SUPER BOWL XXX RUNNER UP 1995 PITTSBURGH STEELERS

Three yards short… just 3 yards short of the 1994 AFC Championship. That loss to the San Diego Chargers haunted the Pittsburgh Steelers for nearly a full year. They had fought to unseat the Bills and Oilers in an AFC ruled by open offenses during the early 90s. In 1994 with each foe not making the playoffs, Pittsburgh would coast to Super Bowl XXIX, right?? After all Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Levon Kirkland, Rod Woodson and the rest of the Blitzburgh defense would be back intact.

sbxxxpLOL Uh huh that’s exactly what everyone thought when on a rainy, gray, dreary, ominous day in Three Rivers Stadium, the Steelers welcomed the San Diego Chargers in what was going to be a Steelers coronation and they’d be off to win that elusive “one for the thumb”, fifth Super Bowl title. However trailing late in the 4th quarter 13-10, on a 3rd and short, Stan Humphries play faked and went up top for Tony Martin for a 43yd touchdown with a few minutes to go in the game.

The Steelers weren’t known for their passing offense or good at a two minute drill. Frantically the Steelers raced down field when they were caught 3 yards away from the goal line facing a 4th down. The season rested on one play… Neil O’Donnell threw for Barry Foster yet Dennis Gibson knocked the ball down to preserve a 17-13 upset. Prozac prescriptions skyrocketed in western Pennsylvania.

So the mantra going into the ’95 season was to get those “3 more yards”. It was emblazoned on banners, t-shirts, terrible towels, you name it. They were determined not to be denied again.

In the offseason the Steelers said goodbye to free agent TE Eric Green and farewell to Barry Foster. Foster who had led the AFC with 1,690yds rushing in 1992 was the heart of the offense since Coach Bill Cowher had come to the Steel City. Yet unlike when the team lost Hardy Nickerson and Thomas Everett in recent years, Green and Foster represented the offenses identity and personality. So when they lost their most decorated player, cornerback Rod Woodson in week one, staggered to a 3-4 start, it looked like 1995 would become a lost season.

nfl_woodson-rings_600x600Enter Kordell Stewart. The mid-round draftee QB from Colorado made famous for his hail mary pass that beat Michigan in 1994, was languishing on the Steelers bench. Several receivers were injured and he was pressed into duty as a receiver in practice where he proved to be more athletic than the regular receivers. Stewart electrified in practice. Cowher started to insert Stewart into the lineup in several packages and a now wide open Steelers offense was born.

The big play along with 3, 4, and 5 receiver sets were run with regularity, for the first time. Teams did not have any film to study they’re new approach nor ANY film to recognize where or how they would use Stewart.

With this new weapon, “Slash” helped the Steelers break their predictable play calling and a bolder offense went from scoring 21 to 27 points per game. They went on an 8 game winning streak and for 6 straight games scored in the last two minutes before the half. Stewart scored 4 of those touchdowns. They took the momentum into the half with them in the process. Retooled with new enthusiasm the ’95 Steelers screamed into the playoffs.

super-bowl-logo-1995How different was this team? In their first playoff win over Buffalo, the Steelers scored the most points ever in a home playoff game winning 40-21. The AFC Championship against the upstart Indianapolis Colts was a slugfest that echoed the 1994 championship in many ways. The most eery was when Harbaugh duplicated the exact same scenario, throwing a late 4th qtr bomb to Floyd Turner to take a 16-13 lead. You want to talk about a hush falling over a stadium, my goodness you would have thought you were at a funeral…lol and we were. After all they had overcome to get back to the championship game and they were in the same position again?? Are you kidding me??

So what had changed?? The season long development of their passing game is what had.  Not only were they able to initiate a march, they actually faced the team’s motto during the drive. Facing a 4th and 3 near midfield with their season on the line, O’Donnell hit Andre Hastings to keep the drive alive. “To hell with a tie!”

