The family-themed event, free to the public, will take place in the Lambeau Field Atrium, and feature cookie decorating, holiday movies and cartoons, holiday card making, photo opportunities with Santa Claus and area high school choirs performing holiday music.
Volunteers will also be on hand during the event to collect toys and donations for Toys for Tots. Families attending the Festival of Lights are encouraged to donate new or gently-used toys to help families in need this holiday season.
Later, the event will move out onto Harlan Plaza for the formal lighting of the tree. Mills Fleet Farm is providing the lights for the tree.
Lambeau and Calhoun struck the initial spark a few weeks before, during a casual street-corner conversation. It was apparently a "Why not get up a football team?" remark, but once they were interested, they wasted no time.
First they talked Lambeau's employer -- a war-time industry called the Indian Packing Company, where he worked as a shipping clerk for $250/month -- into putting up money for jerseys.
That first season the team won 10 and lost only one, against foes from Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. Games were played in an open field with no fences or bleachers, and interested fans "passed the hat." But the team was so successful by 1921 that Lambeau was backed by two officials of the packing plant in obtaining a franchise (Aug. 27, 1921) in the new national pro football league that had been formed in 1920. Cash customers didn't quite pay the freight and the team had to be forfeited at year's end.
This was the first in a long series of troubles that the now famous team overcame, for in 1922 Lambeau gained other backers and bought the franchise back for $250, including $50 of his own money. Troubles continued during that season. One game was rained out and the insurance company wouldn't pay off because the official amount of rain was one one-hundredth of an inch short of that required in the policy.
However, another storm late in the season, when the Packers were scheduled to play the Duluth Kelleys, threatened to throw Lambeau further into debt. But A.B. Turnbull, Green Bay Press-Gazette general manager, advanced Lambeau the Duluth guarantee. He then lobbied town businessmen ("The Hungry Five") behind the team, and formed the Green Bay Football Corporation.
From those modest and somewhat tenuous beginnings, the Packers have gone on to earn national stature and virtual worldwide recognition by winning more championships (13) over the intervening 80-plus years than any team in pro football.
These achievements, while representing a town of approximately 100,000 in competition with the country's largest markets, have endeared the Packers to the nation. The David vs. Goliath concept and the team's unique status as a publicly owned corporation has intrigued generations.
The Packers' colorful saga spans 89 years from the "Iron Man" period of the first decade under founder Lambeau, to the present day, which finds Mike McCarthy presiding as the team's 14th head coach.
About this time (1935), a rather slight, lanky end by the name of Don Hutson came to the club. He actually signed two contracts, with Green Bay and the Brooklyn Dodgers. But commissioner Joe Carr awarded Hutson to the Packers, because Green Bay's postmark was earlier.
From his first game on, Hutson became the terror of the league and the secret of Green Bay's next three championships. His arrival and corresponding attendance increases allowed the team to buy itself out of receivership in 1935. With Herber and Cecil Isbell passing and Hutson catching anything they threw at him, despite any kind of a stop-Hutson defense, Green Bay won championships in 1936, 1939, and 1944.
After Hutson's retirement, Packer fortunes again declined. The disastrous pro football war, between the NFL and the new All-America Football Conference, brought on another financial crisis after the 1949 season. From 1946-48, the financially strapped Packers lost two of their three No. 1 draft choices to the AAFC, unable to bid with the rival league. Desperate for new income, the Packers held an old-timers game and intra-squad scrimmage on Thanskgiving Day, 1949, and raised $50,000.
In the midst of the turbulent times, Lambeau lost an internal power struggle -- which ultimately began when he used $25,000 to purchase Rockwood Lodge for training camp. Lambeau resigned, Jan. 31, 1950, ending his 31-year run in Green Bay, to become the Chicago Cardinals' head coach.
|Gene Ronzani||Jack Vanisi|
Before he departed, though, Ronzani hired Jack Vainisi as full-time talent scout. Vainisi would receive credit for discovering the six Packers Hall of Famers drafted from 1953-58: C Jim Ringo, T Forrest Gregg, QB Bart Starr, HB Paul Hornung, FB Jim Taylor and LB Ray Nitschke.
