Legendary Days: Barry Switzer’s 4th & 1 Nearly Sinks Dallas’ Season and Dynasty

In the long history of the NFC East one of the most hated rivals are the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles. Their disdain has grown into a feud expressed by players and fans all year around and the advent of social media has taken it to absurd levels. Yet its fun to go back in time and wonder what social media would have been like had it existed at key moments in the rivalry.

One of which was an epic game that took place in 1995.

Dallas was in the 2nd season of the Barry Switzer era after Jerry Jones let go of Hall of Fame Coach Jimmy Johnson. In ’94 the Cowboys had just missed on their chance to threepeat when they lost the ’94 NFC Championship Game out in San Francisco. Switzer morphed into the goat not because he lost in that game, but more from incurring the 15 yard penalty that became the indelible mark ending Cowboys come back attempt.

Switzer had to answer questions about his shortcomings from 1994 during a contentious summer. Was he the right coach and could he win on the NFL level were what pundits were asking. Or in other words “Was a once retired Barry Switzer in over his head?”

For the 2nd straight season the team endured free agent defections that eroded the game’s most talented roster. FS James Washington, WR Alvin Harper were the most notable defections, yet once you lose offensive linemen Mark Stepnoski, Kevin Gogan, John Gesek, LB Ken Norton Jr & FS Thomas Everett before the team was changing. A 2nd straight awful draft signaled 1995 might be the last great year from the roster Jimmy Johnson originally constructed. They hadnt adequately filled all the holes and were a top heavy team that had played an additional half season more than the rest of the NFL over a 3 year period with the additional postseason games. They were running out of gas.

All was not lost as T Erik Williams returned from injuries stemming from an auto accident and they did draft future Hall of Fame lineman Larry Allen. When they plugged in a 300 plus pound C in veteran Ray Donaldson, Emmitt Smith would be behind a complete wall of 300 pounders. Troy Aikman still had a prime Michael Irvin and Jay Novacek to throw to but lost a dynamic physical athlete in 6’3 Alvin Harper signing with Tampa.

Diminutive former KR Kevin Williams would replace him but gone was a 1st rate athlete who could high point the football with the best the decade had to offer. This brought more to bear on the rushing attack and with a team who couldn’t back you off with the deep throw to Harper how would it affect their approach late in the season? Especially once the season wore on with an older team.

In Philadelphia, the Eagles were searching for an identity. The last few years had seen the Buddy Ryan/ Richie Kotite era players that were first rate performers leave the team. Reggie White, Seth Joyner, Clyde Simmons, Keith Jackson, Keith Byars were the heart of that ball club. Couple their departure with the inability to replace 1st round and Pro Bowl DT Jerome Brown who died a few years before and you couldnt recognize the team anymore.

Needing a complete reboot the Eagles hired C Ray Rhodes from the Super Bowl champion 49ers. Not only had he been the DC who throttled Dallas twice in ’94 but he had a defensive approach and pedigree to build tough minded defenses. Since the Eagles were retooling on the fly they brought in a series of grizzled old veterans not only to their roster, but fit Rhodes no nosense street tough gritty approach to football.

In comes G Guy McIntyre, LB Bill Romanowski, LB Kurt Gouveia, DE William Fuller, S Greg Jackson, and CB Barry Wilburn. Barry Wilburn?? The corner who led the league in interceptions in 1987 helping the Redskins win the Super Bowl 8 years before?? The guy who picked off John Elway twice in Super Bowl XXII?? Yes… that Barry Wilburn. All but Fuller had played for previous Super Bowl champions and brought professionalism to a team trying to find itself.

Although Charlie Garner had emerged as a runner, Eagles brass pulled a coup and lured RB Rickey Watters away from the 49ers in free agency. It was this move that crippled the world champions 49ers and kept them from returning to the Super Bowl the rest of the decade. Even more than Dallas signing Deion Sanders away. Watters (1,273 yds 11 TDs) was eager to prove he could be the #1 offensive weapon was stepping out of the shadow cast by Jerry Rice, Steve Young and John Taylor. But both proved vital to the turnarounds of their new teams in 1995.

The season began with the Cowboys hellbent on returning to the winner’s circle exploding out of the blocks with an 8-1 start. But an inexplicable 38-20 loss to the 5-4 49ers sent their season off kilter. The game where they could have delivered the killing blow to San Francisco sapped some of their confidence and the 49ers went on to win 6 straight.

Dallas was then upset by the Washington Redskins and were 10-3 when they had to travel to cold Philadelphia to take on a surprising 8-5 battle hardened Eagle team. Randall Cunningham had been replaced by journeyman Rodney Peete at QB and no way they should be able to beat Dallas. This hodge podge Eagles team? No way…

Well Barry Switzer pulled the gaffe of the season with his dual 4th and 1 attempts and NFL shows were unmerciful the following weeks. The chasm between Jimmy Johnson running the Cowboys was never greater than it was at this time.  From his meltdown after the Deion Sanders non pass interference call in the previous championship game to these calls, pundits and fans had their doubts when it came down to Switzer’s decision making  in a close game. When you think back to his winning in Oklahoma, he just had the best athletes. He never outsmarted his competition or came up with great game plans. It was just “The Wishbone” with more superior athletes than his lesser opponents in an era of unlimited scholarships.

Then Switzer was thrown a life line when the 49ers lost homefield advantage losing to the Atlanta Falcons 27-24 after winning 6 straight. Dallas was able to regain homefield with a win in the season finale against Arizona.

Dallas went on to win Super Bowl XXX in Phoenix and that game mirrored their season. They came out of the blocks taking a 13-0 lead and held on for dear life winning it 27-17 thanks to 2 horrible Neil O’Donnell interceptions. The Cowboys set a Super Bowl record for fewest 2nd half yards for a team that won the Super Bowl with just 61 yards. They were older and the wear and tear caught up to them late in games as it did late in the season. Hell it happened in the upset loss to the Eagles when Aikman & Emmitt Smith combined for just 55 yards of offense in the 2nd half! In the midst of that he went for 4th and 1 twice at his own 30?? Inexplicable…

This kept Jerry Jones from having to eat his words “any of 500 coaches could have won Super Bowls with the rosters the Cowboys had.” Well he almost hand selected the coach that couldn’t. Had they not won the Super Bowl it would have opened the door to Denver, San Francisco or Green Bay being able to make a claim as Team of the 90s. The Cowboys won 1 playoff game the remaining 4 years of the decade. They were out of the playoffs and an NFL afterthought by the time we make it to 1999. Would John Elway have retired before 1999 had the Broncos the shot at 3peating and possibly becoming “Team of the Decade” as the only 3 time champion of the ’90s?? Something to think about…

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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.

Sanders performance late in 3rd quarter of the 94 NFC Championship Game.

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