It's Packer Nation at my house tonight.
In the thirty years I’ve been passionately following the National Football League, I can count on one hand (and still have a few fingers left over) the number of times I’ve rooted for the Green Bay Packers to win a game.
To be specific, it’s been twice in my life.
December 24, 2000: My beloved Vikings needed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to lose their regular season finale to clinch the NFC Central division title and a first round bye. The Bucs happened to be visiting the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, taking on a Packers team that was already eliminated from postseason play. The Packers led throughout most of the game but the Bucs tied it late on a Martin Gramatica field goal, forcing overtime. However, the Pack prevailed 17-14 as Ryan Longwell booted a 22-yard field goal for the win, giving my club that cherished first round bye!
My Vikings would advance all the way to the NFC Championship but lose to the New York Giants in a game that has since been succinctly referred to as “41-doughnut.”
December 28, 2003: All the 9-6 Vikings had to do in the final game of the ’03 regular season was beat the pathetic Arizona Cardinals, who were 3-12 entering said game. With a win, the Vikes would clinch the NFC North division. But if the Vikings inexplicably lost, they could still win the division title with a Green Bay Packers defeat at the hands of the Denver Broncos. Nevertheless I was pulling for the Pack to win. My theory was that the Vikings didn’t deserve to go the playoffs as a 9-7 club with four losses to teams who finished 4-12. Therefore I wanted them to earn their way in with a victory.
Sure enough, the Pack destroyed the Broncos 31-3 while the Vikes struggled with Arizona, trailing 6-0 at halftime. But my favorite squad picked it up in the second half, taking a 17-6 lead late in the fourth quarter. With 1:54 remaining, the Cards closed the gap to 17-12 with a TD. The obligatory onside kick came next and sure enough it was recovered by Arizona at their 42-yard line. Five plays into the ensuing drive they got to the Vikings’ nine-yard line. But rookie defensive lineman Kevin Williams came up huge with a couple of sacks, putting the Cards back at the 28. With no timeouts, the Cardinals hurried to get up to the line for one last play. QB Josh McCown took the snap, avoided the rush and rolled to his right. With the clock reading 0:00, McCown heaved the ball towards the end zone. Despite having two Vikings defenders nearby, Arizona receiver Nathan Poole plucked the ball out the air for the game-winning touchdown. Vikes lose 18-17. No division title. No playoffs. No dignity.
So with my Vikings having lost a chance to clinch the NFC North yesterday, a Chicago Bears loss this evening would still hand them the title. The Bears opponent tonight? The Green Bay Packers!! And to commemorate the third ever occasion of my pulling for the Green & Gold, I’ve invited two Packer fans to my house to enjoy the game with me.
But I draw the line at wearing a block of cheese on my head.