GREEN BAY, WIS. — GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The famed frozen tundra of Lambeau Field? It melted into a cow pasture.
"We were all just mud-wrestling out there," Packers receiver Antonio Freeman said.
The feared Packers passing game? It was reduced to Nerfdom by a steady rush of wind and rain.
"You couldn't cut or stand up or do much of anything," Packers free safety Eugene Robinson said. "It was like we were all 12 years old and the goal was to roll around and see who got the dirtiest."
The Green Bay Packers and their fans longed for Ice Bowl conditions against the warm-weather San Francisco 49ers yesterday in the NFC divisional playoffs.
They wound up with a Wisconsin Woodstock, complete with beer and bratwurst at daybreak, and a cold rain that scared off exactly three fans who had bought tickets.
The 49ers never had a chance, even without the snow and frozen temperatures that made Green Bay famous.
"It wasn't classic Packer weather, but it was still messy and sloppy and cold and yucky," Packers strong safety LeRoy Butler said, "and we were more ready for it."
The 49ers were perfect in their role as the California wimps in Green Bay's 35-14 victory.
You could almost hear them going, "Ewww, gross."
They moaned about the mud as if it were a soured bottle of merlot.
"We couldn't get footing," linebacker Ken Norton said.
The Packers reveled in the slop as if they wanted to wear it to bed.
When the final gun sounded, Packers defensive end Sean Jones sprinted 20 yards into the end zone and performed a perfect hook slide, covering himself from helmet to cleats with a thick spray of mud.
"We all felt like kids today," Jones said, "getting as dirty as we could."
It was hard to tell who had a better time, the players or the fans.
The passion of the Packers faithful is legendary, but this was an extraordinary performance by any yardstick.
Three no-shows on a raw day better fit for hot chocolate by a warm fire.
"It's almost beyond belief," Jones said. "I know I wouldn't have stood in the cold and rain for all that time today."
The three no-shows?
"They probably died this morning," Jones said. "What else would keep them away?"
The fans deserve a Super Bowl winner. Bellies full of bratwurst before noon, they were roaring in the rain at the opening kickoff, and they never stopped after the Packers' Desmond Howard returned a punt 71 yards for a touchdown in the first three minutes.
When another long punt return by Howard set up another Packers touchdown a few minutes later, the game was all but over with 6: 16 left in the first quarter.
From there, the Packers controlled the ball with their running game -- they had 139 yards to 68 for the 49ers -- and kept the Niners from sustaining any drives.
The 49ers never would have scored if not for the Packers setting them up with two fumbled kicks.
"It should have been 35-0," Packers receiver Don Beebe said.
It hurt the Niners that Steve Young left the game in the first quarter with sore ribs, but his presence wouldn't have changed the outcome. The Packers were plainly tougher and more talented.
"They talked a lot of trash," Jones said, "but they didn't come close to backing it up."
The loss left the 49ers in an obvious fade toward mediocrity. After reaching the NFC Championship game six times between the 1988 and '94 seasons, they have now failed to make it two years in a row. This year, they failed to win their division for the first time in the '90s.
They'll try again next season, but Young will be 36, Jerry Rice will be 35 and the offensive line will average 33.
Bringing Bill Walsh back as a consultant didn't help this season. Maybe they should try to coax Joe Montana out of retirement next season.
They need something to harken back to their golden years.
They're in trouble.
They did lose gracefully yesterday, to their credit.
"I hope the Packers go all the way," offensive tackle Harris Barton said. "They have class. Their fans know how to support a team."
In other words, anyone but Jerry Jones!
Jones' Cowboys and the Carolina Panthers will play today to see who else gets to experience the joy of Green Bay in January; the winner will come to Lambeau for the NFC championship game next Sunday.
"Good luck," Rice said.
"It's going to get colder here and the field is going to freeze," Barton said. "This is going to be one nasty place to play next Sunday."
As if it weren't nasty yesterday.
"The conditions? Terrible, absolutely terrible," Packers defensive tackle Santana Dotson said. "It wasn't a blizzard, but it was cold and wet."
At first, he said, even the Packers didn't care for it.
"But then we scored, the crowd got going, we got muddy and everyone forgot about the weather," Dotson said, "It was great. It was what the Packers are all about. Everyone else hates this stuff. We love it."
Pub Date: 1/05/97