Here we go again.
Twice in the 1970s, the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys met in the Super Bowl. Both times, the favored Steelers won close games.In two weeks, they'll face off once more, with both seeking a fifth NFL championship. The Cowboys, who beat Green Bay 38-27 Sunday for the NFC crown, were immediately listed as 11-point favorites over the Steelers, who took Indianapolis 20-16 for the AFC title.
"This has been a trying year for all of us," quarterback Troy Aikman said. "A lot of people didn't expect us to get this far. It says a lot for this team."
Dallas won the Super Bowl under coach Jimmy Johnson after the 1992 and '93 seasons. Johnson left in a tiff with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones in 1994, and Barry Switzer now guides the team.
Switzer won three college football championships at Oklahoma. The NFC title certainly helped vindicate Switzer, who often is maligned for his laid-back approach and off-beat decisions.
"I've never been to the big one," he said. "They tell me it's a lot of fun."
Switzer brings with him to Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., the league's most balanced attack, with stars Aikman throwing, Emmitt Smith running, Michael Irvin catching and a superb supporting cast contributing whatever is needed. Smith rushed for 150 yards and scored three TDs against Green Bay. Irvin had seven catches for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
Dallas, which will play in its eighth Super Bowl, isn't so dependable on defense, but rarely needs to be. It can make the big plays, particularly when Deion Sanders, Darren Woodson and Leon Lett are involved.
Pittsburgh should move the ball, but can it keep up with the Cowboys' high-octane offense?
For the Steelers, just making the Super Bowl offered redemption from last year, when they fell 3 yards short on their final play. They'll go for their fifth title in as many tries, something only San Francisco has done, managing the feat with a victory last January.
"I've been in the league 11 years and I've come up short every year but this one," linebacker Kevin Greene said. "It's tremendous. It's all about going to the Super Bowl and winning."
An AFC team winning the Super Bowl. What a novel idea.
While Pittsburgh never has lost in the big game, it's conference comrades haven't produced a victory since the Raiders beat Washington in 1984. Can the Steelers break that record schneid?
Not if they play as they did against Indianapolis. The offense, which led the AFC in scoring and was more wide-open than any since the last Steelers team to win the championship, sputtered against the Colts. Quarterback Neil O'Donnell was pressured often and he had three passes batted down by tackle Tony Siragusa.
Until O'Donnell hit Ernie Mills with the 37-yarder that set up the winning touchdown, the Steelers couldn't get downfield on the Colts. Can they expect to do it on a better secondary, featuring Woodson and Sanders?
The rushing game didn't get untracked against the Colts, whose strength was run defense. Pittsburgh has the weapons in Erric Pegram, Bam Morris and John L. Williams, but the line - other than All-Pro center Dermontti Dawson - has not been particularly effective. Lett could have a big day.
Pittsburgh's defense is strong and versatile and will be its best chance to grab the championship. Even without star cornerback Rod Woodson, the secondary is first-rate, and linebackers Greene, Greg Lloyd and Levon Kirkland create havoc. Against Dallas, it will be severely tested.