A new era may have descended upon Green Bay in 1999 as defensive end Reggie White, head coach Mike Holmgren, tight end Mark Chmura and wide receiver Robert Brooks were no longer on the Packers’ sidelines. However, in week three of the season, Brett Favre the exuberant, gun slinging, quarterback two weeks shy of his 30th birthday turned in an ending for the ages against the rival Minnesota Vikings in front of 59,686 fans at Lambeau Field on a relatively humid and 82-degree late Sunday afternoon. A year before, the Vikings swept the season series against the Packers, highlighted by Vikings’ rookie wideout Randy Moss, who torched the Packers’ secondary for two touchdowns, five receptions and an absurd 190 yards on the Monday Night Football stage.
New head coach Ray Rhodes led the green and gold into week three after a very pedestrian performance in a week two loss at Detroit. Favre and the Packers were back at Lambeau looking to avoid going under .500 for the first time since week eight of 1994. The game would pit the Packers’ newly minted rookie defensive backs Antuan Edwards, Fred Vinson and Mike McKenzie against the lethal Vikings’ offensive attack. The trio were drafted in order to shore up the gashing wound in the secondary which was especially bludgeoned by the Vikings’ receiving trio of Moss, Cris Carter and Jake Trio. With the Packers off to a 1-1 start to the season, Favre found himself constantly needing to put the team on his back. Week one featured a Favre game winning touchdown pass to tight end Jeff Thomason with 11 seconds left in week one at Lambeau against the Oakland Raiders and week three would bring déjà vu to the Green Bay faithful.
The opening possession of the 77th installment of this bitter border rivalry was not a promising one for Favre and Co. as after a six-play drive including a 23-yard completion to Bill Schroeder, the pride of UW-LaCrosse, the Packers were forced to call on Louie Aguilar to punt the ball over to the high-octane Vikings’ offense led by quarterback, and Tecmo Super Bowl legend, Randall Cunningham. The Vikings used a balanced, 15 play, rush and pass mix to match the ball from their own six yard line down the field culminating in a one-yard touchdown plunge by fullback Leroy Hoard. Many of the Packers’ faithful were thinking “here we go again”. However, Favre, Schroeder and running back Dorsey Levens helped the Pack get on the scoreboard the next possession which ended on the leg of kicker Ryan Longwell, who cut the early deficit to four.
Cunningham would be sacked by defensive end Vaughn Booker on the following drive to help force a punt. On the next series, the Packers mustarded up two first downs, but Levens was stuffed for a loss of three on third and one and the Packers weren’t able to take advantage of the opportunity but were able to back the Vikings back up to their own 11-yard line. Then Cunningham attempted to go back to his old bag of tricks (and luck) by throwing the ball up to a triple covered Moss. Big mistake, the ball was intercepted by first round draft pick, Antuan Edwards who promptly returned the ball 26 yards for a Packers’ touchdown and a 10-7 lead. The Vikings ate up most of the remaining 7:37 on the second quarter clock, but the newly formed secondary stood their ground and the Vikings settled for a 34-yard Gary Anderson field goal to send the game to halftime, all even at ten.
On the Vikings opening possession of the third quarter it resembled their opening game drive, but with a different ending. On third and goal from the Green Bay four-yard line, Cunningham lofted a pass to Moss who jumped to make what appeared to be a sensational touchdown grab. However, the play was ruled incomplete as Moss bobbled the ball before hitting the ground after being sandwiched by McKenzie and safety Darren Sharper. A subsequent Vikings’ challenge by coach Dennis Green went for null and ultimately, the third quarter consisted of the teams trading field goals after lengthy possessions. After a Vikings punt by Mitch Berger set up the Packers at their own 24 with the teams tied up 13-13, the Packers’ had the ball as the epic fourth quarter began. The Packers’ couldn’t capitalize and the teams ended up trading punts after two quick drives. Levens and second-year receiver Corey Bradford help aide Favre and the Packers down the field to take a 16-13 lead with 4:25 to play.
After the Vikings opened up with a short run by Robert Smith, Cunningham hit Jake Reed on a quick slant which he promptly took 50 yards down the field between Packer rookies Edwards and Vinson and down to the Packers’ 28-yard line. Three plays later, after being held in check with only one reception for three yards all day, Moss capped the five play, 80-yard drive, with a ten-yard touchdown to put the Vikings up 20-16. With 1:51 remaining the Packers’ and 77 yards to go needed Favre to stir up what would be his 15th career game winning drive.
On the Packers’ final drive, Favre was nearly flawless leading the squad down the field completing six of seven passes, three to Levens and two to Bradford. However, after a six-yard reception to Schroeder on second down and ten, the Packers’ were forced to call their third and final timeout with 0:43 reading on the Lambeau Field game clock. When Levens was stopped in bounds, one-yard shy of a first, Favre faced a fourth and one, do or die scenario. Favre ran the team to the line of scrimmage and with 16 seconds left got off the snap. Favre took the snap and saw a sprinting Bradford running down the left side of the field past cornerback Jimmy Hitchcock. Favre pump faked to the right, turned back left and calmly floated a pass off his back foot to Bradford who cradled it in the end zone for the game winning touchdown. The 218th touchdown pass of Favre’s career capped off his 12th fourth quarter comeback and he collapsed onto a sideline bench out of breath to watch a desperate last gasp hail mary by Cunningham, which was intercepted by Edwards and the Packers escaped Lambeau with a win, their 32nd home win in their last 33 home games.
Statistically the game ended up fairly even, with Green Bay edging Minnesota 360 to 328 in total yardage, led by Favre’s 304 passing yards and Levens’ career high day receiving, finishing with nine receptions for 84 yards. The Ray Rhodes era would only last one season. A season filled with a roller coaster of ups and downs which ended with an 8-8 record and just missing the playoffs, breaking a six-year playoff run. A silver lining of the week three win over the hated Vikings is that it helped knocked them out of the NFC Central driver’s seat as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers would go on to claim their first division title in 18 years.