It had been a long quarter-century in Wisconsin since the Vince Lombardi glory years ended following the 1967 season. There had been just a couple scattered playoff seasons, in 1972 and 1982. There were only four winning seasons. A new management team of general manager Ron Wolf and head coach Mike Holmgren had come on board. And when they found their quarterback, a 23-year-old named Brett Favre, they were on their way. The 1992 Green Bay Packers represented a turning point into a new glory run for the franchise.
Favre’s reputation is that of The Gunslinger, but in his first year as a starter, he was much more of a game manager. His 64% completion rate was fourth in the league and even though he threw 13 interceptions, that represented less than three percent of his throws—which made him the third-safest quarterback in the league. Conversely, there weren’t a ton of big plays—Favre was middle-of-the-pack in yards-per attempt.
The offense in 1992 was really carried by the great wide receiver Sterling Sharpe. A physical mix of speed and strength, Sharpe caught balls down the field and he caught simple throws down the line of scrimmage and made his own yardage. He set a new NFL record with 108 receptions. He racked up over 1,400 yards and he was 1st-team All-NFL.
Jackie Harris at tight end was a good target and caught 55 passes. The Packer running game was mediocre and backs Vince Workman and Harry Sydney were more renowned for catching passes, nearly 50 apiece for both.
Overall the limitations on the Packer offense—particularly on the line kept them at 17th in the league in points scored. The defense had some Pro Bowl talent that included a pass-rushing outside linebacker in Tony Bennett (obviously a different person from the current Virginia basketball coach, but oddly enough that Tony Bennett was playing college basketball at UW-Green Bay in the early 1990s).
Bennett finished with 13 ½ sacks, free safety Chuck Cecil made the Pro Bowl and third-year strong safety started to come into his own and would be 1st-team All-NFL four times before the 1990s were complete. The Green Bay defense was 15th in the league in points allowed.
When the season began, the Packer faithful still hoped for the career revival of Don Majikowski, the quarterback who electrified them in 1989 on a near-run to the playoffs. Favre was still the backup, but “Majik” was on a short leash.
That leash got shorter in an opening day home loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Even though the 23-20 defeat came in overtime, Green Bay was outplayed and needed Viking mistakes to keep them in the game. When the Packers were horrible on both sides of the ball the following week in a 31-3 embarrassment at Tampa Bay, Favre got significant playing time in mop-up duty.
Even so, Majikowski got the call for a Week 3 home date with a poor Cincinnati Bengals team. But he was knocked out early in the game. Number 4 would come onto the field and wouldn’t leave for another sixteen years.
Green Bay still trailed into the fourth quarter. At the time I was a bartender for UW-Milwaukee and recall listening to the game at some posh affair the school president was throwing. It looked like another typically long season for the local NFL team. But then Favre threw two fourth-quarter touchdown passes, the last one a 35-yarder to Kitrick Taylor down the right sideline. The Packers pulled out a 24-23 win and there was no turning back.
Favre came out the next week in the late Sunday afternoon slot against a good Pittsburgh Steelers team. He went 14/19 for 210 yards, no mistakes and a 76-yard touchdown pass to Sharpe. The 17-3 win got the Packers back to .500. Even when they lost 24-10 the next week in Atlanta after digging themselves an early hole, there were plenty of reasons to feel good going into the bye week.
But the good feeling started to dissipate in the latter part of October. The Packers were crushed on the ground in consecutive losses to Bill Belichick’s improving Cleveland Browns and Mike Ditka’s Chicago Bears, who were the gold standard in this division going back to 1984.
Favre and Sharpe got untracked the following week in Detroit. Favre went 22/37 for 212 yards, no mistakes and a 30-yard TD strike to Sharpe in the fourth quarter sealed the 27-13 win. But the young quarterback was exposed the next week on the road by a weak New York Giants team. He threw three interceptions, including a 69-yard Pick-6 early in the fourth quarter when the Packers only trailed 13-7. The final ended up 27-7 and Green Bay was staring at a 3-6 record.
