When Brett Favre and Mike Holmgren arrived in Green Bay in 1992, the Packers went from an also-ran to a team with a winning record in one season. A year later, they added Reggie White and made the playoffs for the first time in a non-strike season in 21 years.
But the Packers weren’t considered serious Super Bowl contenders. The dominant teams in NFC were the San Francisco 49ers and the Dallas Cowboys. Those two teams had met in the NFC title game for the last three seasons and the winner of that game won the Super Bowl all three times.
But in 1995, the Packers were determined to change that. They won the NFC Central Division title for the first time since 1972. Then they defeated the Atlanta Falcons in the first round of the playoffs 37-20 to set up a meeting with the defending Super Bowl champion 49ers at Candlestick Park in the divisional round. Few people gave the Packers a chance. In fact, Green Bay was a 10-point underdog.
But to the surprise of most observers, the Packers came out and overwhelmed the 49ers, defeating them on their home field by a 27-17 score.
It was a big win for the Packers who advanced to the NFC Championship Game for the first time since the Ice Bowl in 1967.
“We had to show this, that we are indeed a real football team,” Packers GM Ron Wolf said after the game. “By God, I think we’ve done that today.”
The Packers came out and established that this game would be different right away. They took the opening kickoff and moved the ball downfield on a 12-play drive that stalled at the 49ers 26. Chris Jacke came in to try a 44-yard field goal but it was blocked and the Packers came away empty handed.
It didn’t stay that way for long. On the 49ers first offensive play of the game, quarterback Steve Young threw a pass to running back Adam Walker behind the line of scrimmage. He was hit hard by linebacker Wayne Simmons and the ball popped loose. Cornerback Craig Newsome scooped up the fumble and ran it back 31 yards for a touchdown. The Packers led 7-0.
The Green Bay defense was stout and held the 49ers to a three-and-out on their next possession. Favre then went to work, hitting tight end Keith Jackson over the middle for 35 yards followed by a 20-yard pass to receiver Robert Brooks. Two plays later Favre found Jackson in the left side of the end zone and the Packers led 14-0.
The Packers defense continued to shut down the potent 49ers attack. On the next drive, Favre mixed passes to his tight ends and receivers to set up another touchdown. First, he went to Anthony Morgan for 20 yards and then found Jackson for 35 more. The drive culminated with a 13-yard pass to tight end Mark Chmura and the Packers led 21-0 at the half.
In the third quarter, the 49ers got a field goal to get on the board, followed by a one-yard touchdown run by Young but the Packers answered with a pair of field goals by Jacke to put the game out of reach. The final was 27-17 as the Packers defense shut down the 49ers until garbage time when San Francisco finally moved the ball.
The Packers forced four turnovers in this game including interceptions by Newsome and safety Mike Prior. They also sacked Young three times.
Defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur was pleased with how aggressive his defense played especially early in the game. “I’ve played the 49ers 20 or 22 times,” Shurmur told The Boston Globe after the game. “If you don’t let them drive down the field on you in the first series, you’ve got a pretty good chance to win, so the idea was to keep them from establishing a rhythm. We were in our base defense for one snap. We used the Big Nickel…Having eight guys in coverage let us take away their third and fourth options.”
The Big Nickel featured safety LeRoy Butler who crept into the box to help stop the run. Butler was very effective and San Francisco gained only 87 yards on the ground all game.
Early in the ballgame they tried to establish the run,” nose tackle John Jurkovic said. “We took the run away and then they had to do something else.”
The 49ers expected to win and were stunned. “This game was really a shock,” linebacker Gary Plummer admitted. “The quick score by their defense elevated their game.”
The win announced to the NFL that the Packers weren’t just a good team or a playoff team, they were one of the best teams in the league and real Super Bowl contenders. “We beat the best team in football and we beat ‘em pretty good,” Favre said after the game. “No one gave us a chance, but we came here to win.”
The Packers advanced to their first of three straight NFC Championship Game appearances. Favre and the Packers had arrived.
Follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers
Click here for more great Packers coverage
Visit my Web site for all things Gil Martin