Jan. 20, 1997
Jan. 20, 1997

Table of Contents
Jan. 20, 1997

Faces In The Crowd


Less than three minutes remained in the NFC Championship Game on
Sunday when Green Bay Packers quarterback Brett Favre jogged
triumphantly to the sidelines, his first trip to the Super Bowl
a done deal. As 60,790 fans shook Lambeau Field to its icy core,
Favre received a wool cap, a 1996 NFC Champions hat and a bear
hug from defensive end Reggie White, whose smile could have
melted the most frozen tundra. "Congratulations, you deserve
this," Favre whispered into White's ear, and the big man lost
it. Steam rising from his head and tears running down his
cheeks, the 35-year-old, 300-pound White turned into a bundle of

This is an article from the Jan. 20, 1997 issue Original Layout

This was Favre and White's moment, but much of a
football-watching nation shared in their emotion. In a season
marred by drug suspensions, trash talk and nine coaching
casualties, the Packers restored sentiment to the game. With
their 30-13 thumping of the spunky Carolina Panthers, they
extended one of the most compelling feel-good sports stories of
recent years for another two weeks. On Jan. 26 in New Orleans,
the Packers will face the New England Patriots in Super Bowl
XXXI, and their celebration of that fact featured a glorious
blend of cheers and tears. From strong safety LeRoy Butler's
impromptu Lambeau Leap to wideout Andre Rison's chest-thumping
histrionics to Favre's silent prayer for his deceased best
friend, the Packers made the postgame festivities more dramatic
than the game itself.

An hour after the win Favre stood in the Green Bay weight room
and reflected on the Packers' first Super Bowl appearance in 29
years. "It's the biggest story in a long time, really," he said,
stroking his shaggy goatee. "We've had to overcome so many
obstacles, and I think people were moved by our quest. This team
has been kind of like potluck, a mixture of the good, the bad
and the ugly. I've done a lot of thinking, crying, cheering and
hugging over the past year, and it all began that day in Dallas."

On Jan. 14, 1996, Green Bay lost to the Dallas Cowboys 38-27 in
the NFC Championship Game. On the flight home Butler, Favre,
White and other veterans roamed the plane, discussing their pain
and making a pact with their teammates: If we ever get to this
point again, we'll do what it takes to win. On Nov. 18 Favre had
a bad flashback when the Cowboys slammed the Packers 21-6 in a
Monday-night game for their seventh consecutive victory over
Green Bay during the last four years. Redemption was supposed to
come on Sunday, but the Panthers spoiled the story line by
bouncing Dallas from the playoffs on Jan. 5. Still, the
scandal-ridden Cowboys, winners of three of the last four Super
Bowls, had a presence at Lambeau, a reality driven home during
the trophy presentation when Green Bay president Bob Harlan
referred to the Pack as "the real America's Team."

In the locker room, veteran defensive end Sean Jones took an
even more pointed swipe at Dallas, saying, "We're a humble
football team. We're not flashy. We don't have national
commercials. You don't see us on the front page of the
newspapers doing this, that and the other. I know we're not sexy
enough for everybody, but that's O.K. When you wear a Super Bowl
ring on your finger, there's a whole bunch of people who think
you're sexy."

Two days before the game against Carolina, as he talked with
several teammates and former Green Bay cornerback Vinnie Clark,
Rison had shown that the Packers are not completely lacking in
flash. Rison was waiting for a limousine to take him to the
Milwaukee Bucks' game against the Chicago Bulls, and the notion
of watching the reigning NBA champions moved him. Sipping on
Tanqueray gin, smoking an El Producto cigar and grooving to a
rap tune by Westside Connection, Rison looked at two of the
Pack's young receivers, Antonio Freeman and Derrick Mayes, and
pounded his right fist into his left palm. "Yeah, this is our
time!" he screamed. "We're gonna blow up; we've gotta lock down.
We've gotta do like the Bulls, like the Yankees--the champions
of the world. That's the level we're on. All that stuff that
happened to Emmitt Smith and Troy Aikman when they won those
Super Bowls, that's ours now. I'm thinking we smoke Carolina,
then we win the Super Bowl, 56...56 to 3. That's what dynasties
do." Rison turned up the volume on the stereo and, as animated
as Rod Tidwell in Jerry Maguire, rapped with Ice Cube, adding
his own twist: "Bow down when you come to our town. Bow down
when you're Green Bay bound."

