GREEN BAY, WIS. — GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The past kept coming back to visit the Green Bay Packers last week. The distant past of the Lombardi glory years and the not-so-long-ago past of those haunting playoff losses to the Dallas Cowboys.
Playing in the stadium Vince Lombardi turned into a shrine, the Packers went a long way toward creating a new era -- and a new aura -- yesterday.
Using the past as their inspiration, the Packers pounded the Carolina Panthers, 30-13, in the NFC championship game at Lambeau Field to advance to Super Bowl XXXI.
If these modern-day Packers are going to establish their own identity, they'll have to do it in New Orleans at the Superdome in two weeks against the New England Patriots, 20-6 winners over the Jacksonville Jaguars in the AFC title game.
"That's the only way to establish that, by winning the [league] championship," said Green Bay defensive end Sean Jones, after reaching the Super Bowl for the first time in 11 playoff tries. "That's how [the glory teams] did it.
"Until we do that, we shouldn't be considered a great Packer team."
The present-day Packers (15-3) looked unbeatable yesterday in numbing temperatures that hit a low of 3 degrees with a wind-chill factor of minus-23.
They overcame two early deficits and shredded the Panthers' vaunted 3-4 defense, rendering the zone blitz an outdated stratagem. Quarterback Brett Favre, Green Bay's reigning two-time league MVP, completed 14 of his last 17 passes after a shaky start, and let his offensive line make heroes of running backs Edgar Bennett and Dorsey Levens.
The Packers did what the Panthers couldn't: run the ball with momentum-building efficiency.
Bennett rushed for 99 yards and one touchdown, and Levens totaled 205 yards of offense -- 117 on five receptions, 88 rushing -- as the Packers' offense dominated with touchdown drives of 73, 71 and 74 yards.
"I don't think anybody can stop us," said Favre, who completed 19 of 29 passes for 292 yards and two touchdowns. "The only times we were stopped was when we stopped ourselves. I wasn't really worried when we were down."
The Panthers (13-5) cashed in two Favre turnovers -- a first-quarter interception and a second-quarter fumble -- for a 10-7 lead.
But the Packers scored on five straight possessions to burst the second-year Panthers' bubble and put the game away.
They scored 10 points in the final 48 seconds of the first half after Carolina coach Dom Capers decided against running out ** the clock and his quarterback, Kerry Collins, was intercepted.
When the Packers scored on their first three possessions of the second half, celebrations were breaking out all over Lambeau.
"We were beaten by a better team," Capers said when he came in out of the cold. "The Packers are an awfully tough team to beat.
"They moved the ball better than any team we played this year."
Late in the second quarter, Green Bay got the go-ahead score with a drive of nearly eight minutes, Bennett and Levens carving up the Carolina defense.
Facing second-and-25 after a 15-yard clipping penalty, Favre hit Andre Rison with a 22-yard pass to the Panthers' 6. Then, on third down, Favre flipped a 6-yard touchdown pass to Antonio Freeman (Poly), who got cornerback Tyrone Poole to bite on an inside move and then beat him to the outside.
When Green Bay cornerback Tyrone Williams picked off a long Collins pass moments later, the Packers were quick to capitalize. Favre hit Rison for a 23-yard gain, and Freeman for 25 yards to reach the Panthers' 14.
After one incompletion in the end zone, the Packers settled for a 31-yard Chris Jacke field goal and a 17-10 halftime lead.
Green Bay manhandled both the offensive and defensive lines of the Panthers, forging a 479-251 advantage in total yards and a 201-45 advantage in rushing yards.
Once the Packers defense took away the running game of Anthony Johnson (11 carries, 31 yards), Carolina was left with the prayer of Collins' passing game. Although he completed 19 of 37 for 215 yards, the prayer went unanswered -- he was intercepted twice and only threatened once in the second half.
"Everybody was talking about Carolina's defense and their zone blitz," said defensive tackle Santana Dotson. "A lot of people forgot we had the No. 1 defense."
Nobody forgot how the Packers lost, 38-27, to the Cowboys in last year's NFC championship game in Irving, Texas, though.
"We were glad to get there [to the NFC championship game] last year," said strong safety LeRoy Butler. "On the plane ride home, I saw some pretty sad faces. Now we want to take advantage of this opportunity. We may never get to this position again."
It will be Green Bay's first Super Bowl in 29 years, harkening back to the glory years of Lombardi and Bart Starr.
"This is about 1997," Freeman said. "It's been 30 years. We see a lot of those guys around. We'll see [Paul] Hornung and Willie Wood around the [practice] facility. They want it just as much as we do."
And these Packers want it pretty badly. Coach Mike Holmgren was so choked up in the locker room afterward that he had to stop and look away from the television cameras that had been set up to capture the moment.
"The locker room is a wonderful place to be right now," he said. "I talked to them and I couldn't get the words out. A number of players are near the end of their career, and it's very special, the opportunity they have to go to the Super Bowl."
Pub Date: 1/13/97