EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — There’s a lot more to the playoff history between the Giants and Packers than a scarlet-faced Tom Coughlin standing on a frigid sideline in Green Bay, Wisconsin, on Jan. 20, 2008, in New York’s numbing overtime win in the NFC championship game.
The win in temperatures that felt like minus-23 with the wind-chill factor catapulted the Giants to their third Super Bowl title two weeks later. A fourth would follow after the 2011 season, with New York again stunning the Lambeau Field faithful with a 37-20 win in a second-round playoff game over a Packers team that went 15-1 in the regular season.
That’s recent history. The postseason story between two of the NFL’s oldest franchises dates to 1938, and the annals of the seven playoff games between them is rich.
The playoff rivalry will resume Sunday when the Giants (11-5) and the NFC North champion Packers (10-6) will meet in a wild-card game at Lambeau Field.
For the record, the Packers have a 4-3 edge in playoff games.
The Giants won the first one and the NFL title in 1938, beating the Packers 23-17. The Packers would win the next four games and NFL championships in 1939, ‘44, 61 and ‘62.
You know about the last two. The first five were interesting, too. Even some of the sites were not what you would expect, with games at the Polo Grounds (‘38 and ‘44) and Yankee Stadium (‘62) in New York, State Fair Park in Milwaukee in 1939, City Stadium in 1961, which was renamed Lambeau Field in 1965.
The players and coaches who competed in those games are a Who’s Who of some of the greatest names in football.
Start with the Packers’ coaches: Earl “Curly” Lambeau - you know, Lambeau Field - and Vince Lombardi, the guy who the Super Bowl Trophy is named after. The players included more than a dozen Hall of Famers led by Don Hutson, Bart Starr, Ray Nitschke, Paul Hornung, Herb Adderley and Willie Davis.
Hall of Fame coach Steve Owen guided the Giants in those early playoff games for the Mara family, while the players included Hall of Famers Mel Hein and Tuffy Leemans in the ‘30s and ‘40s and Frank Gifford, Andy Robustelli, Sam Huff and Y.A. Tittle in the early ‘60s.
Quarterback Arnie Herber actually played for both teams. He was with the Packers in the ‘30s and came out of retirement in 1944 to lead the Giants to a title game against his old team. Green Bay won 14-7 with the Packer intercepting a pass by Herber at their 20 in the closing minutes.
The Packers started their glory era in the 1960s, beating the Giants twice. New York had contributed to the run, allowing Green Bay to sign Lombardi, who had been an offensive assistant for New York from 1954-58 and former classmate of Giants owner Wellington Mara at Fordham.
In Lombardi’s nine seasons in Green Bay, the Packers won five NFL titles, including the first two Super Bowls, and posted an 89-29-4 mark.
The Giants didn’t end the playoff skid against the Packers until they hired Coughlin in 2004. Ironically, he had Packers roots, serving as a receivers coach in 1986-87. He got New York back to the playoffs in 2005 and ‘06 and won a championship in ‘07, winning the conference title in what was the coldest game in Giants history.
Center Shaun O’Hara said it was so cold that it felt like he had broken every one of his fingers and he going to lose a couple of them.
“I had never in a football game before ever questioned would we survive?” O’Hara said. “The survival aspect definitely became a part of it. There are games where you are tired and games where you are sore and you wonder, ‘Am I going to cramp up?’ Never before had I felt I would be OK if they called the game off, this is so unbearable.”
Giants guard Chris Snee recalled the linemen wanted to show how their toughness by going shirtless.
“Once the game started, I wasn’t cold,” Snee recalled. “Prior to the game, going to warmup, absolutely, and I was in a race to get to the locker room at halftime and get some warm chicken broth.”
The game was decided on a 47-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes, a kick set up by Corey Webster’s interception of Brett Favre’s pass on the second play of overtime.
Tynes had missed his last two field goal attempts, and he seemingly made the decision of whether to attempt the long kick by running out on the field before Coughlin told him to go.
The story of Coughlin’s red face: O’Hara said that the Giants’ medical staff saw how red the coach’s face was at halftime and put either a cream or Vaseline on his face to protect him.
It might have, but it also made his face looked redder, O’Hara said.
“When we went back out, it made it look like his face was melting,” O’Hara said. “That’s an iconic moment from that game.”
Four years later, the temperature was warmer and so were the Giants in posting that 37-20 win that included a Hail Mary pass from Eli Manning to Hakeem Nicks just before halftime.
“I think it was a fluke. To me, it was my self-inflicted wounds,” Packers receiver Jordy Nelson said. “Dropped too many balls. It was one of those bad days that you have every once in a while. I’ve had them in the past. I don’t see it having any effect on this game.”
Coincidentally, there is another Giants-Packers link: Rookie New York coach Ben McAdoo spent eight seasons with the Packers before being hired by New York.
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