NFC North: Desmond Howard

Bart StarrJohn Biever/Icon SMI
We have a winner. The voters picked Bart Starr's quarterback sneak for a touchdown to win the Ice Bowl as the Packers' most memorable play, and I applaud their selection.

Score: Packers 21, Cowboys 17
Date: Dec. 31, 1967 Site: Lambeau Field

From the moment we began soliciting nominations for the Green Bay Packers' three most memorable plays, Bart Starr's quarterback sneak for a touchdown to win the Ice Bowl was mentioned more often than any other play.

So it should come as no surprise that it was the runaway winner in the voting.

Few NFL franchises have one defining play like that, but Starr's sneak ranks up there with the Immaculate Reception and The Catch.

SportsNation

Which is the most memorable play in Packers history?

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    67%
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    13%

Discuss (Total votes: 43,163)

When the voting closed on Thursday, Starr's play finished as a landslide winner over Brett Favre's 54-yard touchdown pass to Andre Rison in Super Bowl XXXI and Aaron Rodgers' third-and-10 completion to Greg Jennings to help clinch Super Bowl XLV.

What was most interesting in researching this project was that there was no consensus on the most memorable plays from Super Bowls XXXI and XLV. There was just as much support for Desmond Howard's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown that helped him win the Super Bowl XXXI MVP. Likewise in Super Bowl XLV, strong cases could be made for Nick Collins' interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter and Clay Matthews' forced fumble that thwarted a potential go-ahead drive by the Steelers in the fourth quarter.

Unlike Starr's sneak, no one play won Super Bowls XXXI or XVL.

And that is why Starr's play was so special.

As we wrap up this project, it's also worth noting some of the other plays that were considered, thanks in part to input from readers and other longtime observers of the team.

Among the others:

  • Don Hutson's first touchdown, an 83-yarder in 1935.
  • Dave Robinson drilling Don Meredith, leading to Tom Brown's interception to beat the Cowboys in the 1966 NFL Championship.
  • Herb Adderley's interception against the Lions in a 1962 regular-season game to set up the game-winning field goal in a 9-7 victory.
  • Chester Marcol's blocked field goal that he ran in for a touchdown to beat the Bears in 1980.
  • Don Majkowski to Sterling Sharpe for a 14-yard touchdown pass in 1989 against the Bears in what is known as the Instant Replay Game.
  • Favre to Sharpe in Detroit for a 40-yard touchdown with 55 seconds remaining in a 1994 playoff game.
  • Antonio Freeman's "Monday Night Miracle" catch to beat the Vikings in 2000.
  • B.J. Raji's interception return for a touchdown against the Bears in the NFC Championship Game in 2011.
  • The "Fail Mary" play against the Seahawks in 2012.

The problem with some of those plays is they were either flukes or meaningless plays in meaningless games. Oh, and there was one other play that a longtime Packers observer was convinced would be the most important play in team history if there more details about it were available. It was a punt, said to be nearly 90 yards by Verne Lewellen in a 1929 game against the New York Giants. That punt pinned the Giants deep in their own territory and helped secure a victory that was the difference between the teams in the standings (there were no playoffs at that time). The Packers, with a 12-0-1 record, won the championship over the Giants, whose only loss was to the Packers. It gave the Packers their first championship and, because it happened in New York, helped the Packers capture the attention of the powerful New York media. However, reports from that game do not clearly describe Lewellen's punt.

In the end, Starr's sneak is the play that has been, and likely will continue to be, the most memorable.
Andre RisonMatthew Emmons/USA TODAY Sports 
» VOTE HERE » NFC Plays: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

This is one of three nominations for the most memorable play in Green Bay Packers history. The others are: Bart Starr's quarterback sneak for a touchdown to win the Ice Bowl and Aaron Rodgers' third-and-10 completion to Greg Jennings in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XLV that helped clinch the game. Please vote for your choice as the Packers' most memorable play.

Score: Packers 35, Patriots 21
Date: Jan. 26, 1997 Site: Louisiana Superdome

SportsNation

Which is the most memorable play in Packers history?

  •  
    67%
  •  
    20%
  •  
    13%

Discuss (Total votes: 43,163)

You can argue that the most memorable play from Super Bowl XXXI was Desmond Howard's 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the third quarter -- and many of you on Twitter did. After all, Howard was the game's MVP.

