Cowboys-49ers History With Haley, Pup + Moose
Even in 1992, the most common match up in NFC Championship Game history was Cowboys-49ers. Their last encounter was in 1981 when Joe Montana found Dwight Clark in the back of the end zone at Candlestick Park to go up 28-27 and defeat the Dallas Cowboys en route to the franchise's first of four Super Bowl wins in the 1980's.
Flash forward to 1992. It's the same story, but the roles are reversed. A young, talented team that was mired in abject failure faces the longstanding champion for a Super Bowl berth. This time, the Cowboys were the "new money" in the NFC and the Niners the king of the hill.
Another added element to the showdown was Dallas trading for San Francisco defensive end Charles Haley, whose bad behavior had recently become a burden for head coach George Seifert. Near the end of preseason, the 49ers traded Haley to the Cowboys for two draft selections. Head coach Jimmy Johnson knew his defense was solid already, but adding Haley would give them a chance to be great.
Haley looked forward to the encounter with his old club, the one he had won two Super Bowls with in 1988 and 1989.
"Hey, it was an opportunity for me to get back and play against the team that released me," Haley said to CowboysHQ recently.
But like any true champion, Haley recognized that the intensity of the game shouldn't have a profound effect on how you play the game.
"It was excitement, you know, but every game to me is the same. Hey, you can't let the ebb and flow of the season get to you."
The excitement in Candlestick Park was as thick as the fog that graciously left the stadium just before kickoff. Roger Staubach, an honorary Cowboys captain, said that he felt like he needed his ankles taped, and he had been retired for well over a decade.
Just imagine how fourth year quarterback Troy Aikman felt, whose last road playoff game was a 38-6 drubbing in Detroit last postseason.
On the Niners' opening drive to start the game, Jerry Rice scored a 63-yard touchdown to seemingly put the NFC West champs up 6-0 on the upstart Cowboys, pending the extra point. However, guard Guy McIntyre's hold erased Rice's touchdown, and San Francisco ultimately punted the ball away. By this time, Cowboys rookie cornerback Kevin Smith was talking smack to a legend in the making in Jerry Rice.
"That was so long ago, I can't remember that," Smith told us. "I don't know. I was young and dumb, man. You know, that was just the attitude of our team. You know, we were young."
Dallas was unable to move the ball after Michael Irvin's 19-yard catch on Dallas' first play of the game, so the Cowboys also had to punt.
Cornerback Alan Grant took the Mike Saxon punt and ran upfield before Cowboys linebacker Dixon Edwards popped the ball loose. With possession floating in midair like a gift from heaven, fullback Daryl Johnston swiftly scooped the ball one-handed into his breadbasket to give Dallas first-and-10 at the Niners 22.
Said Johnston: "It was an opportunity to gain a possession. So, we just unsuccessfully tried to convert a third down. So, to punt the ball and get a turnover and get the ball back for our offense, you know, on the road against the team that everyone thought was going to win the Super Bowl -- you always to do something that contributes positively to your team. So, it was a big play in the game."
Again looking for the Playmaker, Irvin caught a 21-yard pass from Aikman to bring up first-and-goal from the one. Unable to punch it in with the league's leading rusher in Emmitt Smith, Dallas had to settle for a 20-yard Lin Elliot field goal to take the game's first lead at 3-0.
On the ensuing kickoff, running back Mark Logan returned Lin Elliot's kick from the two yard line out to the Dallas 48. With the field sliced in half, the Niners drove easily down to the Cowboys one, where quarterback Steve Young punched it in to go up 7-3. Dallas was unable to get anything going on their next drive as 49ers linebackers Bill Romanowski and Martin Harrison each sacked Aikman to force a three-and-out.
Again with a drive starting at the edge of Cowboys territory, San Francisco drove 16 yards down to the Dallas 29 before stalling out. Kicker Mike Cofer attempted a 47-yard field goal to give the Niners a 10-7 lead, but he missed. The Cowboys were again unable to advance the ball into 49ers territory and punted the ball away. When San Francisco got the ball back, this was when the Cowboys grabbed their second takeaway of the game when running back Ricky Watters fumbled the ball and Cowboys rookie cornerback Kevin Smith recovered.
Smith had been jawing with Jerry Rice all game, and this turnover only added to the former Aggies' boldness.
"We just took the attitude of our coach, Jimmy Johnson -- just kind of flamboyant, out, rude, and out in the open," Smith reflected. "So, that's kind of what we were."
