Monday Feb 01, 2016
Monday Feb 01, 2016
Monday Feb 01, 2016
Erased Super Bowl XXVIII: Dallas Cowboys 30 Buffalo Bills 13
If there was ever a Super Bowl no one wanted to see, it was Super Bowl XXVIII. The Dallas Cowboys had repeated as NFC Champions and were looking for their second consecutive Super Bowl title. They would square off against the team that they had thrashed 52-17 in the previous Super Bowl, the Buffalo Bills. Needless to say, there weren’t a lot of people looking forward to this game.
Compounding the apathy was the idea that this was very close to being the greatest Super Bowl matchup of all time. After the 1992 season, the San Francisco 49ers traded their four-time Super Bowl-winning QB Joe Montana to the Kansas City Chiefs, opting to keep QB Steve Young instead. Young had played exceptionally well in place of the injured Montana in 1991-92 and even won a league MVP award. But Joe was not ready to go quietly into the night. In 1993, he led the Kansas City Chiefs to a division championship, two dramatic comeback playoff wins, and a spot in the AFC Championship game. Meanwhile, Steve Young continued his high level of play, led the 49ers to another NFC West title, and a 44-3 Divisional Round win over the team that had eliminated Joe Montana’s 49ers three times in the playoffs; the New York Giants. NFL Fans everywhere were ready for the Super Bowl to end all Super Bowls: Joe Montana vs. Steve Young, Chiefs vs. 49ers. We would see football’s biggest grudge match settled on football’s biggest stage! Joe just had to beat the three-time defending Super Bowl losers in Buffalo and Steve just had to beat the cocky defending Super Bowl champions in Dallas. Of course, both Joe and Steve were crushed in 17 point title game losses. When the dust settled, we were left with a repeat of the previous year’s awful Super Bowl. Woof.
As for the game, the heavy-underdog Bills played well at first. They disrupted the powerful Cowboys offense and led 13-6 at halftime. They received the 2nd half kickoff and looked to put the Cowboys away and end their unprecedented streak of heartbreak. Instead, Bills RB Thurman Thomas added to it by fumbling on the third play of the 2nd half. Dallas picked it up and ran it in for a game-tying touchdown. From that moment on, both teams flipped a switch. The Cowboys played like a champion determined to defend their crown. The Bills played like a team that can’t do anything right when all the chips are on the table. Dallas dominated the 2nd half and cruised to a thoroughly depressing 30-13 win. The Cowboys had gone back to back, the Bills became the most infamous losers in American professional sports, and America got a 30-minute tease followed by the ending we all expected anyways.
The Switch: 1993 Houston Oilers for 1993 Buffalo Bills
The 12-4 Buffalo Bills earned the number one seed in the AFC over the 12-4 Houston Oilers via a head to head tiebreaker. The Bills crushed the Oilers 35-7 on Monday Night Football in Week 5. This dropped Houston to 1-4. Houston would not lose again in the regular season. Overnight, the Oilers turned into a powerhouse. Over the last 11 weeks of the season, they scored the 2nd most points in the NFL and allowed the fewest. They would square off with the one team that outscored them, the 49ers, at Candlestick Park on Christmas Day. San Francisco had averaged 33 points a game over that stretch. Houston held them to a single touchdown and won the game 10-7. The Oilers meant business. They were better than Buffalo in nearly every statistical category, but just happened to play the Bills when they were playing their worst and Buffalo was playing their best. And it cost them home field.
As the number two seed in the AFC Playoffs, Houston hosted the Kansas City Chiefs in the Divisional Round. The Astrodome was rocking and finally expected a Super Bowl run after six straight years of playoff disappointments. Houston started strong and opened up a 10 point lead that they would take into halftime. They led 13-7 in the 4th quarter when the wheels came off. An old, battered Joe Montana suddenly found his groove and could do no wrong. The Oilers, as had happened in too many playoff games, could not hold the lead and could not make the plays down the stretch. They lost 28-20. In 1994, the team was gutted in free agency and the Oilers would finish 2-14. Three years later, the team moved to Tennessee. If an entire franchise can die in 15 minutes, this was it.
