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Cowboys Secure Their Place in History

WASHINGTON POST

Deion Sanders had one last parting shot for the Pittsburgh Steelers. For that matter, it was meant for anybody who hadn’t yet put in perspective just how large the Dallas Cowboys are. “They got on us all week because we traveled around in limos,” he said. “Yeah, sure we traveled in limos. We’re stars, baby. I can’t help if we’re charismatic.

All that and three championships in four years, too. Deion, by this time, had donned a gray, four-button jacket, probably cashmere, with navy-and-gray pants. He was gussied up for the cameras to be sure. Michael Irvin stood maybe four feet away and screamed at Deion, “Prime, you smell like a champion. I can smell you from here, son.”

Don’t they all. From Troy Aikman to Nate Newton, from Larry Brown to Bill Bates, from Jerry Jones to, ahem, Barry Switzer. Those who have been around since this run started in 1991 are particularly fragrant. Three championships in four years secure your place in the history books, a big fat chapter in fact. No matter what happens from here, they’re The ‘90s Cowboys. You don’t like the way Deion struts? Irvin’s mouth? Newton’s girth? Too bad. It’s just the ‘70s Oakland A’s set to the volume of the ‘90s. Stars and champs. Too many professional athletes nowadays worry about becoming the former, without ever becoming the latter. Irvin was so upset after losing to the 49ers and not getting to the Super Bowl last year, he didn’t want to come out of his house for months.

A year later, the Cowboys accomplished a first in the Super Bowl era. Three championships in four years. Whether they win another game as a group, Sunday’s championship victory over the Steelers puts the Cowboys up there with the ‘60s Packers, the ‘70s Steelers, the ‘80s 49ers and Redskins. And it jumps Irvin, Aikman and Emmitt Smith (or should if the voters exhibit any sense) ahead of all their peers for Hall of Fame enshrinement.

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Don’t tell me about length of career, don’t tell me about numbers. Aikman is a Hall of Fame quarterback. Smith is a Hall of Fame running back. Irvin is a Hall of Fame wide receiver. Charles Haley, the only man in the universe wearing five Super Bowl rings, is a Hall of Fame pass rusher. And for my money, you can throw in Jay Novacek. As the years roll on we’ll begin to debate the linemen -- Erik Williams, Larry Allen and Nate Newton. And perhaps safety Darren Woodson. These are the players who have survived the loss/retirement/defection of so many players, the Ken Nortons, the James Washingtons, the Alvin Harpers, since the first Super Bowl victory in 1993 over Buffalo. So why wouldn’t they travel in limos?

Now, I must admit, I wanted to see the Steelers score with two minutes to play to take a 24-20 victory. Why? Because the only thing we don’t know about the Cowboys is how they’d come back from a knockdown punch in the championship. Remember the way the 49ers came back in the final two minutes of Super Bowl XXIII in 1989 against the Bengals, Joe Montana charging down the field in Joe Robbie Stadium in the final minute to win? Yeah, yeah, yeah, this was a better Super Bowl than we’ve come to expect, but I desperately wanted to see Aikman, Irvin, Smith and Novacek line up after the two-minute warning and have to win the championship. In their heart of hearts, I bet they would, too.

But it isn’t the Cowboys’ fault nobody in the AFC could put them to that test. It’s a testament to how good they are that a 10-point victory seemed like an epic struggle.

Irvin seemed particularly protective of Aikman, who is 10-1 now in postseason play. Sunday’s game wasn’t exactly a brilliant performance by Aikman (15 of 23, 209 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions), but it’s what he didn’t do that was as important as anything. Aikman didn’t have a miscommunication with Irvin or any other receiver resulting in a game-changing interception. His counterpart Neil O’Donnell did.

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“Troy doesn’t make mistakes,” Irvin said. “What is he, 10-1 now? That’s the best ever, isn’t it?” Irvin talked about the “hot read” play that produced the Cowboys’ second interception. The Cowboys had a similar play that could have resulted in disaster, but Irvin said, “Troy knew. I never saw the ball. Just turned and it hit me, stuck there. I could close me eyes and run certain routes and I know the ball would be there when I opened them. Look, I could say it’s our catching ability, but he just lays it in there.”

Players, like fans, play the what-if game. What if you could put together the man to lead the final drive of the season with two minutes left? Who would you choose. “I hear people say they’d want Dan Marino’s arm, or Joe Montana’s head, or Steve Young’s legs, or Brett Favre’s fight,” Irvin said. “Let me say here and now, you can have all that. Just give me Troy Aikman and I’d win a championship. In fact, I’d win three championships. In four years.”

While Irvin, Newton, Deion and Switzer were in fine form, Aikman barely broke a smile. “Relief” was the word he used, never “joy.” Owner Jerry Jones, who shook like a leaf before and during the game, also talked of being relieved.

Irvin looked at a reporter who’d been critical of Switzer during the season and said, “Write it down: Barry Switzer is coach of the World Champion Cowboys. Come on now, I’m not going on until you write it down.”

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Even if we wrote it 500 times, it wouldn’t be as important as realizing that the nucleus of players who stayed together for three Super Bowl victories over the past four years has accomplished something that, while still perhaps unfinished, is already a glorious work of art.


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