On April 3, 1956, voters approved a referendum to fund construction of a new stadium. The Packers dedicated the facility (renamed Lambeau Field in 1965), on Sept. 29, 1957.
On. Jan. 28, when team president Dominic Olejniczak recommended to the committee a little-known New York Giants assistant, long-time committee member John Torinus replied, "Who the hell is Vince Lombardi?"
In his first season, 1959, Lombardi went 7-5, winning unanimous 'Coach of the Year' recognition. Then in 1960, the Packers captured the Western Division title, only to lose the NFL title game at Philadelphia. However, Lombardi rebounded to win world championships in 1961, '62, '65, '66, and '67.
His teams finished no lower than second from 1960-67 and became the standard of football excellence. In nine years, Lombardi went 98-30-4 (.766), including 9-1 in postseason, winning his final nine playoff games.
Although he had a 4-10 record in 1975, the baptismal season of a massive rebuilding project, Starr gave fans new hope by assembling a sound organization and restoring a positive attitude, underscored by three victories in the last five games of the '75 season. He continued the resurgence in 1976, leading the Packers to a 5-9 record, highlighted by a three-game, mid-season winning streak. Major and key injuries slowed the comeback in 1977 but a strong finish produced a 4-10 mark. Hopes soared in 1978 when the Packers posted their first winning slate since 1972, an 8-7-1 record, only to be temporarily dampened in 1979 by a record rash of injuries which spawned a 5-11 mark. Another injury epidemic, one which saw 27 players on injured reserve during the course of the season, struck in 1980, forcing the Packers to settle for a 5-10-1 record.
The Packers continued the upsurge in 1982, when they qualified for the playoffs for the first time since 1972 by going 5-3-1 during the strike-interrupted season. They then embellished that performance by routing St. Louis 41-16 in the first round of the NFL's Super Bowl Tournament, before bowing to Dallas (37-26) despite a recordsetting, 466-yard offensive effort. Starr was relieved of his head coaching duties Dec. 19, 1983, after the Packers finished the season 8-8 and missed the playoffs in the season's final week.
Gregg's prediction began to bear fruit in the second half of the 1984 season when the Packers rebounded from an injury-ridden 1-7 start to win seven of their last eight.
Gregg, convinced the time had come to rebuild a team that was 8-8 three straight years, and was "starting to get old," made sweeping personnel changes in 1986. The young Packers, their task complicated by injuries to key performers, got off to an 0-6 start, then began to mature in midseason and finished 4-12.
Following the 1987 season, when the club finished third in the NFC Central (5-9-1), Gregg resigned (Jan. 15, 1988) to become head coach at his alma mater, Southern Methodist University.
Building on that positive note, Infante in 1989 led the Packers to a 10-6 record -- their best in 17 years -- and within one game of the playoffs, spicing that turnabout with a league-record four one-point victories.
In 1990, subsequent high hopes for the team's first postseason berth in a non-strike year since 1972, evaporated when the Packers -- with a contending, 6-5 record after 11 games -- ended the year with five straight losses.
The Packers' continued to decline in 1991 (4-12). New executive vice president/general manager Ron Wolf dismissed Infante Dec. 22. Green Bay had hired Wolf, Nov. 27, and gave him full football operations authority.
In his first season, 1992, the former USC field general directed the Packers to a 9-7 record and within sight of the playoffs. He became only the third Packers head coach with a winning record in his first season, punctuated by a six-game winning streak, the team's longest since 1965.
Holmgren took his team to the playoffs in 1993 -- despite losing four starters to injury. Forging a second straight 9-7 record -- against a considerably more demanding schedule -- Green Bay got its first playoff berth in 10 years. In the first round, the Packers came from behind in the last minute to eliminate Detroit, 28-24. They then fell at Dallas, 27-17, in the divisional round.