Or you can make a case for Antonio Freeman's 81-yard touchdown -- which at the time was the longest touchdown catch in Super Bowl history -- although none of you did.

But the ever-lasting memory from the Packers' third Super Bowl title was quarterback Brett Favre running like a wild-man, sans helmet, after his 54-yard touchdown pass to Andre Rison on the Packers’ second play from scrimmage.

Favre, sensing a blitz from the Patriots, changed the play at the line of scrimmage. Rison, who joined the Packers midseason, ran a post route and found himself wide open down the seam.

Favre later revealed the play was rooted in something he had seen from the San Francisco 49ers when he was watching Super Bowl highlights during the week leading up to the game. He saw Joe Montana hit Jerry Rice in Super Bowl XXIV on a play the 49ers called "59 Razor." The Packers adopted it and called it "29 Razor." It was an audible to be used against a blitz that called for maximum blocking protection and only two receivers out in patters.

"Lo and behold, second play of the game, I checked to 29 Razor and hit Andre Rison for a touchdown," Favre said years after the game. "So when you see me running with my helmet off, I'm thinking, 'Can you believe I checked to this play?' It was amazing. And it worked, which was even more amazing."
 
We're Black and Blue All Over

BOURBONNAIS, Ill. -- We spent the latter part of offseason discussing what order the Green Bay Packers, Chicago Bears and Detroit Lions would finish in the 2012 NFC North. The Minnesota Vikings? The prognosticating class considered it all but a given that they will finish last and miss the playoffs for the third consecutive season.

The Vikings reported to training camp Thursday at Minnesota State University, Mankato, with no such assumptions in mind. Here's what coach Leslie Frazier told reporters:
"In the NFL today, I don't know that you want to count yourself out of any situation. This is a very fluid league in the way things are. I mean the teams that are sometimes favorites don't always end up being the favorite at the end of the year. Or the teams that are counted out are sometimes the teams that flip the script a little bit or end up in places that most people didn't expect at the beginning of the season. That's not to say that's going to be us. Our goal is to come down here to Mankato and try to continue to improve across the board. If we make the necessary improvements and come together as a team, we feel our chances are as good as anybody's."

There really is no other way to think at this time of year. If you can't be optimistic on the first day of training camp, when can you be?

Continuing around the NFC North:
  • Tailback Adrian Peterson told reporters he would fight a detour to the PUP list because of his knee injury, writes Brian Murphy of the St. Paul Pioneer Press, but it's difficult to see him winning that battle.
  • Vikings receiver Percy Harvin showed up for training camp Thursday, notes Judd Zulgad of 1500ESPN.com. He did not speak to reporters. Remember, he implied he could hold out during minicamp.
  • Green Bay Packers running back Alex Green passed his physical and participated fully in practice Thursday, a little more than nine months after having a torn ACL repaired. Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette has more.
  • Rookie linebacker Nick Perry's eye-popping athletic skills naturally raise expectations for him, writes Tom Silverstein of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
  • Packers linebacker Desmond Bishop is on the non-football injury list because of a calf strain, notes Jason Wilde of ESPNMilwaukee.com, and second-year linebacker D.J. Smith is filling in for him in practice.
  • Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh is facing a civil lawsuit stemming from his automobile accident last year in Portland, according to Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press.
  • Lions coach Jim Schwartz hopes players can shift their thinking when training camp begins, notes Birkett for the Free Press. Schwartz: "I think, for just about all of our team, when we hit the field, [offseason problems are] not going to be on anybody's mind. Hopefully it was on everybody's mind for the last six weeks or five weeks, whatever it's been. And it'll be on everybody's mind when they go out at night and when they make decisions in their personal life. But when they're in the building here, they're going to be thinking about football. They're going to be thinking about improving. They're going to be thinking about all the things that go into training camp."
  • The Lions' margins are narrow, writes Bob Wojnowski of the Detroit News.
  • Schwartz is confident the Lions have a number of candidates to replace the released Aaron Berry, notes Justin Rogers of Mlive.com.
  • Chicago Bears right tackle Gabe Carimi appears healthy and ready for his second season, writes Michael C. Wright of ESPNChicago.com.
  • Cool story: Bears cornerback D.J. Moore is borrowing a television from a fan during training camp. Jeff Dickerson of ESPNChicago.com has more.
  • Bears receiver Brandon Marshall wants to reduce his number of dropped passes, writes Dan Pompei of the Chicago Tribune.
  • Brad Biggs of the Tribune looks at the Bears' left tackle competition.
  • Meant to note this Thursday: As Mark Potash of the Chicago Sun-Times writes, the Bears' first play in team drills was notable because it was an organized rollout for quarterback Jay Cutler, who likes getting out of the pocket.

