If you like to witness historical moments, and changing of the guards in particular, then you probably really dug the 1997 NFC Championship game.

In case you forgot …

That was the one that pitted an aging Steve Young and his San Francisco 49ers against a prime-time Brett Favre and his Green Bay Packers.

(The dates on these things are tricky, as the championship game played in January corresponds to the season played in the previous calendar year. Here, I’m talking about Niners v. Packers after the 1997 season, played early in 1998.)

Actually, they were the defending Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers, but this still lined up as an epic battle, and Young wasn’t quite ready to concede the field to any young buck.

As it turned out, this was a fairly blah game, with the Packers scoring a relatively easy victory to set up a rendezvous with John Elway and the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXXII.

Still, there were plenty of good stories that went into the Pack’s 23-10 win … and is there any better way to tell a gridiron story than with some football cards?


Here, then, are the 10 football cards that defined the 1997 NFC Championship game.

1998 Upper Deck Ryan Longwell Rookie Card (#83)

1998 Upper Deck Ryan Longwell Rookie Card

Longwell “defined” this game in a very tangible way, as he scored 11 of the Packers 23 points, courtesy of three field goals and a couple of extra points.

Now, the FGs were fairly mundane, landing at 19, 25, and 43 yards, but still … he hit them.

And missed another, but whatever.

The Packers probably would have won this game without him unless he kidnapped Brett Favre or something, but the fact is, they did win with Longwell and his leg.

This rookie card aptly captures him in Green Bay Green and Gold.

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1997 Topps Brett Favre (#1)

1997 Topps Brett Favre

Yeah, this was one of the guys who truly defined this game and the Packers … and the NFL itself, for a couple of decades there.

Even though Favre threw for “just” 3867 yards in 1997, he led the NFL with 36 touchdowns and the Packers to an NFC Central title at 13-3.

He was already well down the road toward the Hall of Fame when he stepped on the field in San Francisco this January day in 1998, and he didn’t hurt his case any by tossing a touchdown and helping set up Longwell.

This 1997 Topps card shows Favre doing what he did best — keeping us all on edge as he decided whether to throw or run for it.

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1994 Bowman Dorsey Levens Rookie Card (#372)

1994 Bowman Dorsey Levens Rookie Card

The Pack scored two touchdowns in this NFC Championship game against San Fran.

The first came on a 27-yard pass from Favre to Antonio Freeman.

The second came on a 5-yard Dorsey Levens run in the fourth quarter that essentially put the game out of reach for the Niners.

Levens wasn’t a one-hit wonder, either, as he pounded San Francisco all game long, eventually racking up 114 yards on 27 carries and another 27 yards on four catches.

And it wasn’t just this game …

The Packers’ fifth-round pick in the 1994 NFL Draft was coming off a career year that featured an eye-popping 1435 yards on the ground and another 370 on 53 receptions.

Levens’ 1994 Bowman rookie card shows the young man ready for game action of some sort, and you just know the ball is bound to end up in his hands.

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1998 Topps Gary Anderson (#32)

1998 Topps Gary Anderson

Anderson was Longwell’s worthy counterpart on the Niners, scaled down almost exactly to match his team’s scoring output.

To wit, Longwell put up 48% of his team’s points, while Anderson accounted for 40% of San Francisco’s scoring (1 FG, 1 XP).

So, OK, they were eight percent apart, but still …

Lots of kicker scoring in this one.

Of course, Anderson was no stranger to scoring, connecting on 538 field goals and 820 extra points over a 23-year career that spanned three decades and five franchises.

He spent just 1997 with the 49ers, though, so this 1998 Topps card is a rare opportunity to catch Anderson in the Scarlet and Gold.

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1995 Fleer Ultra Antonio Freeman Rookie Card (#433)

1995 Fleer Ultra Antonio Freeman Rookie Card

Freeman was part of the three-headed offensive machine, with Favre and Levens, that drove the Packers in this game.

For his part, Freeman hauled in only four balls, but he parlayed those catches into 107 yards and a touchdown. That second-quarter score sort of set the tone for the rest of the game.

During the regular season, Freeman had put up his first of three straight 1000-yard seasons and started building some hobby steam.

This 1995 Fleer Ultra rookie card features a young Freeman ready to scorch some poor, unsuspecting secondary.