In 1994, the Packers registered a third consecutive 9-7 mark and second straight playoff trip -- the first time that had happened since the Titletown days of the '60s. Riding a three-game winning streak into the postseason, they parlayed a record defensive performance and a turnover-free offensive effort into a 16-12 victory over Detroit -- their first home playoff game since the 1982 season -- holding the incomparable Barry Sanders to minus-1 yard in 13 attempts. The Packers advanced without the services of All-Pro receiver Sterling Sharpe, whose neck injury, diagnosed after the regular-season finale, ended his brilliant Green Bay career. For a second straight year, the Packers' run ended in Dallas, 35-9.
En route, they closed the regular season 11-5 -- their best mark since the 1966 NFL championship club (12-2) -- and followed by dispatching the Falcons, 37-20, in a first-round playoff at Lambeau Field. Building on that triumph, the Packers mounted one of the premier performances in their postseason history, formally dethroning the defending Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers in their own stadium, 3Com Park, 27-17. Again, however, dreams of a Super Bowl floundered in Dallas, 38-27, in the NFC title game, after leading 27-24 at the end of three quarters.
Putting nearly three decades of disappointment emphatically behind, the Packers rewarded their long-patient faithful in 1996. Shunting aside eight of their first nine foes, they swept to a 13-3 record and their second straight division championship. Then, they captured their first NFL title since 1967, dispatching New England, 35-21, in Super Bowl XXXI at the Louisiana Superdome.
Displaying impressive consistency on both sides of the ball, they documented their superiority, outscoring three opponents 100-48 in a postseason sweep. Appropriately, the first two wins were before their Lambeau loyalists -- a 35-14 divisional triumph over the 49ers and a 30-13 win over the upstart Carolina Panthers in the NFC title game.
In winning a 12th NFL championship, extending their own league record, the Packers joined an elite group of teams with three-or-more Super Bowls (Dallas, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, Oakland and Washington).
The Packers thus entered 1997 with an opportunity to win back-to-back Super Bowls for a second time -- and came breathtakingly close to achieving their objective. Sweeping to a second consecutive 13-3 mark, tying a club record with 13 wins, they primed for the playoffs by ending the season with five straight wins. After a third consecutive division title, they launched their bid at Lambeau Field in workmanlike fashion, turning back Tampa Bay in the divisional playoff, 21-7. The win padded their all-time home-field postseason record to 12-0, extending the longest such winning streak in pro football history.
Forced to win on the road for a return to the ultimate game, the Packers smothered the 49ers on a soggy, rain-swept afternoon in San Francisco, 23-10. Garnering a berth in the Super Bowl, Green Bay held the Niners without an offensive touchdown.
In a see-saw affair, Super Bowl XXXII in San Diego found the Packers trailing Denver at halftime, 17-14. Hopes of a repeat were high, however, when quarterback Brett Favre engineered an 85-yard drive, knotting the contest, 24-24, early in the fourth quarter. But the Broncos later scored with only 1:45 remaining and a last-minute Packers drive fell short when Favre's pass for tight end Mark Chmura fell incomplete inside the Denver 20, with only 28 seconds left, sealing the Broncos' 31-24 win.
A third straight Super Bowl trip, a realistic goal at the outset, eluded the Packers in 1998, their 80th season. Historic accomplishment, however, did not as they advanced to the playoffs for the sixth year in a row, a team record, while posting a seventh consecutive winning season. Green Bay overcame multiple injuries, including the loss of Pro Bowl running back Dorsey Levens (out nine games) and center Frank Winters (stretch run and postseason), each with a broken leg. They set another team record by stretching their Lambeau Field winning streak to 25 games -- the second-longest in NFL history -- before falling to the Minnesota Vikings Oct. 5. They finished 11-5, equaling another team standard by posting a double-digit victory total for the fourth consecutive year (11-5 in 1995, 13-3 in both 1996 and 1997). The only other time Green Bay had strung together four seasons of 10-plus wins was 67 years earlier -- Lambeau's triple NFL champions of 1929-32 (12-0-1 in 1929, 10-3-1 in 1930, 12-2 in 1931 and 10-3-1 in 1932).
