The 2003 Green Bay Packers will go down as my favorite team of all time. I had been a fan for 14 years as of that season, but it stuck out to me as it was full of ups, downs, and great times to be a fan of the Green and Gold.
From the reopening newly renovated stadium, spearheaded by Bob Harlan, to the long season of chasing the Minnesota Vikings and finally catching up to them in the end, the campaign provided plenty of highlights.
That 2003 season was also the first in which I got to attend a Packer game at the historic Lambeau Field, and it was also the year I was deployed to Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The '03 season opened at home with the ceremony of the first game played at the new Lambeau Field. The stadium had been transformed from the "Big Green," as I like to call it, to one of the best architecturally designed stadiums in the league. It's something that fans can now access year-round, and that helps the Packers earn more money than usual, keeping them on pace with the rest of the league.
That campaign also started the long climb towards the Packers' third consecutive NFC North Division title. The team opened against the hated Vikings and lost 25-30. Brett Favre played great if you just looked at his yardage in the game, but was mediocre as far as touchdowns-to-interceptions: He threw for just one score to four picks.
Though the Pack won their next game against the lowly Detroit Lions, they followed that up with a suprising loss to the Arizona Cardinals by a score of 13-20, leaving the team with a 1-2 record, two games behind the Vikings.
The Vikings went on to win their first six games of the season, while the Packers struggled to 3-4 with losses to the Kansas City Chiefs in overtime and the St. Louis Rams. You can probably do the math yourself, but that meant the Packers were now three games behind the Vikings for the division.
The whole team was in desperate need of the bye week to help them regroup from the hard first half of the schedule. Plus, they had to play the Vikings the Sunday after the off weekend in the Metrodome, a stadium in which Favre never really played that well.
But the Packers responded with a 30-27 victory, gaining a whole game on their rivals. After the win, GB went on a roll, winning five out of seven games, while the Vikings lost four out of their last seven. That left the two teams tied for the division with only one game remaining in the year.
After joining the Army in '01, I was more than eager to help the Iraqi people achieve freedom for the first time. I got that chance when my division received orders to deploy to Baghdad in January of '04. So, for my Christmas present, my wife bought two tickets to the Packers-Broncos game. If the Packers won and the Vikings lost to the Cardinals (that same team that had surprised the Pack earlier in the season), then Green Bay would win the NFC North and earn a trip to the Playoffs.
While Ahman Green took care of Denver for the Packers in a resounding 30-13 victory, the Cardinals won their game against the Vikes by throwing a last-second touchdown pass. The Packers had finally caught the Vikings, and the crowd erupted.
The following week, the Packers had a matchup against the Seahawks in Lambeau. It was a game that went back and forth and couldn't be decided in regulation. Going into the extra minutes with the game tied at 27, the Hawks won the coin toss, and former Packer backup Matt Hasselbeck proclaimed, "We want the ball, and we're gonna score".
They were bold words that never were validated due to an interception-return touchdown by newly acquired Packer Al Harris. It seemed Green Bay was a team of destiny.
After that game, my division flew to Kuwait. I had to watch the rest of the Playoffs in another part of the world. Just ask any Iraq war veteran, and they will tell you about the rolling blackouts in Kuwait; I just never knew it would happen during one of the most important postseason games in the history of my team.
The Packers had to go to Philadelphia to play the Divisional round. I was watching early in the morning when the defense gave up a fourth-and-forever to the Eagles, and the game went into overtime.
Favre was driving, and I was convinced the Packers were going to win when the power went out. I never got to see the end of the game.
For weeks, I heard one rumor saying that we had won and another that the Eagles had won. It was an up-and-down affair forever. I didn't know that the Eagles had won the game until we reached Baghdad and I got to see the Super Bowl.
Obviously, the Eagles had won the game, and I couldn't help but feel cheated.
Though the season ended on a bitter note, I have to pick that campaign as my favorite, seeing as how it was a roller coaster ride all year, and the team finally won the division in dramatic fashion. I will never forget the 2003-04 Green Bay Packers, my all-time favorite squad.