Harris jumped the pattern, picked the ball cleanly and pranced into the end zone. It was the first time in NFL postseason history that an overtime game was won on a touchdown scored by the defense.
Green Bay, riding a five-game winning streak, advanced to a divisional playoff on Sunday against the NFC East champion Eagles in Philadelphia. It will be the first postseason meeting between the teams since the 1960 NFL title game, the only playoff game that Vince Lombardi ever lost.
On Sunday several WE BELIEVE signs could be seen around Lambeau, held high by fans who think that something more than coach Mike Sherman's strategy is determining the outcome of Green Bay's games. "There are angels watching over us," Packers wide receiver Donald Driver said last week, with a very straight face. " Curly Lambeau, Vince Lombardi... and last but not least, Irvin Favre. Don't ask us to explain it, but miracles are happening to us. That's what we believe."
As the regular season wound down, Green Bay's playoff outlook was grim. On the day before the game against the Raiders, Favre and the rest of his golf foursome—backup quarterback Doug Pederson, kicker Ryan Longwell and punter Josh Bidwell—were hustling to beat the sunset on the 18th hole of a course near the team's Berkeley, Calif., hotel. Pederson got a call from Favre's wife, Deanna (Brett wasn't carrying his cell phone), who told Brett his father had died. Irvin had suffered an apparent heart attack near his home in Kiln, Miss., swerved off the road and died instantly. Brett was famously close to his dad, who was his football and baseball coach in high school, and the question was, Would Brett be too distraught to play against the Raiders?
"Never crossed my mind," Favre said last Friday in his first extended comments about the hours and days after his father's death. "What I do today is a direct result of his influence on my life. When I saw Mike Sherman, he said, 'You want to go home, go.' I said, 'Mike, I'm playing. There's no doubt in my mind that's what he would have wanted.' It's almost like I could hear my dad: 'Boy, don't worry about me. I'm fine.' "
Favre hates giving speeches, but he told Sherman that he wanted to talk to the team at its meeting that night. Favre started crying as he walked to the front of the room, then struggled to make it through the four-minute talk. Even as he recounted the speech last Friday, he got choked up. "I loved my dad," he began that night. "I love football. I love you guys. I grew up playing baseball for my dad, and I grew up playing football for my dad. It's all I know. It's my life. I'm playing in this game because I've invested too much in the game, in you, in this team, not to play. If you ever doubted my commitment to this team, never doubt it again."
"There wasn't a dry eye in the house," Sherman says. "Players, coaches, everybody. I've never seen a man open his soul so honestly, so completely. It's as clear-cut a picture as anyone's ever seen of this legend."
On the day of the Oakland game, Favre had an unusual feeling. "I've never in my life been scared before a game, but I was scared that night," he says. "Just before the game, Doug Pederson put his hand on my shoulder and said, 'Let's pray,' and I just lost it. Then Mike called everyone up, looked 'em in the eyes and said, 'We're winning this one tonight. We're winning it for Number 4, and we're winning it for Pops.' And I'm thinking, 'Focus. Focus. If you're gonna play, you can't go out and lay an egg.' Everybody would have understood if I had played lousy, but my dad wouldn't have stood for any excuses."
During pregame introductions, the Raiders' crowd was typically merciless, booing as each of the first 10 Green Bay offensive starters ran onto the field. However when Favre's name was announced, the silver-and-black crazies in the Black Hole stood and cheered. "Amazing," Favre says. "I'm hearing this, and I couldn't hardly breathe. It was all I could do to focus on getting out there and playing. It was almost God's way of saying, 'See? There is compassion in this world.' "
Favre completed his first nine passes, for 183 yards and two touchdowns. He threw three bombs as far as he could throw them and hit all three, almost comically amid two and three defenders. "I can't explain it," Favre says. "I'm as amazed as anybody else about what happened." After two quarters he'd thrown for 311 yards (a career-high for a half) and four touchdowns.