In the wake of these considerable achievements, the Packers' season came to a dramatic and painful end in an NFC Wild Card game at San Francisco, when a 27-23 lead abruptly dissolved into a 30-27 49ers victory. Steve Young's 25-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Owens sealed the game with just three seconds left.
Only five days later, Holmgren resigned to become head coach and director of football operations for the Seattle Seahawks.
One month after a stirring finish -- a four-game winning streak -- Wolf retired as the team's executive vice president and general manager, Feb. 1, 2001, and president Bob Harlan quickly named Sherman to replace Wolf. Sherman became the first head coach with the GM title since Starr in 1980.
Wolf's impressive nine-year tenure included 101 total victories (including eight in the playoffs) and the NFL's best regular-season record (83-45) since the 1993 advent of free agency.
Now with full authority over football, Sherman answered in 2001 by returning the Packers to the playoffs, improving his winning percentage to .656 (21-11), best ever over a Packers coach'sfirst two years. Behind Favre and explosive Ahman Green (1,981 yards from scrimmage) the Packers went 12-4, but couldn't grasp the division title, despite sweeping the division champion Bears. The Packers knocked off the Niners in a Wild Card playoff, but couldn't get past eventual NFC champion St. Louis.
In 2002, Green Bay overcame an injury-plagued season to tie for the league's best record, 12-4. Despite injured starters missing 63 combined games, the Packers clinched their division, the inaugural NFC North title, on Dec. 1. Favre finished two votes shy of a fourth MVP, and defensively, behind Pro Bowler Darren Sharper, the team ranked third in the NFL against the pass and led the league with 45 takeaways, six more than any other team. But Michael Vick and the Falcons became the first team ever to beat the Packers at home in the playoffs.
A return to the NFC Championship slipped painfully through the Packers' fingers in 2003. Donovan McNabb led the Eagles to a come-from-behind, 20-17 overtime win to end an emotional Packers run in the Divisional playoffs.
The loss snapped a memorable five-game winning streak. The stretch included changes to three of the most-revered records in Packers history (Forrest Gregg's 33-year-old consecutive-games streak, broken by Favre; Jim Taylor's 41-year-old season rushing record, Green; and Don Hutson's 58-year-old career scoring mark, Ryan Longwell). Green Bay captured an improbable division title in the last two minutes of the season, when Arizona upset Minnesota and the Lambeau Field crowd broke the news to the Packers.
Adding to the hallmark of Sherman's tenure, the Packers overcame a 1-4 start in 2004, the club's roughest since 1991, to finish 10-6 and win a third straight division title. The 9-2 stretch run featured four wins on last-second field goals by Longwell, including a 34-31 division-clinching win in Minnesota on Christmas Eve.
However, just two weeks later the same Vikings avenged the loss with a 31-17 win in a Wild Card playoff at Lambeau Field.
On Jan. 14, 2005, Harlan restructured the team's football operations, naming Ted Thompson general manager, with full authority over football decisions. Harlan said he based the decision on his belief in a preferred structure -- separate individuals for the GM and head coach positions.
Only 37 minutes into the 2005 regular season, the Packers lost leading receiver Javon Walker (knee). In the ensuing weeks, the team also lost starting halfback Green (quadricep) and several other key offensive performers, contributing to a 4-12 mark. Following the season, Jan. 2, saying it was time for a new face to lead the team, Thompson dismissed Sherman.
McCarthy guided the Packers to a resilient four-game winning streak to close his first season as head coach with an 8-8 record, keeping the team in contention for the playoffs until the final weekend of 2006, when mere percentage points dubbed the Giants the NFC’s last postseason qualifier.
McCarthy was disappointed the Packers just missed the playoffs, particularly because the team was as healthy as it had been all season and was playing its best football the last month. But the NFL’s youngest club carried that momentum into 2007, winning its first four games and ultimately tying the franchise record for regular-season victories with a 13-3 mark. McCarthy also tied Sherman’s team mark for the most wins by a head coach in his first two seasons (21).
