Christmas came early for the Pack this year. It took the form of a 60 yard dime dropped into Jordy’s waiting arms with seconds remaining in regulation–after that, the festivities began in earnest. Green Bay woke up on Tuesday, comfy in bed, and rushed to the window looking for newly fallen snow. Except it wasn’t snow falling, it was the record of every team ahead of them in the playoff race. Emboldened by this stroke of good luck, Pack Nation rejoiced. However, a dark cloud loomed: Vikings.
Even so, It is a wonderful time to be a Packers fan and, if you’re anything like me, you were walking with a spring in your step these last few days. But, as my lovely fantasy suggested, there is more work to be done. I wrote last week about Chicago and the great rivalry we have with them. There have been so many great contests and individuals over the years–its hard not to get a little misty-eyed thinking about our relationship with Chicago. The Vikings are a whole different animal. The memories I have of the Vikings are bench-clearing brawls, disrespect, mullets, and a colossal betrayal/revenge saga that defined the team for a half-decade. There is no good blood between these two teams that I can see.
I say this as a reformed Viking supporter. I know, I know–I’ll probably be fired for telling anyone this. But, when Brett left town, I went with him. The Vikings gave him one last chance that ended so stupidly predictable that I immediately bounced back into my love for the Packers. It didn’t hurt that Aaron Rodgers was coming on at the same time. But for those few years…up was down, dog was cat, and I watched like 12 Vikings games. We’re going to skip those for now and focus on the good times.
Good times were had during the Lombardi era in Minnesota for sure. The Vikings entered the league as an expansion team in 1961 and were promptly placed in the same division as the team that would define the decade. Previously, pro-ball in Minnesota had been somewhat unsuccessful. In fact, a man from Superior, Wisconsin founded the first Vikings team in the late 20’s. His name–and I am way too excited about this–was Ole Haugsrud. Just take a moment with that one. I pronounce it as “ol’ hogsrud” and I think you should too. Ole was given the option of having ownership in any team created in Minnesota after that. When the Vikings were founded in 1960, he took a 10% stake and was on board to the end of his life. It’s nice to know that even the guy that created Minnesota professional football is technically a homegrown Wisconsin boy. Like a younger brother, they can’t have anything that wasn’t ours first.
The early history of the Packers and Vikings goes as you would expect: when Lombardi was there we won most of the time–but when Bud Grant was a coach for the Vikings they returned it in kind. The Vikings were 22-10 against the Packers during his tenure. The Packers became marginally better and Bud Grant stopped coaching them, so we won the next decade (1979-1990) 16-5. The arrival of Favre and Rodgers gave the Packers a slight cushion and now the all-time series stands at 58-50-2 for the Packers in the regular season. The Vikings have no chance at history on the 24th. But they can sweep the Packers and really ruin the whole “run the table” meme. However, I think the Packers are taking this seriously.
The Packers and the Vikings are not normal rivals. Geography plays a huge part in every game. Remember the Vikings best coach, the one I mentioned earlier, Bud Grant? He, somehow, is also from Superior, Wisconsin. But it’s not surprising he coached in Minnesota because Superior and Duluth, MN are port cities that account for one metropolis. We are joined at the hip. But, as my Packers friends say, “I want to beat the Bears, but I want to beat up the Vikings.” And there is one game that exemplifies this methodology perfectly.
Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings
December 24, 2004
Final: GB-34 MIN-31
When I found out there was a game on Christmas Eve between these teams before I thought, “how nice”. But when I realized exactly how similar this game was to our upcoming contest–well that’s why I do this job. The records are almost identical and of course the winner has a much better chance of making the playoffs. The Vikings clearly have less of an opportunity this year, however. A diluted NFC meant that in 2004 both teams were probably going either way. But it was still a dogfight because the winning team could clinch the division and get a home game in the playoffs.
Ahman Green left for a bit with a “head injury”. Favre threw a pick-6 on one drive and then came right back with a touchdown the next. Green Bay’s secondary was a leaky faucet all game. It ended up being an ugly game about which Mark Wahle remarked, “As ugly as that game was, you’re gonna remember how we finished.” The Packers were used to adversity that year: They started 1-4 and ended up winning the division. It turns out sucking until you don’t is Packer tradition after all! All is forgiven when you win the division.
This game mattered quite a bit for the division, in fact, as it forced a road game on Minnesota to get through the first round even if they made it. They came to Green Bay, as it were. I don’t want to spoil it for you, but this happened. (Old man Brett shaking his head is easily the best part of that video–and that’s saying something.) Long story short, Daunte Culpepper and Randy Moss ended up going farther than the Packers that year. Something I’m not particularly worried about this year.
In any case, remember Daunte Culpepper? There were a couple of years there, with Randy Moss stretching the field, that Culpepper was one of the best QB’s in the league. At the end of this game, Culpepper had 39 touchdowns and 7 interceptions to go along with 406 yards rushing that resulted in 2 more scores. That’s a very Aaron Rodgers stat line. I won’t hesitate to say those stats would probably win you the MVP this year, if you had a good team. The Vikings, however, did not have a great team–they had a great passing game. They were 6th in points for and 26th in points against. In 2004, we were right on the cusp of the era where you could get away with that. But the Packers managed to beat a better offense by countering with a more balanced team defense and holding the ball for a dominant time of possession advantage.
Both times the Packers met the Vikings in ’04, the game ended with a Ryan Longwell kick. Both times the Packers won 31-34. Identical wins isn’t a detail I see repeating this time. It would be a tall order for the Vikings to hold us 14 points at home. Though they might want to bring Longwell out of retirement after this Blair Walsh missed kick. (Longwell is a member of a fun list of people that played for us both that also includes Jim McMahon–I’m going to have to do a feature on him at some point)
The flow of this game was very reminiscent of the week 17 game we played against the Vikings in 2012. It was back and forth the entire time. The big difference is that when the Vikings tied it up, Brett drove down the field and didn’t give them any room. That’s something I could see repeating itself. Between Aaron and Brett, we have grown accustomed to our leaders closing out. Aaron led a very similar drive last week. Except Brett threw to Javon Walker for 31 yards and ended up having to kneel down to wind down the clock. It was much more Aaron’s style to get it done in half the time.