SUPER BOWL XXX CHAMPION 1995 DALLAS COWBOYS

One year after the San Francisco 49ers won a record fifth Super Bowl the Dallas Cowboys equaled that feat. The hardest pill to swallow for Dallas was the lost chance to 3-peat when the 49ers dethroned them in Candlestick Park that January day in the NFC Championship.

sbxxx3Ironically that 38-28 loss was easily one of the greatest games in Cowboys history.  During their championship years they had never been challenged like that, faced so much adversity, yet kept fighting on valiantly when all seemed to be lost. The game concluded the greatest series of championships between two teams.

Let’s take you back to January 15, 1995. The league was still reeling from the surprise departure of Jimmy Johnson (The U) and although Barry Switzer was there at the press conferences, we were waiting for the April fool’s joke to end.  It was Jerry Jones insistence that any coach could win with the talent the Cowboys had that led to the hiring of Switzer without any changes to the rest of the staff. That was plain goofy.

After losing Pro Bowlers Thomas Everett, Ken Norton, Jimmy Jones, Kevin Gogan, and sparkplug special teamer Kenny Gant to free agency, the Cowboys still marched to a 12-4 record.  Emmitt Smith was still the engine of the offense.

Aikman, Novacek, Irvin (The U), and Harper still posed a formidable passing attack. Charles Haley, Tony Tolbert, Darren Woodson, Russell Maryland (The U), James Washington, and Darrin Smith (The U) anchored one of the league’s best defenses despite the personnel losses. They marched into the 1994 playoffs with the chance of equaling Lombardi’s Packers in winning 3 straight championships.  So what happened??

The 49ers treating the 1993 Pro Bowl as a college recruiting trip is what happened.  The 1994 season was to be the first with free agency and it was actually Dallas’ fault that the 49ers coaching staff was there in the first place.  Back then the team that lost the conference championship to get to the Super Bowl is the coaching staff who coached that year’s pro bowl squad.  Going into the ’93 NFC Championship game, then coach Jimmy Johnson called into a radio show proclaiming “We will win the ballgame, and put it in 3 inch headline!” which irked the 49ers brass and players.

The Cowboys had prevailed in the ‘92 championship game also over the 49ers and it was a declaration that Dallas IS now the heavy between the two.  Oh you gotta love that “U” swagger! The 49ers came unglued getting roped into a pregame fight and behaved completely out of character.  They lost the game in a very boisterous embarrassing fashion 38-21.  On a quiet elevator ride down amidst the din of a celebrating Texas Stadium, Eddie DeBartolo turned to Carmen Policy and said simply “We must never be embarrassed like this again”

super-bowl-logo-1995Carmen Policy accompanied the 49er coaching staff to the Pro Bowl and went to work on specific changes the Niners needed to make to dethrone Dallas. Stealing Ken Norton from the Cowboys, whispering in the ears of  Bart Oates (Giants), Charles Mann (Redskins), Ricky Jackson (Saints), Richard Dent (Bears), and Deion Sanders (Falcons) ‘Pssstt, you know if you helped us on defense, we have the offense to knock off Dallas and we can get you a ring.’  I can so picture Policy saying that with a used car salesman smile / smirk and it worked. The 49ers were going to field an NFC Pro Bowl defense to stop Emmitt, Aikman, and Irvin and it came to full fruition January 15, 1995.  Each had a specific assignment.

Both teams came into that game extremely fired up. This time it was the 49erswith the bravado and starting the pre-game shoving matches and was the more intense team.  First assignment was fooling Dallas into thinking Deion Sanders was going to cover Irvin, when he was there to cover Harper.  Harper had become the playoff all time yardage per reception leader based upon his games against the 49ers. This confused Dallas into the first interception that made it 7-0. The offense was not only unprepared for that they benched Harper to try to figure it out. Two more turnovers ensued in that confusion and the white hot 49ers scored to make it 21-0 in the first quarter.

It was from this point on that the Cowboys showed a determination not shown in collecting the two championships from the seasons before.  They were in hostile territory, hopelessly behind, against an all star team put together piece by piece to defeat them and halt their progression into history.

