At first look, the Vikings-Packers matchup would appear to be a lopsided matchup. The Packers, like an aging boxer, cling to the belief that they possess the ultimate home-field advantage in the NFL.
But, it’s not the Alcatraz at which it has been portrayed. Granted, there was a time when being sent to Lambeau meant being sent to the gas chamber. But there have been too many calls from the governor in recent years to allow the Lambeau Mystique to still be justified.
But then something fishy happened along Lake Michigan. Atlanta came in after the 2002 season against the 12-4 Packers and owned them 27-7. The next year, wild card Seattle took the Packers to overtime before Matt Hasselbeck made his career statement of taking the ball after the coin flip and adding, “And we’ll win.” A player caught a pass thrown by Hasselbeck for the game-winning TD, but it was Green Bay cornerback Al Harris – who saved the day with an overtime pick-6. The next year, the Vikings took the Packers out in the only previous postseason meeting between the franchises.
To sum up, three straight years, Green Bay hosted playoff games against wild card teams. They lost two. Their defense bailed them out in the third. Let’s proceed.
Lambeau Field didn’t host another playoff game until 2007. The Packers again got the Seahawks and continued their hammer-and-nail rivalry with a 42-20 win. Thanks to Dallas and Tony Romo losing a critical home game (No! Really?) as the NFC’s No. 1 seed, all Green Bay had to do was win at home against the wild card Giants. They didn’t. In bitter twist of irony, Brett Favre’s last pass as a Packer was picked off in overtime. The gunslinger made Corey Webster famous and the Packers missed out on a Super Bowl trip that “the experts” said was inevitable.
Suddenly, the bully wasn’t so tough. The Packers’ front office masked the outrage of their fan base by throwing Favre into a press conference (and under the bus) – an event he didn’t want to conduct – to announce his retirement. It accomplished the David Blaine-worthy smoke-and-mirrors diversionary tactic that pulled the duped Packers fan base back off the collective ledge. Their anger was replaced by grief.
We all know how that stage play turned out. The Favre retirement didn’t take and the Packers got into a messy divorce with No. 4 that divided the fan base. Aaron Rodgers won a championship, but the Packers did it on TV in Green Bay, not in front of the genuflecting parishioners. They had their chance last year coming off a 15-1 season, but got bought, owned and sold by the Giants, 37-20.
The analysts (see below) will tell you to head to the pay window betting on the Packers Saturday night. In the last eight times Packers season ticket holders (or their heirs) have attended playoff games at Lambeau Field, they have left in tears six times.
The mystique of Lambeau Field resides in the Packers cemetery next to the mausoleum of Vince Lombardi. The postseason home-field advantage the Packers rode for 40 years is long since gone. Green Bay fans in snowmobile suits cleverly equipped with hidden flask pockets have seen much more tragedy than triumph in recent years when the Packers play in January. Losing six of eight isn’t tolerable most places, but, in Green Bay, hope springs eternal. Still, the ghosts of Januarys past aren’t forgotten. If things go sour early, they could go sour throughout.
If the Vikings can take early control of tomorrow’s game, the longtime Packers fans who relished in their former largesse will refer back to more recent history. Six losses in the last eight games – favorites in all, winners in few.
What’s to say that seven-of-nine isn’t possible?
If the analysts for NFL.com and the NFL Network are accurate, the Vikings are going to have a long Saturday night in front of them. Of the 18 analysts surveyed to make playoff predictions, 17 of them picked Green Bay to beat the Vikings – by far the most of any of the four playoff matchups. In the Cincinnati-Houston matchup, 11 of them picked the Texans. In the Indianapolis-Baltimore game, 13 of 18 picked the Ravens. In the predicted upset of Seattle at Washington, only five of 18 predicted the home Redskins to beat Seattle, despite the Seahawks winning just three road games all season.
John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this topic on our message boards. To become a subscriber to the Viking Update web site or magazine, click here.