All-Pro defensive end Reggie White is the Packers' resident faith healer. You think it was just dumb luck that White and quarterback Brett Favre were able to rise from the dead—O.K., the injury list—to lead the Packers to a 35-28 win over the Bears on Sunday at Lambeau Field? No way.
"You all never believe me," lectured White at his postgame media conference, "but I'll tell you all again: God always heals me. So take it or leave it."
And, uh, what about Favre?
"He asked me to pray for him," White said, "so I brought some oil in and put it on his ankle. My prayers work sometimes."
Had Green Bay fans known all this, they wouldn't have been so worried heading into the 150th regular-season meeting between the two teams. Seven days earlier, in a 27-24 loss to the Vikings, Favre sprained his left ankle so severely that his practice time was limited to a couple of Friday snaps. Favre didn't know he would be able to play until two hours before kick-off when the tightly wrapped ankle felt tolerable during drills. The crowd of 59,996 was left in the dark until the starting lineups were announced. Favre, the last Packer out of the tunnel, made a dramatic entrance that even stoked his teammates. "I thought they were going to tackle me as I ran through them," Favre said.
The crowd received another godsend when White, who didn't start for only the third time in his 13-year pro career, replaced Matt LaBounty during the Bears' first possession. White also had gone down against the Vikings, straining the ligaments in his left knee so badly that he was considered doubtful. When Packer coach Mike Holmgren gave him the choice of playing with a knee brace or spending the game on the bench, White agreed to the lesser of two evils. "He wanted me to wear a big [brace]," White said. "But we compromised, and I wore a little one. I couldn't do some of the things I wanted to do in my pass rush."
Don't tell that to the Bears. White produced four tackles and half a sack, modest numbers for him, but his presence jacked up the defense as much as Favre's presence heartened the offense. "With the uncertainty at quarterback and the possibility of not having Reggie in the lineup, it gave you kind of a naked feeling at times," Holmgren said. "Reggie fought me tooth and nail on that brace. He was like a little kid in the third grade at times. Well, a big little kid."
Although the high-powered Bears put four touchdowns on the board, the Packers stopped them twice when it counted most. With 2:00 remaining and the Bears facing fourth-and-two at the Green Bay 22, safety LeRoy Butler intercepted Erik Kramer. Then, after getting the ball back with 1:13 left, Kramer moved the Bears to the Packer 14 with 11 seconds to go before throwing three incompletions into the end zone. The result left the two teams tied atop the NFC Central at 6-4, although the Packers hold the tiebreaker edge based on their two-game sweep of the Bears.
Favre finished 25 of 33 for 336 yards and a club-record-tying five touchdown passes. What made his performance all the more remarkable was that he was working with only about 75% of the playbook. To protect Favre and to ease the load on backups T.J. Rubley and recently signed 37-year-old journeyman Bob Gagliano, Holmgren eliminated a lot of play-action passes.