Looking back at Super Bowl XXXI

Has it really been nearly five years since that super Sunday in New Orleans? Five years since Mike, Brett, Reggie, Desmond and the rest of the Packers brought the Vince Lombardi trophy back to Titletown by beating the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI?<p>

Well, it's true, it's been half a decade since the Pack's 12th title was won. The 2001 Packers are hoping to return to the Big Easy for Super Bowl XXXVI next January where they could claim their 13th championship trophy.

To help set the stage for another trip to New Orleans, here's a look at the last visit based on one fan's experience in Super Bowl XXXI. It's a strange, but true account of how one family of Packer backers wound up together at the game in New Orleans on January 26, 1997. Writer Jim Lyman, a native of Appleton, WI, now lives just north of Tampa and his daughter Diane and son Steve live in Iowa.

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"Super Bowl!"

The young woman wearing the cheesehead had been screaming those two words in my ear for at least the 60th time as the clock wound down on Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans. I turned around, a bit exasperated, and hollered back, "Hey! Now you can yell...Super Bowl Winners!"

But she didn't bat an eye and a few seconds later, she let out another Super Bowl screech. I looked at my daughter, nattily attired in a Packer jersey topped off with green and gold hair, and just grinned and shook my head. We were having too much fun to let one out-of-control Packer backer spoil the good time we were having in the Louisiana Super Dome. We are Wisconsin natives and Packer fanatics and were, to say the least, savoring the moment. I glanced at my son, who was sitting right in front of us, and shook my head again. And therein lies a tale...

When the Packers defeated the Carolina Panthers for the NFC championship on January 12, 1997, I decided I was going to go to the Super Bowl and take my two Packer fanatic kids. I couldn't afford to go to the first ever world championship game in Los Angeles when they were youngsters. And I was aced out of attending Super Bowl II in Miami when a nasty bit of nepotism at the company I was working for foiled my carefully crafted plan to make a business trip to that city and stay over and go to the game.

In the mid '90's, I'd taken each of them to Green Bay to attend the Green Bay Experience fantasy football camp. There, they had a chance to mingle with a number of Lombardi-era Packers and listen to tales of Super Bowls I and II from the men who won them. They also had a chance to catch passes from Bart Starr and hear Herb Adderley talk about surviving the Ice Bowl and racism in Dallas, but that's another story.

For Super Bowl XXXI, I was able to acquire two tickets to the game through a friend from high school who worked in public relations for the Chicago Bears. After checking out other options, I decided I'd try to buy a ticket the day of the game in New Orleans. If that didn't work out, I planned to let the kids go to the game and I'd watch it on television. Our children live in Iowa so we decided they would fly to Tampa and we'd drive to the game. I booked rooms in Pensacola for the day before and the day of the game, which avoided the exorbitant prices being commanded for rooms in the New Orleans area.

My wife and I live in a golf course community just north of Tampa and a few days before the game, she was in the club's pro shop and happened to mention my plan to our golf director. Another Wisconsin native, he was interested to hear I was taking my kids and said he might be able to help me find another ticket, because he had a friend in the NFL. He called late the next day and said there would be a ticket waiting for me to pick up the morning of the game.

That day soon arrived and we drove from Pensacola to New Orleans early on Super Bowl morning. I picked up and paid for the ticket at the NFL headquarters hotel and headed back to the car. We then drove to the Super Dome and parked in at a mall parking lot across from the dome. I pulled the ticket out of my pocket to show it to the kids, but when I glanced at it for the first time, I said, "nope, this is one of yours." Then I took the other two tickets out and we looked at all of them together. We could hardly believe our eyes.

The two tickets I had acquired earlier in the week from my Chicago friend were in Section 631, Row 5. The ticket I picked up a few moments earlier in New Orleans was in section 631, Row 4. My son, who used the third ticket, sat about six feet away from my daughter and I.

We had spent quite a bit of time on the drive from Pensacola trying to figure out how we'd find each other after the game. With more than 72,000 in the dome, we thought it could be a difficult chore. But it turned out the biggest problem we had all day was surviving that leather-lunged gal sitting behind us.

Even after the game ended, she never did yell Super Bowl winner. But the three of us sure did over and over on the drive back to Pensacola and Tampa and the memories from that day will last a lifetime.


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