Film Room: Levens, Freeman & Turning the Tide in 1996

Mark Carrier looked back fondly on the 1996 NFC Championship Game. “It was the coldest day in the history of the world.” In an attempt to keep his toes warm, Carrier sprinkled some cayenne pepper on them. “It didn’t really kick in until after the game…however long the plane ride home was, my toes were on fire.”

Kevin Greene tried another approach to deal with the cold. “Playing in the brutal cold weather is a mindset. If you let your mind think you’re freezing, then you’ll freeze.”

At kickoff, the weather at Lambeau was a balmy 3 degrees (-17 wind chill). And, while it warmed up a little as the game went on, the thermometer never hit double-digits.

Even with the extreme temperatures, the Panthers came to play. They were 12.5 point underdogs, but they gave the Packers everything they could handle for the majority of the first half. Brett Favre had a horrendous start to the game, opening up by going 3/9 for 17 yards and an INT.

That interception occurred deep in the Packers territory. Favre tried to throw a slant to Don Beebe, but didn’t see Sam Mills lurking in zone. Two plays later, Kerry Collins hit a wide open Howard Griffith for a touchdown and a 7-0 lead.

Things started to click on the Packers’ 4th drive. A perfectly executed screen pass to Dorsey Levens went for 35 yards, putting the Packers on the Panthers 29 yard line. The Packers dialed up Jet All Go.

Levens is lined up on the right, in the “F” spot of the above diagram. That receiver is the Alert on this play. That essentially means that, if the conditions are right – either pre-snap or immediately post-snap – abandon the normal progression and throw to that receiver.

On this play, the Panthers are showing a single-high safety pre-snap, and a linebacker over Levens. With a go route being run from the inside man, Favre knows the safety will be held to the middle of the field. So unless that man buzzes over Levens immediately after the snap, Favre knows he has Levens down the field without a safety over the top.

That leaves Levens alone with Eric Davis on the outside. Davis is a cornerback and can run with Levens, but he’s in zone and keeping his eyes on the action in front of him and doesn’t turn to run with Levens until the ball is in the air.

Levens elevates to catch the ball, while Davis fades back into Levens. There’s not a lot of room between Levens and the sideline, so he jams his second foot in-bounds, just barely in the field of play.

Levens would later recount his story of the catch to Jason Wilde:

I was surprised that I stayed in bounds, to be honest with you. I remember trying to secure the ball and trying to get my heel in bounds, because I didn’t think I had enough time to get my toe down with the angle I was at, because I was leaning backwards. I remember hitting the ground and looking up at the referee like, ‘Dude, did I get in or what?’ And I was like ‘Aw, yes!’ And that changed the momentum of the game.

While Levens felt the momentum shift, the Packers weren’t out of the woods just yet. After holding the Panthers to a three-and-out, the Packers drive ended with a 14 yard strip-sack of Favre, giving the Panthers the ball on the Packers 45 yard line. Their drive stalled at the Packers 4 yard line, but they still ended with a 22 yard field goal to put the Panthers ahead, 10-7 with 8:40 remaining in the 1st half.

The Packers proceeded to put together a 14 play drive and found themselves facing 3rd & goal at the Panthers 6 yard line. The call was Double Post X Colorado.

The above play is essentially the flipped version of the play. To one side, you have a double-post concept, with a Colorado route – slant/corner – on the other side.

On this day, Antonio Freeman was running the Colorado route, and he ate Tyrone Poole’s lunch.

Freeman is isolated at the top, so this was thrown based on the match-up. Favre trusted Freeman to beat Poole. Has a nice hard cut on the slant, getting Poole to jump. When Freeman reverses the route, Poole slips and the Packers go up 14-10.

Freeman later talked about this play. "After [Poole] jumped it, I just had to get to the corner of the end zone, and Brett already had the ball in the air. And it landed right on my fingertips. It was a thing of beauty. Perfect throw, perfect route."

On the very next play, Tyrone Williams made one of the best interceptions you’ll ever see.

With 0:35 left in the half, the Packers proceeded to gain 48 yards in 3 plays and kicked a field goal to go up 17-10 heading into halftime, and the Panthers never truly threatened again.

The touchdown to Levens help turn the tide and the touchdown to Freeman helped close the door.

And Kevin Greene? He started the game saying that being cold is a mindset, but that view changed by the end of the game. “When Brett Favre starts kneeling to run out the clock and the crowd’s going nuts, that’s when you realize it. That when you say to yourself, ‘Man it’s freaking unbelievably brutal cold and I’m ready to get the heck out of here.’”


Albums listened to: The Violet Burning – The Violet Burning; The Lemonheads – Car Button Cloth; Gillian Welch – Revival; Belle & Sebastian – If You’re Feeling Sinister; Sebadoh – Harmacy; Jeremy Enigk – Return of the Frog Queen; The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Now I Got Worry; Soundgarden – Down on the Upside; Stereolab - Emperor Tomato Ketchup

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Dusty Evely is a film analyst for Cheesehead TV. He can be heard talking about the Packers on Pack-A-Day Podcast. He can be found on Twitter at @DustyEvely or email at [email protected].

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Comments (3)

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Coldworld's picture

May 19, 2021 at 05:26 pm

Thanks, a fun trip down memory lane.

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greengold's picture

May 19, 2021 at 06:33 pm

Yeah, great stuff, Dusty! Well done. I miss all 3 of those players...

Funny, the second I think, “ Man, Freeman was special,” BOOM! So was Dorse. So was Tramon. We’ve been blessed with exceptional players in our Packers history.

That 1996-97 Super Bowl winner WAS LOADED!!!

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splitpea1's picture

May 19, 2021 at 11:01 pm

Whatever happened to that unassailable home field advantage we had in the playoffs? I have a sneaking suspicion that a rock-solid defense really helps....That game was so long ago that I barely remember a few of those players.

"Emperor Tomato Ketchup" is definitely a winner.

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