With Joe Philbin taking over as offensive coordinator, Ryan Grant emerging at midseason as a feature back, and Favre enjoying a brilliant final season in Green Bay, the offense finished second in the league, its highest ranking since 1983.
Grant then posted franchise playoff records of 201 rushing yards and three touchdowns in a 42-20 snow-filled NFC playoff triumph over Seattle at Lambeau, but the club’s quest for a fifth Super Bowl appearance came up agonizingly short.
In the third-coldest game in NFL championship history, with a temperature of minus-1 and wind chill of minus-23 at kickoff, Green Bay fell at home, 23-20, in overtime to the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game.
In 2008, the torch was passed to Aaron Rodgers from Favre, who retired in March with virtually every significant NFL passing record, un-retired in July and was traded to the New York Jets during the first week of training camp. Rodgers became just the second quarterback in league history to pass for more than 4,000 yards in his first season as a starter, and the offense produced a 4,000-yard passer, 1,200-yard rusher (Grant) and two 1,000-yard receivers (Greg Jennings, Donald Driver) for the first time in team history.
On defense, the team set a franchise record with seven touchdowns, including six on interception returns, leading to Pro Bowl berths for three-fourths of the starting secondary in Nick Collins, Charles Woodson and Al Harris. But that wasn’t enough to overcome injuries and other shortcomings on that side of the ball, and with the team losing seven games by four points or less, the final 6-10 mark was just the franchise’s second losing season dating back to 1992.
That led to a series of changes on the coaching staff, most of them on defense, as McCarthy hired Dom Capers as his new defensive coordinator to institute a switch to a 3-4 scheme. The players responded faster than most predicted in 2009, climbing all the way to No. 2 in the league in yards allowed and No. 1 against the run for the first time in team history, setting a franchise record for fewest rushing yards allowed per game (83.3).
That defensive prowess was highlighted by Woodson winning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, rookie Clay Matthews leading the team in sacks, and Collins joining both as Pro Bowl honorees. Combined with another dynamic season on offense – as the quartet of Rodgers, Grant, Jennings and Driver repeated their feat of the prior year and a new franchise record for points (461) was established – the Packers won seven of their final eight regular-season games to finish 11-5 and earn an NFC Wild Card playoff berth.
Rodgers earned his first Pro Bowl nod and made a memorable postseason debut, throwing for a Green Bay postseason-record 423 yards and record-tying four TDs as he rallied the Packers from a 21-point second-half deficit. Emerging tight end Jermichael Finley also set a team playoff mark with 159 yards receiving and tied a team postseason record with nine receptions.
Ultimately the Packers came up short, however, dropping a 51-45 overtime heartbreaker in Arizona, the highest-scoring postseason game in NFL history. But the disappointment fueled a determination and the late-season surge sparked a genuine optimism heading into 2010.
That optimism led to high expectations, and the Packers became a popular preseason pick to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. Boasting both a deep and maturing roster, and relative scheme continuity on both sides of the ball, prognosticators felt confident Green Bay was primed for a deep playoff run.
The team got out to a 3-1 start in the season’s first quarter, but injuries to key players mounted, and that perceived roster strength would be put to the test. Grant, a back-to-back 1,200-yard rusher, was lost for the season in Week 1. Finley, the team’s leading receiver entering Week 5, was also placed on injured reserve, as was linebacker Nick Barnett, the second all-time leading tackler in franchise history. By season’s end, the Packers would allocate 15 players to the season-ending injured list. In what was a true testament both to Thompson’s assembly of the roster and the coaching staff’s tireless commitment to getting players ready to contribute, the Packers never blinked.
