It's time for a new feature on this blog, which is the GB 20! 2015 marks the 20th anniversary of my becoming a Packers fan, so it's time to celebrate, and what better way than with lists of 20? The first list is the simplest: ranking the seasons 1995-2014 in order, best to worst. They aren't ranked solely by how well the team did, however. Fun and excitement cause a season to be ranked higher, heartbreak causes a season to be ranked lower.
1. 1996 (13-3, won Super Bowl XXXI)
Such an obvious choice at the top. #1 seed, #1 ranked offense, #1 ranked defense, most wins in a Packers season including playoffs. Brett Favre was MVP for the 2nd straight year, setting an NFC record with 39 TD passes. The team got off to a 3-0 start, roared to 8-1, won its final 5 regular-season games, then cruised to a Super Bowl championship with three double-digit wins in the playoffs. Super Bowl victories don't come easy, but for one year, the Packers made it look simple. They were preseason favorites, and they backed it up every step of the way. Probably one of the greatest single-season teams of all time in NFL history. I'd put this team up against any one year of any other franchise.
2. 2011 (15-1, lost in divisional round)
This is the heartbreaking choice. As perfect as this team looked on paper - and how close they came to 16-0 - they had no defense. They were actually the worst defense in the league, mainly because the offense scored so much and so quickly that the defense had to keep on going out there. This offense was unbelievable, and in November I thought they were a lock to repeat as champions. At 13-0, nothing could go wrong, until it did. Kansas City of all teams ended the perfect season, then a hot New York Giants team knocked them out of the playoffs. This was an incredibly fun season, as it was a carryover from the Super Bowl-winning 2010 team, with Aaron Rodgers as league MVP, but it ended so tragically.
3. 1997 (13-3, lost Super Bowl XXXII)
History was written for this team to repeat. Just think - Super Bowls I & II, Super Bowls XXXI & XXXII. And how close they came - 36 yards shy of a game-tying TD in the Super Bowl. But history belongs to John Elway, as we know now. This team was almost just as outstanding as the prior year when they went 13-3 and made the Super Bowl, but this team was only a #2 seed. They had to go to San Francisco and beat the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game (which they did) before the tragic Super Bowl loss. This season just goes to show you how hard is to repeat - they came so close, and just couldn't finish the job against a courageous Elway, who will always have my utmost respect.
4. 2010 (10-6, won Super Bowl XLV)
How in the world did this team win the Super Bowl? The same way the 2011 team didn't - a team got hot at the end of the season. In this case, the team was the Packers (and not the Giants). The 2010 Packers were 8-6 at the end of Week 15, looking at two must-win games to make the playoffs. I'll never forget the forum post I read where someone said that they essentially had clinched the playoffs, just that these next two games were playoff games. And after a blowout win over the Giants and a nailbiter over the Bears, the Packers were in. Next came the gauntlet - at Philadelphia, at Atlanta, at Chicago. Only the Falcons game was easy, and then came the Super Bowl against the Steelers. The Steelers were a budding dynasty - one win away from it. But the Packers roared out in front 21-3, then held on for dear life. And thus the Packers had their 13th world championship, in a season where they never trailed by more than 7 points.
5. 1995 (11-5, lost NFC Championship)
My first season as a Packers fan was one to remember. The team had its ups and downs all throughout Brett Favre's first MVP season. The Packers lost their opener at home, got back on track in Chicago on a 99-yard touchdown pass, then got to midseason at 5-4 and Favre hurt. In true Favre fashion, he played hurt, threw 5 TD passes (on my birthday!) and won over the Bears 35-28. The team clinched a playoff berth with a win in Week 16 over New Orleans, then had to beat the Steelers to get their first NFC Central title since 1972. Yancey Thigpen dropped the game-winning touchdown pass, and the rest was history. The Packers beat Atlanta at home in the playoffs, then knocked out San Francisco on the road, but fell to Dallas in a game they led going into the 4th quarter. John Madden eulogized the Packers as if they'd never come back, but they sure did.
6. 2007 (13-3, lost NFC Championship)
What a fun, magical year this was. The Packers started out 8-1 like in 1996, and Brett Favre broke Dan Marino's record for most touchdown passes in a career (later broken by Peyton "All Stats" Manning). The Packers won a bunch of games they should have lost, and it was a fun run the whole way. They won a playoff game in the snow after earning the #2 seed, then got to host the NFC Championship Game after a Dallas loss to the Giants. But that was yet another Giants buzzsaw the Packers ran into - but it can't erase the memories of Favre's final year with the Packers and how much fun it really was.
