Two in a row exceed wildest dreams of Baltimore's Freeman Receiver cites 'power of work and dedication'

Notebook

January 12, 1998|By Vito Stellino | Vito Stellino,SUN STAFF

SAN FRANCISCO -- When Antonio Freeman was drafted in the third round by the Green Bay Packers in 1995, the Baltimore native wasn't exactly thinking about making back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl.

"I never imagined in my life going to back-to-back Super Bowls," Freeman said yesterday after the 23-10 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC title game earned the Packers a repeat trip.

"That just goes to show you the power of work and dedication, which this team and this organization represents, that anything is possible. We look around the locker room and there's a tremendous amount of confidence. There's a lot of love and togetherness on this football team. When you have those components, you can go as far as you want," he said.

On the burden of repeating, he said: "So much is expected of you the second time around. And yet everybody is gunning for you. You have to remain poised and calm and just be yourself. You're the Big Cat. Everybody is shooting for you.

"And that's just something we had to get used to. We had to play up to a certain level, regardless of who our opponent was. This didn't come easy. There was lot of hard work and overcoming a lot of tough situations."

Freeman made four catches yesterday, including a 27-yarder for a touchdown and a 48-yarder that set up a field goal on the last play of the first half.

On the touchdown catch, he said: "We said all week long we had to beat those guys at the line. I got a clean release and he [QB Brett Favre] was able to put the ball there and I made a few guys miss."

On the catch at the end of the half, he said: "When I came off the ball, I knew Brett was going to look at me because I was singled and all the attention was drawing to the strong side. I just ran as far as I could and Brett put the ball up there. He [cornerback Marquez Pope] grabbed me and held me, but I just concentrated and was still able to make the catch."

Freeman said the key to the win was just running the Packers' offense.

"Throughout the week, we just said we want to run our offense. That's what we did. We ran our stuff and we made a number of plays on [Rod] Woodson and we made a number of plays on Pope. We got open and Brett threw us the ball. We wanted to move the chains," he said.

He also thought the sloppy weather conditions gave the Packers the edge.

"We all said to ourselves, this is our kind of weather. We felt like we were at home despite their fans being loud and cheering for the other team. With the weather conditions, we really felt we had an advantage," he said.

When Freeman was asked how many relatives he was going to bring from Baltimore to the Super Bowl, he said, "I haven't thought that far ahead."

Receivers praised

Favre said the quickness of his receivers, Freeman and Robert Brooks, was important.

"We wanted to go with the quick game and the slant game and we didn't want to take seven-step drops," he said.

Favre was eager to prove he can play well in big games after 49ers coach Steve Mariucci said he makes mistakes as well as big plays.

"I always thought I play well in big games. I wouldn't trade that for anything."

Of Mariucci, who coached him in Green Bay, he said: "I love him to death. In games like that, it's kind of like growing up with your best friend and playing baseball and you want to hit the home run before he does. I still care a great deal about him and he's a great coach, but he had to win that ball game."

Favre said he was having fun when he was jawing with Bryant Young and Kevin Greene in the first quarter after Young threw him to the ground.

"I was telling Bryant Young it was a great hit. We thought the pass rush was the strength of their team and it was. I just wanted to let them know I wasn't going to be fazed by it. I respect it. I wasn't going to lay down. I was going to bounce back up and let them know it was a great play. It was like a boxing match. Kevin was jawing, doing his wrestling stuff. It was what makes this game fun," he said.

Burden lifted

Packers safety Eugene Robinson, who made the only interception of the game, said it's been a pressure-packed season.

"We really wanted to win and we wanted to repeat. The entire season was pressure-packed, 'Can we do it again? Are they prima donnas? Are they charlatans? They're going to fall off -- just wait, just wait.' We had a lot to prove and we stayed cohesive. The fruits of our labor are going to San Diego," he said.

Green Bay coach Mike Holmgren, comparing the last two years, said: "It's the same feeling in our locker room, but the journey to get here has been quite different. I've always preached to enjoy the journey, and I mean that."

It's 'bittersweet'

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