Winter Wonderland

On a near perfect weekend of postseason football, nowhere were conditions more Favreable than in frosty Green Bay, where the Packers plowed through the Seahawks and into the NFC Championship Game
January 21, 2008

WOULD YOU say the blessing, Breleigh?" Deanna Favre said last Thursday night before dinner, and her eight-year-old daughter earnestly cast her eyes toward the floor in thought. A day shy of her half-birthday, Breleigh, a bubbly, ponytailed blonde, had much to be thankful for. "God," she said, matter-of-factly, "thank you for this food tonight, and thank you for my family and friends, and please help us beat Seattle, and please let us win the Super Bowl, and please let me have a happy half-birthday tomorrow."

Hard to believe, but Brett Favre feels more pressure from his young daughter than he does from a premier pass rush like the one he faced from the Seattle Seahawks last Saturday, or the one he'll see on Sunday when his Packers host the New York Giants in the NFC Championship Game. Sacks he can take—439 of them in his 17-year career—but he hates seeing Breleigh upset after a loss, something he admits to thinking about on the rare occasions when games were going south this season.

"She can't make it easy on me, can she?" Favre said, after one of the most memorable games of his Hall of Fame career, a 42--20 NFC divisional playoff victory over Seattle in the snow globe that was Lambeau Field. "I honestly don't want to disappoint her. You know how kids can be. I don't want her to go to school and have other kids say to her, 'Your dad stinks.' Which has happened."

Not lately. Favre, 38, has led the youngest team in the NFL to a 14--3 record and within one win of reaching Super Bowl XLII. "Did I ever think we'd be in this position?" Favre said, after the locker room had cleared out. "Quite honestly, no. I looked at us in the summer, and we were young at receiver, young at tight end, young in spots on the line. In the past, I knew every game what would work and how we'd win. Now I really have no idea week to week what's going to go well and what isn't. I'm thrilled about it, but it is a strange year. I'm just riding the wave."

If weather is as big a factor in the game this weekend as it was against Seattle (the early forecast was for a high of 12°) you've got to like Green Bay's chances to advance to its first Super Bowl in 10 years. On Saturday the snow that began falling early on created a near whiteout in the second half, but Favre was impervious to the conditions. He completed 18 of 23 passes on the day (two were dropped) for 173 yards, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. The offensive line overcame treacherous footing and held the cat-quick Seahawks' front seven to one sack and three quarterback pressures. Best of all, running back Ryan Grant, who was traded by the New York Giants to Green Bay on Sept. 1 for a sixth-round pick, recovered from losing two fumbles on his first three touches to run for a team playoff record 201 yards and score three touchdowns.

Grant's ascension—five 100-yard rushing games in the regular season after taking over the No. 1 job in Week 8—transformed the Packers from the worst rushing team in the league after seven weeks to one that fits the philosophy of coach Mike McCarthy, who calls the plays. "I'd run it 50 times a game if I could; that would be a perfect game," McCarthy said last Friday. Against Seattle, Green Bay ran on 35 of 59 offensive snaps (59%) and averaged a lusty 6.7 yards per carry.

Though Grant's lost possessions quickly put the Packers in a 14--0 hole, McCarthy said he didn't consider pulling his 6'1", 224-pound back, who had fumbled only once in 218 regular-season touches, because he was such an integral part of the game plan. "Who gives a [bleep]?" Favre told a downcast Grant on the sideline. "We're going to keep handing it to you." On the next six drives the 25-year-old Grant—a slashing, physical north-south runner—punished the Seahawks with 155 rushing yards; Green Bay scored on each of those possessions, running up its final 22-point margin with 13 minutes left in the game.

Five months ago Grant, a part-time starter as a senior at Notre Dame in 2004 who went undrafted the following spring, was fifth on the Giants' depth chart. Now he's the hottest back in the playoffs. "When I watch him I see a hungry runner," said All-Pro LaDainian Tomlinson, who caught some of Grant's performance after his San Diego Chargers arrived in Indianapolis for their AFC playoff game (page 41). "The key to being a great back is that hunger."

You can say the same about passers. The night before the game Seattle coach Mike Holmgren, who had mentored Favre in Green Bay for seven seasons, said his defense "has to hit Brett a lot. I love him like a son, but we've got to hit him and disrupt his rhythm." The Seahawks, who were fourth in the NFL in sacks in 2007, with 45, couldn't do it. Even when they were able to flush him from the pocket, Favre would pull out another highlight-tape play like this one late in the first half:

From the shotgun on third-and-eight at the Seattle 14, Favre brought tight end Donald Lee into the backfield as the play clock ran down to :01. At the snap, defensive tackle Brandon Mebane shot through a gap and got his hands on the quarterback. But Favre wheeled away, stumbling to his right, and as he fell he underhanded the ball to Lee for an 11-yard gain. Instead of having to settle for a field goal attempt, Green Bay got a three-yard touchdown run from Grant on the next play to give the Pack a 28--17 lead at halftime.

"It's funny," Favre said afterward. "You would have thought I had played in a bunch of these games, but this was my first one where it snowed the whole game. I always wanted to play when it snowed so much you couldn't see the field. How great was that? I had the time of my life out there."

Imagine if Favre can get the Packers into the Super Bowl, possibly as the final obstacle to a perfect season for the New England Patriots. Now that would give Breleigh something to pray for.

PHOTOPhotograph by Simon BrutyPOWDER PLAY Green Bay's Al Harris put the deep freeze on Seattle's Ben Obomanu in the fourth quarter at Lambeau. PHOTOJOHN BIEVERCOLD COMFORT Favre is 43--5 at home when the game temp is below 34°.