An unforgettable experience

Time sure flies, doesn't it? PackerReport.com's Matt Tevsh does a wonderful job of taking us back exactly 10 years in his column today as he describes his personal journey to Super Bowl XXXI in New Orleans to cover the Packers, including a side trip to Brett Favre's hometown of Kiln, Miss., a day before the big game.

What the ride in a cheap Chevy Lumina rental lacked in comfort and scenery, it more than made up for with the anticipation of what was ahead. Fallen trees, swamp-like land, and spotty, densely-wooded areas littered with garbage flew by along a highway at one of the southern-most points of the United States. The group of four traveling attentively awaited the exit to Highway 603, the path leading to the roots of perhaps the greatest Packer ever.

Ten years ago today, I, along with Packer Report writers Brett Christopherson and Keith Roerdink, and photographer Dave Fredrickson, were on our way to Kiln, Miss., the hometown of Brett Favre, traveling east from New Orleans along the Gulf Coast. We were in town, along with Managing Editor Todd Korth, columnist Art Daley, and the late, great Ray Nitschke, to cover Super Bowl XXXI, a game that would return the Packers to their past glory. This trip to Kiln, though, on a Saturday, was the highlight. It was a greater experience, in many ways, than the game itself.

A day later, Favre would lead the Packers to their first championship in almost 30 years, captivating not just the small-town community of Green Bay, but the entire nation. Just as Favre reached his destination, so to would the Packer Report staff, finding the intersection in Kiln, along with about 300 Packers' fans who converged on the once non-descript town. For this day and this week, Kiln and its lone intersection was a treasure.

On the road into Kiln, parked cars lined the street, at least 20 of them, mainly because there was no where else to park. Everyone was stopping to take group photos by the KILN road sign just to let their friends back home know that they were there. It was a picture-perfect sunny day, too, and Packers' fans were not about to miss this opportunity, even if it meant parking in a ditch in the middle of nowhere.

Just up the road was the real party. It was at the intersection, really one of the only signs of commerce we had seen coming up the 603. Commerce in this sense was more of the Dukes of Hazzard variety, though, than the busy infrastructure of say, New Orleans.

Nonetheless, people were everywhere. They were filing out of Dolly's Quick Stop, visiting the other local convenience store/gas station across the way, and drinking beers in and around the Mecca of the intersection, the Broke Spoke. In what resembled a large, backwoods picnic, hundreds of people were huddled outside waiting their turn to walk inside the tavern where no doubt the Favre family stopped to drown a couple of suds over the years.

The locals were genuine and they told stories about Favre like he was their own son. We even met a group of people who claimed to be distant cousins of Favre. Then again, it seemed like everyone was family that day. The cultural mix of mainly Wisconsin visitors and Mississippi locals was hardly a mismatched combination. They had one passion in common that would make them friends forever – Brett Favre.

After meticulously checking out each of the numerous pictures of Favre inside the Broke Spoke, everyone signed a wall upon their exit. We followed the lead. Placing a signature on that wall was like becoming citizen of Kiln without any formal indoctrination.

After having a couple of beers and "interviewing" people for stories that would follow we made our way to Irvin Favre Road, which led to the home where Favre grew up. Much to our dismay and many others, the long, gravel road was blocked off due to the hoards of Packers' fans that had been flocking to the newly-found tourist attraction. The street sign was even misspelled "Irvin F-A-R-V-E Road," in anticipation of a possible heist of one with the correct spelling. Rumor had it that one had already been swiped.

We made our way back to New Orleans around 4 p.m. and made other familiar stops that anyone would make coming to a Super Bowl in New Orleans, but the visit to Kiln was still in our minds. All I could think of on the drive back was, "Now I understand a little better why Favre is the way he is, but how did he become the best football player in the world growing up there?" I guess simple, humble beginnings supported by a strong family structure can go a long way.

After a long day, Sunday brought the game. When people ask me what it was like to be there, I tell them it really did not feel like a Super Bowl contest. Though there was excitement with the Patriots pulling close in the second half just before Desmond Howard's kickoff return put them away, the game was almost anti-climactic. Everyone knew from the beginning of the season that the Packers were the team to beat, and but for a mid-season stretch, it always looked that way. Tight end Keith Jackson and his roommate that week, Reggie White, even talked about it the night before at the team hotel in the privacy of their own room. There was no way the Packers were going to get beat, not by the genius of Bill Parcells or any of the Patriots. The entire game felt like a coronation of year-long journey, an expected end to a predicted season.

To me, Super Bowl XXXII, when the Packers lost to the Broncos a year later, felt more like a Super Bowl and had all the nervous drama that a big game should have. Maybe it was the surprise of the Broncos' dominance for much of the game, or the setting of a beautiful San Diego day in an outdoor stadium, but the tension and electricity was much more palpable to me during that game.

Two memories still stand out for me from Super Bowl XXXI. The first was the roar echoing off the concrete-covered dome when Reggie White recorded consecutive sacks of Drew Bledsoe late in the third quarter. The "Minister of Defense" had surprised the NFL world as a free agent in 1993 by coming to Green Bay to win a championship, and when took down Drew Bledsoe for his first and second of three sacks in the game, he was on the verge. The deafening cheers were louder than they had been all game. Though the stadium may have been 75% Packers' fans, it seemed as though the Patriots' fans wanted to cheer out of respect for the larger-than-life defensive end. It was as though they put their allegiance aside, knowing they were beholding an awesome sight. The moment brought me to goose bumps for the only time in the game.

Adding to the setting that day at the Superdome was my seat in the upper deck media area next to Andy Rooney of "60 Minutes" and Daley, who has covered the Packers since the days of Curly Lambeau. Fresh out of college at just 22 years old, I could not believe (and chuckled to Christopherson seated nearby) that I was sandwiched in between two longtime, legendary journalists of somewhat zany personalities at one of the biggest media events in the country. I do not think I said anything to Rooney, only remembering him complain in his squeaky voice about the box lunch he ate, and he left after the first quarter. I never saw him again.

Daley, on the other hand, was like sitting next to the ghost of Vince Lombardi. After hearing him utter comments like, "What the hell is going on out there?" and "Favre, you better not screw up out there," I laughed internally. Though I was really a novice journalist in the 1990's, I felt like I was sent back to the 1960's in a time machine to watch the great Packers' teams of old. Maybe that is why the game felt so anti-climactic to me. The result had already been pre-determined in my mind.

When the Super Sunday work day ended for me and much of the Packer Report staff at about 2 a.m. Monday morning, the magnitude of the result of the game still had not registered for me. Ten years later, though, it seems a little more profound. I do not know that I will ever get back to Kiln again or witness another Super Bowl in person again. If not, some memories of Super Bowl XXXI weekend, like the drive to Kiln, will always be there.


Matt Tevsh

Matt Tevsh is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com and Packer Report. E-mail him at matttevsh@hotmail.com.


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