And so it comes down to this: If the Vikings beat the Packers on Sunday, they're in the playoffs one year after a disastrous 3-13 season. If they lose, they'll need Chicago, Dallas and the Giants all to lose as well, or else this season becomes yet another disappointing footnote in Vikings history – a surprising six-game improvement over last year, but ultimately, a disappointment.
That Sunday's opponents are the hated rivals from one state to the east just adds to the drama sure to be on display at the Hubert H. Mall of Humphrey America Field. Not that the Vikings-Packers rivalry has been short on theatrics in recent years. Let's take a spin down memory lane and relive some great Metrodome moments in Vikings-Packers history.
2011 – Christian Ponder makes his first start and puts a scare into the undefeated Packers by hitting Michael Jenkins with a 72-yard bomb on the first play from scrimmage. The Packers recover to win 33-27. Donovan McNabb orders take-out from Nye's on the way home.
2010 – The curtain falls on the Brad Childress Era with a 31-3 defeat that wasn't as close as the final score indicated. Brett Favre conducts a memorable postgame interview with himself: "Did I do everything I could to win? Yes. Will I be glad to see Brad Childress go? Maybe. Will I text Jenn Sterger after the game? No comment. I can't believe I'd ask me that question at such a sensitive time. Am I trying to create a schism? It's possible ..."
2009 – Favre exacts revenge on the Packers franchise for not having already erected a statue of him having fun out there like a big kid outside Lambeau Field. The Vikings win 30-23 on Monday Night Football. Crowd noise threatens to tear roof off Metrodome one year before Mother Nature finishes the job.
2005 – Paul Edinger kicks a franchise-record 56-yard field goal at the gun to help the Vikings overcome a 17-0 deficit in a 23-20 victory. Somewhere in Florida, a 15-year-old Blair Walsh is just loosening up his leg.
2004 – Favre turns E.J. Henderson in circles on a game-tying touchdown pass to Donald Driver, and Ryan Longwell sends his future fans home with the worst Christmas present ever, a game-ending 29-yard field goal as the Packers win 34-31. Later that night, Santa Claus detects a haze of alcohol fumes over the metro area and bypasses the Twin Cities altogether.
1997 – The Vikings have a chance to tie the Packers for first place on a Monday night in December, but Brad Johnson wakes up with a numb right arm and Randall Cunningham can't lead the Purple back in a 27-11 loss. "Somehow," Cunningham thinks, "I will find a way to avenge this loss next year."
1995 – Vikings 27, Packers 24. Jeff Brady. T.J. Rubley. If you need more details than that, you're not really a Vikings fan, are you?
1993 – Vikings 15, Packers 13. Jim McMahon. Eric Guliford. Again, if you need more details …
1991 – Jerry Burns' tumultuous tenure as the foul-mouthed captain of the Vikings ship comes to an inglorious end with a 27-7 defeat in the season finale. And it's still not Bob Schnelker's fault.
1987 – The Packers win the first game featuring replacement players as some guy pulled out of the stands at halftime leads Green Bay to a 23-16 victory. The crowd consisted solely of the players' family members and coworkers from down at the factory, and a handful of Twins fans camping out for ALCS tickets.
1986 – Tommy Kramer throws a franchise-record six TD passes in a 42-7 win. Packers fans secretly wish they had a quarterback who could hold his booze that well.
Another chapter will be written in this storied rivalry on Sunday. Buckle up.
Patrick Donnelly is a Senior Editor at SportsData, a contributor to the 2012 Vikings Yearbook, and has covered the Vikings for FOXSportsNorth.com, Viking Update and the Associated Press. Follow him on Twitter at @donnelly612.