From memorable games to franchise-changing decisions, Christmas Eve has had its fair share of Green Bay Packers history. This week, we’re taking a look back at these memorable moments.
Postseason games. Playoff clinchers. Head coaching hires. You name it, it has probably happened to the Green Bay Packers on one Christmas Eve or another. Given the number of moments on the day before the big holiday, we’re going to take a look at each of these Christmas Eve events.
Dec. 24, 1972: Packers Fall to Washington, 16-3
Leading off this list with a loss is a bit of a downer, but the defeat had far greater implications than just ending a memorable 1972 season. Following a 10-4 season that saw them win the NFC Central, the Packers – due to rules limiting teams from the same division from meeting in the Divisional Round – were sent to top-seeded Washington for their first playoff tilt in five years.
Prior to the game, head coach Dan Devine decided to take greater control of the offense, despite their success with quarterback coach Bart Starr’s playcalling through the regular season. Though Washington utilized a five-man defensive line to combat Green Bay’s rushing attack, Devine insisted on running the ball. The result? Star running back John Brockington managed just nine yards on 13 carries, while Backfield mate MacArthur Lane managed a little better with 56 yards on 14 carries.
Though trailing just 10-3 entering the fourth quarter, the two Washington field goals ultimately put the game out of reach and what could have been a much more memorable season came to an unceremonious halt.
Despite talent on both sides, the loss marked the beginning of a long, difficult end for Devine’s tenure in Green Bay. The Packers went 5-7-2 in 1973 and Devine was ultimately fired following a 6-8 campaign in ’74 that was much better remembered for the ill-fated John Hadl trade.
Dec. 24, 1974: Bart Starr Named Head Coach
Just eight days following Devine’s official resignation, the Packers named Starr as the eighth head coach in team history. Given his success as quarterback in the Lombardi years and his time on Devine’s staff, hopes were high for the future member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Yet, Starr himself was much more reserved.
“I ask the prayers and patience of Packer fans everywhere —we will earn everything else,” Starr said at his introductory press conference.
Success, though, eluded Starr during his head coaching tenure. In nine seasons, his Packers managed just two seasons above .500 and one playoff appearance during the strike-shortened 1982 season. After a season-ending loss to the Chicago Bears in 1983, Starr was relieved of his duties.
Dec. 24, 1984: Another Lombardi Legend Leads Packers
Only five days separated Starr’s departure and the hiring of Forrest Gregg as the new head coach. Again, hopes were exceptionally high for Gregg, who guided the Cincinnati Bengals to Super Bowl XVI and a pair of postseason appearances in four seasons.
Gregg’s time, though, was even more disastrous. Following a pair of 8-8 seasons in ’84 and ’85, the team went 4-12 and 5-9-1 in the following seasons. Not only that, but missteps both on (Charles Martin’s late hit of Jim McMahon in 1986) and off the field (legal troubles for Mossy Cade and James Lofton) created a public relations nightmare that led to many questioning whether the Packers could ever succeed again.
Gregg ultimately left to take over as the head coach at Southern Methodist, his alma mater and the recent recipient of the NCAA’s “Death Penalty.”
Dec. 24, 1994: Packers Clinch Playoff Berth in Tampa Bay
For the first time since the Lombardi years, the Packers made the postseason in consecutive years with a 34-19 win against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. A week prior, Green Bay kept their postseason hopes alive with a thrilling 21-17 win over the Atlanta Falcons in the franchise’s final Milwaukee game. However, at 8-7, they still needed a win in Tampa to secure the berth.
The Packers would make quick work of the Bucs, racing out to a 28-6 halftime lead behind three touchdown passes from Brett Favre to Sterling Sharpe and a 39-yard romp from Edgar Bennett. All told, Green Bay rolled up 315 of its 433 yards on the day in the first half alone, while holding Tampa Bay to just 98 in that same span.
The victory also clinched the Packers’ first home playoff game since 1982 and just the second since the famed Ice Bowl, defeating the Detroit Lions, 16-12, in a game where Barry Sanders was held to negative-one yard rushing.
