Last week’s playoff game against the Cowboys brought back memories of their legendary NFC Championship matchups from the early 90s. Those battles are immortal and served as additional fuel for many 49ers fans last week.
When it comes to playoff revenge, however, there’s an argument to be made the Faithful should want to take down the Packers more than any other team in the league. Don’t believe me? Allow me to escort you down memory lane for a brief refresher on the postseason history of these two franchises.
1995 NFC Divisional at 3Com Park: The Stunner (Packers 27, 49ers 17)
The 1995 49ers are arguably the franchise’s best team that didn’t win a championship. Coming off their record-setting performance in the Super Bowl against the Chargers, the Niners didn’t let off the gas in the slightest. The 1995 team went 11-5 and won the NFC West. They had the league’s highest-scoring offense and the #1 total defense while also allowing the second-fewest points in the league.
Jerry Rice had one of the greatest seasons in his incomparable career, catching 122 passes (second-most in a single season in NFL history at the time) for 1,848 yards (the most in NFL history at the time) and 15 touchdown passes. It was the seventh straight year that Rice would top double-digit touchdowns and the last time he would do it in his career.
The 49ers were 10-point favorites in the game. They were facing a man they knew well in Mike Holmgren, their former offensive coordinator, and quarterback coach. Instead, what should have been the beginning of a back-to-back championship run turned into a nightmare.
Steve Young threw two interceptions, the team itself turned the ball over four times and the 49ers’ dreams of a second straight Super Bowl title died in front of their own fans, 27-17. Then, things got so desperate Young attempted a then-playoff record of 65 passes.
From 1990 to 2000, only one team coming off a bye lost in the Divisional round, and it was your defending champion, San Francisco 49ers, against these Green Bay Packers. But, unfortunately, it was just the beginning.
1996 NFC Divisional at Lambeau Field: The One Without Steve (Packers 35, 49ers 14)
Next year’s 49ers team wasn’t quite as impressive, but they were still damn good. They debuted new uniforms, retained a defensive coordinator you probably now hate and drafted a little-known wide receiver out of Tennessee-Chattanooga you might have heard of.
In Week 7, the 49ers would get their chance for revenge. Unfortunately, they’d have to do it without Steve Young, who was recovering from a groin injury for the third straight week. After a Brett Favre interception with the game tied at 17 late in the fourth quarter, the 49ers were set up to score in the red zone.
Following two unsuccessful running plays, head coach George Seifert opted to dive on the ball on third and 8 to get in position for a go-ahead field goal rather than try and get a first down. The field goal was good, but the Packers got the ball back with just under two minutes to go and two timeouts. They drove down the field for a game-tying field goal with eight seconds left and eventually got the game-winning field goal in overtime to win, 23-20.
Despite that loss, the Niners once again steamrolled through the season and finished 12-4. They were still third in points scored and fourth in points allowed. In the Wild Card round, they faced former teammate Ricky Watters and the Philadelphia Eagles, narrowly escaping with a 14-7 victory. Unfortunately, Steve Young would break his ribs in the fourth quarter of that game.
Against Green Bay for the second straight year, Young only lasted two series before heading to the sideline for good. That left backup Elvis Grbac at quarterback, and since you’ve probably never heard of backup quarterback Elvis Grbac, you can probably guess how that went (spoiler alert: they turned the ball over five times). It didn’t help that the weather was awful and left the field a complete mess.
The Green Bay Press-Gazette called the game the “Mud Bowl.” The only person who seemed to be able to do anything at all was Heisman Trophy-winning kick returner, Desmond Howard. Howard took the first punt of the game 71 yards for a touchdown and returned another 46 yards down to the 49ers’ 7-yard line to set up another score and give the Packers a 21-7 lead at the half.
The only reason the Niners were in this one at all was due to one of the weirdest sequences in NFL playoff history. After halftime, Howard didn’t come onto the field for the second-half kickoff - and no one noticed. The 49ers kicked off, and with no one back to catch the ball for Green Bay, the Niners recovered it at the Packers’ 4-yard line. San Francisco would score a few plays later to make it 21-14, but that’s all the points they’d get in the 35-14 loss.
