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walleye  
#1 Posted : Saturday, September 6, 2008 6:37:02 PM(UTC)
For only the second time in franchise history, the Packers will open up their season at Lambeau Field on Monday Night Football. That the first game of '08 comes against a chief division rival only adds to the excitement level.

Green Bay's only other season-opener at home on MNF came on Sept. 1, 1997, against the Chicago Bears when the Packers were the defending Super Bowl champions.

Now the Packers are the reigning NFC North Division champions, and host a Minnesota Vikings team that many believe will provide the biggest challenge in the division this year, on a prime-time stage no less.

"It's big for us," wide receiver Donald Driver said. "This is a rival game that we know that everyone is watching, especially on Monday Night Football. No one else is playing football but us, so we've got to show the world."

Last year the Packers won both games against the Vikings for the first time since '04, including the first shutout in the history of the series with a 34-0 win at Lambeau in November.

Since Mike McCarthy took over as head coach in 2006, the Packers have won all four games against Minnesota, and the four-game winning streak is their first since sweeping Minnesota in 1987 and '88. With a win on Monday, Green Bay would post its first five-game streak against the Vikings since 1983-85.

A storyline was added this offseason when the Packers filed tampering charges against the Vikings regarding their contact with then-retired quarterback Brett Favre. The NFL dismissed the allegations in an early August ruling.

"It's about the players that are on the football field playing the game," Vikings head coach Brad Childress said. "The rivalry is the rivalry. I don't think people live in a vacuum, however. It's a North Division rivalry and we're playing the champions of the North.

"Obviously it means a little bit more because anytime you can beat a division opponent you get another game up in the NFC but you also do on a divisional opponent."

The two teams have clearly been the class of the division in recent years, with either the Packers or the Vikings capturing the Central/North Division title 10 of the last 14 years.

"This is a very, very good way for us to start the season," defensive end Aaron Kampman said. "It's a great challenge and they've continued to improve, as we have, so it should be a great, great battle on Monday night."

The Vikings, who finished second in the division behind Green Bay last season with an 8-8 record, made perhaps the most notable offseason acquisition in the league, adding NFL-sack leader Jared Allen in a trade with the Kansas City Chiefs to an already formidable defense. The offense features last year's NFC-leading rusher, Pro Bowl running back Adrian Peterson.

"We're been waiting for this for a long time," defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. "This whole offseason we have been talking about this game, so we're very excited to showcase we can do. We want to be the No. 1 defense in the NFL this year, so it starts off if we can make a statement this week."

The teams also have a great deal of familiarity from facing each other twice a season, including players and coaches that have been on both sides of the rivalry. Vikings offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell spent six seasons (2000-05) on Green Bay's staff before joining Minnesota, and safety Darren Sharper (1997-2004), kicker Ryan Longwell (1997-2005) and wide receiver Robert Ferguson (2001-06) all began their careers in Green Bay.

"We know them well and they know us well," cornerback Charles Woodson said. "We know their personnel. It will be a fun game, a tough game, and it's a Monday night game. This will show how people act under the lights.

"This is the biggest and brightest during the season, the Monday night game, so we'll definitely see where we are at as a football team going into a tough season."

Green Bay benefited from a fast start in 2007, winning the first four games on their way to a 13-3 record and the division crown. With a schedule that includes six playoff teams from last season, the Packers know the importance of getting out of the gates this year with some success.

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"I stay away from saying it is a tone-setter, but I would say that we always want to start fast," Kampman said. "Every season we want to start fast. We're at home, against a rival, a divisional opponent, so those are all things you want to do well against obviously."

While admitting that he couldn't think of a better way to open up the season, quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who will be making his first career start, was one of several players who said it is a little too early to gauge how the pecking order in the division will stack up based on just one game.

"It's the first game and a lot can happen during the season," Rodgers said. "There are injuries, momentum swings. You can get on a hot streak as a team, like the Giants did last year.

"The first game is good to see where you are at individually, but it takes really six, seven, eight weeks to see how a division is going to shape up."

Even though it is only the first game of a long season, the Vikings' Allen, who will be one of a handful of players on the field experiencing the rivalry for the first time Monday night, echoed the same feelings that many Packers players expressed this week as they looked ahead to the border battle.

"I think the more emotion you can put into a game, especially from the fans' standpoint, it just makes the game that much more fun," Allen said.

"Monday Night Football is always a fun game, and when you've got these kinds of rivalries, the atmosphere always gets cranked up another level. This is why we play football as football players."
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