Head Coach Mike Holmgren and the Packers’ faithful had high hopes entering the 1995 season, coming off of back to back playoff seasons, the team aimed to make the steps of winning the NFC Central Division and make it past the divisional round of the playoffs. Unfortunately, a newly relocated St. Louis (via Los Angeles) Rams team had other ideas in week one, upsetting the Packers’ 17-14 at Lambeau Field.
Week two found the Packers’ on the road, as three-point underdogs, in Chicago on the primetime Monday night stage against the hated Bears. 64,855 fans packed Soldier Field on a crisp 57-degree September night to watch the 150th installment of the rivalry. The Packers swept both games in 1994 by scores of 33-6 and 40-3 and looked to win their third in a row against the Bears for the first time since 1981-1983 (the teams did not meet in the strike shortened 1982 season). Fans at Soldier Field and watching on the nationally televised contest were treated to a treat of a game, which included a record setting touchdown, arguably one of the best fan catches of all time and a furious comeback.
Green Bay opened the game with a seven-minute 65 yard drive a balanced mix driven by the arm of Brett Favre and the legs of converted fullback turned running back, Edgar Bennett. The drive culminated with a five-yard touchdown pass from Favre to the Packers’ new number one receiving option in Robert Brooks, who replaced Packers’ legend Sterling Sharpe, who was forced to retire early after the 1994 season following a neck injury.
After the Bears proceeding drive stalled around midfield, Todd Sauerbrun hung a sky high 30-yard punt to return man Mark Ingram who fumbled the punt, which was ultimately recovered by the Packers’ backup safety Mike Prior. The Packers’ offense proceeded to march down the field 83 yards, aided by a 15-yard unnecessary roughness call on Brussels, Wisconsin native Jim Flanigan against Favre. On the drive’s tenth play Favre found Anthony Morgan, a former Bear, in the end zone to put the Pack up 14 with 33 seconds left in the first quarter.
Chicago appeared to start to find their groove early in the second quarter picking up 47 yards in six plays to reach the Green Bay 41-yard line. Bears quarterback Erik Kramer dropped on first and ten and heaved a long pass intended for Bear’s top target, Curtis Conway, which was intercepted by pro bowl safety LeRoy Butler at the Green Bay one-yard line.
Two consecutive runs by Bennett for no gain found the Packers facing third and ten on their own one, a situation no team wants to find themselves, unless of course your quarterback is an all-world gunslinger. On third down Favre took a three-step drop, pumped fake toward Brooks running a double move along the right sideline and then hit Brooks in stride while Bears’ cornerback Donnell Woolford was left in the dust as Brooks scampered 99-yards for a touchdown, becoming the ninth player in NFL history to score from 99-yards (Cowboys running back Tony Dorsett was the only rusher to do so). After the Chris Jacke extra point the Packers were up 21-0 and the game seemed like it was about to get out of hand with 10:08 left in the second quarter.
The Bears however would regroup behind the legs of their rookie running back, Rashaan Salaam, who was drafted first round, 21st overall out of the University of Colorado. Three straight run calls to Salaam picked up a first down before Kramer hit Conway for 42 yards to the Green Bay 14-yard line. After a fourth and one conversion on the Green Bay five-yard line by fullback Anthony Johnson, Salaam pounded a touchdown in two plays later capping off ten play drive and giving the Bears life. The following drive saw Favre pick up two third downs, highlight by a 24-yard connection to receiver Terry Mickens. Following the connection, the Packers stalled and settled for a 32-yard field goal by Craig Hentrich (who was kicking field goals for an injured Jacke) to head to the locker room up 24-7.
Needing a spark in the second half the Bears instead went three and out after receiving the opening kick to the second half. Favre then orchestrated a methodical 12 play drive that finished with another field goal, this time a 39 yarder by Hentrich. Kramer would not go down without a fight and led the Bears to their own 13 play drive, ending with a two-yard touchdown reception by none other than defensive tackle/short yardage tight end Jim Flanigan, to bring the game back to within two possessions with only 28 seconds remaining in the third quarter.
The Packers started the fourth quarter out with a short offensive series which ended with a horribly shanked 11-yard punt by Hentrich, and the Bears found themselves with first and ten from the Green Bay 46-yard line, with momentum clearly on their side. On second down after an incomplete pass, Packers’ defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur had different plans as he called a cornerback blitz by Doug Evans which dropped Kramer nine yards back essentially killing their drive. Sauerbraun’s punt pinned the Packers at their own 11-yard line and two plays later, Favre was intercepted by Woolford, the same cornerback he torched for 99-yard touchdown earlier. Woolford returned the ball to the Green Bay eight-yard line. Salaam would take the ball to the house on the first play of the Bears’ possession to bring the Bears within striking distance with 11:57 left. The extra point by Kevin Butler was good and along with bringing the score to 27-21, but this was no ordinary extra point conversion.
In a game that saw a 99-yard touchdown, it would be a Bears’ fan who would be the one who made the catch of the game. Seated in the south end zone at Soldier Field, Mike Pantazis, who on Letterman, admittedly said he was 12-beers deep, jumped from the stands, and caught Butler’s kick in midair, which went over the field goal net, and landed about 20 feet down from his seats. Immediately surrounded by security, Pantazis was surprisingly allowed to stay in the game and keep the ball, likely in hopes of keeping the good mojo the Bears had going for them.
Momentum clearly remained with Chicago, as the next Packers’ possession included a sack of Favre leading to fourth and 13 from their own eight and Hentrich’s punt on fourth down was blocked by defensive back Anthony Hamilton and the Bears recovered at the Packers’ two-yard line. The Packers’ defense however stood up to the challenge with their backs against the wall, stuffing Salaam on back to back runs and forcing a pass by Kramer which was caught by Jeff Graham but just out of bounds in the the end zone. With 9:02 left in the game Bears’ coach Dave Wannstedt decided to take the points to cut the Packers’ lead to three.
Backed up on their own 28 the Packers knew they had to scrape together a dagger drive to put their nemesis away. A 12-play drive highlighted by a 20-yard reception by tight end Mark Chmura and a 21-yard run by Dorsey Levens led the Packers to the Chicago nine-yard line where a short run and two consecutive incomplete passes would call out the field goal unit. An errant snap foiled the Packers’ plans and attempt at insurance points, as holder Ty Detmer’s desperate pass attempt fell incomplete and the Bears’ dodged a bullet, finding themselves with the ball on their own nine with 2:40 left to play. Chicago ran two quick plays which moved them 15 yards. Then on first and ten from their own 24, Kramer dropped back and was sacked and stripped by the Minister of Defense, Reggie White. The ball wound up being recovered by linebacker Wayne Simmons. Two straight runs by Bennett forced the Bears’ to use up all of their timeouts and on the crucial third down and seven, Bennett ran eight yards over the left side to seal the win. A couple of kneel downs by Favre ran out the clock and the Packers found themselves back at .500 en route to their first division title since 1972.
From a statistical standpoint, Green Bay dominated the game thoroughly. Controlling time of possession 37:17 to 22:43 while outgaining Chicago, 431 to 243. Favre going threw for 312 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. Bennett ran for 96 yards on 30 carries and Brooks finished with eight catches for 161 yards and two touchdowns.