Think Deflategate was a distraction?
It’s a good thing Twitter wasn’t around when the Patriots were preparing for Super Bowl XXXI with coach Bill Parcells’s imminent departure hovering like a thunder cloud over old Foxboro Stadium.
On Jan. 26, 1997, Parcells’s 11-5 Patriots lost to Mike Holmgren’s 13-3 Packers, 35-21, and five days later, the Big Tuna stepped down to become coach of the New York Jets.
“It kind of clouded the run to the game, which is disappointing, because you get to that game and want to enjoy the ride,” said quarterback Drew Bledsoe.
And what a ride it was.
In the first home playoff win in team history, Bledsoe and the Patriots defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, 28-3, in a game Bledsoe remembered most for the thick fog that blanketed the stadium.
“The fog held the noise in and it was the loudest I ever heard that stadium,” Bledsoe said.
The next week against the Jaguars, there was a brief power outage at the old stadium and the New England defense turned the lights out on the Jacksonville offense. Otis Smith’s 47-yard fumble return in the final minutes sealed a 20-6 AFC Championship victory.
In the Super Bowl, it was Reggie White and the Packers defense that worried Bledsoe.
After Green Bay took a 10-0 lead, Bledsoe answered with touchdowns on the next two drives, and it looked as if this would be a shootout between him and Brett Favre.
But the Packers scored the next 17 points before a Curtis Martin touchdown cut the lead to 27-21 in the third quarter.
Then Desmond Howard returned the ensuing kickoff 99 yards to bury the Patriots. New England never crossed midfield in the fourth quarter.
“That really took the wind out of our sails,” Bledsoe said. “It’s bittersweet. I’m still really proud of the fact we made it. The truth is I’ve never watched that Super Bowl. It’s too painful.”Anthony Gulizia can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @AnthonyGulizia.