The Green Bay Packers and the San Francisco 49ers face off Saturday night in an NFC Divisional Playoff game which will be the sixth time since January 1996 that the two teams have faced each other in the playoffs.
The Packers and 49ers became quite familiar opponents in the 1990s as they played each other in the playoffs each year from 1996-1999 (note I am going by the year the playoff games were played, not the year of the ‘season’). It was a rivalry for the ages as the Packers won the first three games and the 49ers won the fourth in dramatic fashion.
Even though the four games included an NFC Championship which the Packers won en route to Super Bowl XXXII, it’s the first and the fourth of the 1990s contests that have the highest historical importance.
They almost serve as bookends for the Mike Holmgren era. The Packers’ 27-17 victory over San Francisco at Candlestick Park on January 6, 1996 served notice to the entire NFL that Green Bay was now one of the league’s elite teams. The Packers lost to the Dallas Cowboys the following week in the NFC Championship, but the win over the 49ers served as a springboard for the great 1996 season.
On the other side is the 49ers’ epic 30-27 win over the Packers on January 3, 1999. Not only did it bring an end to the Packers’ reign as the kings of the NFC but it was the final game Holmgren would coach for the Packers. Terrell Owens’ touchdown catch to win the game is forever etched in the mind of Packers fans as it marked the end of an era for the Packers that saw the team return to NFL prominence.
The Packers would have strong years afterword, but never again were they true contenders until the arrival of Ted Thompson and Mike McCarthy in 2005 and 2006, respectively.
In that first win over San Francisco in 1996, the Packers were flying high after winning the NFC Central title thanks to an incredible Yancy Thigpen drop in Week 17 and after a strong performance in the 37-20 victory at Lambeau Field over the Atlanta Falcons. In fact, Holmgren felt so strongly about his team’s chances that he proclaimed after the win against Atlanta, “we’re going to win it all.” Packer fans were feeling it but not many outside the state of Wisconsin gave Green Bay much of a chance against the defending champion 49ers.