Wednesday, February 3

Super Bowl Countdown #15: Super Bowl XXXI

During the two weeks preceding the Super Bowl, I will be counting down the best Super Bowls I have witnessed in my lifetime, starting in 1988. I created a ranking system and will go game by game reliving each edition until the top Super Bowl is listed.

Brett Favre is like a kid out there. NO, he really was a kid out there for Super Bowl 30. A young, spry, braces-wearing lad of 27 was number 4 in New Orleans. Is it fitting that Favre lost what may have been his last game(or was it?) in the same building where he had his one most shining moment? Maybe it was just a coincidence. But this game was not all about Favre(thankfully), it was more about the Packers using a bronze statue toting speedster to put the game out of reach and adding a 12th title to Titletown. The Patriots were the Patriots before they were the Patriots and this game set in motion the very wheels that would churn out the Pats as we know them today. Green Bay and his Favre-ness Sanctifying the Superdome after the break.

Green Bay Packers 35, New England Patriots 21

Semi-Lame Nickname: "Return to Glory"

Historical Significance- 4: Say what you will about Green Bay, but the fact that the community has ownership of the team and has been able to hang onto the franchise while the sport rose to the most popular in the country is impressive. It had been a long time since the Packers were on the precipice of title. The Patriots storyline with Parcells as I mentioned above had a profound effect on the league that still remains today.

Game Enjoyment by the Fans- 4: Looking back people are quick to say that this game was not close because of the double-digit margin of victory and that the Pats never led after the first quarter, but the game was not settled until later in the 2nd half. It was a good game with lots of big plays and fireworks on both sides of the ball.

High Profile Element- 4: Darn, Favre is inescapable, but there were other great players on this Packer team. Mike Holmgren led the team as a Bill Walsh disciple. He took over the team in '92 and had them improving and the playoffs after one year. They had a three-headed monster in the backfield with Levens, Bennett, and Henderson. Pro Bowl Center Frank Winters and guard Adam Timmerman anchored the line. In the receiving game, Antonio Freeman was Favre's number one target; also present was Andre "Bad Moon" Rison(one of the few Berman nicknames that holds up, unlike his house when Left Eye got a hold of it[too soon? RIP]) and Don Beebe who had suffered through 4 Super Bowl losses with the Bills. There was a dual threat at tight-end with Keith Jackson(whoa Nelly) and Mark Chmura before he threw a post-prom bash. The defense was beefy up front with Santana Dotson and the Minister Reggie White. Wouldn't you know Eugene Robinson was in the defensive backfield. No word on if he blew off steam before the big game like he attempted to two years later.

The Patriots were more of a Cinderella team this year. Drew Bledsoe at this time was a young gunner in the league. Not many could match him for his ability to throw the ball down the field. His choice target was a rookie by the name of Terry Glenn. Oh Terry Glen. She was the subject of much dispute in New England. She was not the choice that Parcells wanted to pick that year in the draft which led in part to the friction between Parcells and owner Robert Kraft. The defensive coordinator brought in for the 1996 season, Bill Belichick was known to be the go between for Parcells and Kraft's front office. But I digress, Ben Coates had 62 catches in 1996! The big key to the Patriots offense was the ability of Curtis Martin. Not only did Martin gain big yardage on the ground(1,152 yards), but he helped set up the play-action for the New England offense. On defense, rookie Teddy Bruschi was part of an aggressive linebacking group led by Willie McGinest. The defensive backfield featured the legal firm of Ty Law, Laywer Milloy and Big Play Willie Clay.

Venue/Atmosphere- 4: This Super Bowl was first to be played on the Fox Network marking the start of a new era on how football was presented to the masses, for better of worse. The intro to the game, while a tad cheesy, was not too bad considering Joe Namath appears to be sober and Fox apparently did not yet have the technology to construct an annoying, ridiculous black and yellow robot that can play the guitar and hit a baseball.

