The pass sailed high through the Silverdome air toward Green Bay receiver Sterling Sharpe. Giving chase was Lions safety William White, who blew coverage, and cornerback Kevin Scott, who also blew coverage, and now there was one collective hope among Lions fans.
“Get out of bounds.”
“Get out of bounds!”
“GET OUT OF BOUNDS!!”
There was Sharpe, cruising along the sideline by his lonesome as the seconds ticked off the clock.
59 … 58 …
And there was the football, arching in a trajectory that seemed destined to sail past the end zone.
57 … 56 …
Except it landed safely in Sharpe’s No. 84, just inches before the out of bounds marker with 55 seconds left to signal sudden death for the Lions season.
Brett Favre celebrated like a sugar-loaded-kid who forgot his ritalin, Sharpe oddly stood still as Lions fans tossed white pom-poms at his ugly yellow helmet, and Wayne Fontes wore that gloomy, “how did I lose a game with Barry Sanders” face we saw one too many times.
“That feeling, when the ball was in the air, and you see the guy wide open in the end zone – it was one of the lowest feelings in the world,” Chris Spielman told Mitch Albom after the Lions 28-24 defeat on Jan. 8, 1994 in the NFC Wild Card round. “Your heart sinks. It’s the closest thing there is to being told someone you love has died.
“I know people won’t think its right to compare those things, but when you live and die for football, it is.”
A classic playoff game was spoiled.
It started with the electric return of Barry Sanders from a five-week knee injury to the delight of a rollicking Silverdome crowd. He dazzled with 169 yards on 27 carries. Brett Perriman was a gem, too: 10 receptions for 150 yards and a one-handed touchdown catch for the ages.
The Lions held a 17-14 lead midway through the third quarter. But that’s when Erik Kramer dropped back on a second-and-goal at the 5-yard line, looked in the direction of tight end Ty Hallock, and instead found the chest of Packers rookie safety George Teague who was a yard deep in the end zone.
Teague raced through midfield as Herman Moore desperately chased, but Moore could not get through a wall of Green Bay blockers. The damage was a 101-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave the Packers a 21-17 lead.
For all intents and purposes, it was a 14-point swing.
“I saw Herman Moore chasing him, and I wanted to go out and knock him out,” Favre said to the Orlando Sentinel. “It was one of the most beautiful things I’ve seen all year.”
No disrespect to Green Bay, but the Lions choked this one away. They had Favre on his heels. The previous week in the regular-season finale, he tossed four interceptions in the Silverdome to practically give the Lions a 30-20 victory to clinch the Central Division and the right to host the Wild Card game.
The Silverdome was his House of Horrors for the second straight week. He threw an interception for a touchdown to Lions cornerback Melvin Jenkins in the third quarter. The Lions were in his face – and in his mind. Even a banner hanging from the Silverdome’s upper deck mocked his accuracy with a bull’s-eye saying, “Hey, Favre, I’m open.”
“They were taunting me, saying they were on my butt all day. And they were,” Favre said to the Sentinel.
Yet, the Lions let him off the hook. They held distinct advantages in total yards (410-293) and first downs (25-16), but Kramer threw two interceptions – both in the end zone. They also held a sizable advantage in time of possession (35:34-24:26), but all Favre needed was a final two-minute drill.
The Packers trailed 24-21 as they reached the Lions’ 40-yard line, the clock ticking away.
Favre dropped back, and the Packers’ plan was to get out of bounds as the clock approached the 1-minute mark.
The Lions corners took away Sharpe’s square route, but he intuitively turned and ran a fade pattern. Scott let him keep going, White misread the play, and Favre turned and threw across his body for a 40-yard touchdown pass that will forever sting Lions fans.
“Green Bay said when they got beat here (the week before), they said the best team didn’t win that Sunday,” Fontes said to ESPN. “I feel the same way today. I don’t feel the best team won today.”