Pack threatens to leave pack NFL: With another Super Bowl win, Green Bay would join an elite crowd, but the jury is out on where the team stands among the greatest.

January 18, 1998|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,SUN STAFF

From here on out, the Green Bay Packers are playing against history, not just the Denver Broncos.

If Super Bowl XXXII is a mere formality -- a widely held opinion -- then the Packers are ready to move in with the big boys, the dynasty crowd, the Super Bowl repeaters.

There have been six back-to-back champions in the Super Bowl's 31-year history. The Packers would be the seventh.

Only one team has repeated on separate occasions. That was the Pittsburgh Steelers, who amassed four titles from the 1974 to the 1979 season. The Packers, who won the first two Super Bowls, will be the second team to turn the trick if they can beat the Broncos next week in San Diego.

But in an era of mediocrity, when the NFL is watered down by expansion, free agency and the salary cap, do they belong in the heady company of the league's all-time great teams?

"Not yet," said Tampa Bay general manager Rich McKay, whose Buccaneers were eliminated by Green Bay in the divisional playoffs.

"When I hear 'great teams,' I think of the Packers' dynasty [in the and the Steelers' dynasty. I don't know if they're there yet because those teams won a lot of titles. There's still a long ways to go.

"But this team has the makings of being a great team."

The Steelers won their four Super Bowl titles in a six-year period under Chuck Noll. The early Packers won five NFL titles -- including three in a row -- in a span of seven years under Vince Lombardi in the 1960s.

The present-day Packers are in the midst of a dominating three-year run that, to date, shows just one Super Bowl title. This year's trek to the NFC championship game was their third straight. In the past three years, they have an NFL-best regular-season record of 37-11.

They have the league's best quarterback in Brett Favre, a three-time MVP. They have Lambeau Field, where they've won 27 consecutive games. They have a defense that gave up 19 touchdowns a year ago, a record low for 16 games. They haven't given up a touchdown pass in their past 31 quarters, going back to Nov. 16.

If they are a dynasty in the making, just how great are these Packers, anyway?

"It's too early to say," said Ernie Accorsi, general manager of the New York Giants. "They may win three or four more titles. This is an awfully good team. There's no telling how many titles they might win."

It is a sobering thought for the rest of the league. Back in training camp, fresh off their victory in Super Bowl XXXI, the Packers talked openly of a perfect, 19-0 season. Perfection lasted two weeks into the regular season until a trip to Philadelphia.

But their more ambitious goal -- dominating the league into the year 2000 -- suddenly looks highly attainable.

Said safety LeRoy Butler back in training camp: "Our goal is to complete the '90s. There are three more years left in the '90s. Our goal is to continue it on at least three more years. I don't think it's realistic to say we'll take it on into the year 2000, but it's possible."

Who's to stop them?

The Bucs with Trent Dilfer at quarterback?

L The Dallas Cowboys with owner Jerry Jones calling the shots?

The San Francisco 49ers with their boy-wonder coach, Steve Mariucci?

The Bucs played the Packers tough this season, but lost three times.

The Cowboys need some fine-tuning -- not to mention a qualified coach -- before they return to the top.

The 49ers didn't come close to beating the Packers in last week's championship game with Mariucci on board, a healthy Steve Young at quarterback and the league's top-ranked defense in the wings. The Packers now own the 49ers the way the Cowboys once owned them.

"I think we're No. 2," 49ers center Chris Dalman said in the wake of that 23-10 loss. "I think we're better than any team in the AFC. [But] Green Bay is the team we are going to chase for the next few years."

If greatness is usually fitted for the Pro Football Hall of Fame, the Packers represent an interesting juxtaposition to those great teams.

The Steelers of the '70s sent seven players to Canton, Ohio, for enshrinement, plus Noll. The Packers had 10 Hall of Famers, in addition to Lombardi, from their golden era.

The Miami Dolphins under Don Shula -- who went to three straight Super Bowls in the early 1970s and won two of them -- had five Hall of Fame players. The Baltimore Colts had six from their back-to-back championship teams in 1958-59.

And the Packers? They have just two certain Hall of Famers -- Favre and defensive end Reggie White.

It doesn't preclude greatness in the modern era, though.

"First of all, you can't judge great teams by Hall of Famers," Accorsi said. "If you go back to the 49ers and [Washington] Redskins, both teams were multiple Super Bowl winners but didn't have a lot of Hall of Famers."

Today's Packers are winning with a power running game in Dorsey Levens, a big-play quarterback in Favre and a monster defense. It adds up to a domination reminiscent to the Steelers' glory years, said Pittsburgh's Hall of Fame linebacker, Jack Ham.

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