COMMENTARY | Green Bay vs. San Francisco for NFC supremacy. Get used to it, because one of the best playoff rivalries of the 1990s is back in a big way.
San Francisco, coming off one of the most impressive wins in Super Bowl history, was the 2 seed in the 1995 NFL playoffs. Playing at home, the 49ers were supposed to handle the upstart Green Bay Packers with relative ease.
The Pack jumped out to a 21-0 lead and eventually won at Candlestick Park 27-17. It was the first of a slew of playoff match-ups between the two teams over the next half decade.
Green Bay beat the 'Niners the following year at Lambeau in the Mud Bowl 35-14, behind a powerful ground attack and the electric Desmond Howard returning punts. The Packers went on to win the Super Bowl.
During the 1997 playoffs, San Francisco had played outstanding all season and was the 1 seed. In the NFC Championship Game, they got worked by the Packers 23-10 in a year when Green Bay fell to John Elway's Broncos in the Super Bowl.
But the rivalry didn't end there. The very next year, Green Bay went to the West Coast yet again for a playoff game on Wild Card weekend. Late in the fourth quarter Brett Favre lead an 89-yard drive capped with an Antonio Freeman touchdown.
San Francisco got the ball back and Jerry Rice appeared to fumble after a catch early in the drive. He was ruled down, but replays showed he had clearly lost possession before his knee hit the ground. Replay review was not yet in effect, so the play couldn't be challenged. Until the Fail Mary, this was the play Green Bay fans pointed to as one of the biggest referee mistakes in team history.
Steve Young went on to find Terrell Owens in the end zone with the clock winding down for the game-winning touchdown. It was dubbed, 'The Catch II,' and is considered one of the greatest plays in recent NFL history.
The last time these two teams met in the postseason was the 2001 season when the Packers beat the 'Niners at Lambeau 25-15.
Some would say it wasn't much of a rivalry considering that Young-to-Owens game was the only San Francisco victory in that span, but in order to be the best in the NFC, it always seemed to be a Packers vs. 49ers game that would decide it.
We are back to that time once again.
Green Bay has one of the youngest teams in football with emerging young stars like Randall Cobb, Casey Hayward and Morgan Burnett. They already have the reigning NFL MVP at quarterback, a perennial Defense Player of the Year candidate in Clay Matthews, and the best receiving core in the NFL.
The defense is young, talented and improving.
San Francisco is the perfect foil for Green Bay with a pulverizing defense, a powerful running game and physical players all over the field. They have the best linebackers in football and it isn't close. They're finally getting dynamic plays from the quarterback position and receivers like Michael Crabtree are living up to their potential.
Not to mention Mike McCarthy, who has a Super Bowl ring, and Jim Harbaugh, who is a fumbled punt away from having one, are two of the best coaches in the NFL.
One team will win Saturday and the other will lose, but we should expect that a chance for revenge will be imminent. Neither team has shown any signs of faltering.
The 49ers came off what some called a flukey 13-3 season to win the NFC West again and secure a 2 seed. Green Bay won a Super Bowl in 2010, went 15-1 in 2011 before suffering a brutal playoff defeat, and is now back in the thick of the NFC race.
Whomever wants to be counted among the NFC favorites in 2012 and beyond will have to reckon with the Packers and/or the 49ers for at least the next five years and maybe longer.
Dynasties are hard to build with the NFL's salary cap the way it is, but the biggest threat to a Packers dynasty appears to be San Francisco and vice versa.
Instead of Young against Favre, it'll be Rodgers and his explosive offense against Willis and his dominating defense. It's the classic unstoppable force meets immovable object.
Whether or not San Francisco has enough offense will be a question moving forward, and whether or not the Packers have enough protection for their quarterback will be as well. If you're looking to build a team in the NFC, it better be good enough to stop the Packers and score against the 49ers. Right now, I'm not sure that team is out there, leaving Green Bay and San Fran to duke it out for conference supremacy.
Enjoy Saturday night, but once the game ends - and it should be a classic - don't be too down. We'll see it again soon.
Peter Bukowski lives in New York and has been covering sports since 2007. He is an award-winning television and newspaper reporter. Follow him on Twitter @BukoTime