Big plays, big egos mean a big win


February 01, 1993|By JOHN EISENBERG

PASADENA, CALIF — PASADENA, Calif. -- The NFL, which has its own official car, camera, videotape, potato chip, soft drink and kitty litter, yesterday unveiled the official word of the Super Bowl:


The tangible difference between the Cowboys and Bills was five touchdowns on a postcard-pretty day at the Rose Bowl, but the real difference was attitude. Confidence. Swagger. Strut.

The Bills thought they could win, but, having lost two Supes, were too afraid of sports' biggest stage. Too aware of the stakes. The Cowboys? Shoot, they acted as if the global TV audience of a billion was what they had deserved all their lives.

Actually, they probably thought a billion was a little small for their sure-to-be dazzling show. Just a bil?

Ego, baby.

"Did you tell them about the Bills' comeback against Houston?" NBC's Todd Christensen asked Jimmy Johnson at halftime, the Cowboys up 18.

"We're not Houston," Johnson snapped.

That's unfiltered ego right there. That's livin' large. That's what it takes to win the larger-than-life Supe, which is always won by big plays -- actually, players with the guts to make the big plays on such a public, pressurized stage.

The Bills were afraid to make those plays. They hoped someone would. The Cowboys didn't hope. They knew. In fact, and they would never admit this, but they were silently battling among themselves to make the biggest play, the most outrageous, the one NFL Films would make famous.

Call it youth served, with an exclamation point. The Bills were too old, uptight and fragile, too close to becoming the Buffalo Broncos, a Leno punch line. The Cowboys? The NFL's youngest, hip-hoppingest team just saw a party. Uptight? Impossible.

You could tell the difference in the first half, when it was still close, before the Bills' nine turnovers padded the margin. The Bills had chances. Big plays -- big egos, unassailable Cowboy confidence -- did them in.

Remember? The Bills blocked a punt and scored the first touchdown, then got the ball back and drove to midfield. Looked like no AFC jokes this year. Then the Cowboys' Charles Haley TC careened into Kelly, whose wounded-duck pass was intercepted. Touchdown, Cowboys.

Then, moments later, Haley again blasted Kelly, who fumbled into the hands of the Cowboys' Jimmie Jones. Another big play, another touchdown. And is there a bigger ego in the world than that of the iconoclastic Haley, who writes his own rules for living?

The Bills then twice drove the length of the field, their no-huddle giving Dallas fits. But at the essential moments, when the Bills could have staked a claim, the Cowboys checkmated them. More big plays.

There was the Cowboys' Ken Norton Jr. bull-wrestling the Bills' Kenneth Davis to the ground inches short of the end zone, and then the Bills flat-out gagging on fourth-and-inches, Kelly incomprehensibly spreading two receivers wide and lobbing a pass into traffic, toward someone named Carwell Gardner. Intercepted. Afraid to make the play. Tensing at the wrong moment. The difference in the game.

The Bills did come right back, again getting within yards of the end zone, but Haley stopped Thurman Thomas on another third-and-one. When the Bills settled for three, they were cooked. The Cowboys were ahead, and their offense hadn't unlimbered.

When it did, what a show. Few champions have had more big-play potential, more youth, speed and sheer gall in every nook and cranny. From 14-10, the Cowboys blew it out. Emmitt Smith on a draw for 38. Aikman on a slant to Michael Irvin for a touchdown. Then, after a Thurman Thomas fumble, Aikman to Irvin for another touchdown on a catch-and-dive classic.

Over there were the Bills, lacking the verve to finish off drives, and over here were the Cowboys, fighting among themselves to get in front of the camera. It didn't just happen. It wasn't an accident. The Cowboys scout less for athleticism than for the intangible ability to make plays. "Playmakers, not players," Johnson said.

This was their crystalline moment. The Cowboys' future might hold more Supes, but in none will they be this bold, this sure. From now on, there will be expectations, holdouts and injuries, as there always are. They will be older, more aware, more tense. It gets harder, not easier. Yesterday, though, there was just the ,, perfect meeting between a team and a game. Between an attitude and a stage.

"Are you surprised?" someone asked Johnson.

"No," he said.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.