Some people were taken aback by the comments yesterday in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by former General Manager Ron Wolf about Green Bay's loss in Super Bowl XXXII. In an article by Bob McGinn, Wolf didn't pull any punches.
"Certain calls were to be made that weren't made," Wolf said during a trip to Green Bay in August. "Mike Holmgren refused those calls. There would have been an adjustment on the blocking scheme and it would have been over.
"One of the great things about playing the game of football is you have to adjust. When you fail to adjust in critical situations you're going to lose, and that's what happened here. To be pig-headed about it, I mean, to have the answer and then not apply it, that's a little different."
Wolf obviously thought that the blitz pick-up schemes were not blocked correctly or given enough blockers. That may be true. I have also placed the blame on Holmgren about that game, but for a different reason. In an article I wrote about a year ago, this was my reasoning.
So why did the Packers lose that day? There are many reasons, but two stand out. The Packers couldn't stop the run and they also STOPPED running the ball in the second half. RB Terrell Davis was unstoppable as he rushed for 157 yards in 30 attempts and three touchdowns. The Broncos averaged 4.6 yards a gain in the game.
Running back Dorsey Levens was having the same type of game Davis was in the first half of the game. But for some unexplained reason, head coach Mike Holmgren stopped giving the rock to Levens in the second half. Levens finished with 90 yards rushing on just 19 carries. That is a 4.7 yard average. But "Dorse the Horse" became a receiver only in half number two.
To both Wolf and I, Holmgren did not coach with the focus needed to win a big game. Maybe it was the rumors that were swirling about his departure to Seattle, which did happen a year later after a San Francisco playoff loss. Holmgren should have learned an obvious lesson in Super Bowl XXXI, when Bill Parcells was doing the same thing to the New England Patriots, which turned out to be Parcells' last game as a New England coach. But the focus did not seem to be there, and I did place the blame on Holmgren in my article.
The Packers should have won that day. Favre played well enough. Levens WAS having a big day running the ball. But that effective rushing attack was stopped by the coaching staff and not the Broncos. The Packers couldn't stop the rush. And they couldn't get to Elway when he did pass. The Packers won Super Bowl XXXI, 35-21, because the Packers defense finished the Patriots in the fourth quarter. Everyone remembers Reggie White's three sacks of Drew Bledsoe in that game. Compare that to one tackle and no sacks for White in Super Bowl XXXII.
White was tired. So was the entire Packer defense. But they never got off the field for long periods of time which was desperately needed. I place that blame on Mike Holmgren. Holmgren went for the jugular many times in the fourth quarter when the situation called for more conservative play calling. Maybe one day Holmgren can explain his thinking.
John Elway's legacy will be that he played in five Super Bowls, winning his final two. He was even game MVP of Super Bowl XXXIII. Favre's legacy will contain many attributes. His three MVPs, his consecutive start streak, his passing records and a Super Bowl win. He should have two rings instead of one. Only Mike Holmgren knows why.
Let me also say that Mike Holmgren was a fine coach in the Pack's glorious history. He does have a street named after him not far from Lambeau Field. Holmgren helped the Packers to return to their glory and also helped harness Brett Favre into a three-time MVP quarterback in his tenure there. Holmgren helped the team win their first Super Bowl since Vince Lombardi did it in 1968. I, and others, think that there should have been at least one more championship. But that doesn't take away from the tradition that Holmgren started in 1992 and remains there until this day.
The pain still lingers
I know most Packer fans thought that the Packers would be playing in the Super Bowl tomorrow against the New England Patriots. The game would have been a classic matchup with the old gunslinger Favre, going up against the MVP of the NFL, and three-time Super Bowl winner Tom Brady. It still should be a pretty good game, as the New York Giants deserved their opportunity to be there. The Giants did what they had to do in Green Bay in the NFC Championship Game that frigid night.
The Giants had 24 first downs to the Packers' 13. The Giants' time of possession was 40:03, compared to the Packers' 22:34. The Giants had 134 rushing yards, compared to the Packers' 28. Eli Manning didn't throw any interceptions, while Brett Favre threw two, including a very costly one in overtime. Plus, the Packers didn't take advantage of turnovers that were there for the taking.
A lot of blame is coming down on Favre for his overtime interception. And that pass will stick with Favre all winter. But Favre twice got the Packers the lead after deficits. Through three quarters, Favre was having a very solid game. But it wasn't all on Favre. The defense couldn't put pressure on Eli Manning. The defense couldn't hold two leads. The defense had trouble in the secondary with schemes and adjustments. The defense committed stupid penalties.
