A prime-time game with NFC North title stakes is a fitting stage for the 21st and final matchup of the 2010s between the Vikings and Packers, who have produced as much intrigue during this decade as any in the rivalry's 59-year history.
It began with the Packers winning their fourth Super Bowl behind 27-year-old quarterback Aaron Rodgers, while the Vikings sorted through the wreckage of their failed 2010 season with Brett Favre and an aging roster. Green Bay followed its Super Bowl XLV victory with a stock sale to fund another upgrade to Lambeau Field; the Vikings sought public money for a stadium to replace the Metrodome, where the roof collapsed at the end of 2010. At that time, it appeared the gap between the teams could get no larger.
The decade ends with the Vikings and Packers tussling for a division title that's been in Minnesota more often than in Green Bay over the past five years. To claim their first NFC North crown since 2016 on Monday night, the Packers will have to win for the first time at U.S. Bank Stadium, the Vikings' $1.1 billion palace where Rodgers hasn't thrown for more than 213 yards and infamously broke his right collarbone on Anthony Barr's hit in 2017.
"Maybe not now with [QB] Kirk [Cousins], but [the Vikings have] had to backdoor success a little bit and say, 'We're going to build a championship-level team, not just a championship-level quarterback,' " said former Vikings linebacker Ben Leber, who's now a sideline analyst on the team's radio broadcasts. "That's the fun part about it. It's like, 'You guys can have your flashy Lamborghini in the garage, but we've got the better house.' I think that's the fun part of these story lines and these games now; they're very evenly matched when it comes to who's going to win."
The 2019 NFC North title will be the eighth by either the Packers or Vikings in this decade. Green Bay has clinched its eighth playoff appearance of the 2010s; the Vikings secured their fourth on Saturday night, passing the Lions for the second-most in the division.
During the 2010s, the Vikings and Packers have played in four stadiums, faced off in back-to-back weeks in 2012, played in front of NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell at least three times, tied twice at Lambeau Field, dueled for an NFC North title in 2015, each fired coaches within seven days of a loss to the other and packed in enough controversial moments to stoke debate for years afterward.
Before the 10th prime-time game between the teams in the 2010s on Monday, here's a look back at the oft-cinematic rivalry's biggest moments of the decade:
2010: Favre runs out of magic
Short of the Super Bowl they thought would be theirs, the Vikings had accomplished everything they wanted in 2009. Favre exacted revenge on the Packers for shipping him out in 2008, beating them twice (once with a four-TD performance at Lambeau Field) and leading the Vikings to the NFC Championship Game. The Vikings' effort to regroup for one more run in 2010 meant considerable campaigning for a Favre return, and when they came to Lambeau Field in October, they were treading water.
"That was the blanket feel about the whole 2010 season," Leber said. "We had to do so much convincing of Favre to come back, that you could almost see it in his eyes and his demeanor — all the stuff he was dealing with off the field, everything he was going through with his body at that age. It was a completely different feel walking out of that tunnel in 2010 than 2009."
The Packers hung on for a 28-24 victory as Favre's fourth-down pass sailed through Randy Moss' hands, delivering Rodgers his first win over his predecessor.
"I truly was proud, just because I'd seen all the stuff Aaron had to deal with, that he didn't bring on himself," said former Packers receiver James Jones, now an analyst for NFL Network. "He never was bad or anything to Brett Favre, and he got all this backlash for absolutely nothing. And I love Brett Favre to this day. I played with Brett Favre my rookie year. Unbelievable teammate, unbelievable person to be around. But in that moment, I remember thinking, 'I'm happy for us as a team, but I'm extremely happy for Aaron.' "
Green Bay beat the Vikings 31-3 at the Metrodome in November; the Vikings fired Brad Childress the next day.
2012: Wild finale, plus sequel
At 6-6 after a loss at Lambeau, the Vikings knew their playoff fate hinged on four consecutive victories. They had won three to get to 9-6 before a Week 17 game with the Packers at the Metrodome.
Green Bay could clinch a first-round bye with a victory; the Vikings needed it to reach the playoffs. As fullback Jerome Felton recalled, they had felt like they had already been in the postseason for a month.
"That was our mind-set the whole month: 'We're down to single-elimination; we've got to win every game from here on out," he said.
What transpired on a raucous afternoon at the Metrodome remains one of the wildest games in the rivalry's history. Rodgers threw for 365 yards and four TDs — including one to Jones late in the third quarter that was initially ruled a fumble. Coach Mike McCarthy threw a challenge flag, prompting a visceral reaction from the Vikings over an act they believed should have nullified the automatic review of a turnover. Coach Leslie Frazier tried to block referee Mike Carey's path to the replay hood, while General Manager Rick Spielman ran down a flight of stairs to the Metrodome press box in search of an explanation from an NFL official.