Top NFC North playoff moments

June, 21, 2012
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While we were scrambling with a newsy week, ESPN.com produced the kind of project that would normally give us ample fodder during the dog days of June. Experts from around the company ranked the top 25 playoff performances in each sport, and the NFL version -- compiled by John Clayton, Mike Sando and Jeffri Chadiha -- contains six references to games involving NFC North teams. Let's take a look:

25. Green Bay Packers returner Desmond Howard in Super Bowl XXXI
Performance:
Howard returned six punts for 90 yards and four kickoffs for 154, including a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
Seifert comment: Howard's MVP award is especially amazing considering he didn't touch the ball on offense. But it's hard to argue when you consider the timing of his touchdown return.

19. Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner vs. Packers in 2009 wild-card game
Performance:
Warner had 29 completions, five touchdown passes and only four incompletions in the Cardinals' wild 51-45 victory.
Seifert comment: I covered that game along with Sando and Clayton. The Packers defense had some issues that season, to be sure, but Warner was surgical.

15. Chicago Bears quarterback Sid Luckman in 1943 NFL title game
Performance:
Luckman outshone Sammy Baugh, totaling 286 yards on 15 completions.
Seifert comment: I did not cover that game. Neither did Sando nor Clayton. But 286 yards in those days was an elite figure.

14. St. Louis Rams quarterback Kurt Warner vs. the Minnesota Vikings in the 1999 divisional game
Performance:
Warner completed 27 of 31 passes for 391 yards and five touchdowns in his playoff debut.
Seifert comment: I covered that game and Warner was as surgical that day as he was against the Packers 10 years later. The Rams scored 35 unanswered points.

11. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers vs. Atlanta Falcons in 2010 divisional game
Performance:
Rodgers completed 31 of 36 passes for 366 yards and accounted for four touchdowns.
Seifert comment: I covered that game, and as we discussed at the time, it was one of the greatest playoff performances by a quarterback in NFL history. I'm glad our panel didn't forget about it.

9. Washington Redskins running back John Riggins vs. Vikings in 1982 divisional game
Performance:
At 33, Riggins got 37 carries and rushed for 185 yards.
Seifert comment: These days, there aren't many NFL running backs still in the game at 33, let alone having that kind of impact in a playoff game.

Like any list or ranking, this one is subjective. Your thoughts on inclusions and exclusions are welcome below.

Our final list of Super Bowl moments

January, 28, 2010
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Thanks to everyone who offered up their favorite NFC North Super Bowl moments. As you recall, I offered up three suggestions Wednesday and left two spaces open for you to reach a total of five. Well, as the Supreme Ruler of all NFC North blogs on ESPN.com, I’ve made an executive decision to expand the list.

William Perry
AP Photo/Amy SancettaWilliam Perry's celebration following a TD plunge is one of the enduring images of Super Bowl XX.
You brought up three really cool moments that I think belong on this list. I’ve published all six below, including your comments on the latest additions.

I realize this list doesn’t include a moment from any of Minnesota’s four Super Bowl appearances. There are a few reasons for that. First, the Vikings lost all four games. Second, their last appearance was 33 years ago. For most of us, there is a generational gap that has probably muted the progression of any highlights from those games.

OK, on with it:

1. Play: Green Bay receiver Max McGee’s one-handed, 37-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter of Super Bowl I.
Comment: As the story goes, McGee didn’t expect to play in the game and missed curfew while spending the evening on the town. He was, uh, not at full capacity at kickoff.

2. Play: Green Bay kick returner Desmond Howard’s 99-yard kickoff return in Super Bowl XXXI.
Comment: The final score of the game sealed the Packers’ victory.

3. Play: Devin Hester’s 92-yard return of the opening kickoff in Super Bowl XLI.
Comment: You can’t start a game better than that.

4. Play: William Perry’s 1-yard touchdown run in Super Bowl XX.
Comment from Bshuma1: You just can't beat the big guy's celebration and toothless smile after he owned that linebacker.

