Favre factor is good sign for Packers

January 14, 1996|By JOHN EISENBERG

DALLAS -- The first bad sign for the Green Bay Packers is a weather forecast calling for blue skies and temperatures approaching 70 degrees today.

Not exactly Ice Bowl II.

The second bad sign for the Packers is the artificial turf on which today's NFC title game against the Dallas Cowboys will be played. Packers quarterback Brett Favre has a 4-14 record as a starter on rugs. The Pack gets hacked on plastic.

Actually, there are numerous bad signs for the Packers. The Cowboys have superior personnel. The Cowboys haven't lost a home playoff game since 1983. The Cowboys have won six straight games against the Packers. Packers Ice Bowl hero Chuck Mercein has retired.

In sum, the Cowboys have many advantages. The Packers? They have two:

They have the game's hottest quarterback, Favre.

And, in Mike Holmgren, they have a better coach than the Cowboys' Barry Switzer.

Is that enough to overcome the weather, the rug, the home-field disadvantage, Mercein's retirement and the rest of the factors pointing to a Cowboys win?

"We have nothing to lose, that's for sure," Favre said. "No one is giving us a chance. Just like no one gave us a chance last week."

Last week was Green Bay's divisional playoff game against the San Francisco 49ers, in which the Packers throttled the defending Super Bowl champs with physical, stifling defense and Favre's big-play ability.

The victory pushed Green Bay beyond the quarterfinals of the Super Bowl tournament for the first time since the Ice Bowl year, 1967.

"It was a huge step for us, regardless of what happens against Dallas," Favre said. "We have a different attitude now. The guys are getting a little cocky. That's good. We feel like we belong on the same field with Dallas. That wasn't the case in our games with them recently."

If there is a single factor that gives the Packers a chance today, it is Favre himself. Having completed 45 of 63 passes for 498 yards and five touchdowns in the past two weeks, he is clearly the hot quarterback that the 49ers' Steve Young was last year and the Cowboys' Troy Aikman was the two years before that.

"There's nothing like the first time you get on a roll like that in the playoffs," Aikman said this week, sounding almost envious.

Of course, Favre's roll is just a continuation of his MVP season. Four years after the Falcons unloaded him for a draft pick, Favre, 26, carried the Packers to a division title with 38 touchdown passes.

Putting a label on him isn't easy. He isn't a percentage drop-back passer such as Aikman. He isn't a daring scrambler such as Young. He doesn't have the powerful arm of a Dan Marino. But he combines all those assets with an innate toughness, and the result is potent indeed.

"He's going to make plays on us, he's just too good not to," Switzer said.

Where did he come from? Well, from the small town of Kiln, Miss., which, fittingly, is pronounced "kill." Deion Sanders, Favre's teammate for a season in Atlanta, calls Favre "Country Time," as opposed to Deion's "Prime Time."

When the Browns' Andre Rison reportedly called Favre a hillbilly this year, Favre said, "Thank you."

Favre laughed about that earlier this week. "Actually, I'm not a hillbilly," he said. "I'm just from the country. A small town. And I like it that way. It keeps you humble."

And, to hear him tell it, it keeps you loose, too. A notorious prankster, he proudly confessed to his most recent trick: "I poured a 5-gallon bucket of ice water on [a teammate] in the john. If I can keep this place loose and make it fun, it's easier."

Favre came of age as a pro quarterback in 1993, a season in which he was intercepted 24 times and took a step backward from his surprising success as a first-time starter in 1992.

"That year was the best thing that ever happened to me," he said. "There were interceptions I threw that I don't throw anymore. There were bad reads I made that I learned from. Game situations, two-minute offense, red zone, short yardage, clock management. . . . I learned on all those fronts. It was a tough year on me, but I'm much better for having gone through it."

He emerged as the team leader this year when he ripped holdout tight end Keith Jackson and retired receiver Sterling Sharpe, earning his teammates' respect for his candor. Their loyalty has given him additional confidence.

Not that he needed much more.

"This team rides as I play, I know that," he said. "I think I'm one of the elite quarterbacks now. But Troy has done things I haven't. People can point to stats all they want, but Troy has two Super Bowl rings."

For Favre to get his first this season, he must play brilliantly today. And Holmgren, the former 49ers assistant, must somehow take advantage of his tactical superiority over Switzer.

Holmgren's game plan against the 49ers was so masterful that Bay Area fans are blaming coach George Seifert, not Young, for the loss.

TTC Holmgren will need another such strategic checkmate today. That and Favre's hot hand represent the Packers' chance to overcome odds that are stacked so high against them today.

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