COLUMN: They're back!

by Neel Desai

Everything is right again in Dallas: The Cowboys are back in the Super Bowl for their third trip in the last four years and record eighth overall. Last year's loss to the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship left a bitter taste in the Cowboys' mouths. A lot of people, including myself, placed the blame on the coach, Barry Switzer.

You have to give credit where credit is due, and Head Coach Barry Switzer certainly deserves some credit. People in Dallas have blamed Switzer for everything bad that happened to the Cowboys.

It is true that Switzer has made some suspect coaching decisions like fourth and one, but the fans and the media will never let him forget it. If he is going to get blamed for some of the bad stuff (and he should definitely not get the blame for all the bad stuff), you have to give him credit for some of the good stuff.

I was Barry's number-one critic until I heard the praise the players were giving him. No one could have said it better than Michael Irvin, who was Jimmy Johnson's biggest fan. Michael played for him at the University of Miami and at Dallas, and when Michael's father died while he was in high school, Jimmy Johnson basically became his second father. When the first thing out of Irvin's mouth after the Green Bay victory is praise for Barry, then you have to realize how much the players respect and support Switzer. Troy Aikman actually won the game ball, but guess who he gave it to? That's right -- Barry.

You also know that Jerry Jones let out a big sigh of relief after the game. People in Dallas still really have not forgiven him for how he handled the firing of Tom Landry, and getting rid of Jimmy didn't endear him to the fans either.

This win takes a lot of heat off of Jones. If the Cowboys had lost, he would have to put up with the second-guessing of the fans and the media clamoring for the firing of Switzer all year long.

Overlooked so far are the players. Troy Aikman proved why he is the perfect quarterback for the Cowboys. Sure Brett Favre came in with the flashier numbers and the league MVP award (which I actually think might be questionable), but Aikman was his steady and precise self.

He was 21 of 33 and threw two touchdown passes, but more importantly he had no interceptions. Favre threw two interceptions that wound up costing Green Bay the game.

Aikman, unlike Favre, Marino and just about every quarterback in this league is fortunate enough to play on an offense that is so talented that the entire game is not placed on his shoulders. He has Emmitt, and he doesn't have to throw for 350 yards and five TDs.

Aikman, would have a bunch of TD passes like Favre or Marino, except for the fact that every time the Cowboys are within the 5-yard line, they just give the ball to Emmitt.

Emmitt proved that maybe he should have been the MVP of the league. Barry Sanders might be the best pure runner in the league, but there is no one I would rather have on my team than Emmitt.

Last year, Barry had negative yards against Green Bay in the playoffs. Emmitt would never choke like that. He picked up his game in the fourth quarter and, with a lot of help from the offensive line and Moose Johnston, wore down the Packer defense.

Now to the game at hand. Most of the stars on the team have been here before. Michael Irvin was calling it home. The game might be a little better than some of the past few Super Bowls, but the Cowboys should win by a comfortable margin. The offense is way too explosive.

To stop Emmitt, the Steelers are probably going to have to roll up a safety to get eight guys in the box, but once this happens, it opens up the passing game. Michael Irvin is too big, too physical and too good to be single-covered. This opens things up for Jay Novacek, Johnston and Kevin Williams.

The offensive line will ensure that Aikman has time to pick apart the defense and that Emmitt has huge holes to run through.

The only way the Steelers will have a chance to win is if the Cowboys turn the ball over a bunch and basically choke. The Cowboys have too much big-game experience and pride to let this happen. The Cowboys win one for the thumb, 38-21.

This item appeared in the Sports section of the January 26, 1996 issue.

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