The rivalry between the Packers and the Bears dates back to the
days when Johnny (Blood) McNally faced Red Grange, but never in
75 years had harsher words--or cheaper shots--been exchanged. In
May, Packers defensive end Reggie White scrapped with former
Bears defensive tackle Steve (Mongo) McMichael in the World
Championship Wrestling Slamboree. Mongo kicked White in the
groin, and while the referee wasn't looking--why do they always
get distracted at the most critical time in the match?--he
smacked the rasslin' reverend upside the noggin, then pinned
him. Boasted the victor: "A Green Bay Packer cheesehead ain't no
match for a Monster of the Midway."
Maybe not in the ring. But last year it became abundantly clear
that there ain't no match for the Packers anywhere in the NFL.
Green Bay scored the most points in the league--and allowed the
fewest--in its 13-3 regular season. The Pack then rolled through
the playoffs, winning its first Super Bowl in 29 years.
So, Ron Wolf, what have you done in the off-season? Dipped into
your coffers and gone after a few big-name free agents? "We
haven't done anything," said the Packers' G.M. "I've got other
things on my mind besides free agency. We feel like we have a
That explains why Green Bay re-upped center Frank Winters, wide
receiver Don Beebe and defensive tackle Gilbert Brown, and then,
in a surprise move, re-signed linebacker Wayne Simmons, who had
seemed to have both feet out the door. Simmons has a reputation
as a locker room distraction, and his March DUI arrest didn't
make him any more attractive.
But Simmons was just as offensive to other teams. He reportedly
uttered the hated phrase "Show me the money" to two teams he
visited, prompting one coach to tell him to "call Jerry Maguire"
before stomping out of the room. In May he signed a one-year,
$1.3 million deal with Green Bay, a price so cheap that the
Packers were willing to overlook his surliness--which some think
the team actually needs. "Honestly, they don't have a mean
sucker on their front seven other than Wayne," said one NFL
scout. "I don't think there's anybody on their defense who
intimidates the way he does." Safety LeRoy Butler dismissed the
Simmons-as-troublemaker talk, saying the Packers follow
Simmons's lead in one place: "On the field, not in the locker
room. He'll go over and just grab the tight end and maul him,
throw him on the ground. We see that and say, 'Well, maybe we
need to do the same thing.'"
The only significant defensive loss is end Sean Jones, who, at
34, retired to become a TV broadcaster. He'll be replaced by
fourth-year man Gabe Wilkins, a 26-year-old who weighs 300
pounds and runs a 4.9 40.
The Packers' offense also returns largely intact. Receivers
Andre Rison and Desmond Howard were free-agency departures, but
they will hardly be missed, although Howard did return four
punts and one kickoff for touchdowns last year (including the
postseason). Newly signed Qadry Ismail is expected to take over
as the return man and compete for a receiver spot. Robert
Brooks, who had 23 catches for 344 yards before going down in
last year's seventh game with a serious knee injury, is back. He
will team with Antonio Freeman, who developed into a big-play
receiver in Brooks's absence, grabbing 56 catches for 933 yards.
With two-time MVP Brett Favre, tight end Mark Chmura and the
one-two punch of Dorsey Levens and Edgar Bennett in the
backfield, the Packers are set at the skill positions. The
offensive line is solid across the board.
The only hitch in Titletown in the past year occurred when the
team tried to have its ring ceremony without inviting
Simmons--who at the time appeared bound for another team--and
departed players Rison, Howard and kicker Chris Jacke. The
outcry from Green Bay fans forced the team to reconsider, and
Wolf, coach Mike Holmgren and president Bob Harlan all ended up
with egg on their faces. "You would think it's the only thing
going on in the world," Harlan said. "Being 4-12 was easier."
When the Packers finally got their rings, no one was happier
than White, who had waited 12 years for the moment. "It's
probably more exciting to get it than to win it," he said. "This
is something to cherish, and it's something you want to do
again. We want to make a habit of winning championships. There's
nothing like it."
