whole lot to do this. They’re doing it because they love the fans. I have had kind of a blue-collar approach to this business; going out, shaking hands and kissing babies.”
Jacke’s company obviously includes a reference to his Green Bay Packers’ jersey number of 13. Why would anyone, much less a kicker, want to wear the number 13?
“I didn’t have a choice,” Jacke said. “When they gave it to me, I said, ‘I’m happy to have it, sir.’ I didn’t mind it. Maybe it was unlucky for everybody else. There were five kickers in camp my rookie year. I was the only one drafted, so maybe I had a better chance.”
Long-time fans will remember that the number ‘13’ had experienced an inordinate amount of kicker success in Green Bay, having previously been donned by Chester Marcol. Marcol, coincidentally, is expected to attend the fishing fundraiser.
Chester was inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame in 1987, while Jacke made it in 2013.
“It wasn’t something I ever thought would happen,” Jake noted. “It doesn’t happen often for kickers. I’m in good company with Jan Stenerud, Chester Marcol and Don Chandler. It’s just an honor to be in there with Jerry (Kramer) and Bart (Starr), even the guys that came before, like Curly Lambeau.”
Chris doesn’t feel this way only about Packer greats. After eight years of playing with the Packers to packed excited houses, it’s no surprise he would also care about the hordes of cheering fans.
The cynical might say Jacke is pandering to the fans when he gushes about them, but those who are part of the clan understand he is speaking from the heart.
“It just comes back to the fans, that Cardiac Pack,” he said. “You’ve got 5,000 people waiting at Austin Straubel (Airport), it’s just something walking through them at one in the morning.
“I love the fans as much as they love us. They’re the best. They’re very respectful. They’re very smart. I think Green Bay has the most intelligent football fans there are. They can talk about the players from long ago. They’re great.”
Besides, Jacke should know, since he calls himself a ‘glorified fan.’
“That’s what a kicker is,” he said. “You only go in the game one or more times depending on the score. You watch the game from truly the best position, in my opinion. I saw the greatest players, from Reggie White to Barry Sanders to Steve Young to Troy Aikman. You can sit back and watch and perform when called upon.”
But what are Jacke’s favorite memories of his time with the Packers?
“That whole ’89 season, that Cardiac Pack year, was just a fun, fun year, especially as a rookie,” he noted. “Then all the year (1996) building up to the Super Bowl (XXXI). All the changes under Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren, bringing in Reggie (White) and Brett (Favre) and Sean Jones and Frankie Winters. They hit the jackpot with Reggie and Brett. They picked up a lot of free agents back then. They do it a little different now, but the goal is always the same.”
Titles for Titletown.
Thirteen and counting…
Note: Don Hutson (wide receiver) and Fred Cone (fullback) also were inducted into the Packers Hall of Fame and added kicking duties at times.