Green Bay Packers defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday set a franchise record for sacks by recording five in a game as the Pack shutout the Buffalo Bills 10-0 at Lambeau Field. It was a career game for Holliday, but the game had a lot more meaning for what happened off the field.

Family Tragedy for Vonnie Holliday Before the Sacks Record Set

The victory came just one day after Holliday’s 16-year-old cousin, Marcus Warren, died of a congenital heart defect. The teenager collapsed at a high school basketball game in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Warren had been a star athlete who had a bright future ahead of him.

“In our family we certainly thought he was the next superstar in basketball or football,” Holliday told reporters after the game.

Holliday didn’t sleep much the night before the game but had a career game in honor of his recently deceased cousin.

“I know that there are angels looking down on me and I know that after last night, I had another angel looking down on me,” Holliday said. “I just felt his presence. It gave me an extra push. I play every game with passion, but I think I played today with more passion. Coming in here today, I was just asking God, ‘Why?’ And second of all, to give me the strength to perform for my team.”

The Packers Record

The previous single-game sack record by a Packers player was 4.5 in a game set by Bryce Paup in 1991 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Of course, sacks were not an official NFL statistic until 1982 so some great performances by Hall of Famers like Willie Davis and Henry Jordan or the big performance by Ezra Johnson in Week 1 of the 1978 season were not considered part of the official record book.

Vonnie Holliday Sets the Sacks Record

The weather conditions were far from ideal for football on this late December day in Green Bay. The game-time temperature was 27 degrees but there was a 25-miles-per-hour wind blowing through the stadium that made it difficult for either the Packers or the Bills to throw the ball effectively.

The Packers finished the game with just 104 passing yards and 223 total net yards of offense while the Bills had 142 passing yards and 185 total yards for the game.

“That was the worst as far as wind and cold that I’ve ever been associated with,” Favre said. “Both teams have great passing attacks, and we were mediocre at best.”

The Packers defense forced six turnovers and recorded six quarterback sacks, five by Holliday and one by Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila.  Amazingly, Holliday had only one sack all season before the game due in part to injuries. He also didn’t have a sack in this game until late in the third quarter.

Holliday also dropped a potential interception earlier in the game. “With five sacks, I’m sure he’s not going to think about that interception,” defensive back Marques Anderson joked.

Tough to Score

The Packers took the lead with a little more than four minutes left in the first half on a 10-play, 47-yard drive that started near midfield. Four runs by Ahman Green gained 17 yards and Brett Favre connected with Donald Driver for a 20-yard gain. That was the longest completion the Packers would have in the game.

The drive stalled at the Buffalo 15 and Ryan Longwell booted a 33-yard field goal and the Packers led 3-0. That score held until the fourth quarter.

Holliday came up big to extend the Packers lead. With the Bills near midfield, Holliday sacked Bills quarterback Drew Bledsoe and stripped him of the ball. Jamaal Reynolds fell on it and the Packers took over at the Buffalo 39.

The Packers cashed in quickly. Green ran for 28 yards off the right side. Two plays later, Favre found Driver for an 11-yard touchdown pass and the Packers led 10-0.

Last Gasp

The Bills had one last chance to get back into the game in the closing minutes. They reached the Green Bay 17 with 1:19 left on the clock when Holliday recorded his fifth and final sack of the game and forced his third fumble. Cletidus Hunt pounced on the loose ball and the Packers were able to run out the clock.

Holliday came to the sideline and practically collapsed on the bench as his teammates congratulated him. “I was just drained,” Holliday admitted. “Part of what happened on the bench and how emotional I got was how happy I was that things started to come together after a frustrating and disappointing season thus far personally. I think it was just the culmination of the day’s events combined with this season. The team’s doing great, and I’m thankful for that, but personally, with so many high expectations coming into this year, today just meant so much. It was just overwhelming at that point.”

The Aftermath

The win improved the Packers record to 12-3. They had already clinched the NFC North title before this game. They also finished the season with a perfect 8-0 record at Lambeau Field.

But the game is most memorable for Holliday’s performance. Ironically, he would play only one more regular season game as a Packer before signing a free agent deal with Kansas City. But two decades later, his Packers record stands after he overcame personal tragedy to have the best camp of his career.



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