January 30, 2011

1994: Cowboys Win Back-to-Back Titles With Super Bowl XXVIII Win Over Bills

Super Bowl XXVIII on January 30, 1994 featured a rematch of the last contest’s participants. The Dallas Cowboys had mauled the Buffalo Bills by a 52-17 score, an especially bitter blow for the Bills since it was their third straight Super Bowl defeat.

The Cowboys, under Head Coach Jimmy Johnson, topped the NFC East with a 12-4 record during the ’93 regular season, defeated Green Bay in the Divisional playoff round and then, also for the second straight year, defeated their nemesis, the San Francisco 49ers, to win the conference title. The offense centered most heavily on the nucleus of QB Troy Aikman, RB Emmitt Smith (the consensus league MVP, pictured above), and WR Michael Irvin, but also had outstanding players in FB Daryl “Moose” Johnston and TE Jay Novacek. The defense featured DE Charles Haley (even though hobbled by a disc injury), DT Russell Maryland, MLB Ken Norton, and FS Thomas Everett.

Head Coach Marv Levy’s Bills were also 12-4 in topping the AFC East and had beaten the Raiders and Chiefs to win their fourth consecutive AFC Championship. Like the Cowboys, they had a veteran core on offense that included QB Jim Kelly (pictured at left), RB Thurman Thomas, and WR Andre Reed. The tough defense included All-Pro DE Bruce Smith, NT Jeff Wright, linebackers Darryl Talley and Cornelius Bennett, CB Nate Odomes, SS Henry Jones, and FS Mark Kelso.

The game was played inside the Georgia Dome in Atlanta with 72,817 on hand. The Cowboys scored on their first possession that followed a 50-yard return of the opening kickoff by WR Kevin Williams. Aikman immediately passed for 20 yards to Irvin to get to the Buffalo 28 yard line, and three plays later Eddie Murray kicked a 41-yard field goal.

The Bills responded in kind, driving 43 yards in seven plays. Kelly completed passes of 11 yards to Reed and 24 to Thurman Thomas, but a throw on third-and-seven was dropped by WR Bill Brooks and Buffalo settled for a Super Bowl-record 54-yard field goal by Steve Christie.

Dallas had to punt following its next possession, but Buffalo handed the ball back on its first play as Thomas fumbled after gaining seven yards on a shovel pass from Kelly. Safety Darren Woodson recovered at the 50 and the Cowboys drove to another field goal, this time of 24 yards, with Aikman completing a 24-yard pass to WR Alvin Harper along the way.

The Bills proceeded to put together a long, 17-play drive that extended into the second quarter and was helped along when CB Dave Thomas ran into punter Chris Mohr for a five-yard penalty in a fourth-and-three situation. Kelly completed seven passes and Thurman Thomas ran the ball seven times, including a four-yard touchdown run that put Buffalo back on top at 10-6.

Again Dallas had to punt, but John Jett’s kick was downed at the Buffalo one yard line. The Bills managed to advance to the Cowboys’ 46 in 11 plays and returned the favor when Mohr’s 45-yard punt was downed at the one by special teams star Steve Tasker. But just as Buffalo had, Dallas responded to being pinned back by mounting a long drive, primarily fueled by short throws by Aikman. However, after reaching the Bills’ 37, Aikman’s long pass was intercepted by Odomes, who returned it 41 yards to the Dallas 47.

With just over a minute remaining in the half, the Bills took over and, starting with throws by Kelly of 12 yards to Thomas and 22 to Reed, reached the Dallas nine before Christie kicked a 28-yard field goal to give Buffalo a 13-6 lead at halftime. It seemed as though Buffalo’s Super Bowl luck might be changing, but it was not to be.

On the third play of the second half, Thomas fumbled and FS James Washington (pictured below) recovered and ran 46 yards for a touchdown. With the successful extra point, the game was suddenly tied at 13-13. The Bills went three-and-out on their next possession, and the Cowboys drove 64 yards, virtually all accounted for by Emmitt Smith. The star running back ran the ball six straight times and a total of seven over the course of the drive, gaining 61 yards that included a 15-yard scoring carry. The Cowboys were now ahead 20-13 and just starting to roll.

The Bills got the ball back and drove into Dallas territory, but had to punt. The teams traded punts for the remainder of the third quarter. However, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Washington made another big play for the Cowboys as he intercepted a Kelly pass and returned it 12 yards to the Buffalo 46.

Once again, it was Emmitt Smith fueling the ensuing drive, carrying the ball six times and gaining nine yards on a screen pass. Along the way, Aikman threw to Harper for 16 yards and a first-and-goal at the six. The final run by Smith was for one yard and a TD, and Dallas led by a 27-13 margin with under 10 minutes remaining in the game.

Following another punt by the Bills, the Cowboys put together one last scoring drive, going 49 yards in nine plays, featuring a 35-yard pass play from Aikman to Harper and ending with Murray’s 20-yard field goal.

Buffalo held the ball for 17 plays, nearly using up the remainder of the clock, but could score no more points. Backup QB Bernie Kosar, who had been dealt to the Cowboys by Cleveland during the season, came in to take a knee and run out the last six seconds, participating in a Super Bowl for the only time in his career, and the Cowboys won a second straight title by the score of 30-13.

Dallas outgained the Bills (341 to 314 yards) although Buffalo had more first downs (22 to 20). But Buffalo’s running game was held to 87 yards on 27 carries and the Bills gave up three turnovers, to one suffered by Dallas.

Emmitt Smith, who dominated the second half and was the game’s MVP, ran for 132 yards on 30 carries with two touchdowns. Troy Aikman (pictured at right) completed 19 of 27 passes for 207 yards with no TDs and one interception. Michael Irvin and Jay Novacek caught 5 passes apiece, for 66 and 26 yards respectively, and Alvin Harper gained 75 yards on his three receptions.

For Buffalo, Jim Kelly went to the air 50 times, with 31 completions for 260 yards, and had one picked off. Thurman Thomas gained just 37 yards on 16 carries, including a touchdown, but caught 7 passes for 52 yards, although he also had the two fumbles. Bill Brooks also had 7 catches, for 63 yards, while Andre Reed gained 75 yards on 6 receptions. RB Kenneth Davis was the team’s leading ground gainer with 38 yards on 9 attempts.

The fourth straight Super Bowl loss was the end of the run for Buffalo, as the Bills sank to 7-9 in 1994. It was the end for Jimmy Johnson as well, as he quit the club due to differences with owner Jerry Jones. The Cowboys again went 12-4 in ’94 under Barry Switzer, but finally lost to the 49ers in the NFC title game. They regained the championship throne following the 1995 season.