Packers savoring chance to put Cowboys hex on ice

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Just 38 days shy of the 30th anniversary of the Ice Bowl, the Dallas Cowboys go back to Lambeau Field on Sunday for a game that will contrast how they once were and how they are now.

The Cowboys' duel with the Packers -- a team that has lost seven straight games, including three in the playoffs, in Dallas -- is the game they have been waiting for in Green Bay since the NFL schedule was announced.

"We always said it would be different if we got them at Lambeau Field," said wide receiver Antonio Freeman, a Baltimore native.

Yet this game will not answer the question of whether the Packers could have beaten those Dallas teams because these are no longer those Cowboys.

They are more like the Packers were in the Ice Bowl, an aging team trying to find a way to win one more time.

The Cowboys found a way to win last Sunday in Dallas, driving 97 yards for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against the Washington Redskins to possibly save their season.

"It was a test of character and a test of a champion," said Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith.

The scene of quarterback Troy Aikman holding hands with his teammates for the decisive field goal shows what winning still means to these veterans who have three Super Bowl rings.

It was sweet for Aikman, who was booed at a recent Dallas Mavericks game.

"I found out a long time ago that this is a tough place to play," he said. "I've never thought it was a sports town. It's strictly a winner's town. When things are going well, everybody loves you, When they're not, well "

In Green Bay, they're behind the Packers win or lose.

But the Cowboys are a team the fans want to beat. They wanted Dallas in the NFC title game last season, but the Cowboys were upended by the Carolina Panthers. This is only Dallas' second visit to Lambeau Field since the Ice Bowl.

Kicker Ryan Longwell said, "When they picked me up here in early July, the second I stepped off that plane, they started talking about Nov. 23."

Rookie Ross Verba of Iowa said, "Brett [Favre] came up to me this week and said, 'This is bigger than Iowa-Iowa State.' "

Safety LeRoy Butler said, "This is the game to see who's America's team."

You'd never know that Dallas is only 6-5 and that 8-3 Green Bay is coming off a loss to the woeful Indianapolis Colts. In Green Bay, they are selling T-shirts that read: "Showdown in Titletown."

As Freeman said, "Everybody that's a football fan will be watching this one."

Since the Ravens-Cardinals game is blacked out, Freeman's friends and relatives in Baltimore will be able to see it, too.

It's a game in which the records don't matter.

"There are those who say beating the Cowboys has become an obsession, but I don't buy that," Packers general manager Ron ** Wolf said. "However, it is a 400-pound gorilla on your back that you'd like to have removed."

Best of the rest

Giants at Redskins: When this game was scheduled for a Sunday night on ESPN, nobody dreamed it would be the revival of a rivalry that dates to the days when George Preston Marshall would have the Redskins' band march up Fifth Avenue. New coach Jim Fassel has put life back into the Giants, a surprise team that leads the NFC East with a 7-4 mark. But the oddsmakers are skeptical, listing them as 5 1/2 -point underdogs. If the Giants win this one, it will show they're for real.

Dolphins at Patriots: Embarrassed in Tampa last Sunday, the Patriots must rebound or live with the prospect of going from the Super Bowl to not making the playoffs. They also know that they'll spend the off-season hearing about how much they miss Bill Parcells. It's also a critical game for quarterback Drew Bledsoe, whose leadership abilities are being questioned. Miami, the second year of coach Jimmy Johnson's rebuilding program, is 10-3 in the division and Dan Marino is 12-2 in his past 14 starts against the Patriots.

Worth a look

Vikings at Jets: Neil O'Donnell is back in the starting lineup for the Jets because Glenn Foley is injured. If O'Donnell wants to stay in New York -- especially at his current salary -- he must produce. He seems to have trouble adjusting to Parcells' sarcastic style of coaching. The Vikings are 7-4 in their past 11 road games against AFC teams.

Chiefs at Seahawks: The Chiefs are trying to survive with Rich Gannon at quarterback until Elvis Grbac returns. Gannon put together the one drive he needed to beat Denver last week. Seattle, after being upset in New Orleans last week, needs this game to stay alive in the playoff race.

Steelers at Eagles: Look for the Steelers to put a big rush on Bobby Hoying the way the Ravens did last week. The Steelers' defense is second in the NFL against the run, which will put DTC more pressure on Hoying to throw. The Steelers will try to wear down the strong Eagles defense with their 1-2 punch of Jerome Bettis and Kordell Stewart.

