American Football / Super Bowl XXVIII: Cowboys driven on by genius of Smith: Dallas stretch American football reign as Bills count cost of errors

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The Independent Online
A SUPER BOWL story that maintained its suspense for at least the first half, and was close going into the final chapter, was eventually determined by the simplest of plot-lines. In the end, the Buffalo Bills could not catch 22.

Emmitt Smith, who wears that number, was the key performer in another superb display by the Dallas Cowboys, and his 132 yards' rushing - including a couple of touchdowns - were the backbone to his side's 30-13 victory over the Bills in Super Bowl XXVIII.

Impressive throughout, Smith was outstanding in the third quarter as the game was won and lost. An admirable Bills defense was simply unable to contain him. Already the season's Most Valuable Player, he added the Super Bowl MVP title to his burgeoning list of accolades, and his status as the sport's best player is surely unchallenged.

Smith's experience was in marked contrast to that of his close friend and counterpart with the Bills, Thurman Thomas, who had another bleak time at the game's showpiece. He twice fumbled away possession, the second time to change irrevocably the momentum of the game, as the Bills came up short for the fourth year in a row.

By the end, the Cowboys, who became only the fourth team to repeat as Super Bowl champions, had shown again the gulf between themselves and their contemporaries, and with most of their key personnel certain to return next year they must be favoured to become the first to be champions three years in succession.

At the start, though, their triumph was anything but a formality. The Bills defense coped well with the most dangerous offense in the game and, despite Thomas's first fumble, the Cowboys were only 6-3 ahead at the end of the first quarter.

Buffalo optimism was enhanced in the second period when they played their best football in a Super Bowl since the Giants game three years ago. The defense kept the Cowboys scoreless in that period despite being on the field for more than eight minutes, while the offense posed a genuine threat.

The Bills also rode their luck. A fourth-down, roughing-the-kicker penalty kept alive a drive which culminated in Thomas's four-yard TD run, while Jim Kelly's one bad pass of the quarter, a stinker straight into double coverage, fell incomplete instead of being intercepted.

In the first half Kelly, given time to throw by his line, was crisp, poised and patient, so different to the frenzied forcer of plays of the last two Super Bowls.

Instead, it was Troy Aikman, the Cowboys quarterback, who threw a needless interception. His pass, picked off by Nate Odomes with just over a minute remaining in the half, allowed the Bills to extend their lead to 13-6 at the half.

As the players left the field there was the faintest feeling that this might finally be the Bills' year. Jimmy Johnson, the Cowboys head coach, insisted afterwards, however, that he was never worried. He simply told his players to cut down the mistakes and urged his defense not to allow the Bills' no-huddle offense to dictate the tempo.

Within a minute of the re- start, the Cowboys had done just that and altered the momentum of the contest for good. After a couple of plays on the Bills' opening drive, Thomas had the ball stripped from him by Leon Lett. It was recovered by the safety, James Washington, and his dazzling run ended up 46 yards downfield for a touchdown which levelled the score at 13-13.

The Cowboys are never more lethal than when they smell blood and, after the defense had forced a quick punt, the offense put together an awesome drive in which Smith excelled. Rushing almost exclusively to the right side, behind the considerable bulk of Eric Williams, Kevin Gogan and the pulling Nate Newton (average weight: 231 2 st) he foraged for 61 yards on seven plays culminating in a 15-yard TD run.

Suddenly, the Cowboys were up 20-13 and in command. The Bills offense was unable to maintain the rhythm of the first half and, as he came under increasing pressure, Kelly's passing became ragged. The Bills defense rose again to the challenge to force a couple of punts and keep the lead to seven going into the fourth, but the first play of the final quarter effectively ruled out a Bills victory.

Kelly was intercepted by Washington and the Cowboys took over on the Bills' 34. It was Washington's second big play of the game and, for a man who aspires to a political career later in life, he shows a happy knack of being at his best when most eyes are upon him. Nine plays later Smith went over from the one-yard line on a fourth down and at 27-13 the game was out of Buffalo's reach. A final Eddie Murray field goal with just under three minutes remaining ended the scoring.

After the game, Smith went over to console Thomas, who later reported what was said. 'Emmitt introduced me to his niece and told her I was the greatest back in the National Football League,' Thomas said.

'But I said to Emmitt, 'No, don't even try that on me. You're the greatest back in the National Football League, and you proved it today'.'

(Photograph omitted)