They valiantly tried to stay in the game; Aikman threw for a career high 350 yards (first 300 yard game of career), Irvin set the team post season reception record with 12 for nearly 192 yards and 2 TDs while providing leadership. Emmitt Smith scored twice before his bad hamstring forced him out of the game.  In the end it wasn’t enough but the fight they showed for 3 quarters was tremendous to say the least.  To defeat the Cowboys the 49ers had to buy an all star defense with 5 pro bowl defenders. The 38-28 defeat provided the springboard into the next season.

After a few more free agent defections it became clear that this was the last hurrah for the team that Jimmy Johnson had built. They had been withered away in the two years of free agency however in the spirit of cold war double agent dealing, they wrested Deion Sanders away from the 49ers to return the favor of stealing Ken Norton from them.  An 8-1 start pointed that the Cowboys were clearly the team to beat yet a 38-21 loss to the 49ers brought them back down to Earth.

Another late season loss and it seemed the chance to win 3 out of 4 was going down the drain like the dream of a 3-peat. Then came the famous 4th down failures in a late season loss to Philadelphia 20-17. Yet Emmitt Smith, who went on to lead the league with 1,773 yards rushing kept chugging along and carried this team on his back.  He went on to set the record with 25TDs for the year. Going into the playoffs everyone thought they’d face the 49ers for the 4th straight season but the Green Bay Packers put an end to that.  Playing the Packers in the NFC Championship at home gave the Cowboys an edge as they won 38-27 to advance to Super Bowl XXX. For a more visceral feel:

There they outlasted the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17 to become the first team to win 3 Super Bowls in 4 years and the first franchise to win the Super Bowl with 3 different coaches.  The Steelers punched the Cowboys square in the star but MVP Larry Brown’s interceptions sealed the game for Dallas.

The Cowboys of the early 90’s was the first champion to be besieged by free agency.  How many times would they have won if Jimmy Johnson’s original squad been able to stay together as the Dolphins, & Steelers of the ‘70s did?  I think they would have won 5 or 6 titles…What do you think?

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SUPER BOWL XXIX CHAMPION 1994 SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

In the eyes of The Chancellor of Football, this was the best 49er team ever! Think of a mythical game between the 1989 49ers and the 1994 49ers…Who would win?

xxix1Think about, if the 89 Niners version of Jerry Rice being covered by the ’94 NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year Deion Sanders, than zone off the rest of the defense to cover Craig, Taylor, Rathman, and Jones? The 94 Niners beat them…why am I talking about this? Well the Chargers in Super Bowl XXIX just shouldn’t have been there.

Pittsburgh took them lightly in the AFC Championship and when they realized they were in a game it was too late and lost 17-13.  Am I wrong?

Anyway, the 89 49ers didn’t have the LB speed to cover Watters out of the backfield (Romanowski, Keena Turner, Matt Millen or Michael Walter) and had Deion to shut down Rice. Quietly one of the best teams in history, in fact they had to beat one (Cowboys of 1991-1995, 3 Super Bowl wins) just to get there.  The Niners lost their mojo, when they let Ricky Watters leave via free agency. Yet for that 1994, give it up to one of the best ever.

If football were a different kind of commercial business, they’d be Microsoft.  All the innovations and ideas to stay atop the league should be applauded.  The smartest move EVER was what they did after losing the second NFC Championship in a row to Dallas in 1993.

Back then the loser of the Conference Championship game’s coaches would coach the conference’s Pro Bowl team.  With free agency being new, how to approach players hadn’t really been an exact science.  Having lost Ronnie Lott and other defensive greats over the last few years, the defense didn’t have punch to match their offense, and certainly couldn’t handle Dallas.

What did the 49ers do?  They treated the 1993 Pro Bowl as a college recruiting trip… LOL  I can still picture George Seifert and Carmen Policy whispering to Ricky Jackson, Richard Dent, Bart Oates, Charles Mann, Ken Norton, and Deion Sanders “Pssst, you know we can beat Dallas and get you a ring if you sign with us…we already have the offense.”

