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Top 5 Biggest 'What Ifs' in Green Bay Packers History

Green Bay Packers receiver Sterling Sharpe (84) scores a touchdown against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Tampa Stadium in 1993.
© RVR Photos-USA TODAY Sports

After defeating the Oakland Raiders 33-14 in Super Bowl II, the Green Bay Packers had won five championships in eight years during the 1960s. The term "Titletown" was coined in that decade, and Green Bay looked to continue its dominance as it entered the new Super Bowl era.

After the victory in Super Bowl II, coach Vince Lombardi resigned to focus on being the general manager. In 1969, Lombardi left Green Bay to become coach and executive vice president in Washington. This kicked off a long period of futility for the Packers. Before Mike Holmgren arrived in 1992, the Packers had a dismal record of 146-201 over the 1970s and 1980s.

 General view of statue of Green Bay Packers former coach Vince Lombardi before the game against the Oakland Raiders at Lambeau Field in 2014.
© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

What if Lombardi had stayed in Green Bay longer? Would the Packers have won several more Super Bowl trophies? While this is a fascinating question, we will focus on the top 5 "what-if" moments from the past 35 years that could have elevated an already historic program to higher levels. Let's take a look at them, in order from least to most impactful.

NFC Championship Game Losses

The Packers won two of their first three NFC Championship Games but have lost five of their last six appearances. We will not focus on the 2017 or 2020 games. Green Bay lost by a combined score of 81-41, clearly not the better team in either case.

In 2007, the Packers went 13-3 in the regular season but lost 23-20 in overtime in freezing temperatures at Lambeau Field to the eventual Super Bowl XLII champion New York Giants. The lasting images of that game are Giants coach Tom Coughlin's frostbitten face and Packers quarterback Brett Favre looking old and cold.

The 2014 Packers were leading the Seattle Seahawks 19-7 on the road with five minutes left when safety Morgan Burnett intercepted quarterback Russell Wilson. At that point, the Packers' winning percentage was 99.3 percent.

Unfortunately, as Packers fans know, nothing went right from that point on, including an onside kick that Green Bay should have recovered to seal the game. Seattle won 28-22 in overtime but lost in its own heartbreaking fashion in Super Bowl XLIX to the New England Patriots when Wilson threw an interception at the goal line.

In the 2020 NFC Championship Game at Lambeau Field, the Packers outgained the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in total yards (381 to 351), secured more first downs (23 to 19), won time of possession (34:37 to 25:23), and committed fewer turnovers (2 to 3). Sounds like a Green Bay victory, right? Nope. The Packers squandered a game where they intercepted quarterback Tom Brady 3 times and lost 31-26.

Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur had his own "what-if" moment when he decided to kick a field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-goal from the 8-yard line with 2:05 left. At that time, the Packers trailed by 8 points. The Packers gave the ball back to Brady and never saw it again. Tampa Bay went on to win Super Bowl LV over the Kansas City Chiefs, giving Brady his seventh ring.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Scotty Miller (10) catches a touchdown pass as Green Bay Packers cornerback Kevin King (20) defends during the second quarter of the Green Bay Packers game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC championship playoff game Sunday, Jan. 24, 2021, at Lambeau Field in Green Bay, Wis.
© Mike De Sisti / The Milwaukee Jo via Imagn Content Services, LLC

'What-if' Factor

What if the Packers had won all three of those close games? It's easy to envision them defeating a Kansas City team in Super Bowl LV that had a patched-together offensive line, leaving quarterback Patrick Mahomes running for his life. Green Bay also could have beaten New England in Super Bowl XLIX, having already defeated them earlier that season in a close game at Lambeau Field.

However, in another amazing "what-if" scenario to consider, the Packers would have been torched by Randy Moss in a loss to the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, allowing New England to complete the first perfect season since the 1972 Miami Dolphins.

Sterling Sharpe's Injury

Sterling Sharpe was an absolute beast as a wide receiver and was on pace to join his brother Shannon in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In just 7 seasons with Green Bay, Sharpe amassed 595 receptions, 8,134 receiving yards, and 65 touchdowns. Even more impressive, he averaged 104 receptions, 1,284 receiving yards, and 14 touchdowns over his last three seasons, clearly entering his prime. Unfortunately, Sharpe was forced to retire early due to neck surgery in 1994, which addressed issues with the top two vertebrae in his neck.

