The team of destiny did it again. Yes, it did. Another one-point win. Another dance on the edge of the cliff. Another ray of hope for the hopeless. Final score: Green Bay Packers 17, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 16. If you think the Pack's one-point win over the Chicago Bears on Nov. 5—or the one over the Minnesota Vikings on Nov. 26 or the New Orleans Saints on Sept. 17—was something, wait till you hear about this one.
The Bucs are ahead by two with less than a minute left. Green Bay is facing fourth-and-16 on its own 34. Quarterback Don Majkowski, the Majik Man, has run out of majik. His pocket is breaking down around him. He has just misfired twice, after getting sacked. Now the rushers are in his face, his final heave is knocked down, and the game is over. "My head was down," said Majkowski later. "I was walking toward the sideline, and I heard the guys yelling, 'A flag! There's a flag!' Then I saw it."
A patch of yellow amid the green. A pretty yellow flag, courtesy of umpire Ed Piffick. An exotic call against the home-team Bucs: hands to the face. The hands belonged to backup nosetackle Shawn Lee, the face to left guard Rich Moran. "He was cranking my head back, he had my neck," said Moran. "But it was just blind luck that the umpire happened to look my way. I mean, he could have looked at the right tackle or the center."
Five yards and an automatic first down. New life. Five more plays and a first down on a Majkowski pass to the Tampa Bay 29. Clock running: five, four, three seconds. "Maj was yelling, 'Get up to the line, get set, don't move!' " said Moran. After a clock-killing incompletion, one second showed when Chris Jacke lined up for a 47-yard field goal attempt. Last year, the Packers went through five kickers. Now they just have Jacke, the rookie from the sixth round.
"The ball was on the right hash mark, the worst place," said Jacke afterward. "The wind was blowing right to left. I aimed for the right upright. The kick headed straight for it. I said, 'Oh my god, I'm gonna hit the pole.' Then it hooked in."
"Destiny," said Brian Noble, Green Bay's veteran inside linebacker. "It's our destiny this year."
So the team of destiny is now 8-5 and tied with Minnesota for the lead in the NFC Central. What has you scratching your head is that the Packers are doing it with basically the same players who went 4-12 last year and finished with the second-worst record in the NFL. They have won four games by a point. Ten of their 13 games have been decided by a total of 21 points. They have been behind in every game but one, and that was their four-point victory three weeks ago over the Super Bowl-champion San Francisco 49ers.
They were down 21-0 to the Saints and won. The Rams had them 38-7 at the half, and Green Bay wound up losing by three. The Packers beat Chicago on a replay reversal that gave them a touchdown with 32 seconds remaining. They held off the Vikings with two interceptions in the last four minutes by 36-year-old Dave Brown, the oldest cornerback in the league.
Why go on? No team has ever had a year like the Packers are having, and whether they wind up winning the division or bombing out of the playoffs—either is possible—this 1989 Green Bay team will earn a place in the history of this bedrock franchise along with Lombardi, Nitschke, Hornung, Curly Lambeau, Don Hutson, Clarke Hinkle and all those green-and-gold warriors of the past who never imagined that a whole season could be played at such a heart-stopping pace.
Who are these current Packers, anyway? How do you turn a bunch of 4-12 dogs into the most exciting team in the NFL? Allow us to introduce: