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.
Ironically 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”
Carmen 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?
Dedicated to the memories of T Mark Tuinei, LB Godfrey Miles, & Special Team Coach Joe Avezanno
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