7. 2003 (10-6, lost in divisional round)
Magical 2003. Who can forget it? First there was Favre playing 2 days after his father died, and playing the game of his career. Then there was the 98-yard touchdown run by Ahman Green in a game that might not matter - if Minnesota could hold on to win in Arizona up 17-6. But in the most bizarre turn of events, Arizona scored a touchdown, recovered an onside kick, then threw up a Hail Mary on 4th down which was complete to Nathan Poole for the game-winning TD. 18-17, Arizona wins, knocking out the Vikings and putting the Packers in the playoffs. Then the Packers won their playoff game over Seattle on a pick-6 by Al Harris. Everyone remembers 4th & 26, the tragic way it all ended, but truth be told, the team should have won that playoff game against the Eagles long beore that. Plus, Donovan McNabb is a stud, one of the most underrated QBs of our time. Still, it was a magic year, which lasted much longer than it should have.
8. 2001 (12-4, lost in divisional round)
This year could have been so much more. The team ended up only as a wild card thanks to the Bears having a magical year of their own, going 13-3 with 2 of those losses coming to Green Bay. The Packers beat the 49ers in Round 1 then got blown out in St. Louis when Favre threw a million interceptions (it seemed like that; actually he tied the NFL playoff record for most interceptions in a game).
9. 2014 (12-4, lost NFC Championship)
Everyone will remember the ending in Seattle, but it was a great year all around, with Aaron Rodgers winning his second MVP award. The Packers earned the #2 seed and then won a disputed game vs. Dallas to go to Seattle for the NFC title. We all know how it ended, of course, and that bitter taste in our mouths is why we want next season to start so soon.
10. 1999 (8-8, missed playoffs)
The most magical .500 non-playoff year ever. Favre led the team back from deficits in 3 straight home games to start the season 3-1. Then, with the season collapsing at 4-5, the Packers ran off 3 straight wins to get back to 7-5. Then they blew it, falling back to 7-8. In the final game, the Packers needed to run up the score in order to have a chance at making the playoffs. They put up 49 points vs. Arizona and won the points race vs. Carolina... only to have Dallas win and edge them out of a playoff berth. This was such a fun, memorable season, even with all the losses and no playoffs.
11. 2012 (11-5, lost in divisional round)
This was supposed to be the year of redemption for the Packers after the 2011 playoff meltdown. The Packers locked up the division title early but then lost their final game in Minnesota to fall into a wild-card rematch vs. the Vikes. The Packers then easily won that playoff game, before going to San Francisco and getting Kaepernick'd. A good season, if not so memorable.
12. 1998 (11-5, lost Wild Card)
Reggie White was defensive player of the year, but this team finished a distant second to the 15-1 Minnesota Vikings. The final year of the Mike Holmgren era ended in San Francisco with "The Catch II."
13. 2009 (11-5, lost Wild Card)
The Packers started this season 4-4 and Rodgers looked lost in a terrible game in Tampa. Then the Packers ran off 6 wins in a row and Rodgers reinvented himself as a passer and made himself the MVP he is today. A heartbreaking loss to Pittsburgh, then an even more heartbreaking one in the playoffs in Arizona were really hard to stomach.
14. 2013 (8-7-1, lost Wild Card)
What a year. The Packers were cruising along at 5-2, then Rodgers got hurt and the season went to heck. Only when everything looked lost, Matt Flynn led the team to a TIE vs. the Vikings (coming back from down 16 points), then consecutive one-point wins over the Falcons and Cowboys. The Packers lost yet another heartbreaker to the Steelers, before "4th & 8" against the Bears won the division. The Packers would go on to lose on a last-second field goal to the 49ers.
15. 2002 (12-4, lost Wild Card)
It was a great regular season until Week 17. The Packers were 12-3 and needed only a win over the New York Jets to wrap up the #1 seed, at the time having never lost a playoff game at Lambeau Field. What followed was a 42-17 debacle where the Packers got knocked from the #1 seed to a #3 seed, and then they lost 27-7 at home to Atlanta. It was such a sour ending to the season that it wiped out all the goodwill of the 12-3 start.
16. 2004 (10-6, lost Wild Card)
The Packers started out 1-4 yet rebounded to win the NFC North. All that was wiped out by a terrible playoff loss to the Vikings that I couldn't bear to watch. It was a fun regular season, but how it ended was disastrous.
17. 2000 (9-7, missed playoffs)
The Packers were 5-7 with 4 games to play and won the remainder to get to a winning record, but they were edged from the playoffs by the St. Louis Rams who won their final game in New Orleans to get in instead.
18. 2006 (8-8, missed playoffs)
This team was 4-8, much like the 2000 team, then went 4-0 to end the season and miss the playoffs on the "strength of victory" tiebreaker to the Giants - the same tiebreaker the Packers would win over the Giants (and Buccaneers) to get into the playoffs in their 2010 Super Bowl season.
19. 2008 (6-10, missed playoffs)
Rodgers' first year as a starter, and not a good one. The team lost close game after close game down the stretch, lots of losses that were not Rodgers' fault.
20. 2005 (4-12, missed playoffs)
Do we have to mention 2005? The team nearly wound up with the #1 pick but won their final game over Seattle, the #1 seed in the NFC.
So there you have it. As the weeks progress, there will be more of these types of posts, such as "Best 20 Wins in the Favre Era," "Best 20 Wins in the Rodgers Era," and "Favorite 20 Players."