1993 Green Bay Packers: Brett Favre’s Breakthrough Playoff Trip

The 1993 Green Bay Packers were looking to end a drought. The franchise had not made the playoffs since 1982. They only gone to the postseason twice since the departure of the great Vince Lombardi following the 1967 season. Most of those seasons were simply hopeless. 1992 had seen some hope—the emergence of a young quarterback in Brett Favre, a winning season and contention until the final week of the regular season. It was time to take the next step.

In what was then a new era of NFL free agency, the Packer front office didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on a big move. The biggest prize on the market was defensive tackle Reggie White. The devout Christian minister was persuaded that Green Bay was a good place for him to continue with his off-the-field religious activities. As for on the field, White was already convinced that Favre was the kind of quarterback that could get him where he had never been—to a Super Bowl.

Favre and White were future Hall of Famers. A third member of the ’93 Packers seemed on his way there as well—Sterling Sharpe was the team’s best player and had not yet suffered the neck injury that would prematurely end his career and his Canton hopes. In 1993, Sharpe was still on top of his game—a then-record 112 catches for the season and 1st-team All-NFL honors.

Edgar Bennett and Darrell Thompson shared duties in what was a pedestrian running attack. Bennett was also a pretty good pass-catcher and tight end Jackie Harris rounded out the targets. The offensive line failed to produce any Pro Bowl talent. On the surface, this offense should have been above-average at best. But with Favre, Sharpe and head coach Mike Holmgren working the Xs and Os, they ended up sixth in the NFL in points scored.

The defense was similarly top-heavy in talent, with White producing another Pro Bowl campaign and getting 13 sacks. Bryce Paup was a rising star outside linebacker, adding eleven sacks and giving offensive coordinators someone other than White to worry about blocking. LeRoy Butler was the best strong safety in football, a tough hitter and intercepting six balls. There was a big dropoff after these three, but they were enough to rank the Pack ninth in the league in points allowed.

Green Bay opened at home at old Milwaukee County Stadium, where they played three home games a year prior to 1995, and blew out a bad Los Angeles Rams team. Favre went 19/29 for 264 yards, with Sharpe catching seven balls for 120 yards. The Packers outrushed the Rams 138-53 and cruised 36-6. All was finally well with the world.

Not so fast. The Philadelphia Eagles were a perennial contender and came to town next. Green Bay took a 17-7 lead into the fourth quarter, but couldn’t run the ball and lost 20-17. After a bye week, the Packers went to Minnesota. Green Bay played some really good red-zone defense, not allowing a touchdown. But the Vikes did get five field goals and handed the Pack a 15-13 loss. After these two disappointments, no one could be surprised when they went to defending Super Bowl champion Dallas and got their clock cleaned 36-14.

After all the hype of summer, was this just the same old Packers? They were 1-3 and now a Sunday night visit from John Elway and the Denver Broncos was looming as an early must-win.

Green Bay came out with the appropriate urgency. Harris had a big game catching the football and the Packers were ahead 30-7 after three quarters. But this was a sloppily played game. Both teams ended up with 10-plus penalties. Favre threw three interceptions. And this was Elway, the master of the comeback and a team that would eventually get to the playoffs. Denver closed the gap to 30-27 and got the ball back.

Enter Reggie White. The Minister of Defense hadn’t made this move to let things get away before they even started. He sacked Elway three times on the final drive and preserved the win. All of Green Bay could exhale as they entered another bye week (1993 was a year the NFL experimented with a double-bye).

The schedule loosened up a bit on the far end of the bye. Green Bay went to lowly Tampa and blasted the Buccaneers 37-14. Favre threw four touchdowns while Thompson ran for 105 yards. The following week, the rival Chicago Bears came north. In a physical game, the Packers played it close to the vest and led 10-3 in the fourth quarter when Thompson’s 17-yard touchdown run sealed the win.

Monday Night Football wasn’t something Green Bay had seen a lot of in their two-decades long fling with irrelevance. They went to Kansas City, where Joe Montana was in the first of his two seasons with the Chiefs. The Packers did not play well. They turned the ball over six times. Two drives that got inside the KC five-yard line had to end with field goals. It’s somewhat surprising they only lost by a respectable 23-16. But they were back to .500 at the regular season’s halfway point.

Another road trip awaited, this one to New Orleans. The Saints were another team lurking on the playoff fringe and this game would be extremely significant before all was said and done. The Packer offensive line struggled on the road, allowing six sacks and only clearing room for 69 rushing yards. But the Packer defense countered with five sacks of their own, two by White. They got five turnovers. Favre, for all his youth and already developing reputation as a gunslinger, made fewer mistakes and that was the difference in a 19-17 win.  

A stretch of three straight divisional games awaited. Detroit visited Milwaukee. Green Bay first led 10-0, then trailed 17-16 in the fourth quarter. Favre was the difference, going 24/33 for 259 yards and leading another ten-point burst to close the game and the 26-17 win.