Now if he could just get those darn wrestling referees to pay
COLOR PHOTO: AL TIELEMANS COVER [NATIONAL--VARIES BY REGION] Pack Again? Brett Favre and Super Bowl champ Green Bay are primed to repeat
COLOR PHOTO: RICH KANE/SPORTSCHROME Down and Dirty Green Bay wiped out the 49ers in last season's playoffs en route to the title. And how do the Packers look this year? They'll clean up again. [San Francisco 49ers and Green Bay Packers in game--T of C]
COLOR PHOTO: BOB ROSATO White returns to wrestle opponents--the football type--for another Super Bowl ring. [Reggie White in game]
BY THE NUMBERS
1996 Record: 13-3 (first in NFC Central)
1996 Yards per Game (NFL rank)
Rushing Passing Total
OFFENSE 114.9 (11) 231.1 (5) 345.9 (5)
DEFENSE 88.5 (4) 171.3 (1) 259.8 (1)
Here's the Kicker
Penn State's Brett Conway, whom Green Bay chose in the third
round with the 90th overall selection, was the only placekicker
selected in April's NFL draft. Since 1980, seven placekickers
have been drafted higher than Conway; only three have ever made
a Pro Bowl.
Placekickers Drafted Higher Than 90th Overall since 1980
Draft Round NFL
Team Year (Sel. No.) Career FG-FGA(Pct.)
John Lee Cardinals 1986 2 (32) 1986 8-13 (61.5)
Chip Lohmiller Redskins 1988 2 (55) 1988-96 204-284 (71.8)
Jason Hanson Lions 1992 2 (56) 1992-96 113-147 (76.9)
Jason Elam Broncos 1993 3 (70) 1993-96 108-138 (78.3)
Jeff Jaeger Browns 1987 3 (82) 1987-96 185-249 (74.3)
Steve McLaughlin Rams 1995 3 (82) 1995 8-16 (50.0)
Doug Brien 49ers 1994 3 (85) 1994-96 55-74 (74.3)
[John Lee] 0
[Chip Lohmiller] 1
[Jason Hanson] 0
[Jason Elam] 1
[Jeff Jaeger] 1
[Steve McLaughlin] 0
[Doug Brien] 0
PLAYER TO WATCH
When Oakland offered Super Bowl MVP Desmond Howard $1.5 million
for this season, Green Bay let him walk. His replacement: speedy
Qadry Ismail, who had 22 catches and averaged a mediocre 18.8
yards on kickoff returns for Minnesota in 1996. "My goal is to
be a receiver-return man," says Ismail, who will vie with Don
Beebe and Derrick Mayes for time behind Antonio Freeman and
Robert Brooks. "There are some fine receivers [in Green Bay],"
Ismail said, "but I didn't come here to twiddle my thumbs on the
PROJECTED LINEUP With 1996 Statistics
Head Coach: Mike Holmgren
Offensive Backs PVR*
QB Brett Favre 1[*] 543 att. 325 comp. 59.9%
3,899 yds. 39 TDs 13 int.
RB Edgar Bennett 47[*] 222 att. 899 yds. 4.0 avg.
31 rec. 176 yds. 5.7 avg.
FB Dorsey Levens 100[*] 121 att. 566 yds. 4.7 avg.
31 rec. 226 yds. 7.3 avg.
Receivers, Specialists, Offensive Linemen
WR Robert Brooks 37[*] 23 rec. 344 yds. 4 TDs
WR Antonio Freeman 84[*] 56 rec. 933 yds. 9 TDs
WR Qadry Ismail[A] 204[*] 22 rec. 351 yds. 3 TDs
TE Mark Chmura 43[*] 28 rec. 370 yds. 0 TDs
PK Brett Conway (R)[A] 182[*] 39/39 XPs 18/24 FGs 93 pts.
KR Qadry Ismail[A] 204[*] 28 ret. 18.8 avg. 0 TD
PR Don Beebe 270[*] 0 ret. Avg. N.A. 0 TDs
LT John Michels 6'7" 290 lbs. 15 games 9 starts
LG Aaron Taylor 6'4" 305 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
C Frank Winters 6'3" 295 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RG Adam Timmerman 6'4" 295 lbs. 16 games 16 starts
RT Earl Dotson 6'3" 315 lbs. 16 games 15 starts
LE Reggie White 39 tackles 8 1/2 sacks
LT Gilbert Brown 51 tackles 1 sack
RT Santana Dotson 37 tackles 5 1/2 sacks
RE Gabe Wilkins 19 tackles 3 sacks
OLB Wayne Simmons 66 tackles 2 1/2 sacks
MLB George Koonce 97 tackles 0 int.
OLB Brian Williams 83 tackles 1/2 sack
CB Craig Newsome 71 tackles 2 int.
SS LeRoy Butler 87 tackles 6 1/2 sacks.
FS Eugene Robinson 81 tackles 6 int.
CB Doug Evans 78 tackles 5 int.
P Craig Hentrich 68 punts 42.4 avg.
[A] New Acquisition (R) Rookie (college statistics)
[*] *PVR: Player Value Ranking (explanation on page 165)