Heightened expectations, both individually and collectively, can be both a maddening and uplifting endeavor.
On the one hand, the burden of expectations is apt to spawn chaos and disharmony among those in its presence. Additionally, as noted by American inventor Charles F. Kettering, “high achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectation.”
Following the culmination of Vince Lombardi’s successful nine-year run (personified in the 89-29 record compiled by the legendary coach) on the Green Bay sidelines in 1967, the Packers, victors of the first two Super Bowls, and the expectation of success would become somewhat of an antiquated notion in the subsequent two decades.
Whether under the command of Phil Bengston, Dan Devine, Bart Starr, Forrest Gregg or Lindy Infante, the green and gold, in the 24 years post Lombardi, would compile only four winning seasons and one playoff victory (which came during the strike-shortened 1982 season).
The desperately needed winds of change blew through Green Bay when the franchise tabbed 44-year-old Mike Holmgren, then the offensive coordinator for the San Francisco 49ers, as head coach prior to the 1992 season.
Led by second-year signal caller Brett Favre, the Packers put together a 9-7 record and set into motion what was to become one of the greatest runs of success the franchise had experienced.
Over the following two seasons, the Packers would put forth consecutive 9-7 records and bask in the splendor that comes via a triumph in the postseason—before, ultimately, having each season unceremoniously come to an end at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys.
The club appeared poised for a breakthrough in 1995 as the Packers, behind the first of three straight MVP campaigns for Favre, nabbed their first division crown since 1972 and advanced to the NFC Championship game. Despite losing to “America’s Team” yet again, a changing of the guard had begun.
Selected as the preseason favorite by Sports Illustrated to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl XXXI, expectations around the Packers entering the 1996 season had reached its apex.
However, engulfed in such preseason fanfare, would the club deliver? The answer was a resounding yes.
Boasting the league’s top-ranked offense (456 points scored) and defense (in respect to both yards and points allowed), the Packers won eight of their first nine contests en route to matching the franchise record of 13 victories and securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Upon trumping the 49ers, 35-14, at Lambeau Field in the divisional round, Green Bay punched its ticket to football’s grandest of stages via a 30-13 thumping of the Carolina Panthers on Jan. 12, 1997.
Favre had the offense rolling. Desmond Howard was a revelation on special teams. The defense had forced eight turnovers in two postseason games.
Needless to say, the Packers had myriad reasons to be optimistic as they headed to New Orleans for Super Bowl XXXI.
Standing in the way of Green Bay’s first championship in nearly three decades, though, was the Bill Parcells-led New England Patriots.
Behind the league’s second-ranked offense, the Patriots, who were a combined 35-77 from 1989-95, rode into the Crescent City with a defense that had allowed a total of nine points and zero touchdowns in its postseason wins over Pittsburgh and Jacksonville, respectively.
All told, the Patriots had outscored its opponents 156-60 dating back to their 45-7 rout over San Diego on December 1.
When the pageantry of the Super Bowl festivities ceased and the game commenced, Green Bay wasted little time in setting the tone.
On the Packers’ second play from scrimmage, Favre, who led the NFL with 39 touchdown passes during the regular season, found Andre Rison for a 54-yard touchdown pass resulting in not only a 7-0 lead for the team from the Dairy State, but also one of the most jubilant on-field celebrations in recent Super Bowl history.
The Packer defense, meanwhile, got off to a similarly hot start. On the second play of the Patriots’ second possession, Doug Evans intercepted Drew Bledsoe at the New England 28-yard line, which set up a Chris Jacke 37-yard field goal.
Super Bowl XXXI was a little more than six minutes in and the green and gold held a 10-0 advantage.
The momentum swung in the favor of the AFC champions as New England punctuated each of their next two possessions with a touchdown while limiting the Packers to a pair of three and outs.
As the curtain fell on the game’s opening quarter, New England held a 14-10 edge—the most first quarter points scored in Super Bowl history.
New England’s lead, however, would be short lived.
Upon neither club able to gain one yard during their opening drives of the second quarter, Favre connected with Antonio Freeman on a Super Bowl-record 81-yard touchdown strike. The Packers seized control of the game and would not trail again.
The two subsequent Packer possessions would produce a Jacke field goal and a two-yard rushing touchdown for Favre, resulting in a 27-14 Green Bay lead at intermission.
Following a first half peppered with offense, the third quarter saw no scoring until Curtis Martin brought the Patriots to within 27-21 following an 18-yard touchdown scamper with 3:27 remaining in the period.
Any impetus New England may have felt it had secured disintegrated, to their dismay, rather quickly.
Howard, playing with his third team in as many years (Washington, Jacksonville and Green Bay), fielded the ensuing kickoff at the Green Bay one-yard line and proceeded to dash a Super Bowl-record 99 yards nearly untouched into the end zone.
Favre found Mark Chmura to complete the two-point conversion and serve as the proverbial wet blanket to New England’s championship dreams.
With Bledsoe picked off twice (the former Washington St. Cougar would finish with four interceptions on the evening) and the Patriots unable to cross midfield, the fourth quarter proved to be a coronation for Reggie White. White, who came to Green Bay as, perhaps, the most ballyhooed free agent in NFL history, sacked Bledsoe on consecutive plays during New England’s final possession of the third quarter.
The 35-year-old White, nearing the end of his 12th NFL season, registered his Super Bowl-best third sack as he took down Bledsoe on first down for a loss of nine yards in the game’s waning moments.
As Craig Newsome picked off Bledsoe’s final pass of the Super Bowl with less than a minute on the clock, Favre jogged onto the field and completed a pair of kneel downs.
Shortly thereafter, confetti coated the Louisiana Superdome turf; White jogged around the field holding the Vince Lombardi Trophy aloft with one hand; and Packer players and coaches basked in a moment of euphoria nearly three decades in the making.
The date was Sunday, Jan. 26, 1997, and the ethos of Titletown had officially returned to Green Bay.