The biggest upset of the NFL's 13th weekend actually happened last Saturday night when Green Bay Packers coach Mike Holmgren distributed his script for the first 15 plays of the following day's home game against the Dallas Cowboys.
Offensive players in the meeting room at the team hotel examined the sheet. They broke down the plays. Then they looked around the room at one another, pointing to the paper. Eight runs, seven passes? Holmgren has always been a pass guy, the whispers seemed to say. Could this be right?
"My eyes lit up," running back Dorsey Levens recalled on the eve of his best day as a pro. "I couldn't believe it."
"I'd never done it that way before," said Holmgren, meaning that he had always scheduled more passes than runs in his first 15 plays. "But I felt it was something we had to do. Dallas had always beaten us by running it down our throats and killing us in time of possession. Now I wanted us to dominate. I wanted us to control the clock."
So Holmgren told his team that night, "I want to see how tough we are. Show me. We've been asking for this game for a long time. Go knock their butts off."
Still thawing out after Green Bay's 45-17 rout of the Cowboys in a -4� windchill, Holmgren reveled in the inexplicable. Under their sixth-year coach the Packers had lost all seven of their meetings with Dallas, and the numbers had not been pretty: averages of 58 yards rushing and less than 27 minutes of possession time. Yet on Sunday against the league's second-ranked defense, Green Bay ran for 220 yards while averaging 5.4 yards per carry. Levens finished with a franchise-record 190 yards on 33 carries. The Packers held the ball for 37:19, including a staggering 22:19 in the second half, during which they had scoring drives of 69, 73, 61 and 88 yards. They converted 13 of 17 third-down attempts, including all nine after halftime. "I've exorcised a demon," Holmgren said afterward of finally beating the Cowboys. As had his team.
Green Bay was coming off an embarrassing loss to the Colts in Indianapolis, but you hardly would have known it on Sunday. The defending Super Bowl champions and their faithful fans were sky-high over having the hated Cowboys at Lambeau Field for the first time in eight years, and the whole town was giddy over the wild success of a stock plan designed to raise $80 million for capital improvements to Lambeau and, ultimately, to finance its replacement. By week's end the organization had commitments for 235,000 of the 400,000 virtually untradable shares.
"This team and this stock sale have taken people back to simpler times," says Packers president Bob Harlan. "An investment banker called me from Texas this week to hear the details of the stock offering. After I told him, he said, 'I'm flabbergasted. I didn't think a story like this existed in America anymore.' "
Pardon the Cowboys if they didn't rush out to the parking lot, where prospectuses for the stock were being snapped up on Sunday morning. They didn't know what all the hoopla was about. After all, in their seven wins over the Holmgren-coached Packers, Dallas had prevailed by an average of 15 points. As one Cowboys veteran said last week, "All we heard after those games was [the Packers] whining and flapping their gums with excuses. [Strong safety] LeRoy Butler especially. Listen to him and you'd think it was a bad break that made them lose every game. That's why this is great, playing there. Our attitude is: This is what you guys wanted. Here we are. Let's do it."
So they did. About one month shy of the 30th anniversary of the Ice Bowl, when these two teams met in the NFL Championship Game in temperatures that dipped to-13�, Dallas players and coaches received an eerily similar wake-up call to the one Bob Lilly and Don Meredith got on Dec. 31, 1967. "Good morning," the receptionist at the Paper Valley Hotel in Appleton told these Cowboys, one by one. "This is your wake-up call. It's sunny and 22 degrees. Have a nice day."