1997 NFC Championship at 3Com Park: The One Without Jerry (Packers 23, 49ers 10)
The 1997 49ers looked a little different than the teams of the past. Former Packers quarterbacks coach Steve Mariucci took over as the team’s head coach. Garrison Hearst and Hall of Famer Rod Woodson were signed in the offseason.
Jerry Rice tore his ACL in Week 1 against the Buccaneers (though he would later somehow return in Week 16 to catch a touchdown against the Broncos).
Steve Young was also concussed in that opening game, yet despite those setbacks, Mariucci’s 49ers went 13-3 and reached their fifth conference championship game of the 1990s.
The Packers came into San Francisco for that game at 13-3 themselves behind Brett Favre’s third MVP season in the last four years. Many 49ers fans were predicting that this would be the year the team turned the tide on their hated rivals, much like they did in 1994 after two straight playoff defeats to the Cowboys.
Unfortunately for the 49ers, that was not the case. After a different knee injury in that previously mentioned Broncos game, Jerry Rice missed the game. Prized running back, Garrison Hearst attempted to return from an injury himself but was largely ineffective.
Nothing went the 49ers’ way, including a potential scoop-and-score by the defense on the first play of the second half that was eventually ruled incomplete. Steve Young was sacked five times, and the 49ers fumbled the ball four times in a sloppy 23-10 defeat. Their only touchdown came on a 95-yard kickoff return by Chuck Levy with less than three minutes remaining in the game.
The Packers and the 49ers had met in the playoffs for three straight years. And for three consecutive years, the Packers had ended the 49ers season. Two out of those three years, Green Bay, celebrated in Candlestick Park, and San Francisco was outscored 85-41 in those games.
1998 NFC Wild Card at 3Com Park: The Catch II (49ers 30, Packers 27)
Once again, the 49ers ran roughshod over the NFL in the regular season. Sean McVay’s grandfather John came out of retirement to rejoin the front office and would stay on for five more years.
Jerry Rice returned from his knee injuries to catch 82 passes for 1,157 yards and nine touchdowns. Meanwhile, on the other side of the field, 25-year-old Terrell Owens had his breakout campaign with 14 scores of his own. In what would turn out to be his final full season in the NFL, Steve Young threw a franchise-record 36 touchdown passes, which still stands today. Basically, life was good.
Then came Week 9 and another game against the Packers. Despite overcoming a 16 point deficit to take the lead in the third quarter, the 49ers couldn’t hold on and lost their fifth straight game to Green Bay, 36-22. Steve Young was sacked a career-high nine times in the game, including five in the fourth quarter alone, and fell to 0-8 as a starter against the Cheeseheads (including playoffs and his time with the Buccaneers).
In that postseason, the two teams would match up for the fourth straight year, and the game would end up an all-time classic. Thanks, in part, to five drops and a lost fumble by Terrell Owens, things remained close in the fourth quarter
Brett Favre used a dummy audible to throw a go-ahead touchdown pass to Antonio Freeman with two minutes to go. Young then engineered a nine-play 76-yard drive down the field that included a little bit of controversy.
Packers fans will tell you that Jerry Rice fumbled after his only reception of the game with 46 seconds to go, and he definitely did. Thanks to a lack of replay review, however, the drive continued to the Packers’ 25-yard line.
Then, two things happened on 3rd and 3, with eight seconds to go. The first was this play to Terrell Owens, and the second was Joe Starkey’s brilliant radio call, which is the greatest 49ers play-by-play call of all time for my money. It became known as The Catch II, and it was the final playoff victory in the hall of fame career of Steve Young.
It was also the last game that Mike Holmgren would coach for the Green Bay Packers. He resigned that offseason to become the grand poobah of the Seattle Seahawks. While the 49ers’ season would end the following week in Atlanta, at least the long, bitter losing streak to Brett Favre’s Packers was over.