5. Play: Brett Favre’s 54-yard touchdown pass to Andre Rison on the Packers’ second play in Super Bowl XXXI.
Comment from Capdogg13: One of the best NFC North moments, what with Favre running up the field. That image, along with being one of the best Super Bowl images, defines exactly how Favre approaches the game, no matter his age.

6. Play: Bears players carrying defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan off the field along with coach Mike Ditka after Super Bowl XX.
Comment from bcrawford85:
Awesome moment in Bears history, let alone the NFC "Central" history.
Comment from me: I agree. It was the ultimate sign of respect and appreciation for the leader of one of the best defenses in NFL history.
ESPN.com senior writer John Clayton offered his top 10 Super Bowl plays of all time here. One came from an NFC North team, but I’ll make you read the piece to find out. (That’s how I roll.)

So as we wade through the down time between now and the true start of Super Bowl hype week, now is a good time to come up with a list of all-time NFC North Super Bowl moments. We’ve had teams involved in 10 of the 43 Super Bowls, so I propose we cap our list at five plays.

I’ll start it off with three that come to mind. You fill in the other two in the comments section below, and we’ll meet back here Thursday to finalize things.

1. Play: Green Bay receiver Max McGee’s one-handed, 37-yard touchdown reception in the first quarter of Super Bowl I.
Comment: As the story goes, McGee didn’t expect to play in the game and missed curfew while spending the evening on the town. He was, uh, not at full capacity at kickoff.

2. Play: Green Bay kick returner Desmond Howard’s 99-yard kickoff return in Super Bowl XXXI.
Comment: The final score of the game sealed the Packers’ victory.

3. Play: Devin Hester’s 92-yard return of the opening kickoff in Super Bowl XLI.
Comment: You can’t start a game better than that.

Have at it: Skills vs. Team

October, 16, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com’s Kevin Seifert


We stirred up parallel debates in this week’s edition of “Have at It.” We’re apt to do that on occasion. Brett Favre suggested that Minnesota’s 2009 team is the best he has played for, and so we asked you to compare it to the 1996 Green Bay squad that Favre led to a Super Bowl championship.
Glenn James/NFL
Who deserves the nod: Reggie White's 1996 Packers or the 2009 Minnesota Vikings?

Favre qualified his assessment -- “physically and from a talent level” -- but many of you broadened the discussion past the skills of the individual players and into the “best overall team” zone. On that level, very few of you were willing to project championship-level success for the Vikings after five games.

Wrote Robbiemustgo32: “I don't need to look at the rosters, the comparisons ended for me when I read ‘1996 Packers CHAMPIONSHIP group’.”

Adambballn wants “to see the Vikings play somebody” before drawing any conclusions. (Indeed, three of their victories have come against Cleveland, Detroit and St. Louis -- combined records of 2-13.)

A few of you attempted some roster analysis. After all, as Cmwernick3201 noted: “Saying the ‘96 Packer team is better simply because they won the SB is invalid to the discussion.”

I thought pchrisb3443 had one of the less emotionally-charged evaluations:
Overall I'd go with the 1996 Packers and not just because I'm a Packer fan. This year's Vikings have the edge as far as running back and maybe offensive line but that's about it. As good as Jared Allen is, he's no Reggie White even at that point in Reggie's career. And to have Sean Jones at the other end just made Reggie even more effective. Percy Harvin's got one special team TD but he needs a few more to compare to the season [Desmond] Howard had. Mark Chmura and Keith Jackson at TE? No comparison there. The wideouts are close as are the defensive backs. I'd also take the '96 version of Favre over the '09 version but not by too terribly much. Let's not forget the coaching staffs. You've got to go with [Mike] Holmgren and his staff.
EXIT_HERE concluded there is no debate after breaking it down this way:
  • QB: '96 Packers
  • RB: '09 Vikes
  • FB: '96 Packers
  • TE: '96 Packers
  • WR: '96 Packers
  • Oline: Even
  • Dline: Even
  • LB: Even
  • CB: '96 Packers
  • Safety: '96 Packers
  • Special Teams: '96 Packers
  • Coaching Staff: '96 Packers
My take? I’m with those who don’t think it’s worth our time to debate whether Minnesota can match the accomplishments of the 1996 team. It’s way too early in the season, and even Favre circled back this week and admitted he “caught a lot of heat” for even hinting at the suggestion. He emphasized that “we’ve got a long way to go to reach that team.”

