GREEN BAY — Maybe there will be bigger games this season, more exciting, and certainly better played, but it will be difficult to duplicate the energy generated by a Monday night contest flush with so many personal sideshows.
Green Bay tackle Earl Dotson might have explained the feeling, but he could not contain himself, absorbing 30 yards in penalties for a pair of personal fouls on the same play, and being ejected.
It was all part of a night of great theater, ending in exasperation for the Packers, 27-7 losers to Seattle and business as usual in Lambeau Field for Mike Holmgren, who had posted a 42-5 record here as head coach of the Cheeseheads.
Billed as Holmgren's homecoming, it became Brett Favre's nightmare, pulled with 6:25 to play after throwing four interceptions for the first time in his eight-year run in Lambeau Field.
The 20-point loss was the worst suffered by a Packer team at home since 1992--Holmgren's first year in Green Bay. It was also the first time the Packers had failed to score 10 points in a game at home since 1991.
"It was a special night, and once we got over the excitement of the evening we settled in defensively and played a real fine game," Holmgren said. "There was a lot of emotion on both sides--you could tell that because people were playing hard, things were happening and the play became a little ragged."
There had been the promise of more--maybe even a Monday night game worth watching. Twenty minutes before kickoff, Lambeau Field appeared as if it had been taken over by 59,869 yellow foam worms, each fan waving a piece of "Packeroni," while singing loudly to piped-in music. An awesome sight.
And for 20 minutes they remained that way, on their feet, waving and singing, waiting to greet Holmgren, their former beloved coach, now a traitor, who had signed on with Seattle for a more impressive title and $32 million.
This was all about history, the NFL's smallest community bonding with coach who had returned their Titletown identity with six consecutive playoff appearances and a Super Bowl title. In gratitude, "Holmgren Way" now runs directly into Lombardi Avenue.
This past week Holmgren broke routine and visited the Seahawks' defensive meetings, offering his insight into each of the Packers' offensive players.
"When you play a great player like Brett you hold on for dear life," said Holmgren, who arrived in Green Bay in 1992 and then traded for Favre. "All you can do is mix up the defenses. If you sit in any one thing, he'll pick you apart.
"Hey, our defense did a great job. I didn't call a defensive snap; I just talked to them about what I knew about the players on offense. That was my only contribution."
But obviously it messed with Favre's mind, unsettling him like never before. He not only threw four passes to the Seahawks, but fumbled twice, finishing 14 for 35 for 180 yards--74 coming on a touchdown pass to Corey Bradford.
"We tried to guard against [Favre] pushing too hard," said Green Bay Coach Ray Rhodes, unable to shake the Holmgren shadow. "I don't know if he did; I'll have to look at the videotape."
Favre, living up to his reputation for being too excited at the outset of some games and thereby throwing high, faced a variety of blitzes--Holmgren's tip to the rest of the football world on how to attack the great passer.
"Seattle played well, but we couldn't beat anybody the way we played," Favre said. "The mistakes we made, turning the ball over, the costly penalties. . . ."
Holmgren, showing great respect for Favre's explosiveness, elected to decline a holding penalty on third down, giving Green Bay the opportunity to attempt a 50-yard field goal rather than repeat third down with Favre at quarterback.
The Seahawks blocked the field-goal attempt, and Shawn Springs picked up the ball and ran 61 yards for the game's first score, the first blocked field goal returned for a touchdown against the Packers since Sept. 17, 1972.
Springs also had a pair of interceptions while introducing himself to the nation as one of the game's next superstars.
This was going to be a game pitting those who had left Green Bay against those who had stayed.
A combination of 14 coaches and front-office employees had joined Holmgren in Seattle before he returned to his former team to acquire wide receiver Derrick Mayes in trade.
Mayes, like Holmgren, returned in style, catching a 10-yard touchdown pass from Jon Kitna, and while no one knew it in the second quarter, it would stand as the game-winner. Kitna added a two-yard touchdown pass to Sean Dawkins in the third quarter, and a pair of Todd Peterson field goals completed Holmgren's triumphant return.
"I would be less than honest if I said it was just another game," Holmgren said. "Coming out of the tunnel in this stadium should give anybody goose bumps. I did it on the other end of the stadium for seven years and enjoyed it every time.
"I didn't know quite how I would react, and I really didn't handle it very well. But then you have to get over it, and coach the game."
And that's when things went all wrong for Green Bay, the waving Packeroni no match for the man who had been the founder of such excitement here.
REWIND: WEEK 8
Store makes a mistake when it offers free goods if Chargers went scoreless. Page 4