Not only did they get players, they had specific designs for them.  Deion Sanders (’94 NFL Defensive player of the year) was to shut down Alvin Harper (all time leading receiver in yards per catch in postseason history) who had lit up the Niners for big plays in the last two conference finals.

sb29First up, Ken Norton Jr.; to take a key cog off the Cowboy defense and had faced Dallas in practice, and he would know their strength and weaknesses and light a fire on that side of the ball.  Richard Dent, Charles Mann, and Ricky Jackson were to be pass rushers that would be able to get to Troy Aikman because Artie Smith, Troy Wilson were “tweeners” that got manhandled by Cowboy tackles. Neither Larry Roberts nor Dennis Brown were effective enough.

Bart Oates helped solidify the offensive line and knew how to play the Cowboys stunting tackles having played against them in New York.  Throw in a rejuvenated Gary Plummer and this was a team with no holes in it!! I put this team against any in history and struggle to find who they’d lose to.

…and by the way, I did say Deion Sanders for Alvin Harper and not Michael Irvin.  How do we know this? Microsoft…I mean the 49ers were great at poker…they didn’t show their hand in the regular season matchup with Dallas in their use of Deion.  Yet when they stepped on the field for the NFC Championship game,  Deion (speed player) was on Alvin Harper (speed player) and could zone and cover Michael Irvin (The U) who wasn’t that fast.  They fooled Aikman into the interception returned for a touchdown on the 3rd play of the game by Eric Davis.  You know the 21-0 lead…and the rest.

Most notable was on Dallas 3rd possession Dallas took Harper out of the game! He came back a possession or two later but Deion’s coverage of him not only sapped his confidence and shook up the coaching staff on how to attack San Fran.  So decisive was this that you can trace the decline of Alvin Harper’s career from that exact point.

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1990’s San Francisco 49ers v. Dallas Cowboys: 49ers Perspective

Former San Francisco 49er Head Coach Bill Walsh referred to the early years of the organization’s coming of age as “Camelot”. After the 1981 Super Bowl championship they would go on to become “Team of the Decade” winning another 3 titles. San Francisco became the NFL’s gold standard in on field achievement and the corporate way they conducted themselves.

Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and John Taylor had taken the West Coast Offense to a record level.

Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and John Taylor had taken the West Coast Offense to a record level.

Their players were revered as Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Ronnie Lott took their place among the league’s greatest ever players. They had been the toast of Presidents as the 80’s drew to a close. In 1989 new Dallas Cowboy owner Jerry Jones traveled to San Francisco to learn from Eddie Debartolo how the league’s model franchise did business. This was nothing new as even former Head Coach Bill Walsh had become a favorite on the corporate motivational speaking circuit.

As the 90’s beckoned, the team was transitioning on the field as Steve Young, Ricky Watters and a new wave of 49ers emerged. It started with a team loss in  the 90 NFC Championship to the New York Giants 15-13 ending their chance at a 3-peat. Gone were 80’s holdovers Montana, Roger Craig, and Lott as the new generation took shape in 1991. Montana from a vicious hit that kept him out of football for two years. The others were released as the team looked to get younger to stay competitive.

They finished 10-6 as Steve Young finished his first season as a passing champion. It took awhile for San Fran to find their footing yet they finished on a 6 game winning streak. By 1992 the Niners hit their stride finishing 14-2 and retooled with Ricky Watters rushing for 1,013 yards to join Young, and Rice in the Pro Bowl. Another passing title moved Young into the elite of the sport yet it came crashing down with a loss to the upstart Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship 30-20.

Steve Young being sacked  during the 1992 NFC Championship Game.

Steve Young being sacked during the 1992 NFC Championship Game.

Yes, those same Dallas Cowboys who had studied the 49er organization some 4 years before. The same Jimmy Johnson and Jerry Jones who had traded for former 49er Charles Haley to help lead the upstart Cowboys and shift the balance of power. Haley had grown up a 49er and battled T Steve Wallace, G Guy McIntyre, and G Harris Barton for 6 years in practice. His experience and spirit settled the nervous young Cowboys in their ’92 NFC Championship triumph.

Going into the game it was a 50/50 split as to who had the upper hand. What really hurt Steve Young is a now healthy Joe Montana watched from the sideline. As San Fran fell behind in the second half, a growing feeling in the stadium loomed. Would George Seifert put Montana in if the game got away from Young. Even though Young was the NFL’s MVP, he still had the legend looking over his shoulder.

