Charles Dickins, who was a pretty good writer, penned the phrase, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times," in his "A Tale of Two Cities."
Dom Capers, who is a pretty good defensive coach, echoed that refrain when recalling his last visit to Lambeau Field.
It was Jan. 12, 1997, and Capers brought his 2-year-old Carolina Panthers to Lambeau to face the mighty Green Bay Packers, with the winner advancing to Super Bowl XXXI.
"You say what are the high points of your career, well, that year was one of the high points," Capers recalled on Tuesday, when he was introduced as the Packers' defensive coordinator. "We had taken a second-year expansion team and won 13 games with it. We were here playing to go to the Super Bowl with a second-year team. So, that part of it sticks out because it was a real good feeling. After our first five games there, I think we won 20 out of the next 27 games or something like that."
Those were among the best of times. Just like the outcome on that cold January afternoon 12 years ago was among the worst of times. After a slow start, the Packers recovered to blast the Panthers 30-13 for the NFC title. Behind Brett Favre and Dorsey Levens, the Packers gutted Capers' top-ranked scoring defense for 479 yards.
"I remember the empty feeling of walking off there and losing the game," Capers said. "I know how the teams felt this weekend that got there. Getting there and not going, well, you know from two years ago here the feeling."
That game started brilliantly for the Panthers. Ageless linebacker Sam Mills returned an interception of Favre to the Packers' 2-yard line to set up the opening touchdown and give Carolina a 7-0 lead. Another Favre turnover gave the Panthers a 10-7 lead, but what sticks in Capers' mind is a second-down pass in the end zone to Willie Green that was batted away by Eugene Robinson to prevent the score from being 14-10.
"From that point on, it started to go against us and the crowd got into it," Capers said. "It got colder. As the day went on, the more that Green Bay started to roll."
Capers noted the Packers boasted the league's top-ranked offense and defense in 1996 — "it's awful hard to get your defense and offense that good at the same time," he said — and said they were the class of the league that season.
He had at least one, ahem, warm memory from that game.
"I remember one of my assistant coaches on the sideline, as you recall it was a cold day and it was windy," Capers said. "He was warming his hands on one of the blowers, and I heard all this commotion during the course of the game. Guys were scrambling around and I looked around and he had his game plan laminated. It had melted and caught his gloves on fire and he was on fire back there. So, I remember that, that stuck out in my mind."
The Packers haven't won a championship since beating New England in Super Bowl XXXI following that NFC title game. Capers hopes he's part of the storied franchise's 13th world championship.
"Hopefully, we can get back there and have that same kind of feeling again," he said during his opening comments. "I'm excited about being a part of this organization. I've always had a tremendous amount of respect for the tradition, the fan support, and what Green Bay stands for. That was one of the things that influenced my decision to come here."
Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Lambeau Level forum.
Capers returns to scene of title game
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