Luther Vandross sang the national anthem, RIP big fella(this is still my favorite Vandross moment). James Brown(RIP crazy fella), ZZ Top, and the Blues Brothers performed at halftime. Call me a purist but the Blues Brothers without John Belushi is not the real Blues Brothers. It is like the David Lee Roth Van Halen people, just never the same energy. I do not like a single piece of work James Belushi is in, except for Mr. Destiny. That movie was the bomb, hard to beat Rene Russo in her prime.

Personal Enjoyment- 2: Watching your team lose is never fun, but this was when the Pats were lovable upstarts. They were 14 point underdogs for a reason. Still, hope was sprung eternal when New England took a 14-10 lead. Just getting there is never good enough, no matter if people thought you would not be there in the first place.

Cleet's Rating Index: 18

Where I Was: Living in North Carolina, wearing my puffy blue Patriots jacket all that winter in High School I was labeled as a bandwagon fan. Considering I had the jacket since the beginning of winter in December/January when the Pats were far from a favorite to get to the game I thought this amusing. I had only been a Patriots fan for a few years though. As I had said I was a Joe Montana fan when I was a small kid. Once the Montana era ended in San Francisco I was left searching for NFL team affiliation. I returned to the area of my parents youth, New York. I was, am, and always will be a Mets fan but I failed to grasp onto the New Jersey York teams. I ventured next to the place of my birth and where I lived until I was in the first grade, Connecticut. Since it was in the New England area and the Patriots had new, snazzy(at the time) jerseys I latched onto the team. There were not winning at the time, but like I said I am a Mets fan so I had grown accustomed to my team failing by the early 90s. Little did I know that a few years later the Patriots became what they are now. I always tell people that I went from getting laughed at to spat at for being a Pats fan.

What Happened in the World: Six days earlier Bill Clinton was inaugurated to his second term. I bet he had a cigar in celebration.

Record of Note: The win extended the Packers record for NFL Championships to 12, but according to ESPN, Valdosta, Georgia is titletown, USA.

Game MVP: Desmond Howard came out of nowhere. He was picked up by the Packers after a few unspectacular seasons with the Redskins and he was picked up in the expansion draft by the Jaguars for a season. Howard set records for total return yards and combined return yards with 244. Interestingly many people do not remember him as Super Bowl MVP, but remember this instead,

LVP: Hard to pick one, but I'll go with whoever decided to put Los Del Rio in the pregame ceremony to perform Macarena.

Most Memorable Play: After the Patriots cut the lead to 7 in the 3rd quarter, but following a Curtis Martin 18 yard TD Howard returned the kickoff 99 yards to the house which put the game out of reach.

What a kid out there, removing his helmet and running to the sideline like a complete jackass after a first quarter TD pass.

NFL Fallout: Favre got his title. He said this after the game: "Thirty years from now, the kids will be getting ready for Super Bowl LXI, and NFL Films will drag out Steve Sabol -- he'll be around 102 then—and he'll talk about how Brett Favre fought through such adversity." Yep, he went third-person. The Favre saga is well documented. The Packers and Holmgren went back to the big game the next year but soon Holmgren left but number 4 was always there, until he retired and unretired then was traded and then retired again, was released, unretired, and signed with the Vikings.

The Patriots were left in disarray after the Super Bowl when Parcells did not even travel back with the team. Parcells left for the Jets with Belichick, famously saying that "If they want you to cook the dinner, at least they ought to let you shop for some of the groceries." Pete Carroll took over and went .500 but then left for USC and now Seattle while Parcells took the Jets as far as the AFC Championship game and then retired, saying he would not coach again. He wanted Belichick to take over for him with the Jets but Belichick wanted more player control so he left for the Patriots and the Kraft family(with which he had grown comfortable with) with whom he would win 3 titles. Parcells would eventually take over coaching for the Cowboys but did not ultimately mesh with Jer-ah. Finally Parcells landed in Miami as the president and now I've gone cross-eyed.

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