Troy Aikman outplayed him and made several signature throws to Alvin Harper while Young threw 2 4th quarter interceptions. What if Guy McIntyre doesn’t false start on the game’s 3rd play negating Jerry Rice’s 63 yard TD from Young?? It would have changed the complexion of  the game. However Troy Aikman had gone 24 of 34 for 322 yards and 2TDs. Emmitt Smith controlled the clock with 114 yds rushing and 59 yds receiving. They took the measure of San Fran and became the league’s signature team with their Super Bowl XXVII championship.

Going into 1993 the 49ers had traded away Joe Montana making it Young’s team. This added pressure from the fans but their real battle was catching Dallas who was now an established champion. They were brash and played with an in your face bravado that took the 49ers aback. In the locker room following the ’92 Championship, Jimmy Johnson’s boast “How ’bout them Cowboys!?!” reverberated in the CBS cameras & throughout Candlestick Park. It haunted the organization as they set their sights on dethroning the loud, brash Cowboys.

Once they qualified for the NFC Championship rematch in Dallas, it was time to right the ship. Dallas had beat them 26-17 in the regular season to add to their confidence. Then Cowboy coach Jimmy Johnson dropped a bombshell.  He called a Dallas radio station and declared “We will win the game and you can put it in 3 inch headline!” Now they were calling San Fran out and how would they respond??

Called out and humiliated like an after school fight in 6th grade, the 38-21 loss in the ’93 NFC Championship was worse than it looked. Dallas was up 28-7 in the 2nd quarter and was sitting on the ball with 3:27 to go. The defense, which had struggled all year, was completely exposed. The gap was widening and the team needed to make drastic changes if they were going to compete with the younger Cowboys.

Michael Irvin had emerged as one of the best wide outs in the NFL. Emmitt Smith had the last 2 rushing titles and had his 3rd straight 100 yard rushing game against the 49ers. Troy Aikman had yet to throw an interception in 2 NFC Championship games. Alvin Harper was becoming a serious 49er killer as he emerged with the highest yard per catch average in postseason history. Most of it due to huge plays against San Fran.

Carmen Policy and the 49ers brass moved into swift action. Back then the team that lost the conference championship coached the Pro Bowl squad. Free agency had come to the NFL the year before and they used this as a recruiting trip. They signed future Hall of Famers Rickey Jackson, Richard Dent, Deion Sanders off the NFC Pro Bowl squad. Then stole Ken Norton Jr from the Cowboys and DE Charles Mann all fom the ’93 Pro Bowl.

Floyd and Watters celebrate touchdown during their 44-15 demolition of Chicago in the '94 playoffs.

Floyd and Watters celebrate touchdown during their 44-15 demolition of Chicago in the ’94 playoffs.

“If you can come in and give us the defense, we have an offense that can dethrone the Cowboys and get to the Super Bowl.” They also knew they needed a new approach psychologically and embraced a more brash, in your face street tough mentality. Embraced was the outgoing personalities of Ricky Watters, Deion Sanders, and rookie FB William Floyd. Gone was the laced up corporate attitude of the team on the field. This group showed its emotions on the field, celebrated with end zone dancing and Deion highstepping downfield after interceptions. The only thing that made the 49ers recognizable were their helmets. Thanks to the NFL commemorating their 75th season, the Niners elected to play most of the season in their “throwback” uniforms of the 1950s. The 49ers were reborn in 1994.

It worked as the 49ers blew through the regular season 13-3 and scored a team record 505 points. Steve Young was league MVP and Sanders was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year. They retooled and had specific match ups ready as they eyed the defending champion Cowboys. They beat them during the season 21-14 to earn the right to homefield advantage for the ’94 NFC Championship. If the Cowboys were going to 3peat, they had to go through the last team that had that same chance just 4 years before.

The vanquished became the victors with their 38-28 defeat of the Dallas Cowboys in the ’94 NFC Championship Game. Super Bowl XXIX was an anticlimactic 49-26 win over the San Diego Chargers. Steve Young liberated himself from the ghost of Joe Montana. For 3 straight years these two teams pushed each other to heights they would not have achieved without each other. However the final shot was fired by the 49ers.

