The Green Bay Packers and San Francisco 49ers will meet Sunday in the NFC Championship Game. This will be the second time these two franchises have met with a Super Bowl berth on the line. The first came in the 1997 NFC Championship Game at Candlestick Park in San Francisco and featured a battle between future Hall of Fame quarterbacks Brett Favre and Steve Young.
The Packers were the defending Super Bowl champions, having defeated the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI the previous season. The 49ers and Packers both finished 13-3 but San Francisco was the top seed in the playoffs and had home field advantage.
Game day arrived and the weather was cold and rainy in the Bay Area. The bad weather was viewed as a positive by the Packers. “When we saw the rain and sloppy field, we said to ourselves ‘This is our weather,’” Packers wide receiver Antonio Freeman told the 1998 Packers Yearbook. “We felt like we were at home.”
The Packers came out aggressively and scored on their first possession of the game. Favre threw the ball to Freeman and Robert Brooks and was aided by a pass interference penalty on 49ers cornerback Rod Woodson. The drive stalled at the San Francisco 2 and the Packers settled for a 19-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell to take a 3-0 lead.
“I think their defensive players were rattled by that first drive,” tackle Ross Verba said after the game. “You could see it in their eyes.”
The turning point of the game came in the second quarter with the score still 3-0 Green Bay. Young had the 49ers moving downfield and they faced a third-and six play inside Packers territory. The lefty quarterback threw for his tight end Brent Jones, but Packers safety Eugene Robinson stepped in front of the pass and intercepted it. Robinson zigged and zagged his way back for 58 yards and gave Green Bay the ball on the San Francisco 28. One play later, Favre found Freeman on a 27-yard touchdown pass and the Packers led 10-0.
“Big, real big,” Packers linebacker Seth Joyner said in the Packers Yearbook. “A momentum shifter for us. Until then it was back and forth, back and forth. That one play broke things open. And then Antonio’s play…I remember the euphoria on the sideline.”
The teams traded field goals and the Packers led 13-3 at the half.
After a scoreless third quarter, the Packers added to their lead with another Longwell field goal, this time from 25-yards out. Then, running back Dorsey Levens put the icing on the cake with a five-yard touchdown run with 3:10 remaining in the game and the Packers led 23-7.
The Green Bay defense swarmed over the usually elusive Young, sacking him four times including a pair of sacks by Keith McKenzie. The Pack held the San Francisco offense without a touchdown. The only time the 49ers reached the end zone was a 95-yard kick return by Chuck Levy just after the Levens touchdown.
The Packers emerged with a 23-10 victory. It was the third straight year the Packers had defeated the 49ers in the playoffs.
Favre finished the game 16-for-27 despite the soggy field conditions for 222 yards and a touchdown. Levens carried the ball 27 times for 114 yards and a touchdown while Freeman led all receivers with 107 yards on four catches.
“We came out with the attitude that they had to adjust to our scheme, rather than us changing it for them,” fullback William Henderson explained after the game. “When we have all our weapons in use like we did today, and Brett is rolling, it’s going to be hard for anyone to stop us.”
The win sent the Packers to Super Bowl XXXII where they fell short in a thrilling 31-24 game with the Denver Broncos.
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