American Football: Holt aims to halt heroes

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The Independent Online
HE WAS born in Texas, supported the Dallas Cowboys as a boy, and still has an autographed photo of Randy White. However when he surveys the line of scrimmage in tomorrow's NFC Championship game at Candlestick Park, San Francisco, Pierce Holt will have no doubt as to whose side he is on.

Holt works on the San Francisco 49ers' defensive line and the Cowboys now stand between him and a trip to the Super Bowl. 'I was a big Cowboys fan. Now, they're just another football team,' he said. White, whose defensive line play was crucial to the Dallas glory years, provided Holt with his early inspiration. 'Every snap on television I isolated on White because he played so hard. The guy was my idol.'

Though not yet in the White class Holt has a burgeoning reputation and after five years' active service was elected to the Pro Bowl for the first time this season. He may not bag the sacks of the bigger names, but his strength and mobility often create opportunities for others. 'Pierce has been the best player on this defense by far,' Michael Walter, the 49ers linebacker, said. 'A lot of times great players kind of do their own thing. They have a lot of leeway as far as being able to slant. But Pierce plays within the defense and still makes great plays.'

The 49er defense will need to be at their best if they are to prevail in a championship game that looks more Super than the Super Bowl. The 49ers and Cowboys were comfortably the best sides of the regular season and whoever wins their confrontation will feel confident of being able to beat either Miami or Buffalo, who contest the AFC Championship in Florida.

There are a number of similarities between the Cowboys and 49ers, most strikingly that both possess talent-laden offenses which have tended to overshadow their more-than competent defenses. The Cowboys looked awesome in dispatching Philadelphia a week ago, but may have to wait one more year before making it to the big one.

In the AFC game the Bills welcome Jim Kelly back as quarterback, leaving his deputy, Frank Reich, to reflect on the club's policy of not dropping starters because they are injured. Kelly may be a little rusty, and has not had the best of seasons, but the Bills' greater experience should be enough to see them through to a third successive Super Bowl.