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1997 Topps Finest Eugene Robinson (#67)

1997 Topps Finest Eugene Robinson

If you look at the final score of this game, you probably think, “Oh, San Francisco scored a touchdown and a field goal.”

And that’s right … but the TD didn’t come from the offense. More on that in a minute.

The real movers and shakers in this game were the Green Bay defense, who held a normally potent San Francisco offense to just 257 total yards and that single 3-pointer.

The packers also recorded four sacks and an interception — a second-quarter doozy by free safety Eugene Robinson.

On that play, the Niners were driving into Green Bay territory, when Robinson picked Young’s pass at the 28-yard line and ran it back 58 yards … that set up Freeman’s touchdown two plays later.

Robinson was a grizzled veteran by this point, wrapping up his second and final season in Green Bay after 11 with the Seattle Seahawks.

This Finest card gives you a glimpse of the man who was a respected team leader but fell from grace with a late-night indiscretion before the Super Bowl with the Atlanta Falcons in January 1999.

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1997 Pacific Philadelphia Keith McKenzie Rookie Card (#113)

1997 Pacific Philadelphia Keith McKenzie Rookie Card

Remember those four sacks I mentioned?

Yeah, defensive end Keith McKenzie recorded two of them and was a key to keeping the 49ers offense bottled up.

Interestingly, McKenzie had yet to start at game in two seasons for the Pack, and he would start only two before moving on to the Cleveland Browns in 2000.

His Pacific Philadelphia rookie card shows a bruiser in Green and Gold, ready to lay the hurt on some quarterback … maybe Steve Young!

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1996 Upper Deck Collector’s Choice Update Rookie Collection Terrell Owens Rookie Card (#59)

1996 Collectors Choice Update Rookie Collection Terrell Owens Rookie Cards

If there was a bright spot for the 49ers in this NFC Championship game, it was young wide receiver Terrell Owens, who caught six balls for 100 yards.

By then, T.O. was two seasons into what would be a Hall of Fame career, but he had yet to deliver his first 1000-yard season.

That would come in 1998, with eight more to follow.

When all was said and done, Owens had cemented a reputation as a big personality and mouth, with talent to match, mostly … and of course 153 touchdowns on nearly 16,000 yards receiving.

And that bust in Canton.

All of that keeps his rookie cards humming along with collectors, and this Upper Deck Collector’s Choice is an affordable addition to that roster.

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1998 Pacific Chuck Levy (#380)

1998 Pacific Chuck Levy

Who the heck is Chuck Levy?

I figure you might be asking yourself that question, because I sure was.

But remember how I told you the Niners managed just one touchdown in this game, and that it wasn’t of the offensive variety?

Yeah, that came courtesy of Chuck Levy, who returned a kickoff 95 yards for the score with 3:58 remaining the game.

By that point, the deal was pretty much sealed, but it at least gave the Niners a ray of hope, sometimes all they needed with Steve Young at the helm.

Technically a running back, Levy made it into 11 games for the Arizona Cardinals in 1994 before getting the NFL boot in 1995 for a violation of the league’s substance abuse policy.

He didn’t make it back to the Big Leagues until 1997, just in time to pull off some playoffs heroics for the 49ers.

In this championship game, Levy returned three kicks for 127 yards and two punts for two yards. He also got a couple of targets — both incomplete — from Young late in the fourth quarter.

Levy doesn’t have many cards, but this 1998 Pacific issue shows him carrying the rock for San Francisco.

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1997 Pinnacle Steve Young (#4)

1997 Pinnacle Steve Young

So, you really can’t tell the story of any 49ers team from the 1990s without including Steve Young.

An all-time great, Young stepped right into Joe Montana‘s shoes — probably even knocked him out of his shoes — to keep the Niners’ offensive machine cruising along near the top of the league.

In 1997, that amounted to 3000+ yards and 19 TDs against just 6 INTs, leading San Fran to a division title (NFC West) at 13-3.

The 49ers put up 38 points in a divisional round victory over the Minnesota Vikings, but then ran into a stout Packers defense here in the championship game.

By that point, Young was not so young at 36, and he found the going tough in this game — though he managed 250 yards passing, he also tossed a costly pick (to Robinson — see above) and landed on his back four times.

This 1997 Pinnacle card perhaps portended tough times ahead, showing as it does a scrambling, helmetless Young looking a bit concerned.

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