Ryan Longwell, in addition to having one of the greatest names a kicker could have, also had a very nice NFL career — kicking nine seasons for the Packers before joining the Vikings for the final six. It gives him one of the best perspectives on the Vikings/Packers rivalry that I can imagine. As such, I chatted with Longwell — who last played for the Vikings in 2011 and now lives in Florida — this week. The highlights will be published Sunday in print; here is the full transcript from a very good conversation:
RandBall; You were on both sides of this rivalry. What did this game mean to both teams?
Ryan Longwell: The Packers/Vikings rivalry is very different from the Packers/Bears rivalry. The Packers and Bears has more of a history overtone to it, while I would equate Vikings/Packers to more like Cal/Stanford, where you really want to beat your rival. When I first got to Green Bay, we had really good teams — Mike Holmgren, Brett Favre, Reggie White. And we’d go up to the Metrodome and we could not win. It was frustrating because it was really difficult to play there. It was so loud and it was so crazy. We had a really long winning streak at home, but then Randy Moss comes in and changes everything. He just dominates what we thought was a really good team. There was the 15-1 version of the Vikings, the more dominant Packers over the years. This year, to me, feels more like 2009. We (the Vikings) had a really, really good squad. We knew we had potential, especially after the start we got off to. And there was the big Monday night game at the Dome, then going to Lambeau later in the season, both games were huge. Both teams were trying to get seeding in the playoffs and all that stuff. There really is a different vibe this year, like there was then, because it’s not one team trying to pull the upset. Both teams need this for seeding, for playoffs, for the division, for everything that goes with it.
RB: Is 2009 when the rivalry was at its best, or is that hard to say?
RL: I think so, though when I was with the Packers we won two games in 2004 in the regular season on walk-off field goals and clinched the division in the Metrodome with a field goal on Christmas Eve. But then it was, what, two weeks later when they beat us at Lambeau in the playoffs? That was a pretty good year from both sides of the equation. But my personal opinion is the peak was 2009. Two really good teams, two really good quarterbacks, the aura of everything that went on with Brett (Favre) playing his ex-team. But you also had some really big league-wide, division-wide ramifications on who won those games. You’re talking one game that swings the whole equation. That’s a big deal. That’s why this year looks a lot like that. Both teams think they should win and need the win for where they want to go.
RB: What is your favorite Vikings/Packers game that you played in?
RL: I think the best one I played in, quite honestly, was 2009 in Lambeau. That was the peak of everything you can imagine – fan base vs. fan base, record vs. record, talent vs. talent, and then you had the whole nation watching the game. Factor in Favre going back to Lambeau, the boos. Everything that went along with that game was a 10 out of 10. That was crazy. Every aspect of it was the top of the charts. Emotion was high, nerves were high. Walking off that field, with Brett and I having our arms around each other, you felt like you’d accomplished something bigger than just a ‘W.’ There was so much riding on that game. In my 15 years in the rivalry, that was the peak of everything — bigger than trying to knock off the 15-1 team, bigger than Moss and the moon game.
RB: Blair Walsh struggled in the preseason. Mason Crosby shanked a big kick last week. As a kicker, how do you move past a slump or a bad kick?
RL: I think Mason has been so steady and so good since that rough year a couple seasons ago. His big thing was staying in rhythm and not going to quick because his leg is so strong. When you see a kick like last week’s kick, from my perspective, you don’t overanalyze and think, ‘Oh man, I’m struggling and not hitting it good.’ That was just a one-off that happened at the wrong time. It wasn’t the easiest day to kick in Lambeau, the field was getting torn up and it was windy. But to hit a ball like that, it makes it easier to move past because it was such an abnormal thing. As far as Blair, he’s been so good and so steady. He just needed to do what he does best. And as much as we try to be bulletproof and be robots, you get into this league and you sign that big contract, there’s a part of you that feels like you have to prove it even more — even though the reason he got the contract is what he’d already done. He just needed to go through it and figure it out. And now he’s been doing great. They’re both really similar guys, great guys, and they both have the job in perspective in terms of how to get through it and not overanalyze things too much.
RB: The Packers are unveiling Favre’s retired number on Thanksgiving at Lambeau. What do you think that moment will be like after all that happened?
RL: I think it will be great. I really do. I was with Brett this summer when they put him in the Packers Hall of Fame. The ovation he got at Lambeau and the fact that 70,000 people showed up for him to speak and stayed there until 10:30 when his speech was over, I think time heals all. The fans appreciate everything he did for that organization and what he did over his career. I think it will be a great day and great event. Brett deserves it. He really does. He can breathe life into an organization, which is exactly what he did in Green Bay, which was down in the dumps. I’d argue he did the same thing for the Vikings in 2009, giving fans a reason to cheer. He’s infectious that way, and I think it will be a great day.
RB: Do you ever wish Favre had said ‘no thanks’ when you went and visited him in Mississippi to persuade him to play a second year with the Vikings?
RL: All day, every day. You know, I will say this. I think everything that could go wrong did go wrong that year. Between the roof caving in, the Monday Night game in Detroit, the Tuesday game in Philly, we had a coach fired, Randy Moss attacked a caterer, Brett’s stuff coming out from his time with the Jets, and then Brett’s starting streak comes to an end after he’s knocked out at TCF. I mean, it shows you how hard it is to perform in this league. You can’t just put the same pieces together and expect the same results. It almost makes you appreciate 2009 more. It was a special group and everyone played to the peak of their abilities. Having said that, and Brett would tell you this, too, that 2010 was one of, if not the biggest blessings of his career. It actually gave closure to his football career. It was absolutely, ‘I cannot play this game anymore because I’m banged up.’ It turned the page. A guy as competitive as Brett and as passionate as Brett needed a period at the end of the sentence instead of a comma. Leaving after New Orleans would have been a comma, and you just wouldn’t have known what could have been.