A few minutes later, the game was over, and the Cowboys had won Super Bowl XXVII with a compelling display that left no room for argument. The Buffalo Bills were routed 52-17, a margin that could have been even higher had Leon Letts not fumbled an interception return as he entered the end zone.
Troy Aikman masterminded Sunday's triumph with a devastating performance at quarterback, throwing for four touchdowns and displaying a nimbleness out of the pocket that belied his pure passing image. Aikman's consistency in choosing the right option suggested that he is about to become the sport's next great big-game play- caller, and he was a deserved winner of the Most Valuable Player award. However, there was no lack of contenders with the running back Smith rushing for 108 yards, the wide receiver Michael Irvin ridiculing Buffalo's secondary, the tight end Jay Novacek unflappable in the clutch, and a whole huddle's- worth of defensive players rising to the occasion, notably the linebacker Ken Norton.
'Our guys played with a lot of confidence, they've played that way all year long,' Johnson said. 'We said all year that the best game we were going to play was the last game, and we saved the best until last.'
As the victory reverberated around the country, the question that must now be worrying the National Football League is whether anyone can prevent this being the first of many memorable last games for Dallas. Jimmy Johnson's team are the youngest in the League, have gifted individuals in just about every key position, and already play with the poise and determination of experienced champions.
Their victories in San Francisco, and here at the Rose Bowl, establish them as comfortably the best team this year, and probably one of the better sides of recent seasons. Many have predicted that they will dominate the 1990s the way the 49ers did the 1980s, and the Steelers the 1970s. On this form their domination has already started. In any case, the monopoly exerted by NFC teams in the Super Bowl shows no sign of abating, the evidence of the last 18 months suggesting the gulf between the two conferences is, if anything, widening.
Buffalo must now come to terms with the third successive Super Bowl defeat. They contributed hugely to their own downfall with a Super Bowl record of nine turnovers (a third of that number would be decisive in many games), yet the feeling remains that those mistakes affected the scoreline, not the result. To make matters worse for their fanatical fans, there was a late surge of support for the Bills, despite Dallas's status as favourites, with pundits queueing up to predict that this would at last be their year. In the end, they again chose the biggest stage of all to show off their limitations.
Yet when the game started there was no hint of the one-way traffic to come. Indeed, in the early stages it was tempting to conclude that with America watching, and Dallas back in the Super Bowl, we were in for soap opera. Certainly the shirt-sleeved crowd, basking in the California sun, were treated to 25 minutes of action as enthralling and varied as any prime-time scriptwriter could provide.
A remarkable first quarter was determined by an astonishing series of mistakes. Buffalo blocked a punt, then capitalised on a penalty to go ahead two plays later with a Thurman Thomas touchdown. After repulsing the Cowboys' initial response, Jim Kelly, the Buffalo quarterback, threw the first of two interceptions to give the initiative back to Dallas. The Cowboys took advantage with Aikman finding Novacek with a 23- yard scoring pass. The third key error of the opening period came on the next play after the kick-off, when Kelly was hit by Charles Haley, the ball went loose and Jimmy Jones recovered it for a touchdown. That put Dallas 14-7 ahead, a lead they never lost.
The drama continued into the second quarter, with Kelly being flattened, quite legally, by Norton. He hobbled off, having badly sprained his knee, but at that point the feeling was that with Kelly already highly erratic, and apparently alternating superb completions with interceptions, Buffalo might actually benefit from the calmer presence of the back-up quarterback, Frank Reich.
This notion gained credence as Reich guided the Bills down the field with a field goal cutting the lead to 14-10. However during this drive the Bills failed to go over when within 10 yards of the end zone (repeating a failing that had already occurred in the first quarter) and in these closing moments of the second quarter the momentum of the game shifted conclusively in Dallas's favour.
First Irvin gathered an 18-yard reception for a third touchdown, then, on the next play from the scrimmage, Thomas, attempting to make the big play, fumbled and Dallas recovered. Seconds later Irvin claimed a 19-yarder and the Cowboys went in 28-10 at the half, having been in possession of the ball for less time than their opponents.
The Bills attempted a rally in the third quarter and did score a touchdown, but this proved a misleading prelude to a fourth period during which they committed a rash of turnovers, virtually all of which were converted into points. By the end it became a surprise when they managed to hold on to the ball for successive plays.
The abiding image of a superb victory came afterwards in the Cowboys locker room, with the ghettoblaster already on full volume and an impromptu party getting under way. Kenneth Gant, the Cowboys safety, suddenly stopped and looked serious for a moment. 'I'm going to be back here,' he said. 'I'm going to be back.' After the way he and his team had played, it was difficult to disagree.
SUPER BOWL XXVII (Pasadena): Dallas Cowboys 52 Buffalo Bills 17.
Dallas: Touchdowns M Irvin 2, J Novacek, J Jones, A Harper, E Smith, K Norton; Field goal L Elliot; Extra points Elliot 7. Buffalo: Touchdowns T Thomas, D Beebe; Field goal S Christie; Extra points Christie 2.
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