As we noted in the original post, the 1996 Packers are the only team in the past 36 years to lead the NFL in most points scored and fewest points allowed. That’s a tremendous illustration of balance at a high level, something the Vikings have the potential to approach but probably won’t achieve. Through five weeks, the Vikings rank No. 3 in points per game (31.2) and are tied for No. 9 in points allowed (18) per game.

As for the rosters themselves, the ’96 Packers had five Pro Bowl players: Safety LeRoy Butler, tight end Keith Jackson, defensive end Reggie White, center Frank Winters and Favre. Based on how Pro Bowl voting works these days, I would suggest the Vikings have five near-locks for that honor: tailback Adrian Peterson, left guard Steve Hutchinson, defensive end Jared Allen, defensive tackle Kevin Williams and cornerback Antoine Winfield.

But when judging the rosters by position, as EXIT_HERE and others did, it’s hard to give this year’s Vikings group more than two advantages. I’ll grant them running back and linebacker, but I’m feeling a bit shaky on the latter. Luckily I’m not a personnel evaluator. Just a two-bit blogger hack who enjoys a good debate.
The 1996 Packers vs. 2009 Vikings
OFFENSE
1996
WR: Antonio Freeman
LT: John Michels
LG: Aaron Taylor
C: Frank Winters
RG: Adam Timmerman
RT: Earl Dotson
TE: Mark Chmura/Keith Jackson
WR: Robert Brooks/Don Beebe
QB: Brett Favre
RB: Edgar Bennett
FB: William Henderson
PK: Chris Jacke
KR: Desmond Howard
2009
WR: Bernard Berrian
LT: Bryant McKinnie
LG: Steve Hutchinson
C: John Sullivan
RG: Anthony Herrera
RT: Phil Loadholt
TE: Visanthe Shiancoe
WR: Sidney Rice
WR: Percy Harvin
QB: Brett Favre
RB: Adrian Peterson
PK: Ryan Longwell
KR: Percy Harvin
DEFENSE
1996
DE: Reggie White
DT: Gilbert Brown
DT: Santana Dotson
DE: Sean Jones
OLB: Wayne Simmons
MLB: George Koonce
OLB: Brian Williams
CB: Craig Newsome
SS: LeRoy Butler
FS: Eugene Robinson
CB: Doug Evans
P: Craig Hentrich
PR: Desmond Howard
2009
DE: Jared Allen
DT: Kevin Williams
DT: Pat Williams
DE: Ray Edwards
OLB: Chad Greenway
MLB: E.J. Henderson
OLB: Ben Leber
CB: Antoine Winfield
SS: Tyrell Johnson
FS: Madieu Williams
CB: Cedric Griffin
P: Chris Kluwe
PR: Darius Reynaud
PR: Jaymar Johnson

Super Bowl MVPs revealed

January, 27, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Circling back to our Super Bowl MVP post of Monday -- which I'm sure you all have been waiting for with baited breath -- here are the four MVPs with NFC North ties:

Super Bowl I: Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr
Performance: 16 completions in 23 attempts, 250 yards, two touchdowns

Super Bowl II: Green Bay quarterback Bart Starr
Performance: 13 completions in 24 attempts, 202 yards, one touchdown

Super Bowl XX: Chicago defensive end Richard Dent
Performance: Two sacks, two forced fumbles

Super Bowl XXI: Green Bay kick returner/receiver Desmond Howard
Performance: 99-yard kick return, 244 all-purpose yards

Super Bowl MVPs: Desmond Howard

January, 26, 2009
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Posted by ESPN.com's Kevin Seifert

Make sure you check out ESPN.com's multimedia package on Super Bowl MVPs, which includes an extended vignette on former Green Bay receiver/kick returner Desmond Howard -- one of the heroes of Super Bowl XXXI.

The video segment focuses on what Howard considers the turning point of his life: A meeting during his college career with Berkley professor and civil rights activist Dr. Harry Edwards. It's worth your five minutes.

There have been four Super Bowl MVPs from teams that currently comprise the NFC North. See if you can guess them before I follow up with a post later Monday. If you click on this list, you're cheating and thus will be disqualified from collecting all prizes.

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