Jan. 26, 1997: Power and the Glory. Packers win Super Bowl XXXI.
World Champions! (Title 12 of 13)
Editor's note: This story was originally published Jan. 27, 1997.
New Orleans – The National Football League's version of David stands today as Goliath, towering above the world of professional football.
The Green Bay Packers are Super Bowl champions....
Culminating an amazing five-year rebirth under general manager Ron Wolf and coach Mike Holmgren, the Packers staggered a bit early but rebounded in vintage style to dispatch the game New England Patriots, 35-21, in Super Bowl XXXI Sunday night before 72,301 fans at the Superdome.
"I looked at the faces of my players and coaches and everyone, and I'm just overwhelmed by that," Holmgren said. "It's just a great, great sense of accomplishment.
"We've had a great season. We played a tough schedule. We battled through some injuries. How we compare with other teams, I'm not sure I care."
It was the 13th consecutive victory for the representative of the National Football Conference in the Super Bowl and the 12th league championship for the franchise from the NFL's smallest city.
From the depths of 4-12 in 1991, the Wolf-Holmgren managerial team improved the franchise incrementally season by season until there were no more mountains to climb, just the club's first Super Bowl crown in 29 years to cherish.
"The Packers are a great story," Wolf said. "The tradition. The best stadium in the league. The best fans in the league. I believe we do it as well as anyone in the league. We have an identification now."
As a relatively young team with the majority of their standout players under contract for at least one more year, the Packers likely can look forward to being an NFL power broker for the rest of the century.
"Oh, my goodness," Holmgren said when the possibility of a dynasty was broached to him during his understated news conference. "A dynasty in this day and age, I'm not sure if anyone could ever match what that team (the Packers of the 1960s) did.
"But if we can keep our core players together and stay unselfish, maybe we can make a run at it."
By no means was this a dominating effort by the Packers, who had been little short of awesome in blowing out their last seven opponents by a combined margin of 227-72. But after a lull late in the first quarter, when the Patriots pushed across two touchdowns in a span of 3 1/2 minutes for a 14-10 lead, it basically was all Green Bay.
"We never had a doubt that we would win this ball game," said Brett Favre, the Packers' most indispensable component.
Once again, the Packers demonstrated that they are a complete, balanced team, perhaps the distinguishing mark of their championship season.
On offense, Favre passed for 246 yards and touchdowns measuring 54 yards to Andre Rison and a Super Bowl-record 81 yards to Antonio Freeman.
After averaging 152.2 yards rushing in the last six games, the Packers found themselves overwhelmed early by the Patriots' speedy corps of linebackers and a respectable defensive line. But as the game wore on, the Packers' offensive line regained their equilibrium, helping Dorsey Levens gain 61 of their 115 yards on the ground.
On defense, the Packers tackled poorly early, which led to the Patriots' first two scores. New England's Drew Bledsoe threw effectively off some wonderful play-action fakes. Patriots wide receiver Terry Glenn was very good, and powerful Ben Coates turned in the most yards by a tight end against the Packers all year with 67 on six catches.
But once again, Green Bay's defense wouldn't be denied.
The Patriots finished with just 257 yards, only 43 rushing in a strange game plan that really didn't even test the Packers on the ground and led to 25 minutes 45 seconds of possession time.
Bledsoe was intercepted four times.
And, on special teams, the Packers thwarted little Dave Meggett while thrusting Desmond Howard into the national limelight.
"Both teams pressured the quarterbacks fairly well," Patriots coach Bill Parcells said. "The difference was special teams. That was the worst we've been outplayed this year."
Howard became the first special-teams player to be named the Super Bowl's most valuable player after he returned four kickoffs for 154 yards and six punts for 90 yards.
"He's as good at what he does as anyone in the league," Wolf said of Howard, his $300,000 free-agent gem who wasn't added to the roster until July 11.
After a 13-3 regular season, the Packers won three games in the playoffs to finish 16-3. With Parcells likely coaching his final game with New England, the Patriots ended at 13-6.