It was that same type of behavior that Rison says caused
Jacksonville Jaguars coach Tom Coughlin to release him in
November--and it was inspirational as hell. Claimed off waivers
by the Packers in the wake of their loss in Dallas, Rison had
become more and more comfortable with his new teammates, who had
embraced him like a wayward stepbrother. Still, Green Bay coach
Mike Holmgren's jaw dropped when Butler came to him before the
game against the Panthers and said, "Coach, let Andre talk. He's
got the fire. Our young guys need to feel that."

Though Butler is a trusted leader, Holmgren was a tough sell. He
had spent the week displaying more paranoia than any play-caller
since Richard Nixon, warning his players not to go out on the
town and ordering them not to do one-on-one interviews. He and
other club officials told them not to cooperate with ESPN
because they were angered by a story the network aired last
month on the Packers and the citizens of Green Bay. Holmgren
nearly had a coronary last Friday when he read comments from
Rison ripping the Jaguars and their quarterback, Mark Brunell.
But Holmgren allowed Rison to give the pregame speech, and Rison
served up a pep talk that Butler described later as "hip-hop

First, Rison thanked his teammates for accepting him with open
arms despite his controversial reputation. Then, as Butler and
Rison recalled it, he turned nasty: "I wasn't here for the
Dallas game last year, but I hear a lot of y'all talk about the
bitter taste it left in your mouths. Well, f--- that taste. This
isn't the Super Bowl--it's bigger. There's no way we can let the
media intimidate us, telling our offense how it has to handle
the zone blitz. To hell with that. They've got to stop us. We've
got too many weapons. So let's go out there, run our offense and
kick their ass."

The Packers came out fired up, but the offense misfired. With
5:37 left in the first quarter Favre dropped to pass from his
own six and threw a short slant in the direction of wideout Don
Beebe. However, Sam Mills, Carolina's 37-year-old linebacking
wonder, stepped in for an interception and returned the ball to
the two, setting up Kerry Collins's three-yard touchdown throw
to fullback Howard Griffith.

It was the sort of break the opportunistic Panthers had craved
and the worry-wart Holmgren had feared. When Favre threw a
couple of interceptions in practice on the Wednesday before the
game, Holmgren went ballistic, screaming, "You're the league
MVP, and you're looking like a rookie out there." Favre had been
befuddled by the simulations of the Panthers' zone-blitz
packages he faced in practice and remained perplexed in the
early stages of Sunday's game. "I was overthinking," he said,
"worrying too much about what they were doing."

After Mills's interception, Carolina linebacker Lamar Lathon
said to Favre, "This is going to be a long day." Favre shrugged
and replied, "We'll see."

Favre tied the game on the first play of the second quarter with
a cotton-soft, 29-yard touchdown pass to running back Dorsey
Levens. But on the Pack's next drive, Favre fumbled while being
chased by Lathon and defensive end Mike Fox, and Lathon
recovered, setting up a 22-yard John Kasay field goal that gave
the Panthers a 10-7 lead.

Despite the single-digit temperatures and a windchill that
reached -25[degree], Carolina was hanging around. This was
precisely what Panthers cornerback Eric Davis had predicted the
day before while dining at the team hotel in Appleton. "We're
going to win the game," Davis had said. "The pressure's on them,
and if they don't blow us out early, they're in trouble. It's
like jumping into the ring with Mike Tyson in his heyday. If you
can withstand those first few minutes, you're in business."

