Cowboys treat Super Bowl like a done deal and it is

KEN ROSENTHAL

January 16, 1996|By KEN ROSENTHAL

Cowboys 31, Steelers 17.

And that's being charitable.

The Cowboys will cover the 12 1/2 -point spread. The Cowboys will make it 12 straight victories for the NFC. The Cowboys will win the Super Bowl.

Frankly, the only way they can lose is if they get overconfident, insult their opponent at the steak fry and spend the entire game woofing and taunting.

It happened once before to Michael Irvin in Tempe, Ariz. -- see the 1987 Fiesta Bowl. But can Pittsburgh do to Dallas what Penn State did to Miami?

Doubtful.

Let's get right down to it -- the Steelers struggled before putting away the aging Buffalo Bills, then went down to the last play with those wacky Indianapolis Colts.

They won't be at home like they were in those two playoff games. And -- stop if you've heard this before -- they'll be facing a team that is far superior to any in their conference.

The Cowboys, true to form, already are turning the [See Rosenthal, 3D] game in to a circus. Irvin, Deion Sanders and owner Jerry Jones took turns talking trash after Sunday's 38-27 victory over Green Bay. They should form their own group -- Noyz II Win.

Is it laryngitis season in Arizona yet?

Or will the NFL be handing out free earplugs to the media?

The scary part is, the Cowboys aren't just boasting this time. They're rallying around embattled coach Barry Switzer. Quarterback Troy Aikman, supposedly Switzer's mortal enemy, even gave him the game ball from the NFC title game.

Try not to gag.

Can you imagine if the Colts had made it to the Super Bowl? The Cowboys would have taken two weeks off, strolled into Sun Devil Stadium between commercial shoots, and won by 50 points.

Actually, it would have been worth it, just to hear commissioner Paul Tagliabue spend two weeks lauding the revival of the great Colts tradition. Heck, even with this matchup, Tagliabue's state of the dysfunctional union speech should be a riot.

Surely, the networks must be getting nervous. An Indianapolis or Jacksonville is going to make the Super Bowl one of these years. Yet Tagliabue still hasn't figured out a way to get the NFL back into Los Angeles.

This game? It will be a ratings blockbuster for, oh, maybe 10 minutes.

No, the Cowboys aren't what they used to be. But the Steelers aren't even as good as the four-time loser Bills.

Their offense is either too conservative (with Neil O'Donnell at quarterback) or too cutesy (with Kordell Stewart). Their defense allowed 251 second-half yards Sunday to a Colts team that isn't exactly loaded with weapons.

Who would you rather have at running back, Emmitt Smith or Erric Pegram? At wide receiver, Irvin or Yancey Thigpen? At quarterback, Aikman or O'Donnell?

Pegram is no Franco Harris.

Thigpen is no Lynn Swann.

And O'Donnell is no Terry Bradshaw.

So, where is the Steelers' edge? Outside linebackers Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd give the defense its punishing identity, but Pittsburgh is vulnerable against a team that pounds it inside like the Cowboys.

Dallas, too, can give up points, but O'Donnell completed only one pass longer than 14 yards Sunday -- a 37-yarder to Ernie Mills to set up the winning touchdown. Twice in two weeks, the Steelers have scored on disputed pass plays. They'll need the help against Dallas.

It's always possible that Switzer could screw up the Super Bowl, but you know what? So could Bill Cowher. Here's a guy who won't open up the offense for O'Donnell, but takes unnecessary risks with Stewart. You figure it out.

Listen, Stewart is a terrific talent -- he ran for three first downs on third-and-short during the Steelers' first touchdown drive Sunday and caught a 5-yard pass from O'Donnell for the six points.

Still, the Steelers are getting carried away -- be it the fault of Cowher, offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt, or both. Indeed, the coaches nearly blew the game Sunday, so obsessed were they with showing off Stewart.

Early in the fourth quarter, with the Steelers leading 13-9, Stewart replaced O'Donnell on a third-and-10 at the Colts' 17. Third-and-short is one thing, but third-and-10? That late in the game? With the AFC title at stake?

Ridiculous.

Rookie guard Brendan Stai was penalized 5 yards for a false start -- the kind of timing mistake that occurs with a different quarterback. O'Donnell, lined up as a wide receiver, could be seen rolling his eyes in disgust.

The play probably cost the Steelers three points. O'Donnell threw an incompletion on third-and-15, and Norm Johnson then missed a 40-yard field goal, when his attempt should have been from 35.

Brilliant coaching.

Maybe Cowher will use the two weeks to devise the perfect game plan, a creative masterpiece designed to overcome a physically superior team. He had better, or this could be yet another Super Bowl blowout.

Oh, Greene or Lloyd could knock out Aikman, and that would change things. O'Donnell could have a Mark Rypien kind of day. And Dallas could pull a U. of Miami, though it's difficult to imagine Aikman turning into Vinny Testaverde.

Face it, Irvin is right -- this is a Cowboys home game. They've been in the Super Bowl three of the past four years, and the Steelers are making their first appearance since 1980.

The Cowboys will win.

The Cowboys will cover.

In the immortal words of Deion, "Both."

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