Super Bowl XXXI flashback

The Green Bay Packers hit the New England Patriots high, hit 'em low and hit 'em hard in Super Bowl XXXI on Jan. 26, 1997 in the Superdome in New Orleans. The Packers won their 12th National Football League championship and first Super Bowl since winning the first two after the 1966 and '67 seasons.<p>

The Packers, behind an assortment of big plays, bounced back from an early deficit and rambled past the Patriots 35-21 before more than 65,000 fans and millions more watching on television.

Return specialist Desmond Howard led the parade of Packer highlights with a Super Bowl record 99-yard kickoff return and a record 244 combined yards in punts and kickoffs that helped him earn the game's Most Valuable Player award. Howard wasn't the only one who helped the Packers reclaim the Lombardi Trophy. Brett Favre, Reggie White, Craig Newsome, Andre Rison and Antonio Freeman made it happen against the Patriots like they did against other teams throughout Green Bay's steller 16-3 season in 1996.

Favre, who won his second straight league Most Valuable Player award, went 14 of 27 for 246 yards. He threw touchdown passes of 54 and 81 yards, and ran for another while passing to seven different receivers.

White dominated in the second half with three quarterback sacks, including two straight on Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe. White also had at least seven more hurries and six pressures on Bledsoe.

Newsome had one of Green Bay's four interceptions and helped the Packers hold New England to one touchdown in the second half after the Patriots took an early 14-10 lead.

Rison and Freeman played key roles as Green Bay tortured the Patriots' secondary from start to finish. Rison's 54-yard touchdown was his career best. Freeman's 81 yarder was the longest of the season by the Packers and a Super Bowl record.

Green Bay had a total of 12 touchdowns of 50 or more yards during the regular season and four more in the post-season, including three against the Patriots, who finished 13-6 under Bill Parcells.

"We scored on big plays," said Packers coach Mike Holmgren. "It may have looked easy, but there's a lot of thought planning and execution that went into those things, but we really struggled running the ball against their great defense."

New England entered the game having given up only 73 points in its previous seven games. The Patriots finished the regular season ranked sixth against the run and 28th against the pass.

New England held the Packers to five yards rushing on four attempts in the first quarter and just about shut down the Packers' vaunted offense. The Patriots, however, failed to stop the big play.

Favre called an audible on Green Bay's second play from scrimmage and tossed a 54-yard bomb to Rison, who blew past cornerback Otis Smith and caught the ball at the 20 before strutting into the end zone, to give the Packers an instant 7-0 lead.

Doug Evans' spectacular interception on the ensuing series on New England's 28 set up Chris Jacke's 37-yard field goal, giving the Packers a 10-0 lead.

But the Patriots grabbed the momentum in the emotional game and took a 14-10 lead on consecutive possessions. Bledsoe's 1-yard pass to Keith Byars, after a questionable interference call on Newsome, closed the Patriots to 10-7. New England capped the highest-scoring first quarter in Super Bowl history when Bledsoe hit Ben Coates for a four-yard touchdown with 2:33 left. Bledsoe's 44-yard pass to Terry Glenn set up the touchdown that gave the Patriots their only lead of the game.

Green Bay stormed back, scoring 13 unanswered points, and took a 27-14 halftime lead when Favre beat linebacker Todd Collins to the left corner of the end zone from two yards out.

Favre locked in on Freeman, who ran past strong safety Lawyer Milloy, and connected for an 81-yard touchdown as Green Bay took the lead for good.

"When they walked the safety up I was licking my chops," said Freeman. "I just tried to make a move, Brett gave me a great ball and I ran it in."

Howard's 34-yard punt return to the Patriots' 47 set up Jacke's 31-yard field goal on the Packers' next series. Green Bay made it 27-14 by going 74 yards on nine plays before Favre scored. Favre's 22-yard pass to Freeman keyed the Packers' drive.

Curtis Martin's 18-yard run up the middle closed New England to 27-21, but that didn't last long.

Howard took the ensuing kickoff at the 1 yard line, headed straight upfield and put his name into the record books with a 99-yard return for a touchdown.

"We went in the locker room at halftime and said we can break a return, though, they had pretty good coverage, but we saw things that we thought we could exploit coming out in the second half," Howard said. "We didn't get the return we wanted on the first one after halftime, but on the second one we felt as though we could really break a big one."

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