Packers make history with division title - again

Lambeau - scene of past and future titles

As long as the NFL is writing a new chapter with the new eight-division structure, there is no better team to make history than the Green Bay Packers.<p> With Sunday's 30-20 win over the Chicago Bears at Lambeau Field, the inaugural NFC North crown was placed where it belongs – in the hands of most storied franchise in football.<p>

This year's title marks the Packers' 19th regular-season title, and first in five years. The stories of this division title season – including the injuries, the incredible emergence of a crew of backups – simply adds to the lore that comes along with each crown.

The Packers' most recent division title was in 1997, paving their way to their second consecutive Super Bowl. It marked the eighth time in the past 10 division title years ('60-'97)that the team went on to play for the NFL championship. In '97, the Packers clinched the division on Dec. 7 (Week 15) with a 17-6 road win over Tampa Bay. The title was the third straight for the defending champs, a feat that was last accomplished in 1965-66-67. The win over Tampa Bay put Green Bay at 11-3 and secured a first-round bye and marked the only time in the post-Lombardi era that the title was secured on the road..

It may have been five years and two coaches ago, but the starring cast of that '97 division clincher includes some familiar faces. Brett Favre threw for 280 yards and two TDs, William Henderson was a force and rookie Ryan Longwell chipped in a field goal for the final margin.

The most memorable play was executed by Favre and current Philadelphia Eagle Dorsey Levens. Wtih a slim 7-6 lead, Favre orchestrated a 10-play 73-yard drive which culminated with a classic: From the Bucs' 8-yard line, Favre looked like he was about to take off running, then flipped the ball to Levens, who spun around and bolted to the end zone, absorbing a hit at the goal line which sent him in for the score.

The '96 title was sewn up exactly a year earlier. On Dec. 8, in Week 15, Green Bay demolished the John Elway-less Denver Broncos 41-6. Again, the Packers clinched the title with an 11-3 mark. Favre threw for four touchdown passes that day. En route to the Super Bowl XXXI title, the Packers had clinched a playoff berth the previous week – assuring them four straight for the first time in franchise history – and would secure home-field advantage the following week with a win over the Minnesota Vikings.

Is it a sign of good things to come that the Packers' late-season win over the Vikings at home not only led to home field advantage but also avenged an earlier loss in the Metrodome?

The '95 division title is probably the most memorable of the post-Lombardi years. Green Bay had gone almost 30 years without a division title. Five coaches – Bengston, Devine, Starr, Gregg, Infante – had come an gone without claiming first place.

The scene: Christmas Eve, in Lambeau Field, in a picturesque snow. The back-story: The previous week the Packers secured a playoff bid as Reggie White miraculously recovered from a torn hamstring, calling coach Mike Holmgren to his home late one evening to tell him that the scheduled surgery wouldn't be needed.

The Packers led the Steelers in the critical final moments, but Pittsburgh marched downfield and threatened to spoil Christmas for Packer fans. Positioned with first-and-goal from the Green Bay 5 with 29 seconds to play, Neil O'Donnell threw two incomplete passes. LeRoy Butler played hero on the third, throwing Kordell Stewart for a one-yard loss. On the climactic fourth-down play, O'Donnell tossed a beauty to wide receiver Yancey Thigpen, open in the left corner of the storied south end zone after the defender slipped in the snow. The ball settled into his hands, but somehow, the Pro Bowl receiver's knee came up and jarred the ball free for an incompletion. Packer fans would never again question the existence of Santa Claus.

Coincidentally, the Packers won the first NFC Central title back in 1967. The season, Vince Lombardi's final campaign in Green Bay, ended with a 9-4-1 regular-season mark, a Western Conference Championship win over the Rams in Milwaukee, and of course, the storied Ice Bown and Super Bowl II.

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