Special teams, except for one return and Mason Crosby's kicking, did not play well, either. The key was the punting team not jumping on a fumble late in the game on a punt return near midfield. The coaching staff had issues as well. The play calling was not consistent, as the Packers did not stick with the ground game. The Giants often had eight men in the box, trying to stop the run. Play action passes and other type passes like slants and quick outs were necessary. The 90-yard TD pass to Donald Driver was on a play action pass.
But in the fourth quarter, the Packers hardly attempted to run. It put all the pressure on Favre in miserable conditions. But this game was a classic case of a TEAM loss. But the game was lost for several factors. Blame needs to be shared by the O-line (especially their run blocking), the defense (giving up two leads), the special teams (not getting a key fumble recovery on a punt return late) and the coaching staff (not being committed to the run, lousy play calling and bad adjustments).
And yes, Favre. But I still don't know why they didn't run more high percentage plays. Quick outs. Quick slants. Roll Favre out like you did early in the game. Get the blood flowing a little bit. Also, by not staying committed to the run, the play action option was null and void. When you are constantly seeing 8 men in the box, play action freezes the linebackers and defensive backs just enough to get separation. It's water under the bridge now, but hopefully the coaching staff and the players will learn from this very painful lesson.
Super Bowl winner gets the Lombardi Trophy
Yes, the winner of this great game gets the Vince Lombardi Trophy. The man who won the first two Super Bowls with his Green Bay Packers. In those wins, the Packers outscored their two opponents by a 68-24 margin. The first game against the Kansas City Chiefs was closer than one would think, especially in the 1st half when Green Bay only led 14-10. But the Packers stopped believing the play action fakes by Len Dawson (similar to what another Packer team did in Super Bowl XXXI with Drew Bledsoe), and Green Bay rolled to a 35-10 win.
By the way, people still ask about how the Super Bowl got it's name. It actually came from Lamar Hunt's daughter. Hunt was the then owner of the Chiefs, and like most kids of that era, Hunt's daughter had a super ball. The super ball was a rubber ball (with something super inside it) that could bounce way up into the air and over houses. I had one myself. Anyway, rumor has it that the championship game between the NFL and the AFL would take its name from that toy.
The second Super Bowl game was very special for the Packers and their fans. This would be Lombardi's last season as head coach for the Pack, and the game against the Oakland Raiders would be his last ever on a Packer sideline. The 1967 was a memorable year. The Packers were without Jim Taylor and Paul Hornung for the first time in the Lombardi era. The Packers had to overcome a lot of injuries as well.
The Packers did win the Central division title with a 9-4-1 record. But they had to face the 11-1-2 Los Angeles Rams in Milwaukee in their first playoff game. The Packers had heartbreakingly lost to the Rams at the LA Coliseum just a few weeks before. But the Packers and Lombardi were focused as the Packers whipped the Rams 28-7 and got an opportunity to play in the NFL championship game against the Dallas Cowboys in Green Bay the next week.
The game would be known as the "Ice Bowl", as it was minus-13 degrees at kickoff. The Packers went ahead 14-0, just like they had in the 1966 NFL championship game in Dallas. The Packers fell behind 17-14 on the first play of the fourth quarter as HB Dan Reeves completed an option pass to Lance Rentzel for a 50-yard TD. The Packers came back to win, as they went on a frigid 68 yard journey on the frozen tundra starting with just 4:50 left on the clock. The drive ended as Bart Starr scored on a quarterback sneak with just 13 seconds remaining in the game.
The conversation that proceeded the touchdown was classic Lombardi. Starr called his last time out with just 16 seconds left in the game. Starr thought that because the scoreboard at the end of the field was causing a shadow, that the Packer running backs were slipping as they hit the line. Starr suggested running a wedge play, however he would keep the ball (Starr never told anyone in the huddle that he would keep it though). Lombardi simply said, "Then run it, and let's get the hell out of here."
The Packers win against the Cowboys put them in Super Bowl II against the Raiders. The Packers struggled early again against the AFL champions. The Packers were up only 16-7 at halftime, when G Jerry Kramer described the scene in his book "Instant Replay."
"A few of us veterans got together - Forrest (Gregg) and 'Ski' (Bob Skoronski) and Henry (Jordan) and me and a few others - and we decided we'd play the last thirty minutes for the old man. We didn't want to let him down in his last game". The Packers did play the second half for the old man as Green Bay rolled to a 33-14 victory.
Lombardi has become the symbol of what is great in the NFL. There are others like Curly Lambeau, George Halas, Don Shula, Chuck Noll and Tom Landry that have made their mark as well. In fact, Bill Belichick of the Patriots has a chance to get his fourth Super Bowl trophy this weekend. Many have called him the Vince Lombardi of his era. The whole spygate episode has brought some doubt about that, but there is no question that Lombardi is the epitome of victory. That's why his name is on the best trophy in all of sports.
Bob Fox is a regular contributor to PackerReport.com. E-mail him at email@example.com.