Dallas shows it's alive and well, thank you

January 09, 1995|By JOHN EISENBERG

IRVING, Texas -- Yeah, the Cowboys are dead. Real dead.

"When was the last time you all played this well?" someone asked Michael Irvin.

"In practice Friday," Irvin said, not missing a beat.

Yeah. Real dead.

"The regular season was boring for us," Cowboys tight end Scott Galbraith said. "Now, it's the playoffs. Different deal entirely."

We noticed.

"Felt like the old days out there today," Irvin said. "Real nice feeling. We had lots of fun out there today."

If this is dead, every other team in the NFL should start next season with a death wish.

A month ago, Inside Sports magazine ran a cover story saying, "Dallas Is Dead." Yesterday, the Cowboys put a 35-9 stamp on the Packers in the divisional playoffs at Texas Stadium, setting up the only game that really counts in the NFL this season, next week's NFC championship game against the 49ers at Candlestick Park.

"Dead, we are not," Galbraith said, "and never were."

It is true that they were a little off kilter for a while there. It is true that in the second half of the regular season they weren't often up to their Super Bowl-winning form of the past two seasons.

It is true that the 49ers have been the superior team this season.

As if that will matter Sunday.

What has happened until now in the 1994-95 season couldn't be less relevant to Sunday's game, particularly for the Cowboys, who, having won two straight Supes, understand all too well that there is a time to get serious and play for real -- and it is just now beginning.

"This time of year is what we were waiting for all season," safety James Washington said. "I'm not going to say that the regular season was boring, but . . ."

If they were struggling before, they aren't now. If they had some mysterious ailment before, it is fixed now. Their performance yesterday was every bit as complete and convincing as their playoff performances in their Super seasons.

"Today, they played like the world champions they are," Packers quarterback Brett Favre said.

Troy Aikman was brilliant at quarterback, completing 23 of 30 passes for 337 yards and two touchdowns. Three of his receivers caught more than 100 yards of passes. Reggie White was no factor. The Cowboys' defense rendered the Packers' offense impotent.

The only troublesome development involved Emmitt Smith, who spent the last three quarters on the bench after feeling a twinge in his sore left hamstring. Whether he can play at full speed is, of course, a factor on which Sunday's game could turn.

The speculation will surely come in volleys this week.

"Please don't ask me if we can win with Emmitt playing at 80 percent," Aikman said, smiling. "I don't know."

To Irvin, there is no doubt about what will happen.

"Emmitt will play, for sure," Irvin said. "I guarantee you that Emmitt will play."

Irvin also guaranteed yesterday that the Cowboys would win the Super Bowl again. He made the pledge first on national television before the game, then reiterated it afterward.

LTC "What am I supposed to say? That I don't think we can win?" he said. "The only way you win championships is by going into games knowing you're going to win. That's knowing as opposed to thinking that you're going to win. And I know it.

"We're going to win again this year. If you all want to run with that and sell some newspapers, fine."

A few Cowboys said they were glad to be playing the 49ers, who crowed considerably after winning their regular-season game by a touchdown. But most of them shrugged.

"The 49ers are the ones that have a grudge with us, not us with them," Washington said. "We have beaten them the last two years [in the NFC championship], so we've had what they want. Now, they've gone out and bought a team specifically to play against us. It's a good team. A real good team. But . . ."

He smiled.

"I'll give you three quarters," he said. "A big game for three quarters. After that, Dallas will take over."

This is dead?

"Did you send the 49ers a message today?" someone asked Irvin.

"We don't have to send messages," he said.

This is dead?

"Please," Irvin said, "understand something. We hadn't had everyone together and healthy and practicing for a couple of months. Troy was hurt, I was hurt, Emmitt was hurt. And I don't care how good you are, if you don't practice, your game suffers. But we got to practice together finally this week. And it was a great week. And look what happened."

Look: a blowout by halftime.

Sure, it could well be that this is just the 49ers' year, that they're playing at a level no opponent can reach. But it is utter foolishness to dismiss the Cowboys' chances on the basis of anything that happened in their season before yesterday.

They had nothing to play for until now.

You may have noticed that yesterday.

"Does it feel good to be back?" someone asked Aikman.

"I didn't know I had left," he said.

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