There were no expectations the following Sunday when Green Bay played the first of what used to be the three games a year they played at old Milwaukee County Stadium. I was going out to the game with a couple friends and as a Redskins fan, was just hoping the Pack could help out the ‘Skins by knocking off the Philadelphia Eagles today.
I didn’t know we were going to see another threshold moment in the journey of this quarterback and franchise. Favre used both of his top receivers, with Sharpe catching seven passes for 116 yards and Harris getting eight balls that went for 98 yards. Even when Green Bay coughed up a second half lead and trailed 24-21 in the fourth quarter, Favre rallied them.
The Packers tied the game with a late field goal. With overtime looming, the Eagles turned it over and Green Bay turned the gift into a stunning field goal that won it 27-24. The 4-6 record was nothing special, but this team felt different and the players knew it. They talked openly in the locker room about getting on a late run to the playoffs. And they nearly did it.
A revenge trip to collapsing Chicago saw Favre break an early 3-3 tie with a 49-yard touchdown pass to Sharpe. This time, the Packer defense dominated against the run, while Edgar Bennett emerged and ran for 107 yards. The 17-3 road win hastened the Bear demise.
Green Bay was playing divisional games in Milwaukee the next two weeks against the Buccaneers and Lions (Prior to 2002, Tampa was in NFC Central team along with the four current teams of the NFC North).
The Pack looked ready to let down against the woeful Bucks, failing to run the ball and trailing 14-12 in the fourth quarter. Favre threw a nine-yard TD pass to Harris that pulled it out. Favre opened the Detroit game by hitting Sharpe on a 65-yard scoring play and that set the tone for an early 28-0 lead. Green Bay’s 38-10 rout nudged their record above .500, to 7-6.
They paid a visit to the Houston Oilers on Sunday Night. Houston (today’s Tennessee Titans) were a playoff perennial that was going back to the postseason in 1992 and had a Hall of Fame quarterback in Warren Moon. It was expected the Green Bay surge would finally crest here and they could start focusing on 1993.
Instead, the Packer defense forced four turnovers. Favre tossed a short TD pass to Sharpe and an improbable 16-14 upset put Green Bay squarely in the playoff race. There were part of a three-team joust with the Eagles and Redskins for two wild-card spots. And they still harbored hope of a final week showdown in Minnesota for the NFC Central crown if they could get some help.
In the meantime, the Packers had their own business to take care of. The home finale in Lambeau started with a bad Los Angeles Rams team being spotted a 10-0 hole. Then corner Terrell Buckley delivered a Pick-6. Favre threw two touchdown passes to Sharpe, who ended up with eight catches for 110 yards. Green Bay ripped off four touchdowns in the second quarter and cruised home 28-10.
But in the same time slot, the Vikings won a defensive battle in Pittsburgh to clinch the division. The Eagles knocked off the Redskins and secured one wild-card spot. It was down to Washington and Green Bay for the final berth and the ‘Skins had the inside path.
The Packers got the needed help the following Saturday. Washington lost a home game to the mediocre Los Angeles Raiders. The Redskins were basically begging the Packers to grab the last playoff spot—if only the Packers could win on the road against the Vikings.
When Green Bay drove for an early touchdown, you wondered if Minnesota was going to hold something back, already knowing they were the 3-seed and scheduled to play the following weekend. But the Vikes hunkered down and the Packer problems up front were again exposed. They were outrushed 165-29, Favre threw three interceptions and the game got away. The 27-7 loss ended the playoff dream.
But real optimism was finally brewing in Green Bay. In the offseason, the Packers addressed their problems on defense and up front by signing Hall of Fame defensive tackle Reggie White. They made the playoffs the following year. By 1996 they won a Super Bowl. And as Favre’s career rolled on, he subsequently passed the torch to Aaron Rodgers. Lambeau Field has been the home to Hall of Fame quarterbacks for a long time now. That started back in 1992.