Tampa Bay was up next (the Bucs were in the old NFC Central prior to 2002 along with the NFC North’s four current teams). In a bad weather game right after Thanksgiving, the Packers trailed 10-6 in the fourth quarter until Favre flipped a two-yard TD pass to Sharpe for the win.

A road trip to Chicago saw the Packers dig an early 17-7 hole and Favre went to the air often. He threw 54 passes, completing 36 and producing over 400 yards. They were still in the game at 23-17, but in the fourth quarter Favre’s third interception of the afternoon went back to the house and sealed a 30-17 defeat.

With the playoff race still tightly packed, Green Bay went to play San Diego, a team on the AFC playoff fringe. The Packers played clean football, picked off three passes, stopped the run and won 20-13. They were sitting on an 8-5 record going into the season’s final three games, squarely in position to make the playoffs and in the midst of a three-time fight with the Vikings and Lions for the division crown.

Minnesota was coming to County Stadium. Favre played well, going 20/33 for 256 yards. Sharpe caught six balls for 106 yards. But the Packer weaknesses caught up with them. There was no running game. The more balanced Vikes ran for over 150 yards. Even though Green Bay only turned it over twice, Minnesota never did. A 21-17 loss put the Packers back on the brink.

The win over New Orleans earlier in the year loomed enormous. The Packers were 8-6 and the Saints were 7-7. That November 14 trip to the Bayou explained the flip in the standings and also gave Green Bay the tiebreaker edge. If the Packers could get another win, they would be home free.

But the schedule wasn’t easy. The playoff-bound Los Angeles Raiders were up next. A road trip to Detroit was the finale. And a different generation of Packer fans didn’t have the same confidence they might have today when facing challenging times.

One thing Green Bay and their fans did know was cold weather and the day after Christmas in Wisconsin was absolutely frigid. The Packers and Raiders were both playing cautiously. It was working for Green Bay. They led 7-0 at half. That lead nudged to 14-0 after three quarters. Then came the play that changed the Packers forever.

It was a big play on its face. Buter scooped up a fumble on the Raider 25 and raced into the end zone. The play all but sealed the win and a playoff berth. But in his excitement, Butler went racing through the end zone and leapt into the stands. It was the first instance of what today is known as “The Lambeau Leap” and is done after every Packer touchdown at home.

Going into the final week, Green Bay, Detroit and Minnesota were all going to the playoffs. The Vikings were going to finish second and be the 5-seed. The Packers and Lions were going to play each other in the 3-6 game in the NFC bracket. But where would be determined by what happened in the finale at the Silverdome.

Knowing the bigger picture took some of the steam out of this game and Detroit’s great running back Barry Sanders sat out. Although that made what happened all the more disappointing. Backup Lion running back Eric Lynch went for 115 yards. Favre threw four interceptions. A 20-16 lead after three quarters turned into a 30-20 loss. It didn’t mean elimination, but it did deny the Packers their first NFC Central title in over twenty years and denied the city of Green Bay its first home playoff game since ’82.

Six days later, everyone was back at the Silverdome for a noon kickoff that would begin wild-card weekend. Sanders was back in uniform. And oh, did Barry and Brett ever put on a show. Sanders went off for 169 yards rushing. Favre went 15/26 for 204 yards. With the future Hall of Famers meeting the moment, the game was a classic.

Detroit seemed to have the upper hand, with a 17-14 lead, having rattled Favre with a Pick-6 and on the verge of going in again. Packer safety George Teague made the second-most remembered play of this game, intercepting a pass in the end zone and going 101 yards the other way. Detroit still bounced right back and took a 24-21 lead, which set us up for the most remembered play of the game.

Green Bay had moved to the 40-yard line, getting close to field goal range and tying the game. Favre rolled to his left. Making a play that few quarterbacks could make, he stopped pivoted, and threw a beautiful pass all the way across the field. Sharpe was wide open, with the Lion secondary likely assuming that no one would try such a move when they were only ten yards from field goal range. Sharpe waltzed into the end zone untouched. Ballgame, Pack wins 28-24.

A divisional round date in Dallas awaited the following Sunday. The early afternoon kickoff got away from Green Bay in the second quarter. They led 3-0, but Dallas ripped off 17 points before half, then took a 24-3 lead in the third quarter. The game followed the same dynamic as the regular season meeting here in early October—Favre and Sharpe were doing their thing, but there was no running game and Dallas just had too many weapons. The final was deceptively respectable at 27-17.

It was still a breakthrough year for Green Bay. They were finally in the playoffs. This was the second of three straight 9-7 years, two of which ended in the postseason. This run from 1992-94 was what laid the groundwork for the greater victories this franchise would achieve by the second half of the 1990s.