GREEN BAY—Five years ago, the intense Packers-Cowboys playoff rivalry of the 1990s was on the verge of a revival, but the Cowboys were upset by the Giants in the divisional round and “Ice Bowl II” featured a different opponent and result.
Then last year, Packers-49ers in January was nearly renewed, but the Giants once again put the history lesson on hold.
This year – perhaps because the Giants aren’t around to set their own agenda – one of the great NFC playoff rivalries of the 1990s can finally be reborn.
The Packers and 49ers will meet for the sixth time in the postseason on Saturday night in San Francisco, this time with a trip to the NFC Championship on the line.
While the playoff history between these two teams understandably doesn’t mean much to the current Packers – a player in his mid-20s would have been in elementary school, or younger, when the string of clashes began in 1995 – it’s one of the more vibrant chapters in Green Bay’s postseason history.
The first meeting, in the 1995 divisional round, stamped the Packers as legitimate NFC contenders when they upset the defending Super Bowl champion 49ers at Candlestick Park. The following year, Green Bay’s divisional-round victory at Lambeau Field helped pave the way toward the franchise’s first Super Bowl title in 29 years. The third contest, in the 1997 NFC Championship in San Francisco, sent the Packers to their second straight Super Bowl. The unprecedented fourth straight meeting, in the 1998 wild-card round, proved to be the final Packers game for Mike Holmgren and Reggie White.
That fourth confrontation was undoubtedly the most dramatic and, therefore, the most memorable. Steve Young’s 25-yard TD pass to Terrell Owens between four defenders with three seconds left gave the 49ers a cathartic win, 30-27.
“I remember that Jerry (Rice) – I loved Jerry – may have fumbled earlier in the game,” Packers quarterback and northern California native Aaron Rodgers said this week. “Packer fans … are still upset about (that), there not being replay at that time. That was a big-time catch, great throw.”
Head Coach Mike McCarthy was introduced to Green Bay in part as a result of that play. He became the Packers quarterbacks coach the next year in the coaching shakeup that followed Holmgren’s departure.
“All-go versus Cover-4,” McCarthy said of the heart-stopping, game-winning play. “It probably shouldn’t happen, but it did.”
The teams met again three years later in the wild-card round at Lambeau Field, but the lack of drama and significance in the Packers’ triumph has rendered it nearly forgotten.
It’s highly unlikely that will be the case this time. No two NFC teams have won more regular-season games over the past two years than the Packers (26) and 49ers (24). The teams began the 2012 campaign against one another with thoughts they were staging a playoff preview, and now they meet again, with the winner getting a shot at the Super Bowl by either traveling to Atlanta or hosting Seattle next week.
In essence, this game is being played in San Francisco and not in Green Bay because the 49ers won the first confrontation. But these Packers are paying as little attention to that missed opportunity as they are to the history many are too young to remember.
“I’m anxious just to be able to be in this round,” cornerback Tramon Williams said. “If you ask anybody, they don’t care where we’re playing, who we’re playing, how we’re playing. We’re just ready to go and take this next step.”
The Packers are underdogs on paper, just as they were two years ago when they put together three consecutive road playoff victories en route to a Super Bowl title.
McCarthy has engineered this season to try to get the Packers peaking at the right time. He has repeatedly said the team’s best football is still in front of it.
Now is the time.
“Yeah, I think if we win the Super Bowl he’s still going to be saying that,” receiver James Jones said. “He’s basically talking about all three phases. We have yet to put together a game where we’ve dominated all three phases – special teams, offense and defense.
“We’re still searching for that and, hopefully, we can get that this week.”
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