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Steelers Super Bowl Flashback: Super Bowl XXX vs. Dallas

Go back into time with BTSC as we relive the Steelers fifth Super Bowl

Super Bowl XXX - Dallas Cowboys v Pittsburgh Steelers

The black-and-gold Delorean puts us back in time to the day when One Sweet Day by Boyz II Men and Mariah Carey is number one on the charts, Friends is captivating audiences on television with an all-star event featuring Brooke Shields, Jean Claude Van Damme and Julia Roberts getting set to air, movie-goers were checking out Richard Dreyfuss in Mr. Holland’s Opus and Boris Becker won his last Grand Slam event in the Australian Open. Meanwhile, the Steelers/Cowboys Super Bowl rivalry was renewed with the underdog Steelers making their first Super Bowl appearance in 16 years and taking on the juggernaut Cowboys.

Welcome to January 28, 1996.

The Dallas Cowboys started playing the game during pregame introductions as they waited over two minutes to wander out to the Sun Devil Stadium playing surface, keeping the Steelers waiting in the locker room. But they were just as ready when the real game began as Norm Johnson teed up the pigskin and kicked it away to Kevin Johnson. On the very first play, Carnell Lake nearly picked off Troy Aikman, but it fell incomplete on an attempt to Jay Novacek. But on the next play the triplets heated up with a 20-yarder from Aikman to Irvin and a 23-yard dash by Emmitt Smith. But Lake broke up another pass on the drive and the Steelers stopped Williams on an end-around, forcing a Chris Boniol field goal with only 2:55 elapsed, it was 3-0 Dallas.

Neil O’Donnell and the Steelers offense took the field, but after two conservative runs from Erric Pegram and an Andre Hastings reception fell short, the Steelers were forced into a Rohn Stark punt. On the next drive, the Cowboys mammoth offensive line (averaging 333 lbs. per man) started pushing the Steelers around to help Aikman spread the ball to hios weapons. His 47-yard bomb to Deion Sanders was well covered by Willie Williams, but No. 27 jumped too early and Prime Time hauled it in. Four plays later, Novacek threw a three-yard touchdown completion to Novacek and the Cowboys led 10-0 with 5:23 left in the first. The play was the result of an illegal pick though, but it wasn’t called. Kendall Watkins ran the pick on Jerry Olsavsky beyond the line of scrimmage and gave the Cowboys four crucial points.

The Steelers would get the ball back and go into the no-huddle, but they continued their struggles and were about to go three-and-out again. However on 4th and inches, Kordell Stewart lined up at quarterback and moved the chains for the first time for Pittsburgh at the 49. The Steelers got another first down this time from No. 14 to Andre Hastings. But on first down, a sweaty ball from Dermonnti Dawson sailed over O’Donnel’s head for a loss of 13, The black-and-gold’s momentum was starting to reverse back. The quarter would run out with Pittsburgh still trailing 10-0.

When the second stanza began, the Steelers impressive drive ended after Hastings failed to pick up a blitz and O’Donnell nearly threw an interception on the play to Larry Brown. But the Steelers escaped with merely having to punt. When Dallas got the ball back, they were quickly on the march again behind runs by Emmitt Smith and passes to Novacek, Irvin and Darryl “Moose” Johnston. On a fourth and inches from the Steelers 27, Johnston pounded away for a first down. On the very next play, Aikman what up top to Michael Irvin for a 24-yard touchdown. But as the future Hall of Famer was prone to do, the Playmaker was busