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While His Team Takes a Beating, His Pride Doesn't

Packers: Super Bowl loss hits hard, but Holmgren says it shouldn't diminish this season's accomplishments.


SAN DIEGO — Long after the final second had disappeared from the clock at Qualcomm Stadium, after he had congratulated as many Denver Broncos as he could reach, after he had answered as many reporters' questions as he could, Green Bay Packer Coach Mike Holmgren stepped out of the small shower in his tiny locker room and allowed harsh reality to hit him.

He would not be getting the Vince Lombardi Trophy.

Not this time.

He would not be Vince Lombardi.

Not yet.

Having masterminded the rebirth of the Packers after nearly three decades of struggle, Holmgren was starting to be mentioned in the same breath as Lombardi, the man who won the first two Super Bowls to earn a permanent spot on the trophy awarded to the annual winner of football's biggest game.

But now, Holmgren, despite getting to the Super Bowl two consecutive years, was going to have to deal with being the first Packer coach to lose in football's big show, the Broncos having beaten his club, 31-24, Sunday.

"It's easy to win," Holmgren said. "It's tough to lose a game like this."

Holmgren said all the right things, all the things one would expect from a man generally regarded as one of the nice guys in a profession where the passion to win, often bordering on obsession, leaves little room for niceties.

"I told our team to hold their heads up," Holmgren said. "We've been through a lot together this season."

Holmgren told his players that, after the shock of Sunday's loss had worn off, after all the post-mortems had been examined and reexamined, they would acknowledge the accomplishments at their annual postseason banquet.

"We're going to stand up and raise a glass to one another," Holmgren said. "People will look at this team and say it isn't as good as last year's because we didn't win the Super Bowl, but I say it is very close."

Don't get the idea that the passion to win doesn't beat as fiercely in Holmgren's heart as it did in the heart of his Green Bay role model, Lombardi.

"I know the feeling in that locker room," said Holmgren, indicating the room where the Broncos were celebrating down the hall. "I had that feeling last year. I desperately wanted it this year."

If anybody can take pride in this season, it is Green Bay running back Dorsey Levens, who stepped into the starting lineup barely eight minutes into the first exhibition game when Edgar Bennett's season ended because of a torn Achilles' tendon.

Levens went on to rush for 1,435 yards in the regular season and didn't slow down in the postseason, coming through again Sunday with 90 yards and 4.7-yard average to take some of the pressure of the blitzing Broncos off quarterback Brett Favre. Not only that, but Levens appears to have run himself into a new tax bracket, becoming one of the primary ballcarriers in the league just in time for free agency at the opportune moment, when new television money will dramatically inflate the salary cap.

But Levens didn't want to hear any of that after Sunday's game.

"What do individual stats mean?" he said. "We didn't win the game. I might be the sorest loser ever. What difference does it make that we got to the Super Bowl if we didn't win it? This is tough to swallow."

Levens was quick to pay tribute to his Denver counterpart, Terrell Davis, the game's most valuable player, after rushing for 157 yards and a Super Bowl-record three touchdowns.

"Terrell Davis? He showed up," Levens said.

And will Levens show up for Packer training camp next season? Will he re-sign with his current club?

"I definitely want to return," Levens said.

Like so many of his teammates, Favre paid tribute to Denver quarterback John Elway, victorious at last at the age of 37 in his fourth shot at a Super Bowl title.

"Like I said all week," Favre told reporters, "if we were unfortunate enough to lose this ballgame, I'd be happy for John. And I am. He's played a long time for this, and I know the feeling he's going through right now because it's a wonderful feeling to win this game. I know he's worked hard . . . and I'm really happy for him."

Favre, who was hit hard at times by the blitz, took umbrage at the idea that Denver threw anything at him that he wasn't expecting.

"What did I say all week?" Favre said. "I said they would blitz, and they did. We scored three touchdowns off the blitz. That should be enough to win."

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