'What-if' Factor

What if Sharpe had no issues with his neck and played another 5 or 6 seasons? The Packers continued to play well after Sharpe retired, appearing in back-to-back Super Bowls in the 1996 and 1997 seasons, winning Super Bowl XXXI. Would Sharpe have made a difference in the Super Bowl XXXII loss to the Denver Broncos? Wide receiver Antonio Freeman had a huge game (9 receptions, 126 receiving yards, and 2 touchdowns), but the rest of the receiving corps was lacking. Even if the Packers still lost that Super Bowl, they have another player in the Hall of Fame and potentially another retired number.

Quarterback Magic

During his time in Green Bay, Favre had a Hall-of-Fame career, throwing for 61,655 yards and 442 touchdowns while winning 3 MVPs. Favre also led Green Bay to two Super Bowls, winning Super Bowl XXXI. When Favre departed for the New York Jets, Aaron Rodgers stepped into the quarterback position, throwing for 59,055 yards and 475 touchdowns.

Similar to Favre, Rodgers won one Super Bowl but 4 MVP awards. History repeated itself as Rodgers left for the Jets and Jordan Love became the next quarterback to take the reins. Based on Love's first full season as a starter, where he threw for 4,159 yards and 32 touchdowns, it seems Green Bay may have defied Powerball-like odds by going 3 for 3 in finding yet another talented quarterback.

'What-if' Factor

What if general manager Ron Wolf had never traded with the Atlanta Falcons for Favre? What if Rodgers hadn't fallen to the Packers in the first round of the 2005 NFL Draft? What if current Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst did not trade up for Love in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft? The NFL is a quarterback-driven league, increasingly so as rules favor the offense. What would the Packers have been over the past 35 years without these amazing quarterbacks? The Chicago Bears.

1989 NFL Draft

The Packers' selection of Michigan State offensive lineman Tony Mandarich with the second pick of the 1989 NFL Draft is one of the all-time worst in history! The other 4 players selected in the top 5 of that draft were Troy Aikman, Barry Sanders, Deion Sanders, and Derrick Thomas— all of whom are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Mandarich finished his pro career playing 6 seasons, 3 for the Packers and 3 for the Indianapolis Colts but never lived up to the hype he entered the league with.

'What-if' Factor

What if the Packers had selected Sanders or Thomas in the 1989 draft? Would Green Bay have still traded for Favre, potentially creating a dream backfield with Sanders? Could Sanders, being on a winning team like the Packers, have had a longer NFL career instead of retiring early? It's hard not to imagine the Packers winning at least 1 more Super Bowl with another Hall of Fame player from that draft on either the offensive or defensive side of the ball.

Focusing on the 1988 season, what if the Packers had lost their last game and the Dallas Cowboys had won theirs? The Packers would have finished 3-13, while the Cowboys would have been 4-12. Green Bay would have landed the top pick and selected Aikman. What happens with Favre in that scenario? Would he have partied his way out of the league? In the craziest of scenarios, could he have ended up as the quarterback of the Cowboys?

Reggie White Says 'No'

On April 6, 1993, Reggie White shocked the NFL by signing a four-year, $17 million free-agent contract with the Packers. Up until that point, premier free agents had no interest in signing with the Packers and playing out their prime years in Green Bay. White played six seasons for the Packers, finishing with 301 tackles, 68.5 sacks, and 14 forced fumbles. He was a significant factor in the Packers' 2 Super Bowl appearances, winning 1 of them. More importantly, he put the small town of Green Bay on the map as a legit possibility for future free agents to consider.

'What-if' Factor

What if White had signed with another NFL team? First, the Packers likely would not have appeared in the Super Bowl in the 1996 or 1997 seasons without No. 92 on defense. Second, many of the free agents the Packers signed after White might have chosen to play elsewhere. Key players who signed after White in the 1990s include defensive lineman Santana Dotson, kick returner and Super Bowl XXXI MVP Desmond Howard, and defensive end Sean Jones.

Green Bay Packers Success

Fortunately for Packers fans, they have enjoyed rooting for a successful organization on and off the field in recent history. In the past 32 seasons, Green Bay has almost 5 times as many playoff appearances (23) as losing seasons (5). While there have been other tantalizing what-ifs we could have discussed, like choosing Kevin King over TJ Watt, the Packers have consistently hit the mark far more often than they've missed.


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