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Super Bowl XXXII: The Aftermath | BILL PLASCHKE

Holmgren Just Surrendered the Game Away

January 27, 1998|Bill Plaschke | Times Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — The Green Bay Packers purposely allowed the Denver Broncos to score the winning touchdown in a Super Bowl.

Think about that.

The Packer coach ordered their defense to stand still while the Broncos' Terrell Davis walked into the end zone. With the score tied. With less than two minutes left.

The Packers wanted Davis to score.

Think about that.

The football world went to sleep Sunday night nuzzling memories of John Elway's dives, of Davis' cuts, of Steve Atwater's thumps, of a Super Bowl won by courage.

It awoke Monday to the image of a defense rolling over like dogs.

It awoke, read a stunning explanation by Packer Coach Mike Holmgren, and likely wondered:

Was this instead a Super Bowl lost by fear?

Holmgren said it so late, many missed it, but his words may follow him the rest of his career.

With the Broncos holding the ball on the Green Bay one-yard line with 1:47 remaining, Holmgren said he ordered his team to lie down.

"I said, 'We've got to let them score,' " Holmgren said.

Holmgren figured if he waited any longer for the Broncos to score, when the Packers got the ball back, they wouldn't have enough time to tie the game.

"It was a strategy. I felt it was our only chance to win the football game," Holmgren said.

This logic has been recited before. It is actually used often in the NFL.

By bad teams, hoping to upset good ones.

By teams that have no defensive character, teams that are used to giving up 31 points a game and can only hope to win by scoring 40.

Was anybody aware that the Packers were that sort of team?

By employing that strategy, Holmgren made an assumption that will feel to some Packer fans like a punch to the stomach.

He assumed his defense was incapable of a goal-line stand.

Even if you buy his Monday statement that he thought it was first down instead of second down before Davis scored--which would have allowed Denver to kill more time--the truth remains.

The Packer coach stopped believing in the Packer magic.

Somewhere about now, Ray Nitschke is gnashing both of his teeth.

Reggie White retired before halftime, and Gilbert Brown is just another bad fat guy, and the rest of the defensive line was gasping for breath but, c'mon.

A Packer defense incapable of even trying a goal-line stand?

Should be fun when those Sheboygan house painters and River Falls mechanics interrupt the Packers' annual stockholders' meeting with this one.

Holmgren said if they attempt a goal-line stand, even if they succeed and force a field goal, "there would only have been about 10 or 15 seconds left."

That figuring was his first mistake.

There was 1:47 left on the clock when Davis run untouched--the Packers followed orders very well--into the end zone.

The run took two seconds.

Let's say he is stopped by Santana Dotson at the line of scrimmage, it takes a couple of more seconds to drag him to the ground, and the Packers immediately call a timeout.

Now it is third down with, oh, 1:40 remaining.

Let's say the Broncos run the same play again, and Davis is stopped by Seth Joyner after another struggle, and the Packers use their final timeout.

Now it is fourth down with, oh, 1:30 remaining.

The Broncos kick the field goal. The Broncos kick off.

Even if the timekeeper hailed from Colorado Springs and his daughter was a nanny for the Elways, the Packers would still have started their drive with about 1:20 remaining.

They would have had no timeouts, but they would have needed only a field goal to tie.

As it was, they drove to the Bronco 31-yard line in 1:07.

From there, Ryan Longwell could have kicked that field goal.

Instead of Favre throwing a desperation pass that was tipped away by John Mobley.

This same scenerio would have occurred even if Elway had twice taken a knee before the Broncos would have kicked a field goal, a stalling tactic which worked for the Indianapolis Colts in an earlier victory over the Packers.

"At least we made it interesting," Holmgren said.

So that's what it was about. By the time the Broncos reached the one-yard line, the coach had already given up "winning" and was willing to settle for "interesting."

Somewhere about now, Fuzzy Thurston is pulling both of his hairs.

Mike Shanahan, Bronco coach, would not offer an opinion on Holmgren's decision, though he did say he thought the Packers would have had more than a minute to tie the score if they had held.

Paul Tagliabue, NFL commissioner, said Holmgren had not damaged the integrity of the game, noting, "If he had done the opposite, everyone would have called him dumb. What he did was more sensible then setting himself up to throw three Hail Marys."

Shanahan was being nice, Tagliabue was being political.

By trying to be too smart, Holmgren was just plain dumb.

This was more than just a bad decision. This was a violation of a principle learned by every child from the time he can pick up a ball.

Ironically, Terrell Davis talked about this principle Sunday night.

"It's what I always tell kids from my old high school," Davis said. "I say, 'Never give up, just never give up.' "

Which is exactly what Holmgren did, this hot-shot football mind using the most important moment of the 1997 season to kick a crack in the foundation upon which the Green Bay Packers were built.

He gave up.

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