Cowboys' glitter has top billing


IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman spent his day off Tuesday flying to New York to appear on "Late Show with David Letterman," where he threw passes into the windows of passing taxicabs.

The Green Bay Packers spent their day off watching Aikman appear on TV.

That's the main difference between the Cowboys and Packers, who meet today at Texas Stadium in an NFC divisional playoff game.

The Cowboys are the defending Super Bowl champions, the marquee guys. They get the endorsements. They appear on all the best TV shows.

The Packers are just the opponents, the other guys. They've got Reggie White and Brett Favre and, uh . . .

Try to name a couple of other Packers.

OK, Sterling Sharpe has set records by catching 108 and 112 passes the past two years, but he usually declines to talk to reporters. He apparently was upset the way his slow start in his rookie year was reported and has remained a relative unknown. No Letterman appearances for him.

All the Packers can do is use their underdog status for motivation.

Coach Mike Holmgren said he would be sure to remind his team that Letterman, though in a joking manner, used phrases such as, "You're going to mop the field with Green Bay," and "You're going to just kill them," when Aikman appeared on the show.

"Yes, we are playing the world champions and, yes, we have been up and down this year. We all kind of understand what's happening here. I don't have any problem with that," Holmgren said. "But I'm going to use all of that. I'm going to use everything I can."

Holmgren also will remind the team that it's a two-touchdown underdog.

"That's a lot in this league," he said. "They [players] look at those things. . . . It conjures up some emotion. They read things and it should have an effect on them. We have a lot of pride on our team."

Defensive back Terrell Buckley said, "Half the time, they [oddsmakers] are not right."

That means they are right half the time, and Dallas says this is one of those times. The Cowboys come in with a swagger. There's none of that Joe Gibbs-type hand-wringing about being worried about an upset.

The Cowboys admit that they were rooting for the Packers to beat the Detroit Lions last week. They wanted to play the Packers -- a team they beat, 36-14, on Oct. 3 -- instead of having a third game with the New York Giants, who took them to overtime before losing, 16-13, two weeks ago.

Aikman said: "It would have been difficult if we had to play the Giants for a third time this Sunday."

Safety Bill Bates said: "We didn't want to have to turn around and play the Giants again."

Cornerback Kevin Smith said: "It's better for us to play the Packers right now. The Giants are more physical. We're beat up and sore from the last time we played them."

Do you get the idea the Cowboys aren't too worried about this game?

Even coach Jimmy Johnson isn't going to wring his hands about it.

"Some coaches are scared to death every week, and they are going to give the same locker room speech, no matter if it's a team you're supposed to beat," he said.

Not Johnson.

"When you're the best team, I think you have to say that, simply because your players already know that. When we meet on a Monday, I tell them we're going to win on Sunday, but only if we prepare like we're supposed to prepare on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

"The challenge is for every individual player to get himself ready to perform on Sunday. If the players meet that challenge, the rest will take care of itself."

Johnson will throw in a little coach talk in an attempt to show some concern that it won't be as easy as last time.

"I've been amused to listen to talk about the Green Bay Packers that assumes it will be the same kind of game Sunday that we played against them earlier in the season," he said.

He added: "There is a danger any time you play a team that you don't play on a regular basis. The Packers will improve because they can correct their mistakes. They can make adjustments, and I told the team we've got to make the same kind of improvement."

The Packers will need a lot of improvement. The Cowboys had a 395-214 edge in total yardage in the first game and held the Packers to 36 yards rushing in 18 carries.

The Packers do have one thing going for them -- Emmitt Smith's tender shoulder. If Smith is knocked out, the Cowboys are vulnerable.

Smith makes the Cowboys dangerous just being in the game. His first start after his holdout was against the Packers, and he was held to 71 yards. But the Packers spent so much time focusing on him that Aikman passed for 317 yards.

In any case, the game doesn't figure to match the drama of the memorable 1966 and 1967 NFL title games between the teams. Both games -- the second was the "Ice Bowl" -- went to the finish and the Packers won both, 34-27 and 21-17, and went on to win the first two Super Bowls.

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