The Green Bay Packers won their second straight NFC Championship Game when they went into San Francisco and beat the 49ers 23-10 to advance to Super Bowl XXXII. Brett Favre threw for 222 yards and a touchdown while Dorsey Levens ran for 114 yards and another score. The Packers defense shut down the potent 49ers offense and helped the Packers pull off the road win in the 1997 NFC Championship Game.
The Lead Up to the Packers Win in the 1997 NFC Championship Game
The 1997 Green Bay Packers finished with a 13-3 record for the second straight season. The defending Super Bowl champs got off to a slow start, going just 3-2 in their first five games. But the Packers won 10 of their last 11 games including a pair of five-game winning streaks.
“The road here was quite different,” Packers coach Mike Holmgren said. “When you are repeating, some of that glory is taken away from you and it’s no one’s fault. It’s just the way it is. It’s harder for your team, coaches, and me to enjoy each win because the expectation level was so high. I battled them and tried to get them to do that.”
Favre won his third straight league MVP, Levens gained a career-high 1,435 yards rushing while both Antonio Freeman and Robert Brooks topped 1,000 yards receiving. On defense, Reggie White went to the Pro Bowl after recording 11 sacks while LeRoy Butler earned All Pro honors with five interceptions and three sacks.
The Packers earned a bye in the first round and then soundly defeated the Tampa Bucs 21-7 to earn their third straight trip to the NFC Championship Game. This one would be played on the road against a 49ers team that won the top seed in the NFC with a 13-3 record. The 49ers featured future Hall of Famers like quarterback Steve Young, edge rusher Chris Doleman, and wide receiver Terrell Owens.
The Packers Take an Early Lead in the 1997 NFC Championship Game
The game may have been in San Francisco, but a rainy, wet field greeted both teams at Candlestick Park even if the temperature was a balmy 54 degrees at kickoff.
After the Green Bay defense forced a punt on the game’s opening drive, Favre and the offense took over at their own 23. Two completions to Brooks and one to tight end Mark Chmura were complimented by four runs and one catch by Levens. The drive stalled at the San Francisco one-yard line. Holmgren elected to have Ryan Longwell boot a 19-yard field goal and the Packers led 3-0.
The 49ers hurt themselves by making mistakes. In the first half alone, they had 59 yards in penalties. That combined with a strong Green Bay defense stifled the San Francisco attack.
The Turning Point of the Game
Early in the second quarter came the turning point of the game. The Packers still led 3-0 when Young and the 49ers put together their first sustained drive of the game. They reached the Green Bay 28 on the strength of a 43-yard pass to receiver J.J. Stokes.
From there, Young looked for tight end Brent Jones over the middle. Safety Eugene Robinson undercut the pass pattern and intercepted the ball. He returned it 58 yards to the San Francisco 28. He might have scored but he slipped on the wet turf.
“I waited to see if he would break in or out. I knew if he threw it, I was in good position,” Robinson said.
Young added, “I didn’t think he could get there in time.”
After a short run by Levens, Favre found Freeman on a slant to the left. Freeman broke a tackle and cut back towards the middle of the field for a 27-yard touchdown. The Packers led 10-0.
Green Bay almost extended their lead, but Longwell missed a 47-yard field goal. Late in the second quarter, Young found Owens for 48 yards to set up a 28-yard field goal by Gary Anderson. The Packers lead was cut to 10-3 with 58 seconds left in the half.
But Favre wasn’t done. He found Freeman on a 40-yard pass play to set up a 43-yard field goal by Longwell as the half expired. Green Bay led 13-3.
The Second Half of the Packers Win in the 1997 NFC Championship Game
Neither team scored in the third quarter. The rain kept falling and it got tougher to grip the football. “The ball got real heavy. It was like it weighed 50 pounds,” Levens said.
“The second half, it was terrible,” Favre added. “They tried to keep a dry ball, but it was awful.”
Early in the fourth quarter, five runs by Levens set up a 25-yard field goal by Longwell to increase the Green Bay lead to 16-3.
With time running out, the 49ers went for it on 4th-and-long deep in their own territory. But Keith McKenzie sacked Young, and the Packers got the ball back at the 49ers 11. Levens ran twice for 11 yards including a five yard dash for a touchdown. The Pack led 23-3 with 3:58 left in the game.
The 49ers had one last moment. Chuck Levy returned the ensuing kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown. That made it 23-10 and gave San Francisco a glimmer of hope. But backup tight end Jeff Thomason recovered the onsides kick to clinch the victory for Green Bay.
The Aftermath of the Packers Win
“I’m very proud of the performance of the football team under very tough conditions. I think our defense played an outstanding football game, and we kept them off balance,” Holmgren said. “Neither team was going to be real efficient considering the conditions. But our offense was able to get a few things going early.”
“Let’s see, the first word that comes to mind when I think of Brett Favre … absolutely amazing,” White told reporters after the game. “Oops, that’s two words, but you need about a thousand to describe Brett Favre.”
“We’re grown men, at least we’re supposed to be grown men, playing a little boy’s game and getting paid to do it,” Favre said. “If you can’t enjoy this, then I don’t know if there’s anything you can enjoy.”
The Packers enjoyed it and earned another trip to the Super Bowl. To date, this remains the biggest playoff game the Packers won in San Francisco. They have a chance to win another one this weekend and advance to another NFC Championship Game.
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