With the NFL Draft still a couple of weeks away and no football on the horizon for who knows how long after that, there’s not much to do but look to the past for our NFL content. Pro Football Focus asked everyone to share their favorite NFL plays this week and we thought we’d put a Green Bay Packers-centric spin on that. Here are our favorite plays in relatively recent Packers history. What are yours?
Tex Western – Desmond Howard’s kickoff return
There are so many to choose from, not just in league history but even just in Packers history. Unfortunately for the Ice Bowl and Bart Starr’s legendary sneak, I was still decades away from existing, so I have to stick with something that I can actually remember. Out of that, I also must narrow it down to choices from one game in particular: Super Bowl XXXI. It’s the game that defined my football fandom as a kid, and thinking back on it fills me with great family memories.
While there are a couple of great defensive plays that stick out — four interceptions and Reggie White’s back-to-back sacks as the best — the big scoring plays are the ones that will always stick out in my mind. That group consists of Andre Rison’s 54-yard touchdown to get the scoring underway, Antonio Freeman’s 81-yarder, and of course Desmond Howard’s kickoff return.
I have to think back at my reactions to each to settle on one. Rison’s score was the early emotional release — after an early stop on defense, this was the big play that gave the Packers an early lead and whipped up the fandom into a frenzy. The fact that it was an audible makes it that much more fun.
After that play, the Patriots persevered, and Freeman’s score came after New England had taken a 14-10 lead. That gave the Packers back a narrow advantage on the scoreboard and it was from deep in Packers territory, making it arguably a more impactful play than the Rison score. But it doesn’t have the lasting memory like that play did — with Rison’s strut into the end zone and Favre sprinting off the field, helmet held aloft — nor Howard’s shining moment.
And that’s where I land as my favorite play. Remember that the Packers’ defense allowed Curtis Martin to gash them up the middle late in the third quarter, breaking tackle after tackle for an 18-yard touchdown to pull the Pats back within six points at 27-21. That set up the game’s final scoring play, which convinced young Tex that he was going to see one of his teams win a title for the first time in his life.
It’s the wedge. It’s Howard making subtle moves to make a few tacklers miss. It’s Don Beebe leading the way through the hole with a kick-out block. It’s Keith McKenzie blocking Adam Vinatieri downfield. It’s Howard doing the robot in the end zone. Every part of this play brings me joy, and it represents the moment when I knew that the Lombardi Trophy was coming home.
Jon Meerdink – Tramon Williams’ interception return against Atlanta
I had an interesting discussion with a friend the other day about which feeling is better: the moment when you realize something amazing will happen or when you realize it could happen.
I think the latter is better in a kind of sneaky way. There’s something tantalizing about the prospect of something you want moving from what you wish would happen to something actually feasible. It’s the feeling of hope, I suppose, especially when hope is more than a hypothetical.
That’s what I feel when I see a replay of Tramon Williams juking past Matt Ryan (presented here in the original Hungarian) on his way to a first half-ending touchdown in the 2010 Divisional Round. That was the moment when it hit me that, “holy cow, the Packers actually could win the Super Bowl.”
The Falcons scared me. They were a well-constructed team playing at home. They had strong weapons on offense and a fairly solid defense. The Packers had needed every last second to put away the vulnerable Eagles the week prior, and a back and forth first half in Atlanta didn’t assuage any anxious feelings.
That is, until, Williams jumped the out route that everyone saw coming and cruised past the Falcons for a score, turning the tide for good and burying whatever hopes the Falcons had. That’s when a Super Bowl win seemed — for the first time — like a real possibility.
Peter Bukowski – Rodgers to Cobb Week 17, 2013
Recency bias perhaps, but it will never stop being a dunkable moment on the Bears. This was the team who looked like they might end the Packers season when Rodgers broke his collarbone. To watch the rest of the NFC North, the Lions in particular, crumble around Green Bay was a delight on its own.
To be able to go to Chicago with a chance to be win-and-in, to beat the rival Bears on national television, and exact a measure of revenge for the Rodgers injury all would have been sweet enough. To create a signature moment, Rodgers sliding away from his future teammate (and Hall of Famer) Julius Peppers, slinging it downfield to Cobb and knowing when he crossed the plain, the Packers were going to win, provides an undeniably enduring memory. Joe Bucks’ call, minimal yet frantic, solidifies the memory in amber.
Honorable mentions: Rodgers to Cook vs. Dallas, “We want the ball and we’re gonna score,” “He did what,” Raji pick-six plus dance
Paul Noonan - Nate Poole breaks Paul Allen, or “Caught! Touchdown! No!”
Perhaps this makes me a bad person, but other than winning Super Bowls I’m not sure anything has gotten me quite as hyped as this play. And it’s not as if it didn’t impact the Packers, as it gave them the division, set up Matt Hasselbeck’s finest moment the following week (which should probably have its own entry), and gave the 2003 team a legit shot at a title that they just barely missed out on (thanks to FredEx). This season was wacky as all get out.
Combine all of that with Paul Allen’s epic call of the play, and you really have something special. I can watch this on repeat all day, and probably will for the next few hours.