Nearing field goal range for a game tying kick, this bolder Steeler offense went for it all when O’Donnell found a streaking Ernie Mills down to the 2. They scored on the next play to take a 20-16 lead. Now it was up to the defense to hold off the Colts who had come from behind many times that season. Harbaugh brought them to within a failed hail mary of pulling off the upset.

So with a collective sigh of relief they were off to Super Bowl XXX. They literally got those three more yards. Although they lost to Dallas, they thoroughly outplayed them from the middle of the second quarter on. They held Dallas to 61 total yards in the second half, fewest ever for a Super Bowl winner.

They were the first to kick an onside kick without being under 5 minutes to go. Something the Saints copied in Super Bowl XLIV. A couple errant interceptions by O’Donnell robbed this team of its rightful place in history as a Super Bowl champion. Yet the magnificence of their effort in trying to achieve their goal was to be celebrated. Tremendous lesson to be learned from these men is a simple one. To achieve what you want, you may have to change how you do things to get there.

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Sigh…. Neil!!! This was the crowning jewel for becoming AFC Champions in 1995. They should have won it all…

 

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Charles Haley Makes The Pro Football Hall of Fame

The Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2015 is one where players had to wait a good while before being enshrined. Officially the enshrinement ceremony takes place on Saturday, however Charles Haley and his class mates received their “Gold Jackets” in a gala event Thursday night.

Charles Haley receives Hall of Fame gold jacket from Eddie DeBartolo

For years there had been a great debate concerning Haley’s worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. His contributions to the game have more to do with being one of the driving forces in two of the NFL’s modern dynasties. In winning 5 Super Bowl rings Haley did more than just show up. He recorded sacks in 4 of those games providing the turning point in Super Bowl XXVII and solidifying the Cowboys momentum in Super Bowl XXVIII with a huge 3rd quarter sack of Jim Kelly.

You’d be surprised how many defensive stalwarts whiffed on the biggest stage. Lawrence Taylor won two Super Bowls and never recorded a sack in either game.  The great Bruce Smith played in 4 Super Bowls and only recorded a sack in the first he played in, XXV. Haley had big momentum swing sacks that turned games in his team’s favor.

Over the course of his career, Haley had 100 sacks and 26 forced fumbles with his best season coming in 1990. His 16 sacks set the tone for a 49er team going for the 3-peat and the offense struggled during the season. In the ’90 NFC Divisional Playoff against Washington, the exclamation point had Haley slam into Mark Rypien just as he threw. The ball popped up and NT Michael Carter snared it and rumbled 61 yards for the touchdown. They won 28-10 and were hosting the New York Giants in the NFC Championship the following week. Haley played well in the 15-13 loss to the Giants recording a sack but his career took a turn dealing with the break-up of that team in the off-season.

 

In this ’99 interview with the late Steve Sabol you get to understand Haley and his personality best. He was one of the great players on his team but he did just as much to keep those teams loose going into high stakes games. You can’t discount that fact. So it will be interesting to hear his induction speech and which former teammates come to represent him. I hope to see a large contingent for him Saturday. Charles Haley take a bow… you deserve it and soak in induction weekend.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Charles Haley Makes The Pro Football Hall of Fame

The Pro Football Hall of Fame class of 2015 is one where players had to wait a good while before being enshrined. Officially the enshrinement ceremony takes place on Saturday, however Charles Haley and his class mates received their “Gold Jackets” in a gala event Thursday night.

Charles Haley receives Hall of Fame gold jacket from Eddie DeBartolo

Charles Haley receives Hall of Fame gold jacket from Eddie DeBartolo

For years there had been a great debate concerning Haley’s worthy of Hall of Fame consideration. His contributions to the game have more to do with being one of the driving forces in two of the NFL’s modern dynasties. In winning 5 Super Bowl rings Haley did more than just show up. He recorded sacks in 4 of those games providing the turning point in Super Bowl XXVII and solidifying the Cowboys momentum in Super Bowl XXVIII with a huge 3rd quarter sack of Jim Kelly.