2001 NFC Wild Card at Lambeau Field: The One We Don’t Remember (Packers 25, 49ers 15)
I’m not going to lie. I had to look this one up. With Steve Young retiring after the 1999 season, Jeff Garcia was at the helm for the 49ers’ first playoff game since losing to the Falcons in 1998. Despite being the first team to go into halftime of a playoff game at Lambeau with a lead since the Ice Bowl in 1967, things fell apart in the second half.
Brett Favre threw for 226 of his 269 yards after halftime, and Jeff Garcia threw an interception at the Packers 7 yard line in the fourth quarter to seal the 25-15 loss.
Two other little tidbits from this year. First, the 49ers hired a defensive quality control coach from Hofstra named Dan Quinn, and yes, he’s the same Dan Quinn they just beat this past weekend. Second, the Niners drafted a wide receiver in the sixth round named Cedric Wilson, and yes, he is the father of current Cowboys wide receiver Cedric Wilson - who they just beat this past weekend.
2012 NFC Divisional at Candlestick Park: The Kaepernick Game (49ers 45, Packers 31)
For a team with a rich history of postseason offensive success, this game still stands out as one of their best. As a team, Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers put up 579 total yards of offense. In just his eighth career start, Colin Kaepernick accounted for 444 total yards in the game, and four total touchdowns. His 181 yards rushing is still the most by any quarterback in an NFL history, and NFL Films voted it the 10th greatest postseason performance of all time.
I mean, who could ever forget this play? They still don’t know where the hell Kaepernick is.
It was so bad that after the season the Packers sent their defensive coaches to colleges around the country to learn how to stop the read-option offense. Did it help?
Narrator: It did not.
2013 NFC Wild Card at Lambeau Field: The Cold One (49ers 23, Packers 20)
The following season, the 49ers traveled to Green Bay in what was at the time the seventh coldest game in NFL history (5 degrees at kickoff with a windchill of -10). Despite their trip to summer school, Dom Capers’ defense still had no idea how to stop Kaepernick on the ground. Kap torched the Packers for 98 yards on just seven carries, and he also threw for 227 yards and a touchdown.
When the Packers kicked a field goal to tie it up with 5:06 to go, the 49ers milked the entire rest of the clock, thanks in part to this key scramble on 3rd down from Kaepernick. Phil Dawson then kicked a walk-off 33 yard field goal to send Aaron Rodgers and company home for the second straight season.
2019 NFC Championship at Levi’s Stadium: The Raheem Mostert Game (49ers 37, Packers 20)
It was simultaneously one of the most satisfying and anti-climactic games in 49er's playoff history. Kyle Shanahan was facing his old assistant coach in Matt LaFleur and took his former pupil to school. Shanahan was in his bag almost immediately. On the 49ers’ second possession of the game, he called a draw on 3rd and 8 that caught Green Bay completely off guard and resulted in a 36-yard touchdown run from Raheem Mostert - his first of four on the day.
In the first half alone, Mostert ran for 160 yards, which was the most by anyone in the first half of a playoff game in almost 60 years. As a team, the 49ers punished the Packers with 285 total rushing yards. Mostert himself ended up with 220, which is the second-highest single-game total in NFL playoff history.
In contrast, Jimmy Garoppolo was just 6 of 8 on the day for 77 yards. He went more than 90 minutes of real-time between pass attempts. The 49ers became the fourth team ever with less than 10 pass attempts in a postseason game.
Aaron Rodgers did his best to make it close in the second half, but by then it was too little, too late and the 49ers were off to the Super Bowl with a 37-20 win.
So there you have it, the complete long, bloody, ugly playoff history between the 49ers and the Packers. Aaron Rodgers himself said this week that the history between the two teams doesn’t provide extra motivation for the players, but it sure does for any fans that remember years gone by. And let’s be honest, those last three games have to sting Rodgers a little, right?
The series is tied at four games apiece, with the ninth chapter in that story to be written this weekend in Wisconsin.