It is not hard to imagine the Oilers finding a way to beat the Chiefs. A simple change of strategy should have helped them win the game. Pass-happy offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride was at his strategic worst in the Kansas City game. In a contest the Oilers led into the 4th quarter, he only called 14 running plays all afternoon. Granted, those only netted 39 yards, but there is no reason that your quarterback should be throwing 43 times with the 4th best yards per carry run offense in the NFL and a 4th quarter lead in a home playoff game. Instead, he kept throwing and quarterback Warren Moon was sacked 9 times by the Kansas City defense. If Houston focuses just a little more on running the ball, they probably win.
Once they beat Kansas City, the Oilers head to Buffalo. To date, Marv Levy’s Bills had never lost a home playoff game, but the closest anyone had come to beating them was in the 1992 Wildcard Round when the Oilers famously blew a 35-3 2nd half lead before falling 41-38 in overtime. Add that memory to the pressure of Houston playing in their first conference title game after seven consecutive playoff appearances, and the Oilers either would have been supremely motivated or supremely nervous.
The game against Buffalo ultimately would have come down to turnovers. The Bills and Oilers were the top two in the league at taking the ball away. Conversely, the two offenses were among the worst at giving it away. Both Bills QB Jim Kelly and Warren Moon would likely have thrown a couple of interceptions each. The turnover edge would tip in Houston’s favor as the slightly more sure-handed RB Gary Brown would have fared better against the Bills’ 21st rushing defense than the more turnover-prone Thurman Thomas would have against the Oilers number one run defense. Assuming the weather isn’t a factor, the Oilers definitely could have won in Buffalo.
Improved Super Bowl XXVIII: Cowboys vs. Oilers - Evaluating the Matchup
The obvious storyline going into this game would be the battle for Texas. But the more interesting storyline from a historical perspective would be the battle for greatness. Dallas was vying to become just the 6th team to win back-to-back Super Bowls. But Houston would have had more on the line. Their seven straight playoff appearances was (and still is) one of the longest streaks in NFL history. A Super Bowl-winning capstone would vault many of the Oilers players into legendary status. Warren Moon would get more recognition as one of the greatest QBs ever. Perennial Pro Bowlers like WRs Haywood Jeffries and Ernest Givins would have become household names. Defensive stars Sean Jones, Ray Childress, William Fuller, Cris Dishman, and Wilbur Marshall may have been vaulted into Hall of Fame consideration. Defensive Coordinator Buddy Ryan would have won a championship without Mike Ditka. This was a chance to validate all they had done.
As for the on-field matchup, Dallas would still be the heavy favorites, but there would be intrigue. Could the Oilers shut down the Cowboys like they had the 49ers in December? Could Houston’s number one rushing defense contain NFL MVP Emmitt Smith? Coming off a concussion in the NFC Championship game, could Cowboys QB Troy Aikman withstand the pressure of Buddy Ryan’s league-best pass rush? Could Warren Moon and the Oilers’ top-flight passing attack take advantage of the vulnerable Dallas passing defense? This game would have featured numerous strength vs. weakness matchups. Breaking all of this down makes me wish this game really would have happened.
At full strength, Dallas would have found a way to win. But these Cowboys would not be at full strength. Aikman would be coming off a concussion he suffered just 7 days earlier. In the real Super Bowl XXVIII against Buffalo, Aikman was off and did not play well. The Oilers relentless pass rush could have pressured Aikman in a way Buffalo couldn’t and there is a good chance that he either would have been injured or completely ineffective. If that were the case, Dallas may turn to backup QB Bernie Kosar to rally Dallas’ passing game as Emmitt Smith pounds up against Houston’s number one run defense. At this point, the Oilers would have had a good chance to win - as long as they took care of the football on offense. Warren Moon was always susceptible to turn the ball over, but Dallas was in the bottom half of the league at forcing turnovers in 1993. With Dallas’ offense in check, the powerful Houston offense could have taken chances and likely would have hit few big plays. Barring a familiar Oilers playoff meltdown, Houston wins. That opens up a gargantuan list of ramifications that we could talk about in a whole other series of blogs, but for now, Houston gets their first championship and “How bout dem Cowboys!?” never enters the lexicon of sports fans. What a wonderful world that would have been.
Houston 20 Dallas 13
MVP: CB Cris Dishman (for shutting down Michael Irvin and making a key turnover or two)
Tomorrow, you'll find out in Number 6 if one of the best-forgotten teams in NFL history can win a championship...provided you can stay awake through the description of the actual Super Bowl we're fixing...
Green and Gold Forever
Green and Gold Forever