Raiders at Broncos: This matchup is a "Monday Night Football" staple. It's the third straight year that the teams have met in prime time and the ninth overall. It's not a great matchup this time because the Raiders are 4-7, but they showed in their 38-13 victory over San Diego last week that they're still dangerous. After last week's loss to Kansas City, the Broncos need to rebound.

Bills at Oilers: The winner of this game between 5-6 teams will climb back to .500. The Bills have a strong defense, ranked sixth, but should sue their anemic offense for nonsupport. Eddie George already has 1,031 rushing yards and Steve McNair has added 441 on the ground, which is why the Oilers are ranked third in offense. Buffalo will try to slow the ground game and force McNair to pass.

Filling out the schedule

Chargers at 49ers: Has any team ever gone 10-1 and gotten so little notice? Since the 49ers have played only two winning teams, they keep churning out victories that don't get much attention. This should be No. 11, but then things get interesting with Kansas City, Minnesota and Denver up the next three weekes.

Bucs at Bears: The Bucs should clinch their first winning season since 1982 with a victory. They play the Bears in the season finale, so they should be heading for at least a 10-victory season after all those years of losing 10 or more. Trent Dilfer has 18 touchdown passes for the Bucs after getting 17 in his first three years.

Cardinals at Ravens: This should be another good game for pizza lovers. The Ravens are playing another team with a bad offensive line and a young quarterback, Jake Plummer, who has been sacked 17 times the past two games. Another key duel will feature Cardinals defensive end Simeon Rice and Ravens offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, the third and fourth players picked, respectively, in the 1996 draft.

Panthers at Rams: The Panthers have fallen quickly after their storybook season, but they figure to reach .500 against the hapless Rams, who finally released Lawrence Phillips. The Phillips saga is one more warning to NFL scouts that character counts.

Colts at Lions: The Colts proved last week that it's difficult to lose them all, beating the defending Super Bowl champion for the third straight year. But Indianapolis figures to go back to its losing ways against an energized Detroit team that routed the Vikings last week. Paul Justin has won the Colts' quarterback job from Jim Harbaugh.

Saints at Falcons: The Falcons, who won the first game, 23-17, get a chance to sweep. Saints coach Mike Ditka is starting Doug Nussmeier at quarterback after finally deciding that Heath Shuler isn't going to get it done. Ditka has somehow squeezed four wins out of this team.

Jaguars at Bengals: The Jaguars, who beat Cincinnati, 21-13, at home in October, are favored to sweep the Bengals. Cincinnati coach Bruce Coslet is so frustrated that he's benching Jeff Blake for Boomer Esiason. That's a popular move with the fans, but Esiason may not have much left, and it raises the question of whether Blake will ever be the quarterback the Bengals thought he would.

Vito Stellino's power rankings

1. San Francisco: Already NFC West champions.

2. Denver: Elway scored too soon last week.

3. Green Bay: Finally gets Dallas at Lambeau Field.

4. Minnesota: Hopes to start a new win streak against Jets.

L 5. Pittsburgh: How many times will the Steelers sack Hoying?

6. Jacksonville: Tuning up for the Ravens' invasion next week.

7. Dallas: Are the Cowboys ready for the frozen tundra?

8. Tampa Bay: Bucs are no longer losers.

9. N.Y. Giants: Old rivalry gets new life.

10. Washington: See above.

11. N.Y. Jets: O'Donnell gets one more chance.

12. Kansas City: Gannon played well at right time.

13. Miami: Marino vs. Bledsoe is a battle of generations.

14. New England: Not the same without Parcells.

15. Seattle: How could the Seahawks lose to the Saints?

16. Carolina: The Panthers were one-year wonders.

17 Philadelphia: Hoying may solve the Eagles' QB problems.

18. Buffalo: Shooting for .500 mark in Memphis.

19. Tennessee: See above.

20. Detroit: Should move up to .500 against Colts.

21. Ravens: Pizza lovers' delight: Ravens D vs. Plummer.

22. Oakland: For one game, Raiders seemed to be for real.

23. San Diego: Latest fodder for the 49ers.

24. Cincinnati: Can Boomer revive the Bengals?

25. New Orleans: How did the Saints win four games?

26. Arizona: Why haven't the Cardinals won more than two games?

L 27. Atlanta: Going for two straight after victory over Rams.

28. St. Louis: Drafting Phillips wasn't a good idea.

29. Chicago: Gaining ground in Manning derby.

30. Indianapolis: Colts proved you can't lose them all.

Pub Date: 11/21/97

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