Ending a year of upheaval in matters ranging from labor relations to expansion, the National Football League staged a football game Sunday that proved nothing has really changed.
The Dallas Cowboys are still champions.
The Buffalo Bills are still chokers.
The Cowboys overcame a 13-7 halftime deficit by scoring two of their three second-half touchdowns after Bills mistakes, giving them a 30-13 victory in Super Bowl XXVIII.
Amid pageantry and emotion at the sold-out Georgia Dome, the Cowboys became the fifth team in NFL history to win consecutive Super Bowls.
They also extended the NFC’s winning streak over the AFC in Super Bowls to 10.
“I know one thing . . . our mission is now completed,” said Emmitt Smith, Cowboy running back who added the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player award to his league MVP award by rushing for 132 yards and two touchdowns. “We came into this season with the intent of getting back here and doing the same things we did today.”
The Bills, meanwhile, cemented their legacy as losers.
They have tied the Denver Broncos and Minnesota Vikings as the only teams to lose four Super Bowls, while becoming the first team to lose four in a row.
Last year in Pasadena, after a 52-17 loss to the Cowboys, they were the first team to lose three in a row.
This first Super Bowl rematch was just a glorified instant replay.
“Every time we get to the big game, we blow up,” running back Thurman Thomas said.
More specifically, he blows up.
After hurting the Bills with several mistakes in the previous three Super Bowls, including an important fumble early last year, Thomas lost a first-quarter fumble Sunday that led to a Cowboy field goal.
Then, 55 seconds into the second half and with his team leading by a touchdown, he made his biggest blunder yet.
With the Bills driving from their 43-yard line, the ball was stripped from Thomas’ hands by Leon Lett, the Cowboy defensive tackle who is infamous for his own blunders.
James Washington, the Cowboy safety who said he was playing the game for his childhood friends in South-Central Los Angeles, picked up the fumble and ran 46 yards for a game-tying touchdown.
After the stunning score they ran three plays, punted, then watched as Smith accounted for all but three yards on a 64-yard Cowboy drive that resulted in the go-ahead touchdown. Smith scored it on a 15-yard run.
In a matter of five minutes and 22 seconds, the Bills had gone from one touchdown ahead to one touchdown behind.
“No offense, but all along we knew we had it won,” said Nate Newton, Cowboy guard. “All we had to do was get the lead, and we knew they couldn’t touch us.”
The Cowboys clinched the victory with Smith’s one-yard touchdown run on a fourth-down gamble with 9:50 remaining. The run capped a 34-yard drive after Washington’s interception of one of several forced passes by Bills quarterback Jim Kelly.
Although Kelly completed 19 of 26 passes in the first half for 176 yards, he threw for just 84 yards in the second half and again was the loser in a battle with younger counterpart Troy Aikman.
“The first year was more disbelief . . . this year was something that we could thoroughly enjoy,” said Aikman, the first quarterback in history to win two Super Bowls in his first five seasons.