Next Howard return may not be G. Bay Free agent's value rises with his Super showing

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NEW ORLEANS -- It's a tradition for the Super Bowl MVP to go to Disney World.

The new problem for the Super Bowl champion is to get him back.

Cornerback Larry Brown, last year's Most Valuable Player with the Dallas Cowboys, got a $12.5 million free-agent deal from the Oakland Raiders, even though all he did was catch two passes that were thrown right at him.

Now, Desmond Howard will get to test free agency after he earned MVP honors by helping the Green Bay Packers beat the New England Patriots, 35-21, in Super Bowl XXXI Sunday night.

Six months ago, no team in the league would offer the 1991 Heisman Trophy winner more than the $275,000 veteran minimum, because he was a bust as a wide receiver with the Washington Redskins and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Now that he has reinvented himself as a kick returner, his price will go up. The Packers hope to keep him, but are aware they could get priced out of the market.

Leigh Steinberg, Howard's agent, who already has scheduled him on the David Letterman show tonight and set up his Disney World visit, said that free agents on Super Bowl teams are "probably overvalued."

He said the current system "is designed to stop dynasties from happening."

But don't be surprised if the Packers remain a contender. A community-owned team, they don't have to worry about front-office power struggles or the whims of an impatient owner.

In 1991, team president Bob Harlan hired general manager Ron Wolf, who hired coach Mike Holmgren. They all work together well.

They don't have to worry about a Bob Kraft dueling with a Bill Parcells, a Jerry Jones squabbling with a Jimmy Johnson or an Eddie DeBartolo pushing the coach out if he doesn't win the Super Bowl every other year.

The Packers like to think they're built for the long haul.

Sure, they're going to lose players. They've lost Bryce Paup, Tony Bennett and Jackie Harris while building a championship team.

This year's crop of free agents includes running back Dorsey Levens, nose tackle Gilbert Brown and linebacker Wayne Simmons besides Howard. But the team has a lot of stability.

"Ron Wolf just signed a new extension or is in the process of signing a new extension, I believe," Holmgren said yesterday. "Our organization is very sound. Bob Harlan gives Ron and myself everything that a coach and general manager could ask for.

"We'll make our mistakes down the road, but if we continue to build like we've been building, there's no reason to think we cannot be a playoff-caliber team in the years to come."

Another thing the Packers have going for them is the even-keel attitude of Holmgren.

He won two Super Bowls as an assistant in San Francisco, but he doesn't want to re-create the 49ers' atmosphere, in which anything less than a Super Bowl season is considered a failure.

He stresses "enjoy the journey" and still remembers how it was considered a disaster after the 1990 season, when the 49ers lost the NFC title game to the New York Giants and failed in a bid for a third straight Super Bowl title.

"We went to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, which is a wonderful hTC consolation prize, and it should have been fun, but as I reflected back, heck, it wasn't any fun," Holmgren said.

"And it's crazy because it's your life," the coach added. "It's too much time and effort away from your family not to have fun, not to enjoy the wins."

The tradition in Green Bay is a positive, too. The players seem to buy into it and embrace the past and build on it.

For example, Baltimore's Antonio Freeman is a second-year player, yet he was talking about how much it meant to bring the trophy back "home" to Green Bay.

"To hear a young man like Antonio Freeman, who wasn't even born during the glory years of the Packers, say something like that, I'm encouraged by that," Holmgren said.

He said he talks to the players a lot about the tradition.

"He's a young man who was listening. Hopefully, the other players, it touches them as well," Holmgren said.

That doesn't mean there won't be some bumps in the road.

Like the Cowboys.

The Packers have lost to the Cowboys seven straight times in Dallas, but the Cowboys will come to Lambeau Field next fall. That already is being touted as the Game of the Year.

"As long as Troy Aikman is there, I think the Cowboys are going to have a fine team," Holmgren said. "But, before I'm finished coaching, I would like to beat them one time -- that would be nice."

Leading up to the Super Bowl, Patriots coach Bill Parcells got all the attention, which was fine with Holmgren.

"It made sense to everybody," Holmgren said. "He had been there [Super Bowl] a couple of times. I hadn't as a head coach. But like I said, I was going to show up."

As it turned out, he beat Parcells in the coaching battle.

Parcells ran the ball only 13 times, putting a large burden on quarterback Drew Bledsoe.

He also let Holmgren create a couple of mismatches on touchdown plays -- Brett Favre's passes to Andre Rison and Freeman for 54 and a Super Bowl-record 81 yards, respectively.

But Holmgren gave the credit to the players.

"All season, there are some formations that we use, and if the other team decides to stay in certain coverages, we can create mismatches. That's one of our goals," he said.

"But it's up to the quarterback to decide where those mismatches are and take advantage of them. You have to have the players to execute the plan."

Now they get to enjoy all the spoils, like designing the Super Bowl rings.

"My wife said this morning she wanted to be involved," Holmgren said. "I'm not sure they're going to let her do that."

Pub Date: 1/28/97

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