This is all too familiar.
The Dallas Cowboys beat the San Francisco 49ers and go on to the Super Bowl to play the Buffalo Bills.It was just about as easy as that Sunday for Dallas as they beat the 49ers 38-21 behind Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith, an insurance policy named Bernie Kosar and a defense that came to life on a game-turning play by linebacker Dixon Edwards, one of its least-known members.
Now you have to wonder if the Super Bowl will be as easy as last year, when they beat the Bills 52-17.
We won't know from coach Jimmy Johnson, whose brash prediction last Thursday that his team would win was the focal point entering the game.
"This week I'm not gonna say a word, but you know how I feel," he told his team in the locker room after praising them for "walking the walk after I talked the talk."
"I thought Johnson's comment was insane, but I guess it was accurate," said San Francisco wide receiver Jerry Rice.
The Cowboys-Bills matchup is the first time in 28 Super Bowls that the two teams from the previous year have come back once again. In fact, it's a fourth straight appearance for Buffalo, which has lost three straight and will be trying to break a streak of nine consecutive losses by the AFC dating back to 1984, when the Los Angeles Raiders won.
At least one Cowboy says no way.
"The only thing that can happen is that we get overconfident and get beat," said defensive end Charles Haley, who called Sunday's game against his former San Francisco teammates "my Super Bowl." "Next week is just another game for me."
Perhaps, but the Cowboys have a lot on the line.
For one thing, they'll be making a record seventh appearance in the Super Bowl and seeking to tie Pittsburgh and San Francisco with four wins. And they'll be seeking to emphasize their claim to being the team of the '90s after already beating the team that won four Super Bowls during the '80s.
In fact, the Cowboys have beaten the Niners three straight times - 30-20 in last year's NFC title game and 26-17 in the regular-seasaon. They can't say that about the Bills, to whom they lost 13-10 here in the second game of the season.
But that was while Smith was a holdout and the Cowboys were sulking.
Smith was signed the next week and he was there Sunday, playing with a separated shoulder that Johnson declared healed in another of his pre-game pronouncements.
It sure looked healed - Smith accounted for 144 yards in the first half as the Cowboys raced off to a 28-7 lead. He finished with 23 carries for 88 yards and seven receptions for 85 more.
Aikman, who left the game with a concussion on the first series of the second half, was the other star. Playing just the first half, he was 14 of 18 for 177 yards and touchdown passes of 11 yards to Smith and 19 yards to Jay Novacek.
But Edwards may have made the play that made Johnson's prediction come true two quarters early: The Dallas coach had predicted the game would be close until the fourth quarter, when his team would break it open.
Instead, the game broke open with just under six minutes gone in the second quarter.
Dallas scored on its first possession, driving 75 yards off the opening kickoff with Smith scoring on a 5-yard run. The Niners came right back and tied it on the first play of the second quarter on Steve Young's 7-yard pass to Tom Rathman to end an 80-yard drive. Young threw for 287 yards, but 67 came on a final, meaningless fourth-quarter drive against backups.
With the score tied at 7, the Cowboys went 80 yards, capped by Daryl Johnston's 4-yard TD run.
But there was no indication the Niners' league-leading offense was going to be stopped - until Edwards broke through and spilled Ricky Watters for a 6-yard loss on a pass in the flat. On the next play, Thomas Everett intercepted Young and returned it 14 yards to the 24.
Three plays later, Aikman found a wide-open Smith alone over the middle and the rout was on. Aikman hit Novacek with 58 seconds left in the half and it was 28-7.
"I don't think anyone in a million years thought it would be that type of ballgame," said San Francisco coach George Seifert.
For a few moments in the second half it looked like the Niners might get back into it. After Aikman left the game, the Niners put together a brisk drive capped by Watters' 4-yard TD run.
It was 28-14, 20 minutes were left in the game and the Cowboys' backup quarterback Kosar - who signed in mid-season for $1.5 million to back up Aikman - was being blitzed on every play. Kosar made the investment worth it.
On a third-down play from the San Francisco 42, hit Alvin Harper, who leaped, caught the ball between two defenders and raced untouched to the end zone.
The Cowboys' bags were packed for Atlanta.
Aikman was taken to Baylor University Hospital and was diagnosed with a concussion.
"He'll be ready to play next week," agent Leigh Steinberg said.