Monday, January 5, 1998

Battle By the Bay

The Green Bay Packers are headed back to the NFC Championship game for the third year in a row. The trip to San Francisco was guaranteed when the 49ers beat the Vikings on Saturday, and the Packers finished off the Buccaneers. Once again, for the umpteenth time, the Vikings AND the 49ers conspired to do exactly the opposite of what the Packers needed to have happen. This has been going on since at least as far back as the 1989 "Majik Man" year, and it does not look like it will stop any time soon.

In the Freeman household, the 49er victory over Minnesota, while disappointing, at least has a silver lining. We figured that this would happen, and so rather than planning on going back to Green Bay for a playoff game, we saved the airfare and planned on going to the NFC Championship game here in San Francisco.

This week's game will bring back memories for all us, I'm sure. Was it really only two years ago that the Packers were the new kids on the block, sort of like this year's Buccaneers? They came out to San Francisco after beating the Falcons in the first round, and noone gave them a chance. They were facing the world champions, after all, on the road. I remember wavering as to whether I really wanted to go to the game, thinking it would be a miserable day for Packer fans. Then I said to myself, "What am I thinking about?" This was a Packer playoff game, something I had never been to in my life. So we located four tickets, packed ourselves into the minivan, and headed for San Francisco. What a game that was! I don't think I will ever forget the way the Packers took it to the 49ers that day. The fumble return, the way Wayne Simmons was beating up Brent Jones, Antonio Freeman signalling first downs, Keith Jackson open down the middle of the field, even John Jurkovich covering Jerry Rice on a zone blitz. It represented a legitimate beginning of the changing of the guard.

The interesting thing was the reaction of the 49er fans. They couldn't quite believe what was happening, of course. But they were generally very nice to us Packer fans. (The "Piss on the
Packers" T-shirts they were selling in the parking lot are another story, but they were available at sizeable discounts after the game.) The 49er fans even wished us well the following week
against, as it turned out, Dallas.

I think the atmosphere will be different this time. I think the cute novelty of the cheeseheads, and the Holmgren/Sherman Lewis/west coast offense connections have worn off with the 49er
fans. They are starting to work up a fair amount of negative feelings about the Packers. Now that the Packers have beaten the 49ers three times in a row (twice in the Playoffs), the Packers are beginning to be to 49er fans close to what the Cowboys were to the Packer fans. Judy (my wife) heard someone call in to a talk radio show the other day with terrible things to say about any 49er season ticket holder who would dare sell seats to Packer fans.

Anyway, the Freemans will be there again on Sunday, along with thousands of other Packer fans. I still feel pretty good about the game, since I really believe that the Packers are the better team. Sure, I wish the game was at Lambeau, but they are good enough to win on the road, and now all they have to do is prove it again. Judy is more nervous about the game, and our kids are still in that stage where they just believe the Packers will win every game. I hope we can fill every available seat with Packer fans, and eliminate whatever limited home field advantage there is in Candlestick Park.

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