Rodgers led the offense by throwing for nearly 4,000 yards and posting a quarterback rating of 101.2. Jennings picked up the slack in the absence of Finley, finishing with 1,265 yards and earning his first selection to the Pro Bowl. Defensively, the Packers again thrived under Capers’ detailed instruction, ranking No. 2 in the NFL in scoring defense at 15.0 points per game. Matthews proved that his rookie campaign was no fluke and became a dominant pass rusher off the edge. Voted a Pro Bowl starter and consensus first-team All-Pro, he finished with 13.5 sacks and was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year by various publications. In the secondary, Woodson followed up his stellar 2009 run with another solid season, setting career highs in tackles and forced fumbles and becoming the team’s emotional leader throughout. His counterpart at corner, Tramon Williams, emerged as a standout cover man and led the team with six interceptions, earning his first bid to the Pro Bowl, where he was joined by Collins, who was chosen for the third consecutive year.
Despite the constant fluidity of the gameday lineup, the Packers hung tough in all 16 games. Their six losses came by a combined 20 points, and they became the first team since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to never trail a game by more than seven points over an entire season. They finished the regular season with a 10-6 record following consecutive home wins in the final two weeks, and secured the sixth and final seed in the NFC’s playoff bracket.
Taking to the road for the NFC playoffs, the Packers started by bottling up the explosive Eagles’ offensive attack and winning the opening-round Wild Card game at Philadelphia by a score of 21-16. The task wouldn’t get any easier the following week as they traveled to Atlanta to take on the No. 1-seeded Falcons. After an initial back and forth, Green Bay exploded with a 28-point second quarter and never looked back. On the strength of a near-flawless display of quarterbacking by Rodgers, and two crucial interceptions by Williams, the Packers hammered the Falcons 48-21, the second-largest margin of victory in team postseason history.
For the NFC Championship, the Packers faced their division rival, the Chicago Bears, for a chance to return to the Super Bowl for the first time since the 1997 season. Despite the rich, 182-game history of the rivalry, the game marked just the second-ever meeting between the two teams in the postseason. On a 20-degree afternoon at Soldier Field, the Packers got out to a 14-0 lead early in the second quarter. The opportunistic defense forced three Chicago turnovers, highlighted by an improbable 18-yard interception return for a touchdown by Raji that put Green Bay ahead 21-7 late in the fourth quarter. Rookie cornerback Sam Shields sealed the 21-14 win on the Bears’ final drive, making his second interception of the game to send the franchise to its fifth Super Bowl.
The Super Bowl pitted the Packers against the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers. In what was billed as a matchup between two renowned 3-4 defenses, it was the Green Bay offense, led once again by the exceptionally precise Rodgers, that was the difference. The Packers stormed out to a 21-3 lead in the first half, with two touchdowns coming off the arm of Rodgers and one on an interception return by Collins. Under circumstances reflective of the entire season, the Packers were forced to overcome injuries, as veteran stalwarts Driver and Woodson were both ruled out of the game late in the first half.
The Steelers fought their way back, but a forced fumble by Matthews at the start of the fourth quarter led to another Rodgers touchdown pass. Forcing a turnover on downs on Pittsburgh’s final drive, the Packers won the franchise’s fourth Super Bowl, 31-25.
In the months that followed the season, both Thompson and McCarthy were rewarded with multi-year contract extensions that will keep them in Green Bay for the foreseeable future.
With an unquestioned franchise quarterback, a nucleus of young veterans, and a roster even further bolstered by the return of injured players and a 10-man draft class, all eyes were set on the quest for another world title in 2011.
Due to a league-wide work stoppage that began in early March, the Packers – like the rest of the other clubs – were deprived of an offseason program that would have fostered continued development and the integration of newly selected rookie players. The ongoing labor negotiations meant that the players first convened as a team at the start of training camp in late July. With an abbreviated training camp schedule and a bull’s-eye affixed firmly to their backs as the reigning champions, the Packers would have to rely on their stable roster and established schemes to help pick up where the team had left off at its peak in early February.
And that they did. Beginning with the NFL’s season-opening Thursday night spectacle against the high-powered New Orleans Saints at Lambeau Field, the Packers stormed through the regular season, reeling off a team-record 13 consecutive wins en route to a franchise-best 15-1 record. The team became just the sixth in NFL history to reach the 15-win plateau, and when combining the start of 2011 with the six wins that closed out 2010, the 19-game winning streak was the longest in team history and second longest in league annals.
