The quarterbacks at the center of today’s latest chapter in 49ers-Packers lore cited the same moment as their most vivid memory of the playoff history between the teams.
It was Jan. 3, 1999. There were eight seconds left in the NFC wild-card game and the Packers were leading 27-23. Quarterback Steve Young dropped back, stumbled and threw a 25-yard pass over the middle to Terrell Owens, who secured it between two massive hits from the Green Bay secondary for the 49ers’ winning touchdown.
“I didn’t know what was going on until I saw the replay, knowing that Steve almost tripped and fell,” Owens told reporters recently. “He put the ball right where it had to be.”
It’s fitting that that play, which gave the 49ers their first postseason win over the Packers after they had been eliminated by Green Bay each of the previous three years, should stay with Aaron Rodgers – now quarterback of the Packers – and Colin Kaepernick, who will be under center for the 49ers when the teams meet in the NFC wild-card round today.
Except, Rodgers, a native of Chico, said last week, “Can’t say I was sad at the time. I was probably rooting for the Niners.”
And despite spending most of his childhood in Northern California, Kaepernick grew up a Packers fan, having relocated from Wisconsin. So when the teams met in the playoffs, he said, “I wasn’t torn.”
Owens’ catch, then, didn’t sit well with Kaepernick, then 11?
“Yeah,” Kaepernick said, smiling.
When the 49ers and Packers meet in the postseason for the seventh time in 19 years, Kaepernick said walking through the tunnel at Lambeau Field today will be “part of the dream” he had as a youth. And Rodgers said he appreciates the history of the series, too.
“We’ve had some good battles the last five years or so, and there were some great ones back in the ’90s with Steve and Brett (Favre),” Rodgers said on a conference call. “Always enjoyed watching both teams, and it’s fun to be part of the rivalry.”
Kaepernick has had two of his best games as a professional against Green Bay, setting his career-high rushing total in the playoff win last year (181 yards, an NFL postseason record for a quarterback) and throwing for his most yards (412) in the 49ers’ 34-28 win in Week 1 this season.
Kaepernick last week chalked that up to coincidence, and offensive coordinator Greg Roman called it “happenstance.” Still, the Packers in the season opener clearly seemed intent on stopping the run, leaving opportunities for the 49ers in the passing game.
“He’s just kind of taken advantage of what they’ve given him,” offensive tackle Joe Staley said of Kaepernick. “That’s the thing about Colin: He can have those huge games when he really takes advantage of what the defense is giving him.”
The obvious question, then, is what the Packers will try to take away this time – one that, when posed to Kaepernick last week, elicited a shrug. “They have a lot of things in their arsenal,” he said. “For us, we have to trust what we see and go with what we know.”
With temperatures at Lambeau Field – where the 49ers have won once since 1990 – expected to be brutally cold, what they know is a new dimension will be added to a series that began Nov. 26, 1950, when the Packers won a 25-21 home game reportedly played in snow and whipping winds.
What they don’t know yet is how.