The border rivalry was born on Oct. 22, 1961, at Metropolitan Stadium in Bloomington, Minn., during the Vikings’ inaugural season. After Minnesota won the toss and punted on its opening possession, the Packers promptly scored on a 78-yard touchdown pass from Bart Starr to Boyd Dowler on Green Bay’s first offensive snap ever run against the Vikings.
That sparked the Packers to a 33-7 win, and they capped the scoring on Dan Currie’s 21-yard return for a touchdown of an interception thrown by Minnesota backup quarterback George Shaw, who replaced Fran Tarkenton in the fourth quarter after the rookie had thrown three picks.
Just one week later, the two teams met again at Milwaukee County Stadium, and the Packers prevailed then, too, by a score of 28-10. Paul Hornung threw an early TD pass to Ron Kramer, Starr added TD passes to Jim Taylor and Max McGee, and Dowler had another 100-yard day.
The Packers went on to win the first six meetings between the teams and nine of the first 10. The Vikings countered with a streak of seven straight wins in the 1970s as they won 18 of 21 meetings between 1968 and 1978.
Since then, as many know, the rivalry has been all about parity, with neither team ever winning more than five in a row over the past three decades. The all-time series stands at 50-48-1 in Green Bay’s favor, including the lone postseason meeting, a Minnesota win in the 2004 NFC Wild Card game at Lambeau Field.
In recent times, the series has been about close, down-to-the-wire contests, exemplified by the Packers’ 28-24 win in the first meeting this year, when the Vikings drove as far as the Green Bay 15-yard line in the final minute before the Packers hung on.
That marked the 14th time in the last 17 meetings that the game was decided by seven points or less.
For comparison’s sake, there were only 26 Packers-Vikings games decided by seven points or less in the first 75 encounters. There have been 18 in the last 24.
“That’s what makes great rivalries,” said Vikings kicker and former Packers kicker Ryan Longwell. “I’ve been on both sides of it. When I was over there, we beat them twice on game-winning field goals (in 2004), then the next year they beat us twice on game-winning field goals. It’s just one of those games that teams get fired up for their rivals.
“You can always count on it being a tight, intense, close game.”
Two former Packers now with the Vikings, Longwell and quarterback Brett Favre, have played in the most Green Bay-Minnesota games of any current players. Sunday will be Favre’s 39th Packers-Vikings contest and Longwell’s 29th.
For the Packers, receiver Donald Driver has played in the most among current players. Sunday will be his 24th, if he’s able to return from a quadriceps injury to play. Strangely enough, Driver’s franchise-record streak of 133 consecutive regular-season games with at least one reception, which came to an end against Minnesota in Week 7 of this season, actually started following a zero-catch game against Minnesota back on Dec. 30, 2001.
Driver has enjoyed some of his best performances in Sunday’s venue, the Metrodome. He tied his career high for receptions in one game with 11 against the Vikings on Christmas Eve 2004 when the Packers clinched the NFC North title. He also posted a career best 191 yards receiving at Minnesota on Nov. 12, 2006, a game that included an 82-yard TD.
“I just have to go out there and have fun,” Driver said. “When you go in that hostile environment, they’re going to be telling you that you (stink) and all that good stuff, but when you walk out of there with a win, it makes you feel so much better.”
While the Packers had plenty of players on the injury report who needed the time off last week, the bye also helped a lot of players get over bumps and bruises that weren’t on that injury report.
One of those players was Charlie Peprah, who took over as the starting safety in Week 5 when rookie Morgan Burnett was lost for the season to a knee injury. Peprah has started five straight games and played particularly well of late, but both safeties coach Darren Perry and Head Coach Mike McCarthy had hinted at different times that he was playing a bit nicked up.
“I think it did everybody some good,” Peprah said of the bye. “Not playing for one weekend I think can’t do anything but good for your body. It definitely gives you a chance to catch up. But it’s the NFL, so everybody is playing with some nagging type of stuff.
“I feel great, especially getting through the first part not being full tilt. So if I can make it through and still have success, I feel confident in where I’m at now. Nothing but good times ahead.”
Peprah’s biggest impact came in the Week 8 win over the Jets, when he broke up two passes late in the fourth quarter with the Packers protecting a slim lead. He has proven to be a more physical hitter and tackler than many remember from his earlier stint in Green Bay (2006-08) as primarily a special teams player, but playing that physical style in the most extensive action on defense in his five-year career was taking its toll.
“I just pushed through to get to the bye,” Peprah said. “I think that’s where everybody was at. I wasn’t the only one dealing with nagging stuff that wasn’t on the injury report. That’s football. It wasn’t anything serious. It’s just enough to not have you full tilt like you want to be. I just wanted to make it to the bye, I made it to the bye, kind of made up some ground, so I’m good now.”
With three of the next four games in domes, conditions will be ideal for Packers kicker Mason Crosby and punter Tim Masthay. But then as soon as they get comfortable with the indoors, it will be back to harsh outdoor weather with a road game at New England and two home games over the final three weeks of the regular season.
“Sometimes you wish you could trade (the dome games now) for those later games,” Crosby said. “But we’re preparing, still going outside.”
Crosby said he and Masthay will continue to work outside on a weekly basis, kicking in Lambeau Field when they can, to get ready for those late-season games. In a perfect world, the run of dome games will get both players on a roll that they can carry through the games in the tougher outdoor conditions, but the specialists aren’t going to let their outdoor practice regimen slack in the meantime.
Masthay was on a strong three-game run heading into the bye, averaging 45.1 yards over his last 12 punts and placing eight of them inside the 20. Crosby has made 4-of-6 field goals over the past two games, missing from 45 yards in the swirling winds of the Meadowlands against the Jets and having a 54-yarder blocked against the Cowboys.
“We’ll come up here every week and get some reps in the stadium as the field starts changing a little bit, to make sure the footing and everything is good,” Crosby said. “It’s something we prepare for every year, this final stretch. It doesn’t matter whether it’s warm or cold, you have to perform because we’re making a playoff run here.
“We are fortunate we can come up in the stadium during the week and get a feel for it. Lambeau is a great place to play in the late games, just because the atmosphere gets electric. I think it’s just built to be played in the cold.”
The Packers added two players to their injury report on Thursday. Center Scott Wells (arch) and fullback Korey Hall (back) were both limited participants.
McCarthy said he wasn’t too concerned about Wells, who echoed that, saying the foot has been bothering him for a few weeks but it wasn’t a big deal. Hall’s back tightened up on him in practice and he needed some treatment.
“It’s a little tight right now, but we’ll see how it feels tomorrow,” Hall said. “It should be good to go.”
Defensive end Ryan Pickett (ankle) remained limited in practice, though McCarthy said he did more work than on Wednesday. Receiver Donald Driver (quad) participated in the opening jog-through and then did more rehab work with a goal of returning to practice on Friday.
Cornerback Charles Woodson (toe) and linebacker Clay Matthews (shin) also remained limited for the second straight day while tackle Chad Clifton (knee) and tight end Andrew Quarless (shoulder) were both upgraded to full participants for the full-pads workout.
The only change to the Vikings’ injury report is that receiver Bernard Berrian (groin) was upgraded to a limited participant after sitting out on Wednesday.
Additional coverage – Nov. 18