So which Green Bay Packers Super Bowl championship team is better, Mike Holmgren’s heroes of 1996 or Mike McCarthy’s marauders of 2010?
The easy answer, based solely on statistics, would favor the 1996 team that ranked No. 1 on offense and defense in the NFL and produced a flashy 16-3 record.
But the current Packers championship team (14-6) can’t be dismissed so easily. It produced more total yards and sacks than the 1996 team and committed fewer penalties and turnovers. Plus it traveled a much more difficult playoff road and still came away with the Lombardi Trophy.
Both teams possessed remarkable similarities:
• They featured fifth-year head coaches with similar credentials. Holmgren (51-29) was slightly better than McCarthy (48-32) during the regular season, but McCarthy held an edge in post-season winning percentage (.714 to .700).
• They both had 58-year-old general managers — Ron Wolf and Ted Thompson — that served as the architects of their title teams. Wolf built the Packers from the ground up in the 1990s, and one of his key hires was Thompson, who 14 years later would follow in his mentor’s footsteps on the way to Super Bowl glory.
• They both featured elite quarterbacks – Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers – who led their teams to titles in their sixth NFL seasons at age 27. Both Favre and Rodgers were acquired by the Packers with first-round draft choices.
• They both signed big-name free agents – Reggie White and Charles Woodson – that served as dynamic playmakers on defense.
• They both overcame significant injuries. The ’96 team lost Robert Brooks, Ken Ruettgers and George Koonce. The 2010 team suffered even more damage with the loss of starters Jermichael Finley, Nick Barnett, Ryan Grant, Mark Tauscher, Morgan Burnett and Brad Jones.
So which team would win a head-to-head matchup?
Who better to answer that question than Edgar Bennett, the Packers’ starting halfback in 1996 who served as the 2010 running backs coach.
“It doesn’t matter,” Bennett said with a smile. “It’s about bringing that trophy home and putting another ring on your finger.”
It’s hard to blame Bennett for not addressing the question. My position-by-position analysis didn’t produce a more conclusive answer, with both teams deadlocked in a 4-4-1 stalemate (* indicates which team gets the edge):
* 1996: Brett Favre.
* 2010: Aaron Rodgers.
Analysis: This is a dead heat with Favre winning NFL regular-season MVP honors and Rodgers earning Super Bowl MVP accolades. Rodgers had a better passer rating (101.2 to 95.8) and completion percentage (65.7 to 59.9) but Favre threw more touchdown passes (39 to 28). Surprisingly, their interception percentage was almost identical (2.4% for Favre, 2.3% for Rodgers).
1996: Antonio Freeman, Robert Brooks, Andre Rison, Don Beebe.
* 2010: Greg Jennings, Donald Driver, James Jones, Jordy Nelson.
Analysis: The ’96 receivers were ravaged by injuries, with Brooks lost for the year in mid-season and Freeman missing a chunk of time. Freeman was the leading receiver with just 56 catches and Wolf saved the day with the late-season pickup of Rison in time for their Super Bowl run. The 2010 receivers corps was the deepest the Packers have seen in a long time.
* 1996: Edgar Bennett, Dorsey Levens, William Henderson.
2010: Ryan Grant, James Starks, John Kuhn.
Analysis: After Grant went down for the season in Week 1 the Packers scrambled to find a go-to runner and didn’t find one until the playoffs with Starks, a rookie. In ’96, Bennett and Levens formed a solid, consistent 1-2 tandem at halfback and Henderson was steady at fullback.
1996: Bruce Wilkerson, Aaron Taylor, Frank Winters, Adam Timmerman, Earl Dotson.
* 2010: Chad Clifton, Daryn Colledge, Scott Wells, Josh Sitton, Bryan Bulaga.
Analysis: It’s a wonder the Packers won the Super Bowl in ’96 after playing a dangerous game of left-tackle-by-committee, alternating John Michels, Gary Brown and finally Bruce Wilkerson when Ruettgers was forced to retire. Favre amazingly stayed healthy despite the revolving door at the most crucial position. In 2010, veteran left tackle Clifton was as steady as it gets, Sitton was a rock at right guard and rookie right tackle Bulaga grew into the job.
*1996: Mark Chmura, Keith Jackson.
2010: Jermichael Finley, Andrew Quarless.
Analysis: This wasn’t close, especially when Finley went down for the season early in the year. The Packers may never boast two better tight ends on the same team than Chmura and Jackson.
*1996: Reggie White, Gilbert Brown, Santana Dotson, Sean Jones.
2010: Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji, Cullen Jenkins.
Analysis: The Packers boasted the No. 1 defense in the NFL in ’96 thanks in large part to the always-dangerous White and his line mates. The 2010 line was no slouch but didn’t quite rise to the ’96 standard.
1996: Brian Williams, George Koonce, Wayne Simmons.
* 2010: Clay Matthews, A.J. Hawk, Desmond Bishop, Frank Zombo.
Analysis: Matthews sets the 2010 unit apart, but Hawk and Bishop held their own and even Zombo, a street free agent, contributed to the cause. The ’96 unit was steady but there were no Pro Bowlers in the bunch.
1996: Craig Newsome, Doug Evans, Tyrone Williams, LeRoy Butler, Eugene Robinson.
* 2010: Charles Woodson, Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, Charlie Peprah, Nick Collins.
Analysis: There was nothing wrong with Newsome and Evans, but Woodson and Tramon Williams were better. LeRoy Butler has been the Packers’ best safety in some time, but Collins is a three-time Pro Bowl selection.
*1996: K Chris Jacke, P Craig Hentrich, KR/PR Desmond Howard.
2010: K Mason Crosby, P Tim Masthay, KR/PR Jordy Nelson, Tramon Williams.
Analysis: Howard changed the complexion of games with his return ability, a dimension the 2010 team simply didn’t have.