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After the retirement of legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi, the NFL made his name synonymous with championship teams by naming the Super Bowl trophy after him.
But in their first 24 post-Lombardi years, the Packers played like anything but a championship team, recording only five winning seasons.
In 1992, however, Green Bay started the path toward living up to its name of Titletown. General manager Ron Wolf, in his first season at that position, hired Mike Holmgren as the team's head coach and made a trade with the Atlanta Falcons for quarterback Brett Favre.
The following year, the Packers picked up Reggie White in free agency from the Philadelphia Eagles, turning them into a Super Bowl contender in the not-too-distant future.
After losing to the Dallas Cowboys in the 1993, 1994 and 1995 playoffs, the Packers had a team in 1996 that couldn't have looked any more like a sure-thing Super Bowl champion. They were the first team since the 1972 Dolphins to rank first in the NFL in points scored and points allowed and had a punt/kickoff returner in Desmond Howard who proved capable of sparking a big play at any point.
There was no way any team could stop them from winning the Super Bowl that year. And sure enough, Green Bay looked dominant from the get-go in Super Bowl XXXI against the 14-point underdog New England Patriots.
On their second play from scrimmage, the Packers' offense struck it rich on an audible from Favre. Originally planning to run a play called "322 Y Stick," the future Hall of Fame quarterback changed it to "Black 78 Razor," with wide receiver Andre Rison running a post route.
Rison took the post route to the house, catching Favre's pass for a 54-yard touchdown. On the ensuing New England possession, Drew Bledsoe threw an interception to Doug Evans.
It was the first of four interceptions thrown by Bledsoe in this game, and it set up a 37-yard field goal by Chris Jacke that put the Packers up 10-0.
At this point, it would have been easy for the Patriots to pack it in and quit the game. They were losing badly as expected, and I think it's safe to say that their head coach, Bill Parcells, didn't have his mind completely focused on the game.
The Boston Globe reported six days before the Super Bowl that Parcells was going to leave due to a dysfunctional relationship with owner Robert Kraft. According to phone records from the New Orleans Marriott hotel, he made some phone calls to Hempstead, N.Y., home of the New York Jets' headquarters.
After the game, Parcells did not fly home with the team. Five days later, he was the Jets' head coach.
This kind of distraction, and getting off to a bad start against a heavily-favored opponent, can be enough motivation to go into the tank, even in the Super Bowl. However, New England chose not to give up.
The Patriots got on the board with a six-play, 76-yard drive capped by a one-yard touchdown by Keith Byars. Then, set up in part by a 44-yard diving reception by Terry Glenn, they tood the lead with a four-yard TD pass from Bledsoe to tight end Ben Coates.
After a couple of three-and-outs, the Packers got the lead back with another big passing play in the second quarter. With New England safety Willie Clay blitzing and Green Bay in a three-wideout set, strong safety Lawyer Milloy was left to cover Antonio Freeman man-to-man.
The Packers took advantage of the mismatch with an 81-yard connection from Favre to Freeman to take a 17-14 lead. It was the longest pass completion in Super Bowl history (the record now belongs to the Carolina Panthers' Jake Delhomme to Muhsin Muhammad for 85 yards in Super Bowl XXXVIII).
Leroy Butler sacked Bledsoe on third down on the Patriots' next possession. Punter Tom Tupa booted the ball 51 yards to the left sideline, and Howard returned it to the New England 47-yard line.
The return set up a 31-yard field goal by Jacke that increased the Green Bay lead to 20-14.
Earlier in the game, Howard, who was signed by the Packers on July 11, 1996, to a one-year, $300.000 contract, gained 32 yards on a return of another 51-yard punt. The Patriots would regret the decision to kick to him later.
Set up by interception No. 2 from a pressured Bledsoe to cornerback Mike Prior, the Packers scored again on a two-yard touchdown run by Favre to go into halftime with a 27-14 lead.
In the second half, the Patriots again made a push in its upset attempt. They stuffed Green Bay running back Dorsey Levens on fourth-and-1 at the New England 38-yard line.
Then they scored a touchdown on a 28-yard run by Curtis Martin.
It seemed like, if the Patriots could keep the momentum going, they would send Parcells to New York a winner. Then they decided to kick to Desmond Howard.
Howard, in a play that will go down in Super Bowl history as the one in which special teams proved valuable enough for a kick returner to be named Most Valuable Player, returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards for the touchdown.
The Packers completed the two-point conversion with a Favre pass to tight end Mark Chmura for a 35-21 third-quarter lead. With 3:10 left in the quarter, it shouldn't have been an insurmountable lead.
But the Packers' defense made it look like a blowout, as the Patriots suffered four sacks, three punts and two interceptions and managed only one first down in its last five possessions.
Three of the Packers' four sacks came courtesy of the late Reggie White. Thanks in part to the Minister of Defense and company, Howard's touchdown return served as the last points scored in this Super Bowl.
White finished the game with three sacks. Favre left the Louisiana Superdome, not too far away from his hometown of Kiln, Miss., with 246 yards and two touchdowns on 14-of-27 passing and a rushing TD.
But Howard took home MVP honors with 154 yards off kickoff returns and 90 punt-return yards.
Most importantly, however, (the) Vince Lombardi (Trophy) returned home to Green Bay.