Cowboys 52 - Bills 17
PASADENA, Calif. - Ultimately, Michael Jackson's halftime fireworks were nothing compared to the explosions the Cowboys ignited in the Rose Bowl on Sunday night.
First they blew up Jim Kelly. Then they torched Frank Reich.
The result was a Super Bowl record nine turnovers as Dallas bombed the Buffalo Bills, 52-17, to record the franchise's third Super Bowl triumph and its first in 15 years.
"I felt like we had the best football team," said coach Jimmy Johnson. "When you turn the ball over as many times as they did, you'll have trouble. Sometimes it snowballs."
Even Buffalo has never seen snow like this. The Cowboys' scoring came in staccato bursts. Three times they scored a pair of touchdowns within a minute of each other.
Troy Aikman earned the MVP trophy with another spotless performance -- 22-for-30, 273 yards, four touchdowns, no interceptions. And no one suggested that he didn't deserve it.
But the Cowboys' defense, overlooked in the Pro Bowl voting by rival players and coaches despite a No. 1 ranking, rose another notch Sunday. They intercepted Kelly twice, intercepted Reich twice and recovered five fumbles.
Buffalo scored two touchdowns and a field goal, punted three times and had the ball when the clock expired. Nine other possessions ended with the ball in Cowboys' hands.
The defense scored two touchdowns on its own. Charles Haley caused a Kelly fumble that Jimmie Jones caught in mid-air and turned into a two-yard touchdown return. It came 15 seconds after Aikman's 23-yard pass to Jay Novacek had tied the score, 7-7.
Ken Norton Jr.'s nine-yard run with a fumble completed the scoring, coming just 41 seconds after Emmitt Smith had scored his only touchdown, on a 10-yard run. The Cowboys also got a pair of touchdowns from Michael Irvin (19 and 18 yards) just 18 seconds apart late in the first half. A Thurman Thomas fumble recovered by Jones in between made possible that quick repeat score.
"You never in a million years think about scoring 52 points,' said offensive coordinator Norv Turner. "But they turned the ball over nine times, so that's what can happen."
This was not the kind of defeat that left Bills fans thinking about "what ifs," but actually things started out in their favor. In the first 30 minutes, Buffalo's Andre Reed caught five passes for 124 yards, the Bills blocked a Mike Saxon punt deep in Dallas territory and Dallas committed penalties on three third-down plays to give Buffalo new life.
And still the Bills were all but dead by halftime.
Their early 7-0 lead, a product of Steve Tasker's blocked punt, was gone by the end of the first quarter after Dallas' first series of rapid-fire touchdowns.
But trailing, 14-7, the Bills moved quickly to the Dallas four after a 40-yard pass to Reed. Carwell Gardner picked up three yards on first down but Thurman Thomas (11 carries, 19 yards) was stopped for no gain on second down. On third, Kenneth Davis was about to lunge into the end zone when Norton stood him up inches short. On fourth down, Kelly threw an ill-advised pass into a crowd that Thomas Everett intercepted in the end zone.
The Bills did manage to get to the Dallas three on their next possession but had to settle for a 21-yard Steve Christie field goal. With 3:24 to go in the half, it was a 14-10 game. Anybody's game.
And then, in a big hurry, it became the Cowboys' game.
Smith, who had been held to 16 yards on eight carries, broke loose on a draw for 38 yards to the Bills' 19. After the two-minute warning, Irvin turned cornerback Nate Odomes completely around on a 19-yard slant for a touchdown and a 21-10 lead.
After Thomas fumbled on the Bills' next play, Aikman went to Irvin again. He beat cornerback James Williams in the right corner and dived into the end zone to make it 28-10.
Dallas added a field goal on the first possession of the third quarter and had the game in hand before Reich hit Don Beebe with a 40-yard touchdown on the last play of the third quarter. Replays showed that Reich had crossed the line of scrimmage when he threw, but officials missed the call, so it was up to Dallas to make amends.
The Cowboys did so quickly. Aikman hit Alvin Harper with a 45-yard touchdown pass down the right side to make it 38-17 with 10:04 to play. Harper's spike over the crossbar put the exclamation point on the victory, even though the Cowboys scored two more touchdowns thanks to Bills' mistakes.
"When it was 31-17, I was thinking about Buffalo's comeback (from 32 points down) against Houston," said Harper. "That was in the back of my mind."
The Cowboys may be from Texas, but they showed why they are not to be confused with the Oilers or any member of the AFC, which has now dropped nine straight Super Bowls by an average of 23 points.
"There was never any doubt we'd get to this point," said Johnson, the first head coach to win a Division I national championship and a Super Bowl . "The concern was how long it would take."
Just three years removed from a 1-15 embarrassment, Dallas scaled the summit Sunday night.
"In my wildest dreams, I never thought about winning a Super Bowl," said James Washington. "Where do you go from here? You try to repeat."
That has been the yardstick for measuring greatness in the NFL. Pittsburgh and San Francisco have repeated twice, while Green Bay and Miami have done it once. The Cowboys can seek that level next year.
Veteran Buffalo wide receiver James Lofton likes the Cowboys' chances. "An earthquake in Santa Monica tonight . . . that's the only thing that can stop the Cowboys."