A continuation of the Legacy of Champions series. Articles that chronicle the 13 Packer championships. If you’re just joining us, read about all the great Packer championships by clicking here.
In 1996, after 29 years removed from the biggest stage in the NFL, and following several hopeful season, the Packers finally returned to the top.
The first three games of the season, Packer fans got a taste of what was to come. In those first three games the Packers outscored their opponents 115 to 26 and looked as if they would just walk through the season.
However, in week four they experienced a rude awakening. In that week division rivals the Vikings upset the Packers 21 to 30 and placed a little doubt in the minds of the fans.
In that game, the Vikings sacked Brett seven times for -41 yards. With 4:13 remaining in the game, Minnesota broke a 37 yards run to the end zone which sealed the deal.
After the loss to the Vikings, the Packers lost just two other games. In back to back losses, the Packers fell first to the Chiefs and then to the Cowboys.
Many had predicted a Packers-Chiefs Super Bowl before the season began and November 10, 1996 certainly turned into a knock-down, drag-out fight. Green Bay was only able to pick up 75 yards on the ground while Kansas City put up 182 rush yards against a defense that would end the season #1 overall and #4 against the run. The Packers lost 20-27.
The following week the green and gold met their thorn-in-the-side, the Dallas Cowboys. With Freeman, Brooks and Chmura out due to injury, the Pack struggled to find any continuity. Brett was sacked four times and the Packer offense only put six points on the board all game long. They lost 21-6.
One of the bizarre games if the 1996 season was the October 14th overtime win against the 49ers. In addition to the heart stopping ending in which Chris Jackie drained a 53 yard field goal in overtime to win the game, Brett Favre led the team in passing with 395 yards and… in rushing with 24 yards.
Road to the Super Bowl
Divisional Round: Packers vs 49ers
Green Bay came into the game against the 49ers as 10 point underdogs. The Niners, of course, were looking to avenge their earlier loss in overtime against the Pack. The Packers jumped out to an early lead in this game as Desmond Howard returned the Niners’ first punt 71 yards for a touchdown. The second time San Francisco punted, Howard returned it to the 7 yardline and the Packers punched it into the endzone to go up 14-0. Following a Craig Newsome interception, Favre led the Packers to yet another score and put the Pack up 21-0.
The 49ers weren’t going down without a fight though. They scored the next two touchdowns, brought the score to 21-14, and Packer fans started to get anxious. The Packers settled their worries in a hurry though as they took the next drive 72 yards to pay-dirt.
In the end, the Niners went home and the Packers moved on with a 35-14 win.
Most Packer fans expected to meet the Cowboys in this game, and most were thrilled when Carolina upset Dallas and sent them packing. When the game against the Panthers started, many were not so sure any more.
Two early turnovers had Carolina ahead early 10-7. However, the Packers kept their heads, down shifted, and started that big offensive truck rolling. The Packers scored 17 points in the second quarter and another 10 in the third while the Panthers were only able to muster a single field goal the entire second half.
Green Bay chipped in another field goal in the final period, took home the NFC championship, and, for the first time in 29 years the great NFL championship powerhouse returned to center stage.
Super Bowl XXXI
So many special things happened in Super Bowl 31. It was a championship that I will never forget.
My family’s tiny living room was packed to the gills with family members anxious to watch the Super Bowl. We had grown up sitting in front of countless televisions, all placed in the same corner of that same living room. For years we had donned our Packer gear and waited for kickoff wondering if maybe this season the Packers would once again field a winning team. Each year, by the mid-point of the season, our hopes had already been dashed along with the Packer playoff hopes. But each new season we proudly pulled on our Packer gear once again determined to never let hope die.
Now, sitting in that same living room, all those disappointing seasons were behind us as we awaited what would surely be the most exciting game of our lives. And the 1996 Packers didn’t disappoint us.
Before Andre Rison had even reeled in the pass on the second play from scrimmage, our living room exploded. When the noise settled down and I sat down again I could feel it. It was absolutely palpable. The championship magic was returning to Green Bay.
The Patriots took the lead at the end of the first quarter 14-10 but I wasn’t overly concerned. In part, it was still early in the game, but also because, deep down inside me I knew this was OUR time. In the second quarter, Antonio Freeman supported that theory with a catch and run for 81 yards… the longest in Super Bowl history.
I have to give the Patriots a bit of credit. They never gave up in spite of all that had happened. They kept fighting, but it was much like a feather-weight against a heavy-weight in a prize fight. The Patriots got their shots in and scored some points, bringing the score back to 27-21. But then the Packers would hit them with another bone-jarring punch that would hurt down to their very soul.
Following the score that gave the Patriots 21 points, Desmond Howard took the kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. The Packers completed a two-point conversion as Brett Favre and Mark Chmura looked like they were playing catch in the backyard.
Thirty-five points in three quarters of football, the longest touchdown in Super Bowl history, the longest kickoff return in Super Bowl history, four interceptions, and three sacks by the great Reggie White (including back to back sacks after the Howard TD return… magical.