You’d be surprised how many defensive stalwarts whiffed on the biggest stage. Lawrence Taylor won two Super Bowls and never recorded a sack in either game.  The great Bruce Smith played in 4 Super Bowls and only recorded a sack in the first he played in, XXV. Haley had big momentum swing sacks that turned games in his team’s favor.

Over the course of his career, Haley had 100 sacks and 26 forced fumbles with his best season coming in 1990. His 16 sacks set the tone for a 49er team going for the 3-peat and the offense struggled during the season. In the ’90 NFC Divisional Playoff against Washington, the exclamation point had Haley slam into Mark Rypien just as he threw. The ball popped up and NT Michael Carter snared it and rumbled 61 yards for the touchdown. They won 28-10 and were hosting the New York Giants in the NFC Championship the following week. Haley played well in the 15-13 loss to the Giants recording a sack but his career took a turn dealing with the break-up of that team in the off-season.

 

In this ’99 interview with the late Steve Sabol you get to understand Haley and his personality best. He was one of the great players on his team but he did just as much to keep those teams loose going into high stakes games. You can’t discount that fact. So it will be interesting to hear his induction speech and which former teammates come to represent him. I hope to see a large contingent for him Saturday. Charles Haley take a bow… you deserve it and soak in induction weekend.

Thanks for reading and please share the article.

 

 

 

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

Back on January 10, 1982, the San Francisco 49ers beat the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship in what came to be known as “The Catch”. Emmitt Smith, Troy Aikman, and Michael Irvin were 12, 15, & 15 yrs of age respectively at the time. Over the next decade, a football generation came to know the 49ers as the dominant team in pro football. Yet here they were in January 1993, as men, having conquered the 49ers in the ’92 NFC Championship 30-20 in a true changing of the guard.

Passing of the torch after the 1992 NFC Championship Game.

Passing of the torch after the 1992 NFC Championship Game.

Joe Montana, an iconic symbol of the old guard, was shaking hands congratulating the young Cowboys. They had vanquished not only the team with the NFC’s best record, 14-2, they topped the team that epitomized conference excellence over the last decade. Now they were navigating uncharted waters and off to Super Bowl XXVII to take on the Buffalo Bills. By the time they made it to Pasadena to take on the Bills, they’re confidence was at an all time high.However beating Buffalo was anticlimactic to what had taken place in soggy San Francisco 2 weeks before.

 

Troy Aikman came of age in the 1992 NFC Championship Game.

Troy Aikman fulfilled the promise of being drafted #1 overall with his 1992 NFC Championship Game performance.

They had come through the gauntlet which was the NFC at the time. A conference that had won the last 8 straight Super Bowls and would ultimately win 13 in a row. The physical nature of the conference was one thing, but they had to beat the mystique of the best organization in San Francisco.

Once the 49ers unseated the Cowboys back in the ’81 NFC Championship Game, they became the gold standard of NFL franchises. Every veteran wanted to play for Eddie Debartolo’s organization. Once Jerry Jones purchased the team in 1989, he traveled to San Francisco to study how the league’s model front office operated.

By the time Jimmy Johnson (the [[_]]) had rebuilt “America’s Team” in a few short years, they were ready to take on a 49er team that was prepared to rule the 1990’s just as they had the 80’s. They were built with a different breed of player. Fast, aggressive and an in your face bravado reminiscent of the Miami Hurricane teams Johnson coached in college. The most indelible image from that ’92 Championship was in the locker room when he boasted “How ’bout them Cowboys!??!” loud enough you could nearly hear it in the 49er locker room.

Terry Bradshaw once said “Once you win a Super Bowl the regular season is boring. All you care about is getting back to the playoffs where it can be fun again.”

Jimmy Johnson on gameday.

Jimmy Johnson on gameday.

Well the boredom Dallas had to endure was losing Defensive Coordinator Dave Wannstedt, Emmitt Smith’s holdout, and the advent of free agency. In time free agency would prove to be the bigger foe, but when the Cowboys started 0-2 without Smith’s services, it was clear what priority one was.

