Very few teams that are in different divisions have a history like the Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers have.
There have been hurt feelings during the draft, heartbreak at the hands of the other team, family members facing off, controversial calls, and coaches leaving from one team to go to the other. Playoff matchups between the teams have also featured three of the greatest QBs of all time: Brett Favre, Aaron Rodgers and Steve Young, not to mention the supporting casts of legends like Jerry Rice and Reggie White.
Since 1995, the Packers and the 49ers have met in the playoffs seven times, which is the second-most of any two teams in the Super Bowl era. In the late 90’s and early 2000’s Brett Favre was at the helm, and for the two games in the 2010’s Aaron Rodgers was leading the charge. Three times in the history of these teams, the winner of this game has went on to make the Super Bowl.
Here’s a look at the two distinct eras that have defined this rivalry in the postseason.
The Favre Era (1995-2001)
In the early 90s, Brett Favre was an up and coming star in the NFL, but no one knew just how good the Packers could be. They were out to prove their ceiling was a Super Bowl victory, and they were led by the Gunslinger himself. The Packers spent the second half of the decade showcasing just how dominant they could be, and the star studded 49ers were often on the receiving end in the playoffs.
During the Brett Favre era, the Packers and the 49ers played each other in the playoffs five times. Of those five games, the Packers won four of them.
All four wins were by 10 or more points, including a startling upset victory after the 1995 season. After a Wild Card win over Atlanta, the Packers upset the second-seeded 49ers 27-17, jumping out to an early 21-0 lead and letting the defense force four turnovers to book a trip to Dallas for the NFC Championship Game. Green Bay would lose that contest, but this win was a sign of things to come.
The biggest margin of victory came after the 1996 season. The Packers won by 19 on a rainy day in Green Bay, which became known as the Mud Bowl. Offense was all but useless in a game where Favre only threw 15 times for 79 yards and one score. Steve Young left after San Francisco’s second drive, and the special teams unit that featured Desmond Howard was huge for the Packers. They went on to win Super Bowl XXXI against the Patriots to prove that they were built to be champions.
The next season, they met in the playoffs again, this time in San Francisco for the NFC crown. This game is what secured the Packers as one of the best, if not the best team in the league. Brett Favre had just won another MVP, and they upset the 49ers in San Francisco for a trip to a second Super Bowl, but ultimately lost to the Broncos.
Steve Young took notice of the fact that it seemed like these Green Bay Packers had the 49ers’ number after losing to them three years in a row, saying “We have to find a way to beat the Packers. They are the team standing in the way of all our progress.” They got the opportunity again the next season.
One of the biggest moments that Packers fans remember was actually in their only loss in this era. The two teams met in the 1998 Wild Card round, the 4th year in a row they met in the playoffs. After the Packers won the last three years, including two huge upsets, everyone assumed the Packers would win...and they should have.
The loss came after one of the most controversial calls in playoff history, the Jerry Rice non-fumble. After the Packers had just scored to go up 27-23 with a 1:30 left to ago, Steve Young passed the ball to Jerry Rice who proceeded to make a move down field and then fumbled the ball with 40 seconds left in the game.
Wait, but did he?
According to the refs in that game, he did not fumble and ultimately the 49ers went on to win that game with a last-second touchdown to Terrell Owens. During the broadcast, John Madden does a good job of breaking down the fumble, and it is clear that Rice’s knee is not down before the ball is loose. Of course, this was before the modern day replay system, which went into effect the next season, so Packers fans had to live with the results.
After this game, Mike Holmgren left for the Seattle Seahawks.
You can watch the video below and decide for yourself.
Favre did play the 49ers one more time with Favre under center, in the 2001 Wild Card Round, which the Packers won 25-15, and then he did not face the 49ers again for over a decade.
Despite that heartbreaking loss, Brett Favre and the Packers had consistent success against great 49ers teams and proved why he was one of the all time greats. The Favre era is remembered for being the time when the Packers ascended to be the best team in the league, and marks their return to glory that they had not experienced in a long time.
However, Aaron Rodgers has not had the same success against his hometown team.
The Rodgers Era (2012 & 2013)
The Aaron Rodgers of the early 2010s is considered by some fans and members of the media as the most talented QB to ever play the sport. Coming off a Super Bowl win in 2010 and then a 15-1 season that ended in disaster, fans were hungry for the Packers to live up to the potential of Rodgers and co.
These games could be un-affectionately known as the Colin Kaepernick era, because he caused serious problems for the Packers in the playoffs. Tensions were already high between these two teams, in part based on the fact that the 49ers took Alex Smith over Aaron Rodgers in the 2005 NFL draft and Rodgers slid to the Packers.
During the 2012 season, Kaepernick replaced Alex Smith and ended up going 5-2 as a starter, which ultimately led to the Packers and 49ers meeting in the playoffs for the sixth time.
Despite a strong start with a pick-six for the Packers, they had no answer for the 49ers’ read option plays. Kaepernick set the NFL playoff record for quarterbacks by running for 181 yards and two scores, adding two more touchdown passes on top of that. The game ended with the Packers losing 45-31. This heartbreaking loss marked another season where the greatness of the Packers was not fully realized.
Packers fans most likely still have nightmares of this game, where they relive the linebackers chasing Kaepernick everywhere across the field.
The Packers’ fortunes did not improve when the played they 49ers again the next season. Green Bay started off hot again with a 5-2 record, and then it happened. During the Bears game on Monday Night Football, the Bears sacked Aaron Rodgers, and the entire Packer Nation let out a collective gasp as Aaron Rodgers left injured and ultimately missed most of the remainder of the season with a broken collarbone.
The Packers came into the game 8-7-1 after they won the NFC North thanks to a vintage Rodgers bomb to Randall Cobb against the Bears in week 17, and it had all the makings of a magical redemption story.
The 49ers cruised to a 12-4 record in the regular season, but ended up on the road in the Wild Card game as the Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West at 13-3.
The fourth quarter of this game saw the lead change four times, but ultimately it was the 49ers who kicked a game winning field goal as time expired to eliminate the Packers for the second year in a row. Again, another heartbreaking loss for The Packers at the hands of the 49ers. In the years since this loss, the Packers seem to only have heartbreaking losses in the playoffs, losing in overtime each of the next two seasons.
These two teams were both great in this period, but Aaron Rodgers ended up going 0-2 in the playoffs against the 49ers.
2020’s And Beyond
On Draft day in 2005, when Rodgers was asked if he was disappointed about getting passed up by the 49ers he said “Not as disappointed as the 49ers will be that they didn’t draft me.” He has a chance to make those words come true on Sunday.
Revenge is on the minds of Packer players and fans leading up the the NFC Championship Game. During the 2019 regular season, the 49ers dominated the Packers, winning 37-8. The Packers are a 7.5-point underdog, and many media members and numbers analysts feel that this team is one of the worst 13-3 teams in league history.
But now, it is a new decade and the NFL playoffs are a whole different ball game. The Packers are one game away for the Super Bowl, and the only team standing in the way is a team the Packers have seen plenty of times before.
If the Packers can win this game, it can make up a bit of the heartbreak they felt at the hands of the 49ers last decade, and it may usher in a new chapter of the Packers-49ers playoff story.