His year began as a horror movie and ended as a fantasy. On May 14, 1996, Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre admitted himself into the Menninger Clinic in Kansas for an addiction to the pain killer Vicodin. After emerging from the facility 46 days later, 14 pounds lighter, many doubted whether he could successfully recover and return to the form that had won him the league MVP. They were wrong.
All Favre did in 1996 was throw 39 touchdown strikes-the third-highest total in NFL history, become the league MVP for the second consecutive season and most importantly, lead the Pack to its first title since Super Bowl II in 1968.
Favre threw for 246 yards and two touchdowns to lead Green Bay to a 35-21 victory over the AFC champion New England Patriots and head coach Bill Parcells. The Pats kept the game close, a rarity in recent Super Bowls, and trailed just 27-21 late in the third quarter after a Curtis Martin touchdown run. The nail was hammered into the Patriot's coffin on the ensuing kickoff, however, as Desmond Howard raced 99 yards for a score to put the Pack on top to stay. Howard amassed a Super Bowl record 244 all-purpose yards to take home the MVP award, future Hall of Famer Reggie White registered three sacks, and the Lombardi Trophy returned to Green Bay to the delight of cheeseheads around the country.
The surprise of the 1996 season had to be the success of the two "expansion" teams. Both the Carolina Panthers and the Jacksonville Jaguars, aided by strong expansion drafts, additional supplemental draft choices and the free agent market, advanced to their respective conference championship games. Carolina, behind the now infamous work ethic of NFC Coach of the Year Dom Capers, rolled to a 12-4 mark and the NFC West title, including a 2-0 mark against division favorite San Francisco. The intense coaching style of Jaguars' coach Tom Coughlin also led to Coach of the Year honors as the Jags upset the Bills in the first round of the playoffs, then gave the Patriots a late Christmas present by accomplishing the unheard of, stunning the Broncos at Mile High Stadium.
The list of new coaches for 1997 looked like a who's who of the 1980's list as former coaches Mike Ditka and Dick Vermeil were welcomed back to the NFL with the Saints and Rams, respectively, while coaching legends Dan Reeves (Giants to Falcons) and Bill Parcells (Patriots to Jets) merely changed locations. The Parcells saga was an especially sticky situation as he feuded with Patriots' owner Bob Kraft in the weeks preceding and following the Super Bowl, causing unnecessary distractions in what was an otherwise exceptional season.