Rison, another one of Wolf's gambles that paid off handsomely, spun cornerback Otis Smith around like a top on the game's second play and turned the move into a 54-yard touchdown pass.
Two plays later, Doug Evans cut in front of Glenn on a sideline route and made a great juggling interception at the New England 28. The Patriots held, and Chris Jacke kicked a 37-yard field goal.
Then the momentum swung completely to New England for the remainder of the first quarter. Keith Byars rambled 32 yards on a screen pass, then Curtis Martin gained 20 on a swing pass.
Green Bay was in good position to escape with only a field goal a few plays later, but Craig Newsome was penalized 26 yards for pass interference on a third-and-10 bomb from Bledsoe to Glenn at the Green Bay 1. The touchdown came on the next play, when Bledsoe passed to Byars off another run fake.
Favre, unsettled and a little discombobulated in the pocket early, was nearly intercepted by nickel back Mike McGruder on third down, and the Packers had to punt.
Back came the Patriots to take the lead, with Parcells taking a gamble on third and 1. But his surprising call worked when Bledsoe's play-action pass to Glenn was good for 44 yards to the Green Bay 4, leading to another score.
"That was the best play fake I've ever seen," Packers safety LeRoy Butler said. "They're a great team and had a great game plan. It took the leaders on our team to keep it going. We didn't give up any big plays in the second half, and that was the key."
The Patriots' 14-10 lead stood as the Packers went three-and-out on their next two possessions. Favre had Rison open deep behind Smith but threw a terrible pass that fell incomplete. Tedy Bruschi beat guard Adam Timmerman up the field for a sack. A third-and-6 slant pass for Rison was thrown high and incomplete.
But then, as the second quarter dawned, the Packers regained control.
It started when the Patriots tried to cover Freeman with safety Lawyer Milloy in press coverage at the line, Milloy missed the jam and Favre hit the wide-open Freeman for an 81-yard touchdown, the longest pass in Super Bowl history.
It continued with enormous plays by the defense, including a one-armed sack by Butler on third down and Mike Prior's interception.
And it ended with drives measuring 33 and 74 yards that produced 10 points and a 27-14 lead at halftime.
The Packers misfired on their first possession of the second half, when middle linebacker Ted Johnson swooped through to tackle Dorsey Levens for a loss of 7 yards on fourth and 1 at the New England 37.
Then, midway in the third quarter, the Patriots covered 53 yards on seven plays to close to within 27-21. The touchdown came on Martin's 18-yard run through the heart of the Green Bay defense.
Adam Vinatieri's ensuing kick traveled end over end to Howard at the 1. A few seconds later, Howard was prancing and dancing in the end zone, a hero for the Packers with a 99-yard touchdown return and the killer for the Patriots.
It was the first time in NFL playoff history that a player had returned both a punt and a kickoff for touchdowns in the same season. It was the first touchdown on a kickoff return of his five-year NFL career and followed five touchdowns on punt returns: One in the exhibition season, three in the regular season and one against San Francisco in the divisional playoffs.
The rest, as they say, was academic.
"I think it's time the Lombardi Trophy goes back to Lambeau Field," Packers President Bob Harlan said, making the acceptance from Commissioner Paul Tagliabue, "where it belongs."
Packers' championship titles
1. Dec. 8, 1929: The Green Bay Packers' first league title
2. Dec. 14, 1930: Tie clinches second straight championship
3. Nov. 29, 1931: Punter/halfback Verne Lewellen helps secure third title
4. Dec. 13, 1936: Green Bay's first championship decided by a post-season game
5. Dec. 10, 1939: Fifth title dubbed the Dairy Bowl
6. Dec. 17, 1944: The Packers' final championship under Curly Lambeau
7. Dec. 31, 1961: Vince Lombardi's first NFL title
8. Dec. 30, 1962: Packers still champs as Ray Nitschke leads way
9. Jan. 2, 1966:1st of 3 straight Packers titles began with 'Mud Bowl'
10. Jan. 15, 1967: Packers beat Chiefs to win Super Bowl I
11. Jan. 14, 1968: Packers rout Raiders to repeat as Super Bowl champions