The Niners threw their share of blitzes at Favre, and he read them expertly. "It's hard to blitz him," 49ers strong safety Tim McDonald had said earlier in the week, "because the guy is so tuned in, he picks it up before the snap."
Recognition was rampant for both teams—no surprise, given the incestuous nature of their rivalry. While Favre and Mariucci, who from 1992 to '95 was the quarterbacks coach in Green Bay, made the best of an awkward situation, Holmgren was grouchy even by his lofty standards. He prohibited his players from receiving calls in their hotel rooms and barked at players to stop making phone calls to Mariucci.
Some players call Holmgren Mussolini; Favre is more like Federico Fellini. During the Pack's 21-7 divisional playoff victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bucs defensive tackle Warren Sapp got in Favre's face after one hard rush and said, "I'm going to be after your ass all day." Favre patted the 288-pound Sapp on the gut and said, "With that tummy, I don't think you're going to make it." Last Saturday, as he concluded a production meeting with Fox announcers, Favre set off a stink bomb. "John Madden had some sort of adverse reaction," Favre said. "He was bracing himself against the wall, looking ill."
Yet Holmgren was in his element on Sunday as he delivered a fiery pregame speech, telling the Packers to "go for the jugular...dominate...kick their ass." Butler says Holmgren "was turning red. You could just feel the heat wave." Favre, meanwhile, played it cool, asking teammates as they rode the bus to the stadium, "Hey, guys, what do you say we kick some ass?"
With two weeks to prepare for the Broncos, Favre and Holmgren undoubtedly will be more polarized than ever in their approaches. Maybe their good cop/bad cop routine is by design. Says Verba, "Asses were tight this week, but Brett Favre is the leader of the Pack when it comes down to it. He keeps us loose."
But as much as some Green Bay players bitch about Holmgren's overbearing authority, they love having him on their sideline come Sunday. "Mike is the smartest coach in the league," Butler says. "The only coach who should be compared with him is dead, and that's Lombardi."
The next test for Favre is against Elway, who sat out the teams' last meeting, a 41-6 Green Bay victory that came after Denver had already clinched home field advantage throughout the AFC playoffs. "It's stupid to bring that one up," Favre says. "It'll be great to go into a big game against John. He's probably the quarterback I'm closest to among the guys who've been around for a while. We play alike, I think. I patterned my game after his. I admire him so much—the way he plays, the way he carries himself."
Ah, Brett, the paragon of decorum. While waiting for his hot dog in the Packers locker room on Sunday, Favre, 28 going on 12, dispensed some advice to Mariucci's 11-year-old son, Adam. "Smell this," Favre urged, offering a tiny vial of yellow liquid. Adam complied and recoiled; the liquid had the scent of rotten eggs. "Here's what you do," Favre said, handing the boy the vial. "Take this to school tomorrow. And at recess, put one drop somewhere and see what people do. One drop'll kill 'em."
It's a game plan Holmgren would hate, but one to which the coach could probably relate. One dose of Favre might be all the Broncos can take.
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