Dec. 24, 1995: Yancey Thigpen’s Christmas Gift to Green Bay
The Packers’ first division title in 23 years was within their grasp. In their way, though, was a tall order in the AFC Central champion and defending conference runner-up Pittsburgh Steelers. Win and the division title – plus a home playoff game – is theirs. Lose and it’s a trip to Philadelphia as the NFC’s fifth seed.
Early in the third quarter, things were looking good for Green Bay. Despite taking several hard hits from Pittsburgh’s linebackers, Brett Favre hit Mark Chmura on a one-yard scoring strike to put the Packers ahead, 21-10. After a Norm Johnson field goal, Green Bay answered with a three-pointer from Chris Jacke to hold a 24-13 edge with 13 minutes left.
However, the Steelers found the endzone on the ensuing possession to get within 24-19, while Green Bay’s drive stalled out just inside Pittsburgh territory to give the visitors one last shot. Thanks to a pair of fourth-down conversions, the Steelers sat at the Green Bay 6 on another fourth down with 16 seconds remaining.
Dropping back, Neil O’Donnell had plenty of time to find Yancey Thigpen wide open in the back of the endzone. Thigpen, though, saw the ball bound out of his hands and fall to the ground, setting off a wild celebration at Lambeau Field.
“Merry Christmas to Green Bay,” Thigpen said after the game. “That’s my present.”
Dec. 24, 2004: Favre Rallies Packers to Third-Straight Division Title
In front of a national TV audience, Green Bay’s hopes for a third-straight NFC North title were fading. After all, a back-and-forth contest against the Vikings had swung Minnesota’s way, as linebacker Chris Claiborne stepped in front of a Favre pass and raced 15 yards for a go-ahead touchdown with just over eight minutes left.
With the Metrodome crowd at a fever pitch, Favre got Green Bay going again on the next drive with a 20-yard completion to Donald Driver. A pair of long completions to Driver and Javon Walker combined with a facemask penalty suddenly had the Packers within Minnesota’s 20. Making their way to the Viking 3 in a goal-to-go situation with 3:38 left, Favre again hooked up with Driver to knot the game up – the fourth tie of the game.
A penalty-ridden three-and-out by Minnesota gave the Packers one last shot and claiming the NFC North title. Starting from their own 13, Green Bay got a boost from a 21-yard screen pass to Tony Fisher, while an 18-yard Favre-to-Driver connection got the Packers at the edge of field goal range with 25 ticks left.
Needing just a few yards, Favre instead took a deep shot to Walker, who had broken open and hauled in a 31-yard completion to the Minnesota 7. Following three kneeldowns, Ryan Longwell stepped up and hit the game- and division-winning field goal as time expired.
Unfortunately, Minnesota would get their revenge in the Wild Card Playoffs two weeks later, overshadowing what had been a late-season classic.
Dec. 24, 2016: Packers Continue to “Run The Table”
Practically left for dead in late November, the 2016 Packers forced their way back into the playoff hunt with four-straight wins and setting up a three-way race for the division title alongside the Vikings and Lions. A big piece in crystalizing the playoff picture came in Week 16 when Green Bay hosted Minnesota at Lambeau Field.
What was supposed to be a highly-competitive contest, though, quickly went one-sided.
Two touchdown passes from Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson, plus a third to Davante Adams staked the Packers to a 21-6 second-quarter lead. Minnesota quickly responded with a 71-yard bomb from Sam Bradford to Adam Thielen and was on the move again in the final two minutes of the first half. However, a strip-sack from Clay Matthews resulted in a Mike Daniels fumble recovery near midfield with 54 seconds left.
A 32-yard connection to Geronimo Allison and a 14-yard hookup to Jordy Nelson quickly got the Packers to Minnesota’s 6, where Rodgers scrambled into the endzone for a 28-13 halftime lead. With the sizeable lead, Green Bay’s defense stifled Minnesota in the second half until the game was well out of reach.
The victory not only eliminated the Vikings’ playoff hopes, but set up a winner-take-all showdown with the Lions the following week for the NFC North title.