The 1989 Cardiac Pack - A Truly "Majikal" Season
I was racking my brain trying to determine which was my favorite Packer team. The rise to the elite level of 1995 was a top choice. The great 1996 Super Bowl champion team was certainly another obvious choice. The 2003 team which dominated the second half of the season only to see it all end after the nightmarish "4th and 26" followed by an ill times Favre OT pick in Philly was up there as well.
But "after further review" I concluded that the 1989 Packers were and are my favorite Packer team of all time. I still refer to them as, "The Packer team from the island of misfit players."
At that time I was a college student and living in central Illinois and attending Bradley University. I rarely got to see the Packers play, but I had a feeling that the '89 season would be a "long strange trip" the moment the Packers selected OT Tony "The Incredible Bulk" Mandarich in the first round.
I also had a feeling that they should have drafted another guy—perhaps Barry Sanders, or maybe a cocky kid named Deion. Maybe even a dominant pass rusher named Derrick Thomas. But hey, this kid Mandarich was 310 lbs and ran a 4.8 40. He was a "can't miss" blue chipper! (I thought)
When the schedule was released I also was scratching my head. The Packers played the (at that time) lowly Dallas Cowboys twice in the same regular season. I smiled and thought that with a lowly rookie QB in Troy Aikman and a cocky college coach I despised in Jimmy Johnson, the Cowboys weren't going anywhere!
Yeah, Hershel Walker was good, but that was all they had! Little did I know the impact Hershel would have on the season. In fact, by the time the season was over, the Packers would face Walker three times and have Walker be instrumental in ruining my Christmas!
I also noticed that my Packers played only two AFC teams all season—the Chiefs and Dolphins—while our rival Vikings played the entire tough AFC Central. The Bears worried me as the Packers had not beaten them in five years and Commander Ditka was still large and in charge! And those Lions had that little rookie RB Barry sanders whom I thought had a chance to be a decent player.
So with all that intrigue, I prepared for the season. In the days before NFL Sunday Ticket, the NFL network, and even before internet, I got to see Bears games. Period.
So, on Sundays I would get some food, a six pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon and hop into my Camaro and drive somehwere out in the country outside Peoria and try to find a spot where I could listen to WTMJ620 and make our Max and Jim's call of the games through the static. And for the next three hours, there I would sit.
I did not have real high hopes for the season. Though the Packers did have talent—Tim Harris, Sterling Sharpe, and Ken Ruettgers to name a few—the roster was also packed with the likes of Blaise Winter, Tiger Greene, Van jakes, and Michael Haddix. But, in young QB Don Majkowski, young RB Brent Fullwood, and the "cream of the rookie crop" Tony Mandarich, there was light at the end of the tunnel.
Then the Mandarich soap opera started the season off on the wrong foot. One day he went on TV and said he wanted to fight Mike Tyson. The next day he was on TV calling Green Bay a "village."
By the time he ended his holdout and signed the biggest contract ever given to an offensive lineman, he came in out of shape. Oh Boy!
What transpired, however, over the next 16 weeks was the single most exciting season in Packer history. Turnovers doomed the Packers to a close but rough loss at home week one 23-21 to the lowly Bucs. Not a great way to start.
Week two, however, set in motion the "Cardiac Pack."
Down 24-7, Don "The Majikman" Majkowski, led a furious comeback and when it was over a spectacular 35-34 win. Before I could even catch my breath, the next Sunday the Packers gave up 38 first half points and were getting kicked 38-7. Game over? Hardly.
By the time the final gun sounded Majikman again had led a furious rally and nearly pulled out an incredible comeback, losing 41-38.
At that point I started buying Tums in bulk quantity for the games. And I sure needed them in week four as Majikman AGAIN found himself down 21-6 in the fourth quarter and AGAIN lad a furious rally to win 23-21. I thought I may have to trade Tums for blood pressure medication.
I was also glad that out in the country in my Camaro listening to Max and Jim through the static, nobody could hear my curses, and screams of excitement during these gut wrenching games!
Fortunately, the next week Majik rolled up over 500 yards of offense and we battered the Cowboys 31-13. We would not have to face Hershel Walker again until Christmas Eve. ( I thought)
The hated Vikings thumped the Pack the following week at the Humpty Dome.This was the debut of Hershel Walker as a Viking vs the Packers. Walker had a long KO return that really turned the game in the Vikes favor. That was now twice we faced Hershel Walker, and had yet a third meeting vs him the Sunday after Thanksgiving!
That was followed by another road loss at Miami in which Majikman once again rallied from down 14 in the fourth quarter and nearly stole a victory.
"If only this team played decent in the first half, we may have a chance!" I thought after this game.
Majkowski singlehandedly led a scintillating overtime win at home vs Lions to even the midseason record at 4-4. Six of those first eight games had been decided by three points or less. The only thing higher than my blood pressure, was the level of acid in my stomach.
As crazy as all this had been, it was a miracle that none of those games had been altered by this new experimental "instant replay" thing. But that was about to change and "instant replay" was about to become a part of permanent NFL History.
