The Green Bay Packers stand alone atop the NFL landscape as the only unbeaten team in the league. Their quarterback is having a record-setting season that could go down as one of the greatest, if not the greatest, season at the quarterback position in league history. They have won sixteen straight games, including playoffs and the Super Bowl, dating back to last season - something no Packers team has ever done before.
And now, after all of the above has been laid out and discussed and dissected, after the team has been praised, put on the cover of magazines, after Rodgers has been hailed (in almost nauseating fashion) on ESPN's Monday Night Countdown - after all the adulation and platitudes have been spent, it comes down to Thursday's game against the upstart Detroit Lions and a chance for historical retribution.
The Packers started playing on Thanksgiving in Detroit in 1951. Detroit mostly dominated this series until the arrival of Vince Lombardi in 1959, but even then the Lions usually played the Packers tough, winning more than they lost against the perennial NFL powerhouse. Lombardi hated the Packers' annual trip. It seemed his team always played poorly and the Lions always played well.
Then, in 1962, the table was set for the Packers to finally put those frustrations to rest.
The Packers entered the Thanksgiving game that year riding a ten game winning streak. It was considered, both at the time and in ensuing years, Lombardi's finest team. The Lions had a good team and were playing well, but this would be the game where Lombardi's Packers would finally dominate the Lions in their annual Thanksgiving showdown.
Of course, as most Packers fans know, the exact opposite played out that day at windy Tiger Stadium. The Lions completely dominated the Packers in a 26-14 victory that saw them sack Bart Starr 11 times (once for a safety) and intercept him twice, with Dick LeBeau and Night Train Lane doing the honors.
Despite the loss, the Packers went on to win the rest of their games that season and win their second consecutive championship. But even so, Lombardi had had enough of the perennial stumble that the Thanksgiving game had become and lobbied strongly with the league for the Lions to rotate opponents for the game. After playing to a 13-13 tie on Thanksgiving in 1964, Lombardi got his wish and the league started rotating the Lions' annual opponent.
The Packers did not return to Detroit on Thanksgiving for 21 years, when they finally made another appearance in 1984. After a couple more appearances in the 80's and 90's, they were absent from Thanksgiving Day for another 15 years.
These days, the Packers make sporadic appearances and have actually fared quite well overall in their recent trips to Detroit on Thanksgiving Day. Oh sure, the Lions always seem to play the Packers tough in Detroit and they even pulled off the upset in 2003, but the Packers have won four of their last five Thanksgiving games.
This game on Thursday, however, is completely different. The Lions, while perhaps not the imposing team they appeared to be as they stormed out to a 5-0 start, are a very, very talented football team that is more than capable of beating the Packers.
Just take a look at the last six quarters of football between these two teams. Going back to halftime of their 2010 game in Lambeau, the Lions have held the Packers out of the endzone. Yes, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers left last years game in Detroit at the very end of the first half, but the Lions defense has essentially shut down Rodgers and the Packers offense the last four quarters of play between the two.
The Lions, of course, are not the only thing that's different. This isn't the same Packers offense as the one that struggled at times in 2010. Rodgers is obviously having an incredible year, and he's doing so in part due to some phenomenal play from his supporting cast, including Greg Jennings, Jermichael Finley, James Starks and, of course, the emergence of Jordy Nelson.
But for Rodgers to get the ball to those playmakers he needs to stay upright. The Lions completely dominated the Packers' offensive line last year in Detroit. And when I say "dominated", that doesn't really begin to cover it. The Lions front four made life absolutely miserable for the Packers' offensive line, as well as their backs and tight ends, by basically whipping them in what looked like a back-alley brawl that had spilled out onto the football field. (And Packer fans eager to use their favorite whipping boy, Daryn Colledge, would do well to remember that Colledge left the game due to injury very early on.)
If this Packers team is going to extend their 16 game winning streak to 17, they are going to have to overcome a boatload of adversity, both physically and mentally. Along with needing a much better performance from their offensive line, their defense needs to figure out a way to stop hemorrhaging yards or the Lions' big-play offense is going to eat them alive.
As for the mental aspect of the diversity the Packers are facing, they will be playing their third game in 10 days. There's no two ways about it - that is a brutal schedule to navigate. Head coach Mike McCarthy has done a fantastic job during his tenure of knowing when to push his guys and when to ease off and he'll need to have his finger perfectly on the pulse of his football team this week.
The present day Packers most likely have no feelings whatsoever about 1962. They are professionals with a job to do. Yes, they want to win the game, but for more immediate reasons than a loss that belmished an otherwise perfect season over four decades ago.
Long-time, life-long, die-hard Packers fans, however, have a different stake in Thursday's game. A deep, historical, emotional stake. Our Packers had their bid for perfection wiped out once by the Lions on Thanksgiving. It's time to right that historical wrong.
We don't expect today's Packers team to care about what must seem like ancient history.
We expect them to Feel The Power.