TEMPE, Ariz. -- Neil O'Donnell all but gift-wrapped the Super Bowl trophy for the Dallas Cowboys last night.
The Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback threw a pair of interceptions right into the arms of cornerback Larry Brown, who simply had to catch them to become the Super Bowl MVP.
Brown's two interceptions set up a pair of Emmitt Smith touchdowns that gave the Cowboys a 27-17 victory over the Steelers in Super Bowl XXX before 76,347 fans at Sun Devil Stadium.
The Cowboys became the first team to win three Super Bowls in a four-year span as they took advantage of numerous Steelers mistakes.
It enabled the Cowboys to join the San Francisco 49ers as the only five-time Super Bowl winners and gave the NFC its 12th straight victory.
This game came down to O'Donnell's two interceptions. They will become part of Super Bowl lore along with the Jackie Smith drop, Scott Norwood's missed field-goal attempt and Joe Gibbs' Rocket Screen call that made Jack Squirek a Raiders hero.
Steelers coach Bill Cowher, though, was quick to defend the former Maryland quarterback.
"Neil got us here," Cowher said. "Without Neil, we wouldn't be playing in the last of January. Look at the big picture. Don't look at the small piece. He had a heck of a year, and I was very proud of him."
O'Donnell said the first interception, which came with Pittsburgh trailing 13-7, sailed out of his hand. He cited a miscommunication with wide receiver Andre Hastings on a blitz on the second one, which thwarted a fourth-quarter drive with the score 20-17. But ,, O'Donnell didn't try to spread the blame.
"We're all in this together," he said. "You just can't single out one individual and say this is the reason why we lost the football game."
Hastings said of the second interception, "I read it one way and Neil read it another. That's just the way it is. I was thinking hot and I broke hot, but Neil threw the out."
That means Hastings, who had the option of breaking the route in or out because of the blitz, broke in only to have O'Donnell throw the out into Brown's arms.
Brown, who became only the second defensive back to win the MVP trophy (Jake Scott of the Miami Dolphins was the first in Super Bowl VII), had his own version of the two plays.
"He had a bad read on the first one. The second one, they had been running slants on me all day and I got a jump on it," he said.
Brown was expected to lose his job when Deion Sanders arrived, but got a second chance when Kevin Smith was lost for the season with a knee injury in the opener. He also overcame a personal trauma when his 10-week-old son, born 14 weeks premature, died on Nov. 16.
Even though they failed to cover the 13 1/2 -point spread and didn't play one of their better games, the Cowboys still savored the moment.
They struggled through a tumultuous year that included coach Barry Switzer's twice-failed fourth-and-one call in Philadelphia when he was labeled Bozo the Coach all the way to suggestions last week that quarterback Troy Aikman was a racist.
"I think it's a feeling more of relief than anything else," Aikman said of the victory that enabled him to become only the third quarterback to win more than two Super Bowls. Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana have each won four, and Aikman, who's 10-1 in the playoffs, has won three.
It was more than just relief for owner Jerry Jones, who was criticized for pushing out former coach Jimmy Johnson in March 1994 and hiring Switzer to replace him even though he had been out of football five years.
Jones also spent the year in a legal fight with the league over his marketing deals and was criticized by commissioner Paul Tagliabue on "This Week With David Brinkley" yesterday for "taking what does not belong to him."
Tagliabue, though, was gracious when he presented the trophy to Jones after the game.
"Jerry, Gene [Jones' wife], Barry, I congratulate you on a tremendous victory for the Cowboys franchise," Tagliabue said. "We congratulate you and your extraordinary group of players."
Jones was as gracious as he accepted the trophy and said, "This game represents the kind of season that we've had. It's wonderful just to hold this trophy. This under the circumstances for me is the sweetest."
Switzer then shouted from the podium, "We did it our way, baby. We did it. We did it. We did it."
When Jones and Switzer later took a call from President Clinton, Jones said, "Mr. President, oh, boy, I can't tell you, Gene and I [feel] this is the best one of all, Mr. President."
Switzer then thanked the president for calling him a year ago "when I was loser" after the NFC title-game loss to San Francisco.
"Let me tell you something, we did it our way tonight. You've been doing it your way and we're behind you because you're a winner and we're a champ, too. Appreciate you being a Cowboy fan, an ol' boy from Arkansas," Switzer said.