Meanwhile, Green Bay receiver Jordy Nelson tried to discreetly pick up McCarthy's challenge flag and stuff it in his pants, hoping officials hadn't seen the coach throw it.
"All of us [were] joking with Jordy like, 'Dude, you do know you're on TV. You're not going to sneak in and pick the flag up and no camera's going to catch you,' " Jones said.
Adrian Peterson, in his frenzied pursuit of Eric Dickerson's single-season rushing record, gained 199 yards to finish at 2,097. His final carry — a 26-yard run to set up Blair Walsh's game-winning field goal — came four plays after Christian Ponder finished perhaps the best game of his career with a 25-yard strike to Michael Jenkins on a third-and-11.
"[It was] on a play we'd literally put in for that scenario," tight end Kyle Rudolph said. "We knew they would play a certain coverage, and it was just like we drew it up in practice. Christian made an unbelievable throw down the sideline to Michael."
Walsh's kick set off the last big celebration in the Metrodome — "I'll never forget [safety] Jamarca Sanford carrying Adrian off the field," Rudolph said. "Most people probably assumed that had meant he broke the record."
By the following Tuesday, when the Vikings put in more read-option plays for Joe Webb, Felton suspected a forearm bruise would keep Ponder out of Saturday's playoff game at Lambeau. That, coupled with the challenge of returning from the emotional Week 17 win, sealed their fate in a 24-10 wild-card loss.
"I don't want to say this, but it almost felt like we won the Super Bowl [in Week 17]," Felton said. "Four straight — it's almost like a playoff run just to make the playoffs. It almost felt like that, and unfortunately, it kind of played out like that."
2015: 'Beat Green Bay'
For all the progress the Vikings had made during a 7-2 start in Mike Zimmer's second season, their winless streak against Green Bay had grown to six games since the 2012 finale — including a 30-13 defeat in November 2015 at TCF Bank Stadium that stopped their momentum.
But it didn't deplete the confidence of a team that had strutted around its locker room in "Beat Green Bay" T-shirts, and after a Packers loss to Arizona set up another Week 17 game for the NFC North title, the Vikings went into Lambeau Field confident they could knock off their nemesis.
"We felt like we'd kind of dropped the ball, but I don't think anybody wavered," Rudolph said. "We had all the confidence in the world. Now, should we? Maybe not. But we did. If we play our style of football, it's going to travel."
The Vikings gained only 242 yards, but had enough big plays — two long Adam Thielen runs and a Captain Munnerlyn 55-yard fumble return for a TD — to build a 20-3 lead late in the third quarter. That's when the Packers stormed back for two chances to tie in the final three minutes.
On the first, Xavier Rhodes intercepted a pass for Jones in the end zone. On the second, the Vikings knocked down a Hail Mary as time expired.
A month before the Vikings game, Rodgers had thrown a 61-yard pass to Richard Rodgers to stun the Lions in Detroit. He would do it again in the NFC Divisional playoffs to send the Packers' game against the Cardinals into overtime. And Rudolph remembers standing on the sideline that night, watching the final play with trepidation.
"You're at the mercy," Rudolph said, "of him."
2017-19: New rules in play
After a 2016 NFC title game trip, the Packers were 4-1 in 2017 when they came to the building where team president Mark Murphy boldly said they would play in Super Bowl LII.
One game on Oct. 15 set in motion the events that would bring the Vikings, not the Packers, within a game of the Super Bowl.
Rodgers broke his right collarbone in a play that would spark an NFL rule change after the season. It raised tensions in the rivalry, as Rodgers went on "The Conan O'Brien Show" to disparage how Barr reacted after the play and Barr responded on Twitter, and the NFL's heightened emphasis on QB safety would reverberate into the first meeting between the teams in 2018.
Green Bay got a field goal before halftime after officials flagged Eric Kendricks for driving Rodgers to the ground. With 1:45 left, Clay Matthews' roughing call nullified a Kirk Cousins interception that would have sealed a Packers win. Instead, it ended in a tie after Mason Crosby and Daniel Carlson missed three field-goal attempts in the final 15 minutes.
This year's Week 2 game swung on another new NFL rule, when officials called offensive pass interference on Dalvin Cook while reviewing Cousins' TD pass to Stefon Diggs. The Packers won the game 21-16.
"With all that happening, we still had field goals in '18 that we could've put the game away," Rudolph said. "This year, we had the ball on the 8-yard line with a chance to take the lead, and we turned it over. … I think [Monday] is going to be a close game. It's going to come down to the last 10 minutes of the fourth quarter. That's how it always is with these guys."