A Packers Playoff Prayer: Favre’s Shovel Buries Dying Hawks in 2007 Playoffs
In his future Hall of Fame career, former Green Bay Packers Brett Favre threw for 71,838 yards and 508 touchdowns. It’s a fair guess that most of those passes were thrown overhand.
But on a cold and blustery white-out day in January 2008, Favre uncorked a snowball’s-chance-in-hell-of-being-completed toss that proved the play of the game.
The playoff matchup between the Packers and the Seattle Seahawks in 1997’s NFC divisional playoff was built on epic storylines: The return of former Packers coaching great Mike Holmgren as leader on the opposite sideline for Seattle versus Mike McCarthy in his first playoff game as Green Bay’s head coach. There were the ongoing reports of this being Favre’s final rodeo, as the 38-year-old was just beginning what would become an annual offseason game of will-he-or-won’t-he retire. There was Favre’s opposing quarterback and one-time understudy, Matt Hasselbeck, who was drafted by Green Bay in 1999 and learned under Favre before leaving for Seattle in 2001.
The game sent chills down the spines of freezing Packers fans and it wasn’t because of the winter wonderland conditions.
Ryan Grant, who had only become the starting running back midway through the season, yet still nearly rushed for 1,000 yards, had a nightmarish start. He lost only one fumble during the year, but in this game, he coughed up two in the first quarter alone — both leading to Seattle touchdowns.
It was 14-0 Seattle before the Lambeau bleachers had thawed.
Still, Favre was just warming up and having a blast in the snow. “I’ve been hoping for that for 17 years,” he said. “I was watching the weather all day and, I’m like, ‘Just give us one of those big snow games.’ I wanted to play where you couldn’t see the field, and the snowplow comes out. It keeps getting worse and worse.”
As the snow began to fall with greater fervor, the Packers found their mojo. The team scored three unanswered touchdowns, but a Seahawks field goal cut the Green Bay lead to just 21-17 as time wound down toward the half.
With 7:12 remaining in the second quarter, the Packers started on their own 30-yard-line. During the ensuing 14-play drive, Favre completed two incredible first-down passes on third-and-7 to Greg Jennings and third-and-6 to James Jones to keep the drive alive. But after Grant ran the ball to Seattle’s 14-yard-line, it appeared the drive would stall and result in a field-goal attempt.
It was third-and-8. The snow was pummeling the field, reducing visibility to a few yards in front of the players’ faces. The two-minute warning had come and gone.
Time was running out.
The backfield emptied. A pass seemed imminent.
Tight end, Donald Lee, shifted from his stance at the line into protection to the right of Favre as the quarterback dropped back.
Soaked and tired bodies slipped and sputtered and flopped like dying fish at the line of scrimmage. Seattle defensive linemen Brandon Mebane and Craig Terrill, among others, bullied their way behind the Green Bay fortress, pressuring Favre out of the pocket to his right.
With his cleats like skates on ice, the Packers quarterback nearly fell twice, but escaped the pressure to his right. As Favre pinballed off the rushing giants and the frozen turf, he spied his previous blocking help, Lee, who had scurried downfield.
Favre let loose an underhanded shovel pass that started due south with his hand full of pigskin in Mississippi and ended northward with his bare fist pumping in Wisconsin. The ball fluttered like a dying Seahawk toward Lee, who caught and cradled the egg for 11 yards down to the three.
First and goal.
Even the network announcers were in awe. “How does a 38-year-old man do that?” asked Kenny Albert.
“I don’t know how a 28-year-old man could do that!” Albert’s partner, Daryl Johnston, responded.
On the very next play, Grant pounded the ball in for a touchdown. Instead of a field goal attempt and only a seven-point lead, The Packers now led 28-17. They never looked back.
The 38-year-old quarterback had taken a page from his boyhood backyard games of true football improv and come up with a beast that became a beauty. Favre was his usually laconic self after the game, re-living that play. “I just gave him the old, usual, underhand toss. We practice that play all the time,” Favre cracked. “Boy, what a back breaker.”
After the half, the snowballs Favre playfully hurled at Donald Driver turned into an avalanche for the unlucky Seahawks whose wings were clipped so thoroughly that the Packers amassed a franchise playoff record for points en route to the 42-20 victory. Holmgren was beaten in his old house. McCarthy earned his first playoff victory as Packers coach. Ryan Grant, after a horrendous beginning to his Packers playoff career with two lost fumbles, set a team post-season rushing record with 201 yards on the ground. And Favre lived to fight, and sadly lose, a week later in the NFC Championship game against the New York Giants.
But on this frigid night, a brilliantly ugly shovel pass helped put this game in the annals of Green Bay lore.
Scott Schalin is the former executive editor of the Packers Hall of Fame website and is currently writing a book with NFL on FOX insider Jay Glazer.