The reality set in these were the two best teams in football. Steve Young had won the last two passing titles but Aikman was thought of as the better quarterback. Troy entered ’93 as a Super Bowl winning QB, something Young had yet to do. Michael Irvin (78 rec. 1,396 yds 7 TDs) was beginning to challenge Jerry Rice (84 rec. 1,201 yds 10 TDs) as to who was the best receiver in the game.

In every way these two team were eyeing each other for another postseason date but first had to get through a regular season affair that offered some answers.

The 26-17 win over the 49ers gave the Cowboys the inside track to Super Bowl XXVIII. In fact when they won homefield advantage for the ’93 playoffs, the only question was the status of Emmitt Smith’s separated shoulder suffered in the clinching finale against the New York Giants. Smith was one of 11 Pro Bowlers that included QB Troy Aikman, FB Darryl Johnston, WR Michael Irvin, linemen Mark Stepnoski, Nate Newton, and Eric Williams. By the time you include TE Jay Novacek, they were 3 starters away from sending every player to the Pro Bowl.

The defense, which ranked 10th in the league sent LB Ken Norton Jr, DT Russell Maryland, and FS Thomas Everett to Honolulu. A far cry from the year before when they ranked #1 defensively and sent 0 players to the Pro Bowl. We’ll talk about the importance of Everett later but this team was riding high after the emotional win vs. New York. They kept their eye out west on the 49ers as they blew out the wildcard Giants 44-3 in the divisional round. Dallas beat Green Bay 27-17 to set up the NFC Championship rematch in Texas Stadium.

As pundits lauded the 49ers lopsided win in Candlestick, it belied the fact they had actually struggled down the stretch losing 3 of their last 4. Sure their defense had put it together in taking down the 1 dimensional Giants, but that is after they had the huge battle in the season finale at Dallas and a hard fought wildcard against the Vikings.

After listening to the experts all week, Jimmy Johnson had had enough and called in to a Dallas Radio show on Friday night and declared “We will win the game! You can put it in 3 inch headline!” There was no easing into it now….this was a street fight in the school yard. They called the laced up shirt and tie corporate 49ers out and how would they respond.

They beat down the 49ers 38-21 and were actually ahead 28-7 in the 2nd quarter. Texas Stadium for the first time ever was raucous. Even in the Tom Landry days crowds in Dallas responded like they were at a play or something. They cheered when it was time to but this felt different. It was boisterous and the tempo of the team and the audience fed off Jimmy Johnson’s bravado and echoed in kind. Who knew it was  going to be Johnson’s last game ever at Texas Stadium??

After beating The Chancellor of Football’s Buffalo Bills for the Super Bowl XXVIII championship, we had Johnson’s departure in the offseason. On March 29th was the press conference where there was a mutual parting of the ways. The shock wave could be felt through the NFL. The youngest team in the league that won back to back Super Bowls was going on without their vocal leader?? Jerry Jones erroneously stated there were 50 coaches who could coach the Dallas Cowboys and hired Barry Switzer to succeed him.

The Cowboys were that talented and headed into 1994 as the best team in football on paper. Or so they thought… the 49ers had retooled and fashioned much of their team and personality based on the bravado that left them whipped in Dallas the preceding January. The Niners had signed away Ken Norton Jr. and 6 defenders to bolster their defense including future Hall of Famers Ricky Jackson, Richard Dent, and Deion Sanders. All off the NFC Pro Bowl roster. Back then the team that lost the conference championship coached the Pro Bowl and San Francisco used this as a recruiting trip.

Free agency had robbed the Cowboys of Norton, DTs Tony Casillas & DT Jimmie Jones, and to the Chancellor the most valuable defender in FS Thomas Everett. Before Everett’s arrival in ’92, the 11-5 Cowboys struggled with Run & Shoot offenses especially, and at times was awful against the pass. Why do you think they drafted CB Kevin Smith, S Darren Woodson, and traded for Everett to start 1992??

Not Charles Haley...it was Thomas Everett that pushed the Cowboys over the top back in the early 1990s.

