Note: This story was published Dec. 27, 1993.
Green Bay, Wis. - If you've heard it once, you've heard it said a hundred times by a broken-down Packer from the past 20 years: "We just never could get over the hump."
But, nobody in Green Bay ever could figure out what was missing until early 1992, when a good coach, Mike Holmgren, and a good quarterback, Brett Favre, arrived within a month of one another to solve the two most critical posts on any football team.
Everything Holmgren preached - ball-control offense, aggressive defense, mistake-free football - came together with good execution by Favre Sunday at Lambeau Field. With a blast of 1-degree arctic air sending the wind chill index to 20 below zero, a crowd of 54,482 fans celebrated the Packers' first playoff berth since the strike-shortened 1982 season.
"In the second year, what we've done for this program, it's not unbelievable but it's quite an accomplishment," Favre said.
The Packers (9-6) clinched at least a wild-card entry with perhaps their finest overall performance of the season. Their victims, the talented Los Angeles Raiders, were rendered null and void, 28-0, by a team that again responded to Holmgren's urgings the week after the most disheartening of defeats.
This was the fourth time in the last 11 games that the Packers followed a sickening setback with a stirring victory. It followed the 21-17 loss to Minnesota, just as the loss at Dallas was followed by the victory against Denver, the loss at Kansas City was followed by the victory at New Orleans, and the loss at Chicago was followed by the victory at San Diego.
"[Character] is a word that's tossed around a lot, but I believe in it," Holmgren said. "Anytime you bounce back from a real tough loss it builds character on your team. Obviously, you see a pattern of inconsistency there, but it's a resilient group."
And so now the Packers are over the proverbial hump, which seemed as high as Mt. Everest for most of the Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg and Lindy Infante regimes. Win the finale Sunday at Detroit and the championship of the National Football Conference Central Division will be theirs for the first time since 1972.
"The only way you get respect around the league is to win your division," safety LeRoy Butler said. "We look at Detroit as the biggest game in our careers."
Harsh, frigid weather was a factor in the Raiders' demise. "I would like to play these guys on a better surface," safety Eddie Anderson said. "Our guys could match up better with them, I think."
As it is, the Raiders (9-6) still can clinch a playoff berth if they win at home against Denver or if Pittsburgh, 8-7, loses to Cleveland. This was the Raiders' most one-sided loss in 46 games.
In an oblique way, this game was partly decided when owner Al Davis' blood feud with Marcus Allen ended when the future Hall of Fame running back signed with Kansas City. With neither Allen nor injured Greg Robinson in the lineup, the Raiders were forced to use enigmatic Nick Bell as their featured runner.
Bell has the prototype size and speed to keep Green Bay's pass rush honest, but not the heart. His failure to gain on third and 1 at the Green Bay 35 set a first-series tone, and after he fumbled twice in the second quarter coach Art Shell benched him.
Together, Davis' menagerie of runners Napoleon McCallum, Tyrone Montgomery, Randy Jordan and Bell rushed 12 times for 42 times. It enabled the Packers' relentless pass rushers to tee off for eight sacks, their highest total since a game on Sept. 24, 1978, at San Diego and just one shy of the club record.
"We established Nick Bell as pretty bad," a Raiders official said. "He's the Ralph Sampson of the NFL. He's got all that power and strength but all he wants to do is shoot 30-foot jump shots."
Bell's pussy-footing style contrasted sharply to Green Bay's hard-running tandem of Darrell Thompson and Edgar Bennett. It was brutal trying to gain inside on the icy, treacherous footing between the hash marks, but when Holmgren started to run wide in the second half his backs responded with 139 yards in 36 rushes.
Favre desperately needed at least the threat on the ground because the loss of tight end Jackie Harris depleted his big-play weapons.
"You don't have speed," Favre said.
What Favre had was an offensive line that gave an honest day's work neutralizing the Raiders' top-flight front four. He had Sterling Sharpe, against whom the Raiders made the mistake by not assigning more help to cornerbacks Terry McDaniel and Lionel Washington. And Favre had his own wits.
Considering the field and weather, the Raiders' defense and his penchant for turnovers, one might think that Favre would be good for at least a few interceptions, fumbles or costly snafus. But in his 28th game as an NFL starter Favre was almost flawless.
"Surprise," Favre said with a grin. "A little vindication after all the ---- I've gone through. There's some quarterbacks with a higher rating and more touchdowns, but you can throw all that out the window. We're in the playoffs."
The game was scoreless until Mike Prior returned a punt 24 yards to the Raiders' 48 late in the first half. Then Favre maximized what chances he had to throw downfield, drilling passes of 11 and 17 yards to Sharpe and setting up Bennett's 1-yard touchdown run.
Then, on the first snap of the second half, Favre lofted a strike to Ed West for 24 yards between safeties Derrick Hoskins and Anderson. Seven plays later, Sharpe scored to make it 14-0, and the rest was mostly academic.
"They're hoping for a quick burst of something to get them back in it," Favre said. "Then all of a sudden we gash them like that. I think basically it took them out of the game."
On the Raiders' first play after the kickoff, Tony Bennett sacked Jeff Hostetler so hard that the quarterback suffered a concussion when his head bounced off the frozen field. Hostetler played cards on the team's return flight and was expected to play against the Broncos, but his departure only encouraged the Packers' assault on backup Vince Evans.
Even at 38, Evans still eludes rushers well. He was sacked four times in a hopeless second half marked by the almost total collapse of a proud offensive line.
Reggie White, John Jurkovic and Bennett had 2 1/2 sacks apiece. Because of the slippery field, they relied almost totally on slow but effective bull rushes that worked in perfect harmony with what was happening down field.
"They've not really tried to run the football a great deal of late," Packers defensive line coach Greg Blache said of the Raiders. "Early today they tried and just gave up on it. They have all that speed outside. We tried to cave in the pocket and asked the coverage to make him go to his second read. Then we thought we could get there."
In the secondary, Terrell Buckley said the footing prevented speedsters James Jett, Alexander Wright, Tim Brown and Raghib Ismail from making sharp cuts on slants and out patterns. When the Packers' defenders maintained their technique, the quarterbacks elected to hold the ball for receivers who seldom came free.
"On some plays they had to chop their steps and it gave us a better read," Buckley said. "It helped us more than them."
The Raiders' longest completion to a wide receiver was 27 yards, and that came at 21-0 in the fourth quarter.
"The best thing we've got going is the defense is playing great," guard Doug Widell said. "It'll keep you in every game, as long as the offense minimizes our mistakes."
Now it's on to Pontiac to climb the next mountain.