New era in Green Bay
The Green Bay Packers should be enjoying the moment of being in the Super Bowl. Soaking up everything from the interviews, the practices and the overall experience of being in Dallas during the long wait for the big game should be a priority. After all, coming so close to winning it all is something that sits in the minds of Green Bay Packers fans all over the country.
At the end of the 1996-97 season, Green Bay was riding high after winning Super Bowl XXXI by beating the New England Patriots 35-21. The win gave the Packers their third Super Bowl victory and their first since Super Bowl II, when legendary coach Vince Lombardi and quarterback Bart Starr led the team to victory against the Oakland Raiders.
Longtime Packers quarterback Brett Favre was at the helm of a Packers team that was at or near the top of the NFC for much of the 1990s. Fans packed Lambeau Field, the team was winning and making the playoffs on a consistent basis. How could things get any better?
Well they did....until the end of the 1997-98 season.
In Super Bowl XXXII, the Packers were matched against the John Elway and the Denver Broncos of the AFC. The Packers came into the game heavily favored by many analysts to win their second straight Super Bowl. Green Bay tied the game early into the fourth quarter at 24-24 with a quick touchdown drive. But in the end, Elway helped lead his team to their first Super Bowl win thanks to a late touchdown by Broncos running back Terrell Davis. It was a crushing defeat which led to a 13-year wait before reaching another Super Bowl.
The following season Green Bay made the playoffs again, this time as a wildcard team. They were sent out to San Francisco to play the 49ers in a game remembered by the play made in the final seconds of the game. The Packers were down 23-20 but took the lead on a 15-yard touchdown from Favre to Antonio Freeman. Trailing late in the fourth quarter, 27-23, 49ers quarterback Steve Young led the team on a memorable drive that ended with a Terrell Owens touchdown with eight seconds left. The pass from Young to Owens threaded the needle between three Packers defenders and was dubbed the "Catch II".
The Packers would make the playoffs a few times over the next couple of seasons before experiencing more heartbreaking losses again.
In 2003-04, the Packers made it to the divisional round of the playoffs where they squared off against the Philadelphia Eagles. Despite having a lead late in the game, the Eagles hit a field goal to force overtime. On Green Bay's first possession of overtime, Favre threw an interception which led to an Eagles field goal giving them the win, 20-17.
A few years later, the Packers looked to be on the cusp on making it back to the Super Bowl. Ending the season with a 13-3 record, Green Bay advanced to the NFC Championship game against the New York Giants. But the game had reasons not to be remembered. It was the third coldest game in NFL history and would be the final game in a Packers uniform for Brett Favre. Despite the missed kicks by Giant Lawrence Tynes the game went into overtime. The Giants intercepted Favre in the extra period leading to another overtime crushing loss, 23-20. It would happen again last season when quarterback Aaron Rodgers was hit losing control of the football which was snapped up by an Arizona Cardinals player for a game winning touchdown in once again in overtime, 51-45.
While the Packers have suffered some excruciating playoff losses over the past 13 years, the current team offers plenty of hope. Despite an injury plagued roster, Green Bay has made it to the big stage of Super Bowl XLV with a young squad. Led by quarterback Aaron Rodgers and wide receiver Greg Jennings on the offense and linebacker Clay Matthews and cornerback Charles Woodson on the defense, Green Bay has a team that pushed through a grueling season on their way to the Super Bowl.
Packers fans can take solace in knowing that moments like this don't always happen every year. The Pittsburgh Steelers will no doubt be a tough team to beat. And while a video game simulation by Madden 2011 predicts the Steelers will beat the Packers, 24-20, that doesn't match what can take place out on the field this Sunday.
For the first time, in what seems like forever, the Packers can put their hard luck behind them and move into a new era. And if things go their way, it may just be the start of something special this Sunday.