Young and Rice celebrate in Super Bowl XXIX.

Young and Rice celebrate in Super Bowl XXIX.

Jerry Jones had become obsessed with overtaking the 49ers who themselves made practical business decisions. They didn’t match Ricky Watters free agent contract with Philadelphia, which was a mistake, and they had to enter a bidding war for Deion Sanders. In ’94 they signed him to $1.1 million for one year where other teams were offering 4 years $17 million. Coming off a Super Bowl triumph and his 1994 NFL Defensive Player of the Year it was time to cash in. San Francisco baited jones and he took it and overspent for Deion at a cost of $35 million.

This crippled Dallas who wouldn’t be a player in free agency the rest of the decade. The Cowboys had all their money tied to Aikman, Smith, Irvin, and Sanders. The 49ers had freed themselves of the Dallas stranglehold and would go on to be an elite team the rest of the decade. They just didn’t see a new foe emerging in Mike Holmgren’s Green Bay Packers.

However there was the 1995 season where the 49ers were more in the spirit of the pre ’94 group. At midseason they took on the revenge minded Cowboys in Texas Stadium. The Cowboys were 8-1, healthy and ready to show with Deion Sanders in tow, they had overtaken San Fran. Going into the game they were missing QB Steve Young, FB William Floyd and staggered into the game with a 5-4 record. Perfect timing for the Cowboys to provide the knock out blow. Nobody believed the 49ers had a chance…

After being upset by the Packers in the 1995 NFC Divisional Playoffs 21-17, they began a new rivalry chapter with them. As for Dallas, they did win Super Bowl XXX to make it 4 wins in 4 years between these two organizations. New teams would emerge before the decade concluded. Most notable was Mike Shanahan’s Denver Broncos. Shanahan was San Francisco’s Offensive Coordinator during the heat of the 49er v Cowboys rivalry.

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Deion Sanders Makes The Hall

Deion Sanders Makes the Hall of Fame

Judging a book by its cover usually gets you in trouble.  There are so many players who have press clippings before they have done anything and I thought here was another one when I first heard of Deion Sanders.  He was still at Florida State and was “Neon”, “Prime Time”, etc…

Now being a Miami Hurricane fan I shouldn’t be turned off by the flash he displayed on and off the field yet I was.  I didn’t think the game was as important to him as being a winner.  That was my initial thought of Deion.  The comparisons to Bo Jackson for playing both baseball and football were not accurate.  Bo was hit on every play being a runner compared to a cornerback who can go a whole game without being hit.  So went my opinion.

I remembered his first game in 1989, the first time he got on the field after being shuttled in from his baseball sojourn and took a punt back 68 yards for a TD against the Rams.  Now you have to give credit where credit was due, that was pretty big for one that hadn’t practiced or even got used to performing in those pads.  He would have flashes and I started to notice how great he played against great players.  He was the first one that “wanted” to line up against Jerry Rice in his prime.

In 1990 Rice scored 5TDs against Atlanta CB Charles Dimry in a game and Deion vowed that wouldn’t happen to him.  This started a series beginning in 1991 where Jerry Rice would battle tooth and nail with Sanders.  Deion shut Rice down in both games in 1991, which led to Atlanta wresting the NFC West division title from San Francisco that year.  You had to notice that Sanders was the spirit of that team and I started to become a fan. Yet this paled in comparison to the performance that turned me around completely.

No, I’m not talking of his ’94 season where he was NFL Defensive Player of the Year I’m talking about the best team transforming performance ever.  It was 1993 and Deion was still playing baseball and Jerry Glanville’s Atlanta Falcons were spiritless.  They had no fight and were 0-6 without him.  They were in the midst of being blown out on Monday Night Football by the Pittsburgh Steelers when the announcers turned their narration to things other than the game in front of them.  How could they turn their season around?  Would Glanville be on the chopping block?  What would happen with Deion Sanders coming back?  It was expressed his impact would be minimal being a cornerback to which I agreed.

