The game 1990s Packers always wanted

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- This is exactly what the Green Bay Packers wanted in the mid-1990s. Two decades later, they finally have the Dallas Cowboys at Lambeau Field in the playoffs.

Oh, what they -- and their fans -- would have given for this in 1993.

Or 1994.

Or 1995.

All three of those seasons ended with playoff losses to Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, Emmitt Smith & Co. And all three of those playoff losses were at Texas Stadium.

It became both an obsession and a frustration for the Packers' organization and its fans. If the Packers were ever going to get to another Super Bowl, they were going to have to beat the Cowboys.

Even in faraway Charlotte, North Carolina, they understood. In the playoffs following the 1996 season, it looked like it might come down to the Packers and Cowboys once again in the NFC. While the Packers hosted the San Francisco 49ers in one divisional playoff game, the Carolina Panthers had the Cowboys in the other.

"I can remember them flashing to a bar in Wisconsin someplace, and all the fans were chanting 'We want the Cowboys,'" said Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers, who was the Panthers' head coach at the time. "And somebody came in and said to me, 'Well, you disappointed the Packers fan,' because it became Carolina coming in here.

"Three years in a row they had gone down there and finally, the Packers had home-field advantage, and they wanted the Cowboys to have to come here."

No one in Green Bay will ever apologize for skirting the Cowboys on the way to Super Bowl XXXI -- the Packers beat Capers' Panthers 30-13 in the NFC Championship Game -- and there's no asterisk next to their championship, but the Packers will never know if they could have beaten Dallas in the '90s in the postseason.

"That was very frustrating to go down there all the time and lose to those guys," former Packers general manager Ron Wolf said this week. "Very frustrating."

Wolf conceded that the Cowboys "probably had better players." He called Aikman, Irvin and Smith "exceptional," but thought his quarterback, Brett Favre, canceled out Aikman. Likewise, he believed Reggie White was to the Packers' defense what Deion Sanders was to Dallas' (although Sanders played in only the 1995 playoffs). But Irvin and Smith, especially on the fast track in Texas, were too much.

"I always felt if we could ever get them on grass -- we were always playing down at their place, and they had the distinct advantage on AstroTurf," Wolf said. "It was one of those things where we were structured differently physically as a football team than they were. We were a grass team, and they were an AstroTurf team, not to diminish the quality of their players.

"When we did get them on the grass, we beat them."

They didn't just beat them. They destroyed them -- 45-17 in a 1997 regular-season game at Lambeau Field. By then, the Cowboys' dynasty had begun to crumble. They would go 13 years before they won another playoff game.

The Packers finally get the Cowboys in Green Bay for a playoff game Sunday in the NFC divisional round. Other than what they have heard or read about the Ice Bowl, the last playoff game between the teams at Lambeau Field, few of today's players have much knowledge of the playoff history between the two teams.

Packers receivers coach Edgar Bennett does. Bennett, a Packers running back from 1992 to '96, played in all three of those playoff losses in Dallas.

"It's always difficult going back to reliving some of those Dallas games," Bennett said this week. "You learn from those experiences, and I think we were able to get better."

The one that sticks out to him the most is the 1995 NFC title game.

"I just know that locker room following that game in '95, I know we were a different team after that moving forward," Bennett said. "We were a different team. For whatever reason, we were a different team, and that following year we ended up winning the Super Bowl."

But they never beat the Cowboys.

"People say that," Bennett said. "We didn't really care who we ended up playing because we felt like it was more about where we were at and what we're doing."