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Erased Super Bowl XXIX: San Francisco 49ers 49 San Diego Chargers 26
To fans and media, Super Bowl XXIX was over before it started. The 1994 49ers had one of the most powerful, quick-strike offenses in NFL history and were led by NFL MVP Steve Young. They were backed up by a top 10 defense led by NFL Defensive Player of the Year Deion Sanders. They cruised through the regular season at 13-3, won their first playoff game by 29, and decisively beat the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys in the NFC Championship game. The 1994 San Diego Chargers started 6-0, finished the regular season 11-5, and won the weak AFC by winning both of their playoff games in the final seconds. They had no elite level players except for LB Junior Seau and were seen as vastly inferior to San Francisco. Not helping matters, the 49ers beat the Chargers 38-15 in San Diego just seven weeks earlier. 
The lead-up to this game was as strange as any Super Bowl ever. The media coverage hardly bothered to ask who would win. The only real question was by just how much the 49ers would win. San Francisco entered the game as a Super Bowl record 19-point favorite. San Diego insisted they belonged and deserved respect. Then the game started and the talent gap separating the two teams was even wider than expected. After 4:55 and 10 total plays from scrimmage, the 49ers had gained 138 yards of total offense and led 14-0. The game was already over. ABC announcers Al Michaels, Frank Gifford, and Dan Dierdorf commentate most of the final 55 minutes of the game like it was the 4th quarter and the winner was already decided. It basically was. Steve Young broke the touchdown pass record. Ricky Watters and Jerry Rice BOTH tied the touchdowns scored record. The Chargers scored a couple of garbage time touchdowns to narrow the final margin to 23 points. The Shock and Awe the 49ers leveled on the Chargers is a sight to behold, but when the player introductions last longer than the competitive phase of the game, you have one really lame Super Bowl on your hands. 
The Switch: 1994 Cleveland Browns for 1994 San Diego Chargers
Why the Browns? They were an 11-5 wildcard team that lost their Divisional Round game by 20 points. Well, once you look deeper than that you see that this may have been the best team the AFC had to offer. They outscored their opponents by 136 points – 54 points better than the next closest AFC team, Pittsburgh. Their 204 points allowed were the fewest in the NFL. They had a middle of the road offense (11th in points, 16th in yards), but it was similar in production to the two actual AFC Finalists San Diego (9th in points, 14th in yards), and Pittsburgh (16th in points, 13th in yards). And while the Miami Dolphins had a red hot Dan Marino and the NFL’s best offense, their 25th ranked passing defense would have been shredded by the 49ers explosive attack. Barring an injury to Steve Young, Miami would not have stood a chance. 
The biggest reason Cleveland gets the edge is that they beat the Cowboys 19-14 at Texas Stadium in December. The NFL from 1992 through 1994 was perhaps the least competitive it has ever been. Dallas and San Francisco dominated the rest of the league. In those three seasons, they were two highest-scoring teams in the league each season and won their six Divisional Round playoff games against the rest of the NFC’s best by a combined 204-67. In 1994, the AFC’s top teams did not fare well against the NFC powers. Dallas won at Pittsburgh 26-9. San Francisco won at San Diego 38-15. The Minnesota Vikings even beat the Miami Dolphins in a matchup of 3rd tier division champions. The fact that Cleveland proved it could go into Dallas and not only compete, but WIN sets them apart from their AFC rivals and gives them the nod as the most suitable to take on the 49er machine. 
There is one main reason why the Cleveland Browns didn’t get a chance to play in the real Super Bowl XXIX in the first place: the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Browns lost six games in 1994 – three of which were to the Steelers, including a 29-9 beatdown at Three Rivers Stadium in the Divisional Round. Cleveland was closer in the other two games, losing lower-scoring defensive struggles. Let’s imagine for a second that Cleveland’s defense played like they did in the early games and Vinny Testaverde plays against Pittsburgh like he did against New England in the Wildcard game. That with a turnover or two from the Steelers, and Cleveland sneaks out of Three Rivers with a win. 
In the AFC Championship game, Cleveland would travel out west to play the Chargers. San Diego would be a tough out having just dramatically beaten the Dolphins and now hosting their first conference championship game in 14 years. Cleveland again would have to play close to perfect. Maybe Vinny can exploit San Diego’s 22nd ranked pass defense, hit a few big plays, and rely on their defense to slow down Chargers RB Natrone Means. We also could rely on the Butterfly Effect to craft an alternate scenario. Maybe the idea that Miami would host the AFC Championship Game with a win gives Dolphins K Pete Stoyanovich the extra focus needed for him to hit his game-winning field goal attempt against San Diego in the Divisional Round. The Browns would have had a better chance against the Dolphins and that bad defense. Regardless of which scenario you prefer, the Browns are now in their first Super Bowl ever!
Improved Super Bowl XXIX: Browns vs. 49ers - Evaluating the Matchup
Much like San Diego in actual Super Bowl XXIX, the Browns would have been huge underdogs to San Francisco, but there would have been more interest in this matchup. As previously mentioned, Cleveland had already beaten the Cowboys in Dallas. The most intriguing storyline would involve Browns head coach Bill Belichick. Before being hired in Cleveland, Belichick had served as the defensive coordinator for the New York Giants from 1985-1990. During that time frame, his defenses owned the 49ers in January. The Giants were 3-0 against San Francisco in the postseason and had given up just 19 points combined in those games. Also, in Belichick’s last Super Bowl appearance, his scrappy Giants defense held the powerful 1990 Buffalo Bills offense to just 19 points en route to a 20-19 upset victory. Could Belichick do it again to this 49ers team that was arguably better than any of those previous teams he had beaten?
On the other side of the ball, Cleveland’s offense would be completely outclassed by the 49ers defense. The Browns' only deep receiving threat was rookie Derrick Alexander and he would be one-on-one with Deion Sanders. For Cleveland to move the ball, they again would have to emulate the 1990 Giants and execute a ball-control offense that ate up clock and kept the 49ers offense off the field. However, the last person you want running an offense like that is the turnover-prone Vinny Testaverde. Ultimately the question would be: can Bill Belichick’s team copy the 1990 Giants and steal a win from a superior opponent?
The answer to that question no. The Browns may have had one of the masterminds behind the 1990 Giants who grounded two high powered opponents, but they didn’t have the same personnel (other than LB Pepper Johnson). Michael Dean Perry and Rob Burnett are not the same as Leonard Marshall and Lawrence Taylor. I doubt the 49ers would have scored two touchdowns in their first seven plays, but they would have still been able to move the ball on the Cleveland defense and burn them for a couple of big plays. Offensively, the Browns would not pose much of a threat to San Francisco. They would sustain a few drives, but ultimately, Vinny would’ve have turned the ball over a couple of times against one of the NFL’s best defenses. Come to think of it, the Chargers Super Bowl might have been a better game to watch, even if one-sided. Although, had Super Bowl XXIX played out this way, perhaps the excitement makes the NFL fight harder to keep the Browns in Cleveland and the great Ravens teams of the 21st century become great Browns teams! …..I just made it worse, Cleveland, didn’t I? Sorry. 
49ers 31 Browns 16
MVP: Steve Young
Well, this first Super Bowl wasn’t all that greatly fixed. Check back tomorrow for Number 9 on the list. We will attempt to fix what doesn’t seem broken – especially if you are a fan of this podcast…
Eric Drews
Green and Gold Forever
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