The Packers figured they could unnerve Bledsoe by getting an early lead and jumping on his sideline passes. However, even when Green Bay cornerback Doug Evans picked off a throw intended for Glenn on an out pattern, setting up the 37-yard Chris Jacke field goal that gave the Pack its 10-0 lead, Bledsoe stayed calm. He completed six of his next nine passes for 108 yards, including scores of one yard to fullback Keith Byars and four yards to tight end Ben Coates.
After the Coates touchdown, Green Bay defensive coordinator Fritz Shurmur called together the leaders of his unit and delivered a scolding. As Butler recalled it, Shurmur screamed to him, ends White and Sean Jones, nickelback Mike Prior and free safety Eugene Robinson, "Enough is enough! Pull your head out of your ass and go do what you're supposed to do." Then, to Butler, he added, "Go get Bledsoe. Do whatever it takes. I'll blitz you every play if I have to—just get in his face. I want him to feel you and worry about where you are all the time."
Eventually Butler and the Packers got to Bledsoe, who threw four interceptions and absorbed five sacks while completing 25 of 48 passes for 253 yards. The Patriots should have seen it coming. Anytime an offense relies on play-action passes without demonstrating a commitment to the running game, the opposing defense ultimately will stop biting on the fakes. Bledsoe threw 15 passes in the first quarter, three more than the previous Super Bowl record for passes in a first quarter (set by the San Francisco 49ers' Joe Montana in a 55-10 win over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXIV), and by halftime New England had called 30 pass plays and only seven runs.
If a quarterback was to emulate Montana in this game, odds were it would be Favre, whose Super Bowl week was a sideshow second only to Parcells's. First, Favre had his life's history dissected by a wave of reporters who visited his hometown of Kiln, Miss., about an hour's drive from New Orleans. There it was learned that when Brett was a kid, the family dog had been eaten by an alligator, that he had preferred to sleep on top of his sheets as a child so that he wouldn't have to make his bed and that he had gastrointestinal powers, said his college roommate, "that could bring tears to your eyes." Then on Tuesday a story broke in the Green Bay Press-Gazette that Favre, who spent more than six weeks in a rehab facility last spring for addiction to a painkiller, would no longer be tested by the NFL for alcohol as part of his aftercare program. With Bourbon Street beckoning, this was big news—until the report turned out to be false (page 86).
The irony was that as this talk of his resuming drinking was going down, the flu-plagued Favre could barely handle chicken soup. He spent last Thursday night in his hotel room, shivering under his covers with a 101° temperature. "I was worried," he admitted late Sunday. "I'd waited my whole life to play in this game, and now I wasn't going to be healthy. But the night before the game I slept great. I fell asleep at 9:30 with the TV clicker in my hand, and I felt pretty good when I woke up. But I was nervous before kickoff, and I kept dry-heaving all game."
Favre was clearheaded enough to burn New England for two touchdowns after making adjustments at the line of scrimmage. On the first one he detected that the Patriots, with both their safeties up at the line, were about to come with an all-out blitz. Earlier on Sunday, while watching Super Bowl XXIV highlights in his hotel room, Favre had seen Montana audible in a nearly identical situation. So Favre changed the play from 322 Y stick, a safe quick-out to tight end Mark Chmura, to 74 razor, which called for Rison to run a deep post route. It wasn't the smoothest switch—in the middle of the audible Favre yelled "Oh, s---!" before finally barking out the signal for 74 razor---but it worked perfectly. Rison turned cornerback Otis Smith around and was open by about five yards when he caught Favre's pass at the 20. Rison duckwalked the last few yards to the end zone.
After New England had taken its 14-10 lead, Favrc, who would complete 14 of 27 passes for 246 yards, put Green Bay ahead for good with another astute call. Less than one minute into the second quarter, he saw the Patriots' defensive backs line up in single coverage against a three-wideout set, with strong safety Lawyer Milloy on Freeman, the slot receiver. "A safety on me, playing bump-and-run?" Freeman said incredulously after the game. "I liked my chances." Sensing that the Patriots were going to blitz again, Favre audibled to a blocking scheme that was designed to give him maximum protection, then found Freeman down the right sideline. Freeman easily outran Milloy and free safety Willie Clay for an 81-yard score, the longest touchdown from scrimmage in Super Bowl history.
Green Bay added 10 more points to take a 27-14 halftime lead, and it looked as if New England was done. In fact, most of the Packers were surprised the Patriots had hung around that long. Consider what took place during a Green Bay team meeting last Thursday: Upon being cautioned by Holmgren to compliment New England in media interviews, outside linebacker Wayne Simmons finally snapped, "I'm tired of saying how great this team is. I've been watching them on film, and they look like crap." Other players grunted in agreement until, according to one Packer, Holmgren said, "Wayne, I appreciate your restraint. To tell you the truth, I agree with you. Believe me, I'd like to tell the world I'm going to kick Parcells's ass, too."
The Packers viewed Parcells, as one Green Bay assistant coach put it, "as what in Ebonics is known as a media ho." They bristled when Parcells's agent, Robert Fraley, leaked to The Boston Globe a story that Parcells would leave New England after the Super Bowl because of his rift with New England owner Robert Kraft. The Packers were further annoyed when Kraft and Parcells made a mock announcement at a midweek press conference that Parcells had been signed to a 10-year contract to manage the Kraft family's paper mill. The joke landed like Ted Danson's blackface gag at the Friars Club a few years back. "Parcells jinxed his team by starting all that s---," Butler said while stewing in his hotel room last Friday night. "Mike [Holmgren] is really pissed."
Howard was a tad angry as well. Given his three punt returns for touchdowns during the regular season and his pivotal performance (two long punt returns, one for a score) against the 49ers in Green Bay's divisional playoff victory, he felt the Patriots shouldn't have been so vocal during the week about their intentions to kick to him. Howard broke free for 32 yards on his first punt return, setting up the game's initial touchdown, and helped facilitate a second-quarter field goal with a 34-yard runback of a punt. Still, the New England players were barking at him, saying, "Nothing for you today, baby. We going to shut you down," and Howard returned their affection. "I have never, ever talked so much during a game," he said later, his hoarse voice the proof.