The franchise laid claim to its first NFC North division title since 2007 and secured the conference’s No. 1 seed for the playoffs. Throughout the season, the recipe for success was written by Rodgers and a prolific offense that scored 560 points, the second-highest total in league history.
Rodgers finished the season having completed 343 of 502 attempts for 4,643 yards and 45 touchdowns with only six interceptions, earning the league’s Most Valuable Player award and consensus first-team All-Pro honors from almost every major publication. His 122.5 cumulative passer rating set a new NFL record and he also eclipsed the previous franchise single-season marks for yards, touchdowns, completion percentage, yards per attempt and 300-yard games.
The Packers continued to display their knack for taking the football away on defense, leading the NFL with 31 interceptions, the most by a Green Bay team since 1962. Woodson tied for the NFL lead with seven INTs, and Matthews set a new career high with three of his own. The defense’s 38 takeaways tied for the league lead and helped contribute to an aggregate plus-24 team differential in the turnover department, a mark that also tied for No. 2 in franchise history.
Joining Rodgers, Woodson and Matthews in the Pro Bowl were Jennings, FB John Kuhn, Raji and C Scott Wells, giving the Packers seven representatives, the most voted in for the franchise since 1967.
In the postseason, Green Bay fell victim to uncharacteristic, costly turnovers in its only contest, and lost to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants in the Divisional round, 37-20. Having not experienced playoff disappointment during 2010’s memorable run, the loss to the Giants left a foul taste in the team’s collective mouth, along with several assurances that there would be a renewed determination and focus on the ultimate prize in 2012.
The Packers entered the 2012 campaign with strong motivation and a recalibrated focus that centered upon getting the team to peak at the right time: the end of the regular season and playoffs.
With that in mind, the club overcame its share of adversity in the season’s early going, recovering from a 2-3 start to win 10 of 11 games in Weeks 6-16 and putting itself in prime position for the postseason. With a win at Chicago in Week 15, the Packers secured their second consecutive NFC North title, marking the franchise’s first back-to-back divison conquest since 2002-04.
During the regular season, it was once again a Rodgers-led offense that forged the team’s identity. The unit ranked No. 5 in the league in scoring despite being plagued by injuries throughout the season. Five different players started at running back in addition to five different combinations on the offensive line and primary targets Jennings and Jordy Nelson missing 12 full games combined and parts of others with various ailments.
Defensively, the Packers made significant strides after a challenging 2011, climbing all the way to No. 11 overall in pass defense on the strength of an 81-yard-per-game improvement over the previous season.
Matthews was on his way to his finest statistical season when he suffered a hamstring injury in Week 9 that shelved him for more than a month. He still managed to finish fifth in the NFL with 13 sacks and became the first player in franchise history to be named to the Pro Bowl in each of his first four seasons in the league.
The defense was also aided during the season by the emergence of rookie cornerback Casey Hayward. A second-round draft pick, Hayward led the team and all NFL rookies with six interceptions. He became the first Packers CB to ever be named (since 1974) to the Pro Football Weekly/PFWA All-Rookie team and finished third in the voting for The Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Finishing the season with an 11-5 record, the Packers laid claim to the No. 3 seed in the NFC and a Wild Card matchup with the division-rival Minnesota Vikings. The game marked the two teams’ third meeting over a six-week stretch, and this time, the defense managed to keep league MVP Adrian Peterson in check while Rodgers and the offense mounted a 24-3 margin en route to a 24-10 victory.
In the following week’s divisional-round contest at San Francisco, the 49ers’ offense proved too much for Green Bay to handle, and despite only trailing 24-21 at halftime, a second-half surge saw the Packers ultimately fall 45-31.
The typically quiet Green Bay offseason was highlighted by long-term contract extensions for both Matthews and Rodgers that promise to keep the two franchise cornerstones in Green Bay for the foreseeable future. Their presence, combined with an ascending young core of veterans and the addition of an 11-man draft class, looks to once again have the Packers among the NFL’s elite in 2013.