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Just for the Fun of It
Peter King
September 29, 1997
The Packers rediscover some of last year's magic, Chiefs a force, even without Thomas, Rooney's hard reality
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September 29, 1997

Just For The Fun Of It

The Packers rediscover some of last year's magic, Chiefs a force, even without Thomas, Rooney's hard reality

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Big D...As in Doldrums

Sooner or later, offensive inefficiency is going to catch up with the Cowboys. "You're not going to win games if you're not scoring touchdowns," says fullback Daryl Johnston. "This was a problem we had last year, too." Since the opening game of the '96 season, only four offenses have scored fewer touchdowns than Dallas's, which has 31. You don't have to look far for a reason. The Cowboys can't put the ball in the end zone when they get inside their opponent's 20. Here's a look at the Cowboys' success—or lack thereof—in the red zone dating back to their '92 Super Bowl eason.

YEAR

Drives Inside 20

Red Zone TDs

Pct. TDs

NFL Pct.

1992*

57

30

.526

.485

1993*

51

27

.529

.473

1994

60

39

.650

.503

1995*

63

36

.571

.493

1996

55

23

.418

.497

1997

14

4

.286

.443

*Won Super Bowl

Packers coach Mike Holmgren heard it all last week. His Super Bowl champions were an ugly 2-1. The talk shows were besieged with flak from fans. Quarterback Brett Favre and defensive end Reggie White spoke openly about a team that wasn't having much fun. So Holmgren stepped to the podium at Green Bay's team meeting last Saturday night and said, "Let's define fun."

Fun, he told his players, is not complicated. "When you win, it's fun," Holmgren said. "When you lose, it's no fun. You guys are reflecting on last year and comparing this year to the euphoria you felt then. You're only going to have that kind of first-time feeling once. It was a fun, uplifting time. That time's gone. It's a new season, and no one cares what you did last year. But I can promise you this: You get there again this year, and it's going to be fun."

It's not that Holmgren wasn't concerned. On the Monday and Tuesday after the Packers' skin-of-their-teeth 23-18 home win over the Dolphins on Sept. 14, he quizzed his coaching staff, trying to identify reasons for the club's lackluster start. He asked the offensive assistants if their schemes were still good enough to beat NFL defenses. The coaches said they were. Then he asked, "Am I calling the wrong plays? Am I being too conservative?" Most of the assistants have been with Holmgren since he took over in Green Bay in 1992, and the staff has good give-and-take. They assured Holmgren that his play-calling was fine. "We determined that it was a dropped pass here, a missed block there," Holmgren said. He decided to stay the course as the Pack prepared for Sunday's game against the Vikings at Lambeau Field.

Favre, who had only four touchdown throws coming in, is glad Holmgren did. The two-time MVP played as good a half as he ever has, throwing four of his five touchdown passes (which equaled his career high) as the Pack raced to a 31-7 lead. Several times Favre came close to losing his cool with a defense that taunted him and repeatedly hit him after the play. "Their guys are kicking him, pushing him, spitting on him, and he's still throwing touchdowns," Green Bay strong safety LeRoy Butler said afterward. "Without him we'd be lost."

Minnesota roared back in the second half, but the Packers hung on for a 38-32 win. Clearly, things still aren't perfect in Titletown. The defense, ranked first in the league in total yards and points allowed last season, let the Vikings gain 393 yards, let Brad Johnson complete 13 consecutive passes during one second-half stretch and let Robert Smith run for 132 yards. Maybe it will be impossible to recapture the magic of 1996. Holmgren says the only difference he sees between this year and last is injuries—five starters have missed games or are out for the year—but it was strange to watch the Vikings move the ball at will in the second half.

The Packers were lucky that they had Favre, who broke Bart Starr's franchise touchdown-pass record of 152. Minnesota clawed to within 31-22 early in the third quarter, and as Green Bay took over at its 19, Vikings defensive tackle John Randle walked up and down the line, screaming at the Pack, "I'm coming! We're gonna bring it! You'll never stop us!" Nine plays, 81 yards and five Favre strikes later, the Pack had what proved to be the winning points, on a two-yard bullet to tight end Mark Chmura.

This season may be only four weeks old, but the Packers already know this much: Repeating will be harder than they imagined. "Green Bay's still an outstanding team, and they've got a great chance to win it all again," Dolphins coach Jimmy Johnson said last week. "But last year it seemed like they were more driven. It's human nature. It's hard to be as hungry when you've got the ring on."

That doesn't mean you can't have some fun. When Holmgren addressed his players after Sunday's game, he told them, "Don't let [anyone] take the joy out of this day. We won, and this is fun." For at least another week.

K.C. Makes a Statement

Chiefs coach Marty Schottenheimer likes to liven up his practices with simulated crowd noise by using a row of speakers capable of pumping out more ear-ringing sounds than Garth Brooks in Central Park. Midway through last Friday's session, however, Schottenheimer brought his players together at midfield, turned down the volume and asked, "Do you prefer to operate like this? Well, then, shut Carolina down. You do that, and it'll get real quiet, real quick."

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