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Point, counterpoint: Super Bowl XXXI or XLV?


! Staff Writer Mike Spofford makes the case for Super Bowl XXXI and the team that won it.

It's harder to make the argument for XXXI the game vs. XLV, because XXXI finished with a 14-point spread and nary a point was scored in the fourth quarter. But there are a few items worth noting.

XXXI had more big plays and electrifying moments, with Andre Rison's 54-yard TD catch on just the second play from scrimmage, Antonio Freeman's 81-yard TD down the sideline, and, of course, Desmond Howard's 99-yard kickoff return for a score.

Those last two big plays produced Super Bowl records, as did Reggie White with his three sacks. Three records in one Super Bowl ain't too shabby.

Plus, it's often forgotten the lead actually changed hands a few times. The Packers jumped on top 10-0, only to see the Patriots rally for a 14-10 lead. Then the Packers went up 27-14 and the Patriots pulled within 27-21 before Howard's game-breaking return. A very compelling first three quarters, to be sure, with momentum swings to rival any Super Bowl.

The argument for XXXI rests more squarely with the team, however.* *The 1996 Packers became the first NFL team in 24 years to lead the league in most points scored and fewest points allowed. That can't be topped.

The offense had the league's MVP in quarterback Brett Favre, while the defense set a record for a 16-game schedule by allowing just 19 opposing touchdowns, better than even the vaunted 1985 Chicago Bears defense.

The 456 points the Packers scored that year remained a team record until the 2009 team beat it by five. The 210 allowed continue to stand as the team mark for a 16-game season, and the next closest is 56 points away. That's eight touchdowns, or one every two games, from even approaching that 1996 defense.

The clincher for XXXI, though, is simply the context.* *The Packers hadn't gone to a Super Bowl in 29 years. The Vince Lombardi Trophy was so named because of the first two Super Bowls, and the Packers hadn't been back since.

The mid-1990s was all about the rebirth of a franchise and the steady progression toward a title. In 1993 and '94, the Packers reached the divisional round. In '95, they reached the NFC Championship Game. Then came the culmination in '96, with an all-around juggernaut of a squad winning its three postseason games in the rain and mud (vs. San Francisco), in the freezing cold (vs. Carolina) and in a dome (vs. New England).

What that championship meant to a franchise that had suffered through nearly three forgettable decades can't be overstated. The Pack was truly back.

! Editor Vic Ketchman says it's Super Bowl XLV.

The 2010 Packers were a No. 6 seed for the playoffs for one reason: Devin Hester returned a punt against the Packers for a touchdown.

That's it. Had the Packers punted the ball out of bounds, they would've won the division and been the No. 2 seed for the NFC playoffs. They might've hosted the NFC title game, as the Bears did. Who knows?

So, get it out of your head that the Packers were a No. 6 seed. Nothing about the 2010 Packers is indicative of a team that had to scratch and claw to make it into the playoffs. Hey, they were favored for the Super Bowl.

The 2010 Packers are a classic Super Bowl champion: They got hot at the end of the season and rode the hot right arm of their quarterback all the way to the victory podium in Dallas. They dominated on defense and they overcame injuries with an awesome display of roster depth.

That's a No. 6 seed? No way.

The 2010 Packers plowed through a killer schedule and then won on the road on three consecutive playoff weekends against the top three seeds in the NFC. How's that for the look of a classic champion?

Nothing about what the Packers did last season is tainted by a soft touch. It's not as though they beat a second-year expansion team to get into the Super Bowl. Everything about last year's team was first class, right down to its quarterback winning the Super Bowl MVP.

I'm not taking anything away from the 1996 Packers that won Super Bowl XXXI. That was a great team with a legendary player on each side of the ball, but neither the road to XXXI, nor the game itself, compares to the road to XLV or the 2010 Packers' win in it.

The '96 Packers benefitted from the Cowboys and 49ers dynasties having expired. The '96 Packers' opponent in the Super Bowl, the New England Patriots, barely got by another second-year expansion team, the Jaguars, in the AFC title game.

What does it say about the state of the NFL in '96 that the Jaguars and Panthers, with a combined four seasons under their belts, made it to their respective conference title games? By the way, the 2010 Packers' opponent in Super Bowl XLV had won the game twice in the previous five years and leads the league in Super Bowls won, six.

The game? It was one of the best, not decided until Ben Roethlisberger's fourth-down pass fell incomplete with 49 seconds to play. The Packers won the game, 31-25, thanks to a bevy of big plays that included a Nick Collins interception and return for a touchdown, a classic Clay Matthews helmet-on-the-ball tackle that caused Rashard Mendenhall to fumble and saved the day, and a series of clutch, tight-window throws by Aaron Rodgers that earned him individual game honors.

Super Bowl XXXI? The Packers won, 35-21, and the game was over before the third quarter was. By the way, has Bill Parcells ever explained why he threw the ball 48 times?

This is a debate, of course, that's going to be decided by what follows. The '96 Packers returned to the Super Bowl the following season, though that would be the end of their run. The 2010 Packers will be judged to a large degree by what they do on the heels of last season.

Should they go on to win another Super Bowl, well, then need I say more?

So, which opinion do you support?

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