Two things Davis hadn't counted on, however, were Favre's
resolve and Green Bay's running prowess. Edgar Bennett (25
carries for 99 yards) and Levens (10 for 88) averaged 5.3 yards
a rush. Carolina's defense had allowed 4.2 yards during the
regular season. "The whole story was them running the ball,"
Panthers cornerback Toi Cook said after the game. "I never
thought I'd see the day when they'd just run all over us."

Favre also burned Carolina through the air, completing 19 of 29
passes for 292 yards, including the six-yard touchdown toss to
Freeman 48 seconds before halftime that put Green Bay ahead for
good. On the first drive of the third quarter Favre, facing
third-and-seven from the Carolina 32, made one of those plays
only he can. As he was being tackled by linebacker Kevin Greene,
he fell forward and somehow made a two-handed chest pass to
Levens, who ran for the first down. Four plays later Chris
Jacke's 32-yard field goal put the Packers ahead by 10, but the
Panthers answered with Kasay's 23-yard field goal to cut Green
Bay's lead to 20-13. Then, just as they had in the previous
week's win over the San Francisco 49ers, the Packers slammed the
door. On the second play of the next drive Favre dumped a screen
pass to Levens (five catches, 117 yards), who busted free down
the right sideline and ran 66 yards to the Carolina four.
Bennett scooted untouched into the end zone on the next play,
and Favre could finally relax.

During dinner with friends and family last Friday, Favre
conceded he was nervous about facing the Panthers. Earlier in
the meal he had displayed remarkable looseness, at one point
mocking the Packers' pep band's hokey song selection by singing
Tie a Yellow Ribbon 'Round the Ole Oak Tree. The conversation
ceased when seven-year-old Brittany Favre clinked her water
glass with her fork and said, "A toast: Good luck to my daddy on
Sunday." Everyone gushed until Daddy deadpanned, "Hey, no more
bourbon and Coke for you."

Considering what Favre has been through in the last nine months,
the joke was especially loaded. He spent more than six weeks in
a rehabilitation clinic after going public last spring with his
addiction to the painkiller Vicodin, and in July his best
friend, Mark Haverty, was killed in a car accident for which
Favre's brother, Scott, faces a felony driving-under-the-
influence charge.

As much as Favre has lifted the Packers to greatness, Green
Bay's spiritual leader is White, an ordained minister who since
signing with the Pack as a free agent following the 1992 season
has been obsessed with reaching his first Super Bowl. Last
Thursday, Holmgren pulled White aside and told him, "Hey, you've
waited your whole life for this game, and you've talked a lot
about it. Now channel all that energy and go out and do it
because the whole team's going to be looking at you." White's
reaction? "I loved it," he said after the game. "That's what I
expect of myself, anyway." The Panthers ran away from White on
Sunday as if he were overaged cheese, and he finished with no
tackles. But as he walked off the field, he was the one cradling
the NFC championship trophy.

Later, as he left the locker room, White spotted Favre, and the
two embraced again. "Where are we going tonight?" asked the
minister. "Oh, we're going partying," replied the former rehab
patient, who was kidding. Late that night at Xtreme, Rison
entertained teammates with his off-the-cuff raps, while Butler
danced and other Packers basked in the glory. Favre and White
were nowhere to be found, but everyone in the joint knew the
party was theirs.

COLOR PHOTO: COVER PHOTOGRAPH BY AL TIELEMANS COVER Antonio Freeman and the Packers look unstoppable [Antonio Freeman catching touchdown toss during game against Carolina Panthers]COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS Levens burst to the forefront with 88 yards rushing, another 117 receiving and one score. [Dorsey Levens]COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER As White (92) tried to clear his last Super Bowl hurdle, Favre helped bury Carolina with this shovel pass. [Kerry Collins and Reggie White in game]COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS [See caption above--Brett Favre in game]COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER The Packers extended their lead after Tyrone Williams's acrobatic interception late in the first half. [Tyrone Williams in game]