A decade of wasted opportunities

When Brett Favre led the Green Bay Packers to a victory in Super Bowl XXXI, who would have believed the Packers wouldn't be able to duplicate that feat? For many reasons, PackerReport.com's Steve Lawrence says, it's been a decade of wasted opportunities.

Surfing through the million or so channels on the dish a couple days ago, I stumbled across something completely unwatchable. No, not a World Cup soccer match. It was some snippets of Super Bowl XXXII, when the Green Bay Packers stunningly lost to the Denver Broncos.

That was nine seasons ago, which means it's been 10 seasons since Brett Favre led the Packers to the Super Bowl XXXI victory over New England.

Ten long years.

Ten unthinkable years.

Ten maddening years.

Even the most unbiased observer would have to rank that Packers team as one of the best in the Super Bowl era. Green Bay led the league in offense and defense. It had Favre. And Reggie White. And LeRoy Butler. And a splendid group of wide receivers. And a two-headed monster at running back. And a two-headed monster at tight end. And the two-headed monster of Ron Wolf and Mike Holmgren.

Sure, White was nearing the end of his glorious career. Some key members of the defense, especially upfront, were aging, as well.

Still, that the Packers have gone 10 seasons without winning the Super Bowl is unthinkable, given Favre's brilliance.

That Favre almost certainly will retire - barring a say-it-ain't-so trade or a series of about 20 miraculous roster moves by Ted Thompson - without adding a second Super Bowl ring is almost beyond comprehension.

There's plenty of blame to go around.

Holmgren's lust for more power and more money perhaps made him, and his team, distracted in the days leading to an agonizing loss at San Francisco in the 1998 NFC wild-card game. Then again, if Jerry Rice's fumble indeed been ruled a fumble, Terrell Owens never would have had the chance to make his game-winning touchdown catch, and perhaps the Packers would have gotten back to another title game.

Wolf's hiring of Ray Rhodes to replace Holmgren led to a lost 1999 season.

Wolf's decision to hire Mike Sherman as coach in 2000, and then push for him to be coach and general manager upon his retirement in 2001, didn't pan out, either.

The Packers were among the favorites to reach the Super Bowl every season under Sherman, but just about every move designed to push the Packers over the top wound up pushing them further down the hill. To be fair, Sherman faced a tough task. The Packers always were tight against the salary cap, making adding to the roster via free agency nearly impossible, and their draft picks almost always were among the worst of each round, making adding difference-making newcomers more difficult. But Sherman kept shooting himself in the feet by trading up to land players who weren't worth the paper their contracts were printed on.

Then there's Favre himself.

He's won two playoff games since Super Bowl XXXI. Following the 2001 regular season, the Packers rallied past the 49ers in a wild-card game, only to lose the next week when Favre threw six interceptions at St. Louis.

The Packers seemed a team of destiny in 2003. Favre had his memorable performance at Oakland following his father's death, and the Packers snuck into the playoffs on Arizona's incredible upset of Minnesota in Week 17. The Packers capitalized by beating Seattle in overtime in a wild-card game on Al Harris' game-winning interception. The next week, at Philadelphia, the Packers botched opportunities to put the Eagles away, went to overtime, and lost on Favre's up-for-grabs interception.

In between, in 2002, Favre and the beat-up Packers lost the franchise's first Lambeau Field playoff game in team history on a cold night against Atlanta, of all locales. Then, in 2004, Favre was picked off four times in another home playoff loss, this time to Minnesota.

All told, in his last five playoff games, Favre is 1-4 with 13 interceptions.

None of this is meant to bash Favre, or Sherman and Wolf, for that matter. If this is Favre's final season, then it should be treated as a four-month celebration for all he's done and all he's meant to the franchise.

But in five or 10 years, especially if the Packers are unable to add to their Lombardi Trophy collection, their missed opportunities will be harder to stomach than watching John Elway celebrate his Super Bowl XXXII victory over Favre.

Lawrence is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. Send comments to steve_lawrence_packers@yahoo.com.


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