PACKERS 33 SEAHAWKS 27
The home stretch of the 2003 season has taken Brett Favre's breath
away. First there was the emotional toll, after his 58-year-old
father died suddenly four days before Christmas. Then there was
the divine intervention, when the Arizona Cardinals' 25-yard
touchdown pass on their final play of the season knocked the
Minnesota Vikings out of the playoffs and put Favre's Green Bay
Packers in. Finally, there was the physical pounding. On Sunday,
an hour after the Packers' heart-stopping, 33-27 overtime win
against the Seattle Seahawks in the NFC wild-card game at Lambeau
Field, Favre was moving gingerly through the players' lounge.
"I don't know how much more of this I can take," he said. "It's
"The emotion of it all?" he was asked.
"That," Favre said, grimacing as he sat, "and I can hardly
breathe. Got nailed in the ribs really bad today. [Seattle
defensive end] Chike Okeafor leveled me."
"Say anything to him?" Favre was asked.
"Yeah," he said with a wry smile. "I went up to him and said,
'You O.K.?' He knew he hit me so hard, and he was like, 'Hey, are
you O.K.?' I said, 'Yeah, no problem.' I never show anyone I'm
That's the kind of kid that Irvin Favre raised. Little more than
24 hours after his dad's death, Favre had one of the greatest
games of a career that will surely be followed by a first-ballot
election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Playing with a
broken right thumb that has plagued him since mid-October, he
threw for 399 yards and four scores in a 41-7 rout of the Raiders
on Dec. 22. He had another efficient day against the Seahawks,
completing 26 of 38 attempts for 319 yards and a touchdown, and
helping set up Ahman Green for a pair of one-yard, fourth-quarter
scoring runs. Then, 4:25 into overtime, cornerback Al Harris
capitalized on the only turnover of the game, intercepting a Matt
Hasselbeck pass and returning it 52 yards for the winning score.
Lambeau Field has been the site of countless exciting games
during the Packers' storied history, but not many could match the
drama on Sunday. The game was tied at 3, 13, 20 and 27. Seattle
rallied from a 13-6 halftime deficit on a pair of one-yard
touchdown runs by Shaun Alexander. Green answered with his two
scores. Then, with 51 seconds left, Alexander's third touchdown
run of the half, also from a yard out, sent the game into
For the Seahawks, the loss will sting for months, especially for
coach Mike Holmgren, Green Bay's former coach, and Hasselbeck,
who gamely matched his mentor, Favre, throw for throw. A 1998
sixth-round draft pick of the Packers who was traded to Seattle
in 2001, Hasselbeck completed 25 passes in 45 attempts for 305
yards, showing in his first playoff start that he can play on the
big stage. He also seemed to be enjoying it. After being chased
out-of-bounds, Hasselbeck patted the butt of a chain-gang member
as he made his way back to the huddle. He woofed affectionately
at his former teammates. And after Seattle won the overtime coin
toss, Hasselbeck said over referee Bernie Kukar's field mike for
all the world to hear: "We want the ball, and we're gonna score!"
The shame is, Hasselbeck will be remembered mostly for an
interception that apparently wasn't his fault. Facing
third-and-11 at the Seattle 45-yard line, Hasselbeck sensed a
blitz and audibled to a shorter set of routes for his receivers.
The Packers sent their Population Blitz--three extra rushers, all
coming from the same side--and Hasselbeck threw quickly to
wideout Alex Bannister flanked to the left. But Bannister didn't
cut his route short. Harris jumped the pattern, picked the ball
cleanly and pranced into the end zone. It was the first time in
NFL postseason history that an overtime game was won on a
touchdown scored by the defense.
Green Bay, riding a five-game winning streak, advanced to a
divisional playoff on Sunday against the NFC East champion Eagles
in Philadelphia. It will be the first postseason meeting between
the teams since the 1960 NFL title game, the only playoff game
that Vince Lombardi ever lost.
On Sunday several WE BELIEVE signs could be seen around Lambeau,
held high by fans who think that something more than coach Mike
Sherman's strategy is determining the outcome of Green Bay's
games. "There are angels watching over us," Packers wide receiver
Donald Driver said last week, with a very straight face. "Curly
Lambeau, Vince Lombardi ... and last but not least, Irvin Favre.
Don't ask us to explain it, but miracles are happening to us.
That's what we believe."
As the regular season wound down, Green Bay's playoff outlook was
grim. On the day before the game against the Raiders, Favre and
the rest of his golf foursome--backup quarterback Doug Pederson,
kicker Ryan Longwell and punter Josh Bidwell--were hustling to
beat the sunset on the 18th hole of a course near the team's
Berkeley, Calif., hotel. Pederson got a call from Favre's wife,
Deanna (Brett wasn't carrying his cell phone), who told Brett his
father had died. Irvin had suffered an apparent heart attack near
his home in Kiln, Miss., swerved off the road and died instantly.