Not Charles Haley…it was Thomas Everett that pushed the Cowboys over the top back in the early 1990s.

Dallas had been 1-3 against Run & Shoot teams in 1991. They went 5-0 against those teams including the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII that finished as the top passing teams that year with Everett. It was this end zone interception in Super Bowl XXVII that started the 1990’s reign of the Dallas Cowboys. Otherwise the Bills take a 17-14 lead and the Bills take control of the game. In big games he starred….in each NFC Championship Game against the 49ers he picked off Steve Young. You cannot underscore his importance in gluing a young secondary together and teaching them to be pros by example.

Yet 1994 saw this team try to move on without this defensive firepower and they did go 12-4. DE Charles Haley was healthy and made the Pro Bowl with 12.5 sacks, S Darren Woodson, and Leon Lett came into their own making their first Pro Bowl trips. The offense was as potent as ever with Smith’s 1,461 yards and 21 TDs. Although he battled leg injuries the 2nd half of the season. Did they have enough in the gas tank to get to win a 3rd straight Super Bowl and make it into NFL lore?? All they had to do was take a trip out to beat the 49ers for the right to go to Super Bowl XXIX.

So Dallas had to watch the 49ers go on to win Super Bowl XXIX 49-26 over San Diego. They did return the following year to beat Pittsburgh 27-17 to win their 3rd Super Bowl in 4 years yet the rivalry came to an end for this era. Both teams kept raising the bar on each other and pushed themselves to a height no other team could reach. In each of these seasons they were the best teams in football and won all 4 Super Bowls… yet lingering questions are still being debated to this day…

  • How many Super Bowls would Dallas have won if Johnson coaches the whole decade??
  • Would they have won 3 in a row if Johnson coached them in ’94??
  • Would the 49ers have won in 1994 if they hadn’t built a defense from the ’93 Pro Bowl roster??
  • How would the 1990’s play out for Dallas if there had not been free agency??
  • Why isn’t Jimmy Johnson in the Pro Football Hall of Fame??
  • Would the Cowboys have won in 1994 if T Erik Williams doesn’t get in that car accident??

However one of the indelible moments from the 1994 NFC Championship Game was the near pass interference call in the 4th quarter between Deion Sanders and Michael Irvin. Instead of a 1st and goal where the 49er lead could have been trimmed to 3, an irate Barry Switzer bumps an official in protest incurring a 15 yard penalty. Dallas was forced to punt and never threatened again. In 1995, in a quiet Texas Stadium Courthouse the two Hall of Famers had a hearing to discuss a disputed play which altered the course of football history.d_sanders_950115_640

LMAO “Panicked state of mind!” Thanks for reading and please share the article.

Epilogue: When it came to Jimmy Johnson’s success in Dallas, it was bitter sweet being a Buffalo Bill fan. We lost those two Super Bowls but I was a fan of his back to Herschel Walker and when he first coached the Cowboys. Nope not Dallas…we’re talking the Oklahoma St Cowboys. I first read about Jimmy Johnson during the ’82 season when his running back Earnest “Sparkplug” Anderson became the 5th back to run for 1,000 yards in just the 5th game of the season.

Herschel walker won the Heisman but I kept screaming it was “Sparkplug” Anderson that led college football in rushing! Alas…no blog back in ’82. Yet remember following Johnson and as a tradition would watch the Bluebonnet Bowl played on New Year’s Eve and watched Oklahoma St win that game. When it was announced he was coming to my favorite college team at The [[_]] of Miami, talk about excited… I knew Schnellenberger’s replacement and the rest is history.

I did get to meet Johnson and the Dallas Cowboy coaching staff at Houlihan’s on St Patrick’s Day in 1993 just after the first Super Bowl with Buffalo. I remember having him sign my Golden Nugget /Mirage jacket from Vegas and talked a little football. If only cell phones with cameras, Instagram & Facebook existed then…

Dedicated to the memories of Mark Tuinei, Godfrey Myles, and Joe Avezzano

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

 

 

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