GREEN BAY, Wis: (WFRV)–Most fans of football can debate whether or not the “modern” era began in 1933, or even 1970 when the NFL and AFL merged. But for the sake of keeping the topic relevant regarding the Green Bay Packers and Denver Broncos, you might as well interpret the rivalry starting with the arrival of Ron Wolf. In 1993, the Packers had started the year with a dismal 1-3 record in Mike Holmgren’s second season. Prior to that, optimism was running high for several reasons and despite winning 6 out of their last 7 games in 1992 and posting a 9-7 record, Green Bay had missed out on the playoffs. But the biggest reasons for enthusiasm and expectation was the arrival of Reggie White. In the off-season, the All-Pro defensive end was the most highly sought after free agent in the NFL and after signing with the Packers, he became the highest-paid defensive player in the history of the league. 4 years, $17 million dollars. By way of comparison, Aaron Rodgers makes almost ten times that and his salary at the time-averaged $4.25 million. Which is what Corey Linsley makes right now. White also became the third-highest paid player in the NFL trailing only John Elway and Dan Marino at the time.
In the 5th game of that season, White would become a household name in Wisconsin, and fans quickly latched on to a chant that would become familiar throughout Lambeau Field for the next six years. The Packers had only been on national tv three times in the previous eight years before Green Bay hosted Denver on Sunday night October 10th, and it quickly turned into one of the most memorable moments in team history. The Packers had dominated the game in the first half building a 30–7 lead while scoring on each of their first six possessions. Brett Favre was on fire throwing for 182 yards, including a 66-yard touchdown toss to TE Jackie Harris. The second half was a completely different story, with Favre throwing three interceptions including one of them that was returned for a touchdown in the 3rd quarter, and as a group, they had a paltry 61 yards of offense. Elway, on the other hand, was putting on a show in their comeback. He completed 33 of 59 passes for 367 yards and a score, cutting the deficit to 30–27. Late in the contest, the Broncos had a chance to tie the game with a field goal or go for the win, but White was able to drop Elway to the turf twice, preserving the victory. Whites friend and teammate George Koonce was there that night and remembers how it was a turning point for the franchise.
“He dominated. That was the first time I think back in North Carolina they had a chance to see the Packers on national television, and Reggie White absolutely dominated. He came into the Packers organization at 31 years old, and some players were wondering ‘Is he really the real deal? Does he have anything left in the tank?’ He showed that night not only did he have a lot in the tank, but he also had a lot more. Reggie White ran down John Elway and I remembered the fans shouting “Reggie, Reggie, Reggie” and he seemed to be gaining energy from the crowd and it was great to see him in that element, because Reggie White was in the prime of his career.”
The next chapters would be written together in some ways because in 1996 when Green Bay went on to win Super Bowl 31, Denver didn’t play Elway and some key players in their 41-6 loss at Lambeau Field near the end of the season. The Broncos had already locked up home-field advantage in the AFC with a 12-2 record but were upset in the divisional round by Jacksonville. And that would set up a showdown and letdown of epic proportions the following season in Super Bowl 32.
“It was tough in San Diego, I think we were a 10 or 11 point favorite. The largest point spread of any Super Bowl at that time. I don’t think we overlooked them, but we may have gotten a little complacent because we knew how good they were.” said Koonce. With the running back they had in Terrell Davis. A Hall of Fame quarterback. They had a great tight end. They also had an unbelievable defense. We were gassed at the end and didn’t have anything left.”
In 1999 the Ray Rhodes era started out in solid fashion with the team going 3-1 over the first quarter of the season. But then they went to Denver and were beaten soundly by the Broncos 31-10 in what could have been Brett Favre’s worst game in his NFL career. The future Hall of Famer was 7-23 passing for 120 yards and 3 interceptions.
Four years later in 2003, the Packers dominated Denver 31-3 and they needed to win big, if they were going to plan on getting back to the postseason. Green Bay needed a victory combined with a Minnesota loss to take the NFC North divisional title. At the time the 3-12 Cardinals stunned the Vikings with a Josh McCown to Nate Poole 28 yard TD pass to win the game 18-17 and ultimately knock Minnesota out of the playoffs. The Packers took care of business in a big way and Ahman Green not only broke the single-season rushing record that year, he also had the longest rushing TD in franchise history against the Broncos, while also setting the single-game record with 218 yards.
Racine native Kevin Barry was a huge part of the Packers rushing attack at that time and he remembers the record-breaking run vividly.
“I knew he (Ahman) could go the distance, and we had the perfect hole. Bubba (Franks) had a great kick out block on the outside and I was supposed to have a double team to the inside. The linebacker shot inside and when I saw that I ended up crushing my guy pancaking him. And when I saw that big of a hole, I knew Ahman was gone. To be part of that play at Lambeau Field? It’s probably the greatest single play of my pro career.”
The next time these two foes met was in 2007 in what would be Brett Favre’s last season with the Packers. Green Bay had another hot start going 5-1 in the second year of Mike McCarthy’s tenure and after battling the Broncos in a defensive struggle for sixty minutes, the game was tied at 13 and head to overtime. Favre dropped back and on the very first play of OT, fired a perfect strike to a streaking Greg Jennings down the sidelines. 82 yards later, the Packers had a walk-off 19-13 win in the mile-high city. At the time Favre said,
“I was nervous as heck. I haven’t been in too many overtime games. We got the ball and I figured we probably had one chance. If we don’t go down and do something, this is probably it. Don’t screw it up, whatever you do.”
2011 was Green Bays encore Super Bowl 45 season. At the time, nobody knew this group would end up setting the franchise scoring mark with 560 points. They were 3-0 but ended up scoring 49 points against the Broncos and that was the most they had the entire season where they began with the year with a 13 game win streak. Athletically, it might have been one of the greatest performances by Rodgers and if you play fantasy football, this was a game to remember. The future MVP that season threw for a career-high 408 yards, tied his career-best with four touchdown passes, and he rushed for a pair of scores. It was pretty clear that Mike McCarthy had a hunch Rodgers was well on his way to having a great year.
“Aaron Rodgers obviously is playing extremely well,” McCarthy said. “I can’t say enough. He is a special player.” “Trust me, we don’t have it all figured out as a football team, we’re 4-0, but we’re very in tune with what we need to improve as a team.”
Much like 1999 with Favre, the 2015 contest against the Broncos wasn’t much of one. It could be considered one of the worst games of Aaron Rodgers career as a starter. The game was on national television on Sunday night football and both teams had started the season on fire with identical 6-0 records. But Green Bay’s momentum was halted in a hurry on the road with a 29-10 loss where Rodgers was 14-22, with a measly 77 yards and 0 TD’s.
At this point Denver is clearly in a rebuilding mode. They have a first-year head coach and offensive coordinator. Joe Flacco still has a big arm and a has won a Super Bowl, and is still finding his way in a new system that is in the top 5 for yards over the first two weeks but is in the bottom 5 for points scored. History doesn’t bode well for Denver or Vic Fangio at Lambeau Field. The Packers have beaten the Broncos four straight times at home, and in five seasons with the Bears, Green Bay went 4-1 against Fangio. The Packers are 5-0-1 all-time against the Broncos at home.
Expect the same results on Sunday.