Just like a little brother who perks up playing sports when he discovers his big brother and dad are watching, Atlanta completely changed their temperament with his arrival.  He came in and brought a moxie that had been missing.  He was smothering Lawrence Dawsey of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and a huge fight broke out after a punt return where Deion was hit late. You saw the fight and the bench cleared to protect their best player and from that point on, the team that had been getting laughed at galvanized behind his brazen spirit.

A team that was being laughed out of their own stadium on a Monday night in October was playing the most spirited football this side of Buddy Ryan’s 46 defense led Houston Oilers and finished 6-4 over the final 10 games. One of those losses came to that Oiler team that finished with 11 straight wins.  Pundits and everyone noticed he was more than a shut down corner.  He had to be a great locker room teammate to pull that off.  That fight with Dawsey in a game that meant absolutely nothing showed that the game meant something to Sanders.  It was the year he garnered respect as a football player and galvanizing force as a teammate.

Later that year after his Pro Bowl selection, the media descended on Atlanta for Super Bowl XXVIII for Buffalo v. Dallas.  He enjoyed a celebrity that was borne of the respect he showed in turning around the Falcons that season. Folks wanted to know who he thought would win the game as much as be entertained by his personality.  He was the defacto master of ceremonies and everyone from Inside the NFL, ESPN, to NBC had specials with him talking football and showcasing great spots in Atlanta.

On the field before the game NBC asked a panel of current players about the Super Bowl.  There was speculation on would he return or not.  Deion elaborated “Here is the Super Bowl in Atlanta and I’m watching it. I want to play in one.”  You saw in his face that he meant it and felt it on live camera with the Super Bowl being minutes away.  He wanted to be recognized as a winner and not just the flashy corner / return man and he wouldn’t be back in Atlanta.  No season turned around the perception of Deion Sanders as a football player like 1993.

No season cemented his legacy like 1994.

The baseball strike relegated Deion to being slightly bored and needing something to do.  He had been a Cincinnati Red yet was being courted by New Orleans Saints and such as a free agent in football.  The Saints had the best free agent offer on the table for Sander’s services with a 4 year, $17 million contract.  He was going to be a Saint right? Wrong!  Remember that on field admission of wanting to be a champion before Super Bowl XXVIII in Atlanta? Well Carmen Policy convinced him to join the San Francisco 49ers for 1 year with a $1.1 million contract, the last $170,000 of which was Jerry Rice sacrificing his own money so they would sign him under the cap. What showed that the championship was more important than to sacrifice $15.8 million for a one year chance at the brass ring? That was a tremendous risk…..so what happened?

Deion joins the team in week 3 and displayed the cover corner prowess that allowed him to intercept 6 passes, returning 3 for touchdowns.  He set the records for return yards in an individual season; two 90 yard TD interception returns in a season…and ran away with NFL Defensive Player of the Year Award.  His complete smothering of Alvin Harper, then the NFL all time yardage per reception leader in the playoffs actually ruined Harper’s career.  Or at least the descent of Harper’s career can be traced to the 1994 NFC Championship Game and the first few series. Deion became a Super Bowl champion that year which cemented his legacy and he didn’t have to apologize for anything the rest of his career.

He subsequently moved on to sign a 5 year $35 million dollar contract with the Dallas Cowboys where he won another Super Bowl and had stints with the Washington Redskins and the Baltimore Ravens to help influence a slew of young players with his will, verve, and spirit.  He is a Hall of Famer and is recognized among the greatest cornerbacks in the history of football.  He was an All Time great and earned his way to the Hall of Fame on the field.  Cornerbacks still emulate him yet can’t turn an interception into instant offense like he could.  He was big and his hand-eye coordination stymied not only the great Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin, and later Andre Rison.  Sorry Sterling Sharpe used to get him….yet I digress.  He finished with 53 interceptions, had 19 combined return touchdowns and 1,331 yards in returns.  Just an electrifying performer.  An all time great?  Absolutely!

Deion Sanders, one of the all time great cornerbacks and now:  Pro Football Hall of Famer!!  Congrats on your election.

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SUPER BOWL XXX CHAMPION 1995 DLLAS COWBOYS.docx