Cowboys out to ride into league history

January 30, 1994|By Vito StellinoKen Murray | Vito StellinoKen Murray,Staff Writer

ATLANTA -- These are the moments the Dallas Cowboys crave. Moments when electricity fills the air, when a reputation is on the line.

Moments when history is waiting to be made.

The Cowboys get their shot at Super Bowl XXVIII and pro football history tonight when they face a Buffalo Bills team in search of redemption. Kickoff is 6:18 p.m.

If it's prime-time, it's the right time for the Cowboys.

"We're that type team," said Michael Irvin, the Cowboys' flashy ,, wide receiver. "We live for the big situation.

"When we were 0-2, they said a team never started the season 0-2 and went to the Super Bowl. Instead of panic, we looked around the locker room and said, hey, this is our chance to make history."

The Cowboys (14-4) became the first team to go 0-2 and reach the Super Bowl. Now they're trying to become the fifth team to win back-to-back championships. The last team to repeat was the San Francis co 49ers in 1989 and 1990.

This is also the first time in history the same two teams played in consecutive Super Bowls. A year ago, the Cowboys trampled the Bills, 52-17.

Fearful, perhaps, of a repeat rout, public sentiment had called for different matchup. But Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson says the public got the right one, anyway.

"This is the game that should have been," he said. "I know some people may have said that they wanted to see another game, but in reality, I think everybody wants to see the best.

"And I think both teams proved that they were the best in their respective conferences."

The Bills (14-4) are playing the history game, too. Only their shot at history is a dubious one. Having already lost three straight Super Bowls, they're on the verge of tying the Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos as the Super Bowl's losingest teams at 0-4.

What's more, the AFC, where the Bills reign, hasn't won a Super Bowl in 10 years.

History? Twenty-five years after the AFL New York Jets beat the NFL Baltimore Colts, 16-7, in a monumental Super Bowl upset, the Bills are trying to turn back the clock. They go in as 10 1/2 -point underdogs.

All week long, Bills coach Marv Levy has said it will take Buffalo's best game to beat the Cowboys. But he's conceded nothing.

"I don't feel we're physically overmatched," he said. "They have outstanding talent. They have the speediest defense in the National Football League. We've got a lot of speed -- maybe not quite as much, so we have to be sure we're in the right position.

"They have a great running back; so have we. They have a great quarterback; so have we. They have an outstanding offensive line; so have we. Nevertheless, you have to play to the very top level of your capabilities to have a good opportunity to defeat them."

It's a game that could be decided by turnovers. Last year, the Bills coughed up the football a record nine times, five on fumbles, to fuel the Cowboys' romp.

Or it could be decided by running backs -- Emmitt Smith for the Cowboys or Thurman Thomas for the Bills, two of the league's premier players.

Or it could be decided by quarterbacks -- Troy Aikman for the Cowboys or Jim Kelly for the Bills.

Or it could be decided on defense, where both teams have

proven to be vulnerable this season.

It's the matchup at running back, though, that seems the most intriguing.

Smith, the league's Most Valuable Player, has played two postseason games with a separated right shoulder that amazingly has held up under playoff demands. But he clearly is not 100 percent. Can the Cowboys win without him?

"This team can win without me," he said, contemplating the worst. "[But] I want to be there to help them win if I can."

Thomas is coming off the biggest game of his six-year career. He rushed for 186 yards and three touchdowns last week when the Bills hammered the Kansas City Chiefs, 30-13, in the AFC championship game.

A temperamental player, he usually is at his best when he's in his worst moods. That was the case a week ago. And after three days of media interrogation, Thomas' mood grew dark and angry. He says he's expecting big things from himself.

"I think I have to have a couple of big plays just about every time I go out on the field in order to keep the ball moving, keep a little momentum, and keep our defense off the field," Thomas said.

Buffalo's Super Bowl past bears him out. In the Bills' 20-19 loss to the New York Giants three years ago, Thomas rushed for 135 yards, averaging 9 a carry. It was the Bills' only winnable Super Bowl.

In the next two title games, when the Bills were blown out, Thomas rushed a total of 21 times for 32 yards, a 1.5 average.

"I think Thomas is the key, if you can control him," said Cowboys cornerback Kevin Smith. "He's the all-purpose leader in yards [four of the past five years], so any time a guy is that valuable to an offense, he is the key guy. We need to stop him first . . . Thurman Thomas makes the Buffalo offense go."

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