The 1989 Green Bay Packers were one of the most exciting teams in the NFL. Nobody expected them to be good that year, coming off a 4-12 record the previous season. But Don Majkowski and a group of underrated players came through to create a 10-win season full of last-minute cliffhangers that remain remarkable more than three decades later. But the most memorable game they won came in Week 9 when they defeated the Chicago Bears 14-13 in what would forever be remembered as “The Instant Replay Game.”

The Packers and Bears Leading Up to the Instant Replay Game

The Packers entered the game at 4-4, already matching their win total from the previous season. They had earned the nickname, “The Cardiac Pack” because six of their first eight games were decided by three points or less and usually in the final minute.

Meanwhile, the Bears entered the game with a 5-3 record and were tied for first place with the Minnesota Vikings. While the Packers hadn’t won the NFC Central Division title since 1972, Mike Ditka’s team had finished first in the division for the last five seasons.

The Bears had also dominated the series between these two ancient rivals. The Bears won the last the last eight games between the two teams and 10 of the last 11.

The Packers knew how important this game was to the rest of their season. If they won it, they would be tied with the Bears in the standings with the arrow pointed up. If they lost, they would be perceived as the same old Packers and the Bears dominance would continue.

The Start of the Instant Replay Game

The home crowd at Lambeau Field was excited for the Packers biggest rival. The Packers seemed determined not to send them home disappointed early.

Green Bay drew first blood in the first quarter on a 24-yard touchdown pass from Majkowski to tight end Clint Didier. The score came on a well-executed play action fake. The Bears linebackers and safeties bit on what they thought was a run and Didier was five yards behind the nearest defender and easily scored on the play. The Packers led 7-0.

The Bears answered later in the first quarter on a 25-yard field goal by kicker Kevin Butler. The second quarter was scoreless, and the Packers entered the locker room with a 7-3 lead at halftime.

The Bears Dominate the Third Quarter

Chicago controlled the play in the third quarter and took the lead. First, they pulled to within one point on a 37-yard field goal by Butler. The drive started at the Green Bay 35 after the Packers punted out of their end zone. A sack by Tim Harris forced the Bears to settle for three points.

Then, the Bears took the lead on their next drive. A long pass from starting quarterback Jim Harbaugh to Dennis Gentry set up a two-yard touchdown run by fullback Brad Muster. Chicago led 13-7 heading into the final quarter.

The Packers Had Their Chances in the Fourth Quarter of the Instant Replay Game

The Packers had their chances in the fourth quarter but kept turning the ball over before they could score. On the first play of the final stanza, the Pack had the ball at the Bears 20, but Majkowski was sacked by John Roper and fumbled. Bears linebacker Ron Rivera fell on the loose ball to end the Green Bay threat.

When the Packers got the ball back, Majik found running back Brent Fullwood on a 67-yard pass play to get the ball to the Bears 23. Two plays later, he looked for Sterling Sharpe in the end zone, but Rivera picked the ball off and the Packers were stymied again.

“I told Don right after the second time we lost the ball down there – when he threw the interception, ‘Mark my words,’ I said. “’You’re going to be the hero before the day is over,’” said Packers coach Lindy  Infante. “And he was. I guess I turned out to be a little bit of a prophet there.”

The Exciting Final Drive of the Instant Replay Game

The Packers started the final drive at their own 27. On the first play, Majkowski sidestepped the rush and found Perry Kemp who carried to the Bears 47. On the next play, Bears DT Steve McMichael nearly intercepted a tipped pass, but tight end Ed West wrestled it away from him and kept the drive alive.

Completions to wideout Aubrey Matthews and West put the ball at the Chicago 18. Then a pass to running back Herman Fontenot set up a 4th-and-inches at the Chicago 9. Vince Workman hurdled the line and picked up a first down at the seven.

On the next play, Roper knocked the ball loose from Majkowski. Packers center Blair Bush fell on the loose ball at the 14 to keep hope alive for Green Bay.

“I felt like I was moving in slow motion,” Bush said after the game.

After two incomplete passes the Packers faced fourth and goal at the Chicago 14 with 41 second remaining.

The Controversy of the Instant Replay Game

The Packers had just one chance left. Majkowski avoided the rush and rolled wide to his right. When he got near the line of scrimmage, he let a pass go to Sharpe in the end zone for a touchdown.

“I immediately aborted the play,” Majkowski recalled. “I said I’ve got to buy some time and let my receivers do their thing, and let the scramble drill, which we practiced a lot, take effect.”

Initially, he was looking for Matthews or Kemp on the right side, but they were covered. Then, Majik saw Sharpe out of the corner of his eye and threw across his body to his favorite target in the end zone.

“I was going to throw the ball up for grabs to Perry Kemp but at the last second, I saw Sterling Sharpe coming across,” Majkowski said. “That’s a hard pass when you’re going to your right to throw back across your body. Good thing there was a nice clear path to throw it.”

“All I had to do was look it in,” Sharpe said. “He put it right in my stomach. I wasn’t going to try anything fancy.”

The Packers Celebrate

The celebration was on, but it was short-lived. An official threw a flag claiming Majkowski was across the line of scrimmage when he threw the ball. But the play was subject to instant replay review.

“I had full confidence that I wasn’t over the line,” Majkowski said. “I have a pretty good sense of where I am on the field, and I was disappointed that the ref threw the flag all the way from the other side of the field.”

After a lengthy review, the call was overturned, and the touchdown stood. There was pandemonium at Lambeau Field. Kicker Chris Jacke kicked the extra point and the Packers led 14-13 with 32 seconds left.

The Bears couldn’t get past their own 40 in the final seconds. The Packers had finally beaten their oldest rivals.

The Aftermath of the Packers Win in the Instant Replay Game

The win was an emotional one for a team that hadn’t enjoyed a winning season in seven years and hadn’t beaten the Bears in five.

“I’m overwhelmed with emotion,” linebacker Brian Noble said. “Guys were crying. Guys were screaming. I was crying and screaming. I’ve been here a long time now. We have been through some games with these guys that have come down to the wire like this one did. Somehow, we always found ourselves on the short end of the stick. I guarantee you right now there’s a party in Green Bay tonight.”

“There were so many opportunities for us to maybe look at ourselves and say we couldn’t do it. But, quite frankly, we looked at ourselves and said we could,” Infante said. “I’m at a loss for words, I really don’t know what you say about a football team like the one we have here.”

The Bears were furious. For years, they put an asterisk in their media guide next to this game and felt it was unfair.

But years later, Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary made a startling admission. “In all honesty, they deserved to win the game,” Singletary said. “The fact that the call was overturned in the end I thought it was fitting.”

Nobody in Green Bay would disagree.



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