The Cowboys scored seven more points off of turnovers when Emmitt Smith rushed for a four-yard touchdown. Admittedly, the referees aided the drive by calling defensive end Pierce Holt for defensive holding when he tackled Smith on a fake handoff, but Dallas made the best out of their opportunity and now led 10-7.
Mike Cofer added three more points to San Francisco's total to knot the game at 10. With just two minutes left in the first half, Dallas managed to get to the Niners 25 yard line. However, Lin Elliot's field goal sailed wide right. The consolation was Dallas would receive the second half kickoff, and they made good with that opportunity. Starting from San Francisco's 22, the Cowboys managed to drive the length of the field, helped by receiver Alvin Harper's iconic catch over defensive back Eric Davis to move the ball 38 yards. Daryl Johnston rushed for a three-yard touchdown to put Dallas on top 17-10. Johnston's touchdown was the first postseason points scored by a Cowboys fullback since Robert Newhouse literally ten years and one day ago in the 1982 Super Bowl Tournament.
All the Niners' big-play offense could do was answer with another Mike Cofer field goal. His 43-yard try cut the lead to 17-13. The Dallas offense was clicking, and drove 79 yards to go up 24-13 after Aikman hit Smith for a 16-yard touchdown pass. More importantly, the Cowboys chewed up nine minutes of playing time and ushered in the fourth quarter.
Cowboys linebacker Ken Norton, Jr. picked off Young on the following drive to give Dallas possession at the San Francisco 45. The Cowboys offense moved the ball down to the seven, where they faced a fourth-and-1. Jimmy Johnson once asked if his players wanted to be safe and be good or take a chance and be great. Johnson risked the three guaranteed points for a chance to score a touchdown, and had Emmitt try to pick up the first. He was stuffed at the line for no gain, and the Niners got the ball back.
Cowboys radio play-by-play announcer Brad Sham was so surprised by the call that he said he'd ask Johnson about the call, even if he had to corner him on the team plane. Color analyst Dale Hansen advised Sham wear a parachute.
Time was not a luxury the 49ers had, and so they made the best of their drive starting at their own seven and marched all the way for a five-yard Jerry Rice touchdown to cut the Dallas lead to 24-20 with 4:22 left to play.
Throughout the game, the Cowboys offense had been calling Ace Right 896 F Flat. On the left side, Michael Irvin had been running a slant across the middle of the field while Alvin Harper on the right side had been running a curl route and always catching Aikman's passes. With the Cowboys needing a big play in crunch time, Irvin desperately wanted the ball. It's what he lived for. When breaking the huddle, Irvin told Harper to switch sides with him. Irvin wanted that curl route. Now Harper was on the left and Irvin on the right.
Aikman walked to the line and knew something wasn't right about Harper and Irvin's adjustment, but decided to roll with it, anyway. When Aikman dropped back, Harper slanted inside and his man, cornerback Don Griffin, slipped on the old Candlestick turf. Harper broke free for a 70-yard gain, and the iconic voice of the Dallas Cowboys will always be able to describe it best.
Brad Sham: "Harper's breaking away! Harper's got midfield. Harper's got the 30! Harper's got the 20! Harper's got the 10-yard line!"
"That was a heck of catch by Harper. That was a heck of a throw by Troy Aikman," John Madden said on the CBS broadcast.
Three plays later, Aikman found receiver Kelvin Martin who barely got the ball over the goalline to score a touchdown that put Dallas up 30-20 with 3:43 to go. There was some concern over Lin Elliot's extra point being blocked, but safety James Washington erased all doubts when he picked off Steve Young at the two-minute warning to stamp the Cowboys' ticket to Pasadena for a showdown with the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII.
When asked how it felt to beat the team that dealt him away, all Haley could say was, "I felt great, man."
Said Kevin Smith: "Daryl Johnston probably said it best: we really didn't know how good we were. We just played the game. You know, and so once we started to figure ourselves out, that's when we started to decline. We didn't know no better."
In 1981, Dallas won the turnover margin with +3 yet lost by a solitary point. Twelve years later, the Cowboys had a +4 margin in the turnover battle and beat the 49ers by ten points. It's funny how football works sometimes.
With the Josh Brent suspension and Michael Sam signing, Dallas isn't soaring out of the darkness. The spotlight has been on them in spite of their 17-year playoff win drought. But the team is the underdog, even at home, facing a 49ers club that has been the cream of the conference. The 49ers and Cowboys have faced each other six times in the conference title game, but never once on Opening Day. This Sunday, a new chapter will be written in the Cowboys-49ers rivalry.
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