1996 is the season that will forever remain etched in the minds and hearts of most Green Bay Packer fans, as they finally brought a title back to Titletown, 29 years after Vince Lombardi raised the trophy that would later bear his name.
The Packers had the best scoring offense and defense in football, raced to a 13-3 regular season record, and steamrolled through the playoffs to capture their first Super Bowl trophy since Lombardi ferociously roamed the sidelines of the frozen tundra.
Reggie White finally captured that elusive championship ring, Brett Favre ran around the Superdome like a giddy 12-year-old, and all was right in PackerLand.
But 1995 was perhaps even more rewarding and enthralling as a fan, as the Green Bay Packers came of age as a championship caliber team, and set the groundwork for the dominant season that would follow.
The season was packed with memorable moments, milestones, and emerging key players that in many ways made the season even more special than the ensuing championship year.
Quarterback Brett Favre emerged as the elite quarterback he would be for much of the next decade, taking home his first of three consecutive MVP awards while amassing some staggering numbers in the process.
Favre would put up 38 touchdowns against just 13 interceptions and pass for a career-high 4,413 yards. He also posted the best passer rating of his illustrious career, with a 99.5 mark.
More than just his statistics, however, 1995 was the year that Favre finally put it all together.
From 1992-94, Favre put up big numbers, but also made fans a little queasy with his bravado throwing the ball. He was so erratic at times, that Holmgren had to be talked out of benching him early in his career.
However, beginning in his first MVP season, the spectacular plays far outnumbered plays of the head-scratching variety, and he had mostly shed his propensity to throw the occasional game away.
Favre was an absolute assassin in the mid-1990s and gave the Packers a chance against anybody in his prime.
1995 also saw Robert “Jump in the Stands” Brooks take over for superstar wide receiver Sterling Sharpe, who would never play again due to a scary spinal cord injury, and catch 102 passes for 1,497 yards.
Brooks would become famous for his Lambeau Leaps in 1995, as he found the end zone 13 times in the regular season.
After the Packers were drubbed 35-9 by Dallas in the 1994 divisional playoffs, with the offense looking lost minus their all-world flanker, it was uncertain how the offense would produce without Sharpe, a dominant player who at the time held the NFL record for receptions in a season with 112.
But Brooks, along with Mark Chmura, Edgar Bennett, and others quickly erased those concerns as the Packers displayed an explosive offense even without their stud wideout.
That offense was never more dominant than against the Chicago Bears in 1995.
At home, Favre famously tossed five touchdown passes on a severely sprained ankle to out-duel Erik Kramer and the Bears 35-28.
Favre was a game-time decision, and began to build his iron-man legacy with the gutty performance.
At Soldier Field, the Packers snuck by Chicago 27-24 on the strength of Favre's NFL-record-tying 99-yard touchdown pass to Brooks before a Monday Night Football audience.
The Packers also claimed their first outright division title since the strike-shortened 1982 season when Pittsburgh’s All-Pro receiver Yancey Thigpen muffed a lollipop touchdown toss from Neil O’Donnell in the game's closing seconds, a catch that would have given the NFC Central crown to Detroit.
(Yes, there was a time when the Lions won games and threatened to win division titles.)
Few people gave a young Green Bay team a chance to come into San Fran and knock off the Niners, but the Packers made head coach Mike Holmgren's homecoming a happy one, as cornerback Craig Newsome scooped up a fumble and took it 31 yards for a touchdown in the game's opening minutes.
The Packers would physically dominate the Niners all day, storming out to a 21-3 lead and claiming a 27-17 victory to shockingly oust the champs on their home-field.
Green Bay would be the only NFC team in the 1990s to win a divisional playoff game on the road, as they began an era of dominance over San Francisco with the win.
Though the ensuing loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys was a bitter pill to swallow (As a nine-year-old, I cried like a baby), especially considering the Packers held a 27-24 lead heading into the fourth quarter, the Packers ascent to the forefront of the NFC was undeniable.
They now had the experience along with the talent to get over the top, and nothing would stop them in 1996.
While 1995 saw the Packers fall just short of their ultimate goal, the season symbolized a giant step in their progression as a championship team.
Almost every champion suffers through the agony of defeat before emerging victorious, and the Packers were no exception.
And in retrospect, having the opportunity to watch their climb turned out to be even more rewarding than seeing them finally reach the summit.