Packer-49er week. Remember when Packer-Bear week was all we really cared about? Seems like a long time ago. When the Packers and the 49ers play, these days it is a really big deal, not just for me, living here in the San Francisco area, but for all Packer fans everywhere.
The mood here in San Francisco is more hopeful about this game than they have been the last couple of times around. I remember very well the mood in January of 1996, when the Packers beat the 49ers in the playoffs for the first time. The mood was arrogant indifference. The Packers were nothing but a speed bump on the road to the 49er-Cowboy NFC Championship game. Or so they thought.
The three games after that involved, to an objective observer (unlike me), superior Packer teams playing really good 49er teams. So the locals were apprehensive, even if they talked a good game on the outside. They still have not abandoned all of their arrogance, though. There was an article in one of the papers Wednesday mentioning that the 49ers have excuses for the previous 4 games, some more legitimate than others. The January 1996 playoff game was a fluke. The 1996 Monday nighter had the bad call on Beebe's touchdown. The January 1997 playoff game had an injured Steve Young. The January 1998 playoff game had more bad calls, on a 49er catch ruled out of bounds in the end zone, and on William Henderson's non-fumble. Don't you just love these guys?
This time, the 49er fans see that the 49ers have a much better shot at it than the last few games. The Packers have very little running game, while the 49ers' running game has been much better. Steve Young has not been making many mistakes this year, while Brett Favre has been making them in bunches. Both sets of defensive backs have been giving up a lot of touchdowns, but the 49er fans think they may have fixed that problem by benching their high-priced free agent, Antonio Langham. (I remain unconvinced about that, but we shall see.) The 49ers have done a better job than the Packers have of pulling out games they easily could have lost. The Packers have even shown that they are not invincible at Lambeau Field. All of this translates into a much better chance for the 49ers.
The truth is, I can't argue with them, which is why I am very uncomfortable about this game.
What will it take to win? A lot depends on Brett Favre. If he has another off day, this game is over early. But if he is "on," and if the defensive backs have a good game, I think the Packers can pull it out. Oh, and it wouldn't hurt if Travis Jervey could pop a long gainer here and there. I've got my fingers crossed.