From two Mud Bowls to practicing in an airport hangar, the Packers & 49ers have a colorful history

The Big Game

The Packers and 49ers have risen from the ashes of losing seasons, to playing for the right to go to the Super Bowl.


GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) —The Packers dominated the 1960’s.  The 49ers owned the 1980’s.  And now these two historic franchises are back on top of the NFC. 

These two teams have played seven times in the playoffs, which is 2nd most in NFL history and the Packers have won four of them.  Three of those games were consecutive victories during the dominance of Mike Holmgren over his former team in San Francisco. 

My first year covering the Packers was 1995, and not so coincidentally, that’s the first season Green Bay played San Francisco in the playoffs.  That road victory in January of 1996 put the Packers on the postseason map when they knocked off the defending Super Bowl champions at the old Candlestick Park. 

It was the 1995 divisional round and Green Bay jumped all over San Francisco. Wayne Simmons started the party forcing a fumble that Craig Newsome returned for a touchdown for the first score of the game, and then Brett Favre hooked up with his two tight ends Keith Jackson and Mark Chmura to build a 21-0 lead.  Green Bay forced four turnovers and it was a moment that proved the Packers were for real and belonged with the best teams in the NFC.  I remember going to the airport that night with a camera and there were at least 1,000 fans there to greet the entire team late that night.

The following season the Packers hosted the 49ers in what turned Lambeau Field into a mud bowl moshpit.  Desmond Howard had a huge punt return, and once again Green Bay took a 21-0 lead, and Edgar Bennett ran for a pair of TD’s in their 35-14 win.  This was long before teams had the synthetic blend of real grass and rubber pellets; the turf turned into a gloriously muddy mess by the end of the game. 

With their 13-3 record and home-field advantage, that victory led to the Packers hosting Carolina.  After beating the Panthers, the Lombardi Trophy came home following a victory over New England in Super Bowl 31.

The 1997 campaign also saw Green Bay run their regular-season record to 13-3, but this time around San Francisco had home-field advantage.  The Packers dispatched Tampa Bay in the divisional round and that led to another road trip to the west coast. 

It rained the entire weekend to the point where Holmgren and his team had to hold a practice/walk-through in an abandoned airport hangar. 

Candlestick Park had been renamed 3COM park at this point, and the turf was waterlogged and a complete mess.  Almost the same as Lambeau two years prior, but at least warmer. 

In a defensive struggle,  Ryan Longwell booted 4 FG’s and the Packers managed to score a pair of touchdowns en route to a 23-10 win over the 49ers that put them in back to back Super Bowls.  And we know how the second one went against Denver in San Diego.

1998 marked the beginning of the end when it came to Holmgren’s tenure in Green Bay and after starting out the season 4-0, there was a new sheriff in town with the arrival of Randy Moss in Minnesota.  The rookie WR torched the Packers defense to the tune of 5 receptions for 190 yards and two touchdowns.  The Vikings would go on to sweep the Packers and win the NFC Central division title, ushering in a changing of the guard. 

With a record of 11-5 as a wildcard, they traveled west once again for what would stand out as one of the greatest heartbreaks in franchise history.

The Packers had taken a lead late in the game when Brett Favre found Antonio Freeman with just 2 minutes to go for a go-ahead touchdown. But on the final drive of the game, Jerry Rice caught a short pass near midfield and clearly fumbled the football.  The referees ruled him down, and there was no video replay challenge system at the time.  From there, Steve Young fired a perfect pass to Terrell Owens, who caught the game-winning touchdown in traffic with only 8 seconds to go. 

Game over.  49ers 30, Packers 27. 

Holmgren left for Seattle and it would take 5 years for Green Bay to win another division championship, the NFC North in 2002

Three years later, Mike Sherman would lead the Packers back to the post-season and this time around Green Bay would host San Francisco.  Iron Mountain, Michigan native Steve Mariucci was coming off back-to-back losing seasons with the 49ers and had rebounded with a 12-4 campaign.   The 49ers and Packers had identical records as wildcards but still had to come to Lambeau Field because of losing the NFC common opponent tie-breaker. 

This was a defensive struggle for the better part of three quarters, but when Jeff Garcia hit Tai Streets for a touchdown followed by a game-tying 2-point conversion, the game was locked up with 12 minutes to go. 

Ryan Longwell would kick a field goal to give the Packers the lead, and eventual win.  Unfortunately for Green Bay, they were crushed by the Rams the following week 45-17.

Which brings us to the most recent chapters in the rivalry.  It wasn’t exactly Brett Favre versus Steve Young, but Aaron Rodgers had a pair of showdowns against Colin Kaepernick, and the Packers lost both of those playoff games in back to back seasons. 

In 2012,  Kaepernick absolutely thrashed Green Bay’s defense as a dual-threat quarterback.  When all was said and done, he ended up with 263 passing yards and 181 rushing yards, with four total touchdowns as they exploded for three straight touchdowns in the second half en route to the 49ers 45-31 win. 

The encore performance was a different story but ended with the same result.  Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in week 9 against the Bears on Monday night football.  The leader of the Pack came back from the injury to play in the final week of the regular season needing a win on the road against Chicago to win the division. 

In sweet redemption, Rodgers hit Randall Cobb for the game-winning touchdown with only 38 seconds to go.  The Packers won the NFC North at 8-7-1 and hosted San Francisco on a cold and nasty night at Lambeau Field.  The 49ers were 12-4. 

Despite taking a 17-13 lead in the 4th quarter, San Francisco would jump ahead of the Pack with a touchdown toss from Kaepernick to Vernon Davis. 

Mason Crosby would tie the game up 5:09 left in the game, but Green Bay wouldn’t touch the football again.  The 49ers worked their way downfield and Phil Dawson booted a 33-yard walk-off winner for a 23-20 victory.

Few franchises are as intertwined over the past two and half decades and few have as much history on and off the field.  The only two teams that have played more in the playoffs than these two foes are the Cowboys and Rams.

The Packers and 49ers have combined for nine Super Bowl titles, and one of these two teams will have a shot at another in Miami two weeks from today. 

Aaron Rodgers turned 36 years old last month and he knows his window of opportunity for getting back to the Super Bowl and taking home another Lombardi Trophy is closing.   After San Francisco drafted Alex Smith with the No. 1 overall pick in the 2005 draft, Rodgers fell to number 24.  That led to his now-famous quote about how disappointed he was, by being passed over by San Francisco.

“Not as disappointed as the 49ers will be that they didn’t draft me.”

We shall see which franchise is frustrated after tonight.

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