Brett was famously close to his dad, who was his football and
baseball coach in high school, and the question was, Would Brett
be too distraught to play against the Raiders?
"Never crossed my mind," Favre said last Friday in his first
extended comments about the hours and days after his father's
death. "What I do today is a direct result of his influence on my
life. When I saw Mike Sherman, he said, 'You want to go home,
go.' I said, 'Mike, I'm playing. There's no doubt in my mind
that's what he would have wanted.' It's almost like I could hear
my dad: 'Boy, don't worry about me. I'm fine.'"
Favre hates giving speeches, but he told Sherman that he wanted
to talk to the team at its meeting that night. Favre started
crying as he walked to the front of the room, then struggled to
make it through the four-minute talk. Even as he recounted the
speech last Friday, he got choked up. "I loved my dad," he began
that night. "I love football. I love you guys. I grew up playing
baseball for my dad, and I grew up playing football for my dad.
It's all I know. It's my life. I'm playing in this game because
I've invested too much in the game, in you, in this team, not to
play. If you ever doubted my commitment to this team, never doubt
"There wasn't a dry eye in the house," Sherman says. "Players,
coaches, everybody. I've never seen a man open his soul so
honestly, so completely. It's as clear-cut a picture as anyone's
ever seen of this legend."
On the day of the Oakland game, Favre had an unusual feeling.
"I've never in my life been scared before a game, but I was
scared that night," he says. "Just before the game, Doug Pederson
put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Let's pray,' and I just
lost it. Then Mike called everyone up, looked 'em in the eyes and
said, 'We're winning this one tonight. We're winning it for
Number 4, and we're winning it for Pops.' And I'm thinking,
'Focus. Focus. If you're gonna play, you can't go out and lay an
egg.' Everybody would have understood if I had played lousy, but
my dad wouldn't have stood for any excuses."
During pregame introductions, the Raiders' crowd was typically
merciless, booing as each of the first 10 Green Bay offensive
starters ran onto the field. However when Favre's name was
announced, the silver-and-black crazies in the Black Hole stood
and cheered. "Amazing," Favre says. "I'm hearing this, and I
couldn't hardly breathe. It was all I could do to focus on
getting out there and playing. It was almost God's way of saying,
'See? There is compassion in this world.'"
Favre completed his first nine passes, for 183 yards and two
touchdowns. He threw three bombs as far as he could throw them
and hit all three, almost comically amid two and three defenders.
"I can't explain it," Favre says. "I'm as amazed as anybody else
about what happened." After two quarters he'd thrown for 311
yards (a career-high for a half) and four touchdowns.
Favre's last big cry of the night came on the plane ride back to
Green Bay, when he called his mother, Bonita, to see how she was
doing. She told him that, a couple of weeks before he died, Irv
had told a friend, "You think Brett's decided who he wants to
introduce him when he's inducted into the Hall of Fame? I hope he
As it turned out, the Packers needed the win over the Raiders,
plus a victory over the Broncos the next week, plus the Vikings'
loss to the woeful Cardinals to get into the playoffs. And with
the stubborn Seahawks leading 6-3 midway through the second
quarter on Sunday, Green Bay needed something else to go its way.
The Packers had a first down at their 20, and Seattle put eight
defenders near the line of scrimmage to contain Ahman Green, who
has run for 5,685 yards over the past four seasons, the most in
football. Favre made a play-action fake to Green, who was
swarmed, and threw a strike down the middle to wideout Javon
Walker for 44 yards. Four plays later, from the Seattle 23, Favre
pump-faked to William Henderson in the right flat, drawing
defenders to his fullback, and then turned and threw a laser to
tight end Bubba Franks in the end zone.
Favre is 34. He is in his 13th NFL season. He has played in 211
regular-season and playoff games. The touchdown pass to Franks
was the 377th of his career, yet Favre reacted like it was his
first. He spun in the air, pumped both fists, sprinted to the end
zone and jumped on Franks, knocking his teammate to the ground
Yup. This is surely what Irv would have wanted his boy to be
COLOR PHOTO: PHOTOGRAPH BY JOHN BIEVER BOMBS AWAY Favre passed for 319 yards against Seattle and set an NFL record by throwing a touchdown pass in his 14th consecutive playoff game.
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER WELL-GROUNDED Green, the league's leading rusher since the start of the 2000 season, chipped in with two touchdowns.
COLOR PHOTO: ELSA/GETTY IMAGES (HARRIS) MOVING ON Harris came up with the game's only turnover, and the Packers were on their way to a meeting with Philly.
COLOR PHOTO: PETER READ MILLER YOUNG AT HEART A jubilant Favre celebrated the touchdown pass to Franks like it was the first of his NFL career.
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"If you ever doubted my commitment to this team, never doubt it
again," Favre told his Green Bay teammates.
There are angels watching over us," said Driver "Curly Lambeau,
Vince Lombardi ... and last but not least, Irvin Favre."