GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Maybe it was all the history on Lombardi Avenue at Lambeau Field.
Maybe it's all those ghosts of Hutson and Starr and Hornung and Nitschke that seem to hover over this small Wisconsin town that was once known as Titletown, U.S.A.
Maybe it was just good tackling.
Whatever it was, the Green Bay Packers turned in the football equivalent of holding Michael Jordan without a basket yesterday.
The Packers held one of the best runners of his time -- Barry Sanders -- to minus-1 yard rushing yesterday to beat the Detroit Lions, 16-12, in a first-round playoff game before 58,125 fans.
"To hold Barry Sanders, in my opinion the greatest running back ever to play, to hold him for negative yards, I shouldn't even have to say anything. That was remarkable," Packers quarterback Brett Favre said. "It was really awesome."
Sanders lost yardage on six of his 13 carries. After running the ball on the Lions' first three plays, he didn't carry more than twice in any other series.
It was the first time Sanders has been held to negative yardage in his six-year pro career, and Detroit's team total of minus-4 yards rushing was a playoff record. No team had ever gained fewer than 7 on the ground.
"It's hard to use the word stop with that guy and really not smile a little bit," defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur said. "I thought we had really good pursuit. . . . "They were convinced if they came off the football and controlled the line of scrimmage, it was going to do two things: reduce the cutback lanes that Barry has and help the pass rush. Both of those things happened for us. I think another huge factor was the one-on-one tackling of our linebackers. They had Barry a lot of times one-on-one in the flat with the ball, and George Koonce and Wayne Simmons and Bryce Paup did an excellent job of making those tackles."
The Packers advanced on the 27th anniversary of the Ice Bowl -- the 21-17 victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the 1967 NFL title game -- as they carved their own niche in Packers history. This was the first home playoff game in a non-strike year for the Packers since that game. There was no ice this time because the temperature was a mild 33 degrees at kickoff.
One tradition that was continued: the Packers' winning playoff games in Wisconsin. They're 8-0 at home, including two games in Milwaukee, and they won this time with their best player, wide receiver Sterling Sharpe, sidelined with a career-threatening neck injury.
They may have offset his absence with all their tradition.
The Packers' video crew included a clip of Bart Starr's quarterback sneak for the winning touchdown in the Ice Bowl on the practice videos the team looked at this week.
"This is a special place," said Shurmur. "There's been some great moments in the history of the National Football League here. We wanted everybody to understand on our team what it means to have the opportunity to play a playoff game here."
Even with that superb defensive effort against Sanders, the game came down to one last stand as the teams met for the fifth time in the calendar year of 1994 -- twice last January and three times this season. The Packers are 3-2 in this series.
Although the Lions were dominated, they had a first down on the Green Bay 13 with a little more than two minutes left, trailing 16-10.
Dave Krieg threw away the first-down pass, Sanders was stopped for 2 yards on a draw on second down, and Krieg was sacked on third down.
That brought up fourth-and-14 at the Green Bay 17 with 1:51 left.
Favre, the fiery leader who got involved in one of the many skirmishes during the game, said he asked coach Mike Holmgren during the final drive, "Why does it always have to be this way?"
Herman Moore caught Krieg's fourth-down pass, but came down beyond the back of the end zone. There was some question at first whether he was pushed out of bounds.
"I was out of bounds," Moore said. "It's not a lot of mystery as to what took place. It's just a situation where you try to make a play and you just run out of room."
The Packers then ran out the clock and gave up an intentional safety on the final play.
Despite the exciting finish, both sides seemed awed at the way the Packers stopped Sanders. After all, he gained 188 yards on 20 carries against the Packers in the Lions' 34-31 victory on Dec 4.
"It's hard to believe," Krieg said.
Defensive end Reggie White, who was switched to tackle so the Lions couldn't run away from him, said he thought it was inconceivable to hold Sanders to negative yardage.
"He does things that no other back does," White said. "Nothing to take away from Emmitt [Smith] or anybody else. I've seen [Sanders] do things I've never seen anybody do in my life."
Sanders, whose previous low was five attempts for 1 yard against the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1989, said, "Yeah, we've had a couple [games like that]. We're fortunate they're few and far between. I think they did a good job of pursuing. When we tried to get outside, they were always there. They did a good job of fighting off the blockers and closing up all the gaps."
Lions coach Wayne Fontes summed up the game: "It's tough for this team to win without Barry Sanders getting anything on the ground."
Barry Sanders, the NFL's leading rusher this season, had his worst game as a pro in yesterday's playoff loss to the Packers. The breakdown:
Situation ... ... ... ... ... Result
1st-10, Det. 38 .. .. ... ... loss of 2
2nd-12, Det. 36 .. .. ... ... gain of 7
3rd-5, Det. 43 ... .. ... ... loss of 6
1st-10, Det. ... ... .. .. .. 25 gain of 1
2nd-10, Det. 25 ... .. .. ... loss of 4
2nd-2, Det. 34 ... ... .. ... loss of 1
2nd-10, G.B. 11 .. ... .. ... loss of 1
1st-10, G.B. GB 34 ... .. ... gain of 1
1st-10, G.B. 25 .. ... .. ... no gain
1st-10, G.B. 18 ... ... .. .. gain of 3
1st-10, Det. 20 ... ... .. .. loss of 2
1st-10, G.B. 34 ... ... .. .. gain of 1
2nd-10, G.B. 13 ... ... .. .. gain of 2
Totals: 13 carries, -1 yard
Carries for losses: 6
Biggest gain: 7 yards
1994 rushing yards: 1,883
1994 avg. per carry: 5.7 yards