American Football: The head man of Dallas: Peter King looks at the methods of Jimmy Johnson, a coach who is out of the ordinary

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The Independent Online
A WEEK ago, the Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson sat on his usual Texas Stadium office perch after another usual home win, drinking his usual beer on ice. And thinking some very unusual thoughts about the looming Super Bowl contest with the luckless Buffalo Bills.

'One of my biggest jobs this week,' he mused, leaning back in his chair, 'will be to put some fear into my players. I have to convince them they can lose this ball game.'

Filling his players' heads with negative thoughts would be counter-productive in anyone's book, but this Johnson is no ordinary coach. An industrial psychology major at the University of Arkansas with an IQ of 149, head games to Johnson are as crucial as passing and tackling. 'Emotion and attitude,' he said, 'determine football games as often as anything else. And I just think we can't approach this game thinking we're so superior to them.'

That's what America thinks. The Cowboys are America's next sports dynasty. The Bills are America's grand losers. So there's a blase approach to this game by the most rabid of fans. The players can sense it. 'We all know it,' acknowledged Buffalo's linebacker, Cornelius Bennett. 'We're the black sheep of the NFL family, and people are tired of seeing us here. But we're going to keep coming here until we knock the damn door down.'

It's widely considered gospel here that if the Cowboys play their game anywhere near the level they reached in last week's 37-21 trouncing of San Francisco in the National Football Conference championship game, they'll send Buffalo limping to another embarrassment. The Dallas offensive triumvirate of quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith and wide receiver Michael Irvin is the best in pro football, and the speed of the defense among the best ever to take the gridiron. Johnson feels good about their week of preparation for the game. 'The players have responded,' he said on Thursday. 'They won't take this game lightly.'

The Dallas players seem loose and relaxed, a sharp contrast to the sometimes angry, almost whining, demeanour of the Bills. One Cowboy in particular has been eating up the spotlight here. He is the offensive lineman Nate Newton, the best quote around a Super Bowl in years. Each day during Super Bowl preparation, the players are required to meet the press for 45 minutes. Newton, a big bear of a man at 6ft 1in and 23st 10lb who landed in Dallas in 1988, has made these sessions his soapbox to stardom. Each day, the crowd around his table grew bigger. One of Newton's gems from Thursday: 'My mom is big. My dad is big. If you put two cows together, what do you expect to produce? A giraffe?'

Buffalo are in no mood to joke. If they are to have a chance today, the player who must produce is their quarterback, Jim Kelly, who has been awful in the Bills' two most recent Super Bowls.

Kelly has a great football sense about him, having grown up in the quarterback-rich region of western Pennsylvania that spawned Joe Montana and Joe Namath. But he's been disastrous in the Washington and Dallas losses of the past two years, throwing six interceptions. And he knows he must play well here. Kelly has a keen regard for his place in football history, and football history will not look kindly upon him if he blows another Super Bowl. 'The key to our success in this game,' he said, 'is not giving the ball away. If I don't throw interceptions, then we've got a great chance.'

America hopes so. The thought of another Super Bowl blow-out is too depressing to bear.