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51 for LI: Super Bowl XXXI and the Pack Attack

[lead align=”default”]Super Bowl LI is 31 days away, so you know what that means: we take a trip back to the days of yore and Super Bowl XXXI.[/lead]

In a time before the Patriots had Tom Brady, their quarterback was Drew Bledsoe. The Pats had some good years as a franchise, but none culminating in a championship. As it turns out, they’d have to wait another five years before opening the floodgates.

During the 1996 season, the Patriots had Bledsoe, Bill Parcells, Curtis Martin, and a dream that one day, they’d be champions. It wasn’t to be this season, but an AFC title wasn’t bad.

In this contest, the Pats faced the Green Bay Packers, who had Brett Favre in his first Super Bowl. The late, great “Minister of Defense” Reggie White also appeared in his lone Super Bowl victory. As a matter of fact, it was Favre’s as well. It’s hard to believe that a quarterback so consistently good only won it all once.

Super Bowl XXXI: How They Got There

Here’s another thing that’s hard to believe today but true: before Super Bowl XXXI, Green Bay, the champions of Super Bowls I and II, hadn’t been there in between. They went almost 30 years in between championship appearances. It didn’t seem so unthinkable in the 70s and 80s when the franchise sucked, but it does now as they’re very successful.

Green Bay put together a whopping two playoff appearances between 1968 and 1992. Favre’s arrival spelled winning, and by 1996, the Pack were in the Super Bowl. They did it on the back of a 13-3 season in which they were the NFC’s one seed.

New England themselves hadn’t made a Super Bowl since the Bears smacked them 11 years earlier. The Pats won the AFC East in 1996 with an 11-5 record, and then took down the Steelers and Jaguars to make the big game. It was Bill Parcells’ only Super Bowl appearance with a team aside from the New York Giants.

Super Bowl XXXI: The Game

The Packers were heavy (14-point) favorites entering the game, though the contest didn’t feel like a blowout. It wasn’t until late that the Packers, the eventual winners, had breathing room.

Green Bay notched the first ten points, starting with a long Brett Favre touchdown pass to Andre Rison, and followed by a Chris Jacke field goal. At 10-0 is when New England made their move. Still in the first quarter, Drew Bledsoe threw a short touchdown pass to Keith Byars, and then another to Ben Coates.

New England took a 14-10 lead into the second quarter, but when they lost it, it was gone for good. Favre got together with Antonio Freeman on what was then the longest-ever Super Bowl play from scrimmage at 81 yards. Chris Jacke made another field goal, and just before half, Favre ran one in himself. Green Bay led 27-14 at the break.

It took until late in the third quarter for there to be another score, but it belonged to the Pats. Future Hall of Fame running back Curtis Martin punched it in from 18 yards away, and it was a one-score game at 27-21.

And then, history. On the ensuing kickoff, Desmond Howard went 99 yards to the house, then the longest play ever in the Super Bowl. The game was put away, and that, as they say, was that.

Super Bowl XXXI: The Whole, Entire Game

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