I was so happy that the Bears were coming to Lambeau the next week! I could give the Camaro a Sunday rest and actually watch the game on TV. I wasn't fazed that the Bears had beaten the Packers five straight games. I wasn't bothered that I'd be watching the game in enemy territory with a dozen die hard Bears fans. With Majikman's heroics, I though we had a chance!
After Majikman hit the world reknown Clint Didier with an early first quarter TD pass, the Pack had an early lead. However, after that the vaunted Ditka defense held us scoreless.
Three times Majikman had us driving deep into Bears territory in the fourth quarter only to throw two picks and lose a fumble. But the maligned Packer defense had played well. And with time for one last desperation drive...well..."the rest of the story."
Down to his last play, Majikman took the snap. In a play that seemed to last an eternity, and very reminiscent of Paul Crew's final play in the original "Longest Yard," Majikman scrambled left, then scrambled right, then headed towards the right sideline and just as he was about to either get hit, step out of bounds, or maybe...maybe not...step over the line of scrimmage, he fired a laser beam that Sterling Sharpe cradled for the tying TD.
I screamed in ecstasy! I jumped and did 10 pullups. Then that dastardly flag. The dozen Bear fans started screaming and "high fiving." My heart and head sunk. I slowly walked to the refrigerator and opened a Pabst Blue Ribbon. For the next millenium, (it seemed) I had to listen to the Bear fans all nod their heads up and down and all exclaim, "not even close, he was way over the line." I said nothing.
When the zebra finally emerged and walked to the middle of the field, I had aged 10 years. And then the words that to this day still bring a smile to Pack fans faces—and a look of rage to Bears fans faces, "After further review..." You know the rest!
The Packers were actually 5-4. Was there any way this season could get any more exciting?
The following week the Packers self destructed in Detroit. Despite outgaining the Lions 432-128, four turnovers told the tale. While a young RB named Sanders had a couple important runs, "The Incredible Bulk" sat on the bench humming Guns and Roses songs.
I wasn't optimistic as the Pack headed to San Francisco to play the NFL's best team, the 49ers, led by legendary Joe Montana. The 49ers were 9-1. They had won their last five games by an average margin of 20+ points. They had just clobbered the Falcons 45-3 the previous week.
After playing the Packers, the 49ers would not lose another game all season, including the Super Bowl. But they would lose this day. A resilient Packer defense led by Tim Harris gave up lots of yards, but forced four turnovers. The frustrated 49ers also incurred 10 yellow flags compared to the usual turnover and penalty prone Packers who had only one turnover and three minor penalties.
When Majikman courageously plowed eight yards on a QB draw in fourth quarter, the Packers led. The defense held the vaunted 49ers offense to a late field goal but no touchdown, and the Packers were victorious 21-17. At 6-5, the Packers were in the thick of the playoff race!
Majikman's legend continued to grow as he engineered a heart stopping 20-19 win at home against the Vikings that put the Packers squarely in the race for the NFC Central crown. This was the third time that season the Packers faced Hershel Walker.
The following week on the road, Majkowski hit Sharpe for a 55 yard bomb for a fourth quarter TD and spark a rally that ended with Chris Jacke nailing a 47 yard FG on the game's last play to cement this team as the "Cardiac Pack."
After a tired Packer team was steamrolled in Kansas City, the Packers headed to Soldier Field. This was my first game I attended at Soldier Field. I will save this story for another article, but I will say by the time the final gun sounded, Majkowski had again stymied the bears 40-28.
I was covered in beer and had "spit loogies" in my frozen hair thanks to the ever hospitable Bears fans. Could the Packers really finish this improbable run to a division crown?
After dispatching the Cowboys for a second time in Irving on Christmas Eve, the packers were 10-6. These days that would nearly always earn a playoff berth!
But not in 1989. On Christmas Night, those hated Vikings hosted the Cincinnati Bengals led by Boomer Esiason. I had opened my gifts. I had eaten way too much turkey and felt bloated. But if only the Bengals could win, there would be playoff football at Lambeau Field!
The Vikings jumped to a 19-0 lead and it looked pretty bleak. Bengals turned it over five times and that darn Hershel Walker had a few good plays at key times. Just when I thought Santa had not delivered what I asked for, the Bengal's rallied. Suddenly it was only 22-21 Vikings. Suddenly Esiason looked like the Pro Bowl QB he usually was. Could it happen? The final crazy comeback to propel the Packers into the playoffs?
Nope. A couple close calls went the Vikings way, including a near fumble by none other than Hershel Walker. When the Vikings punched it in the end zone late, they held on for a 29-21 win. Merry Christmas!
As it has now been 20 years since that crazy season. I still remember like it was yesterday.
Majkowski would finish second in MVP voting. He would lead the league in passing yards and in touchdowns. By the second half of the following 1990 season, the Packers would be cellar dwellers again.
Within three seasons of 1989, both Majkowski and Tony "The Incredible Bust" Mandarich would be shown the door in Green Bay by a new GM Ron Wolf. A new coach was introduced in Mike Holmgren, and a new upstart quarterback wearing No. 4 came into the fray. What's his name?
1989 is my favorite Packer team. A group of misfits that had us fans on the edge of our seat for 16 weeks!
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