NFC clash brings two worlds together It's modern Cowboys vs. Packers' tradition for championship

January 14, 1996|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

IRVING, Texas -- When the Green Bay Packers play the Dallas Cowboys today for a berth in Super Bowl XXX, it will be a matchup of the small-town, sentimental favorites against the free-spending, flashy team that more resembles a corporation.

The Packers are the guys in the white hats representing everything that's good about the NFL. They're a community-owned team from a small Wisconsin town where the fans turned on their porch lights last Sunday at 1:15 a.m. when the team flew home from San Francisco.

The Packers provide a perfect contrast to the Cowboys, who give no apologies for wearing the black hats. Or having money.

Their owner, Jerry Jones, represents the new NFL, where marketing sometimes seems more important than the game itself.

What the Packers might lack in marketing, they have in stability: They are the only team in the league that never has to worry about the owner moving the team. The fans (1,890 stockholders who get no dividends) own the not-for-profit team and they put the money in the bank and use the funds to improve Lambeau Field.

Not that spending money is the answer for them. Their payroll of $33 million is the third lowest in the league. They didn't sign one free agent this season and lost nine, including Bryce Paup, who went to Buffalo and became the AFC Defensive Player of the Year. Their best player, wide receiver Sterling Sharpe, was lost with a neck injury.

But they believe in the old-fashioned values of teamwork, and it helps that they have a hot quarterback in Brett Favre.

"It's like a family," said Green Bay strong safety LeRoy Butler. "That's the difference between this team and a lot of other teams."

Dallas, meanwhile, doesn't mind shopping.

Jones' payroll of $62 million is the highest in the league. Deion Sanders' $13 million signing bonus is more than one-third of Green Bay's entire payroll. Jones made $25 million last year. The Packers' profits were $2 million.

When the NFL charged that Jones' marketing deals violated league rules and sued him for $300 million, he responded with a $750 million suit.

Jones is quick to say that the league office -- and most of the other owners -- are rooting against his team.

"I don't think we have a lot of goodwill in New York [at the league office]," he said.

Jones has been complaining about the league much of the season. When the NFL balked at the restructuring of Sanders; contract, he said, "This is not about Deion Sanders' contract. This is about sticking it to the Dallas Cowboys."

Jones' ways wouldn't work in Green Bay. Even Favre called him "a silly man with a lot of money" earlier this year.

Favre explained last week that he didn't like the way Jones paraded on the sidelines with his guests, including Nike owner Phil Knight.

"They're drinking champagne and wearing their nice suits. I just think it's kind of a circus to him. It shouldn't be that way," he said.

But it's working for the Cowboys. They could be the first team to win three Super Bowls in a four-year period. The last time a team won three straight titles was when Green Bay did it from 1965 to 1967.

The Packers beat the Cowboys in the NFL title games en route to the first two Super Bowls, including their win in the Ice Bowl in 1967 -- the last time Green Bay was in the NFL/NFC championship.

Recent history, though, has belonged to the Cowboys, who have beaten the Packers five straight times and knocked them out of the playoffs the past two years.

The Packers can't use the same type of defense that throttled the San Francisco passing game a week ago because they have to stop Emmitt Smith.

Even Packers coach Mike Holmgren concedes, "Until you beat a team, there is going to be that little doubt in the back of everyone's mind. But that's football. Until you beat a particular team, you don't know if you can beat them. You feel you can. But you haven't done it."

If the Packers are to spring an upset, Favre has to have a big day, and he doesn't have any doubts.

"We're going in there this time with a different attitude and a different confidence level than we've had in the past," he said. "In the past, we weren't sure whether we belonged on the field with them. But now we know we do."

The Packers find out today if they belong.

If this were the movies, the guys in the white hats would pull it off.

The oddsmakers have made the guys in the black hats nine-point favorites.

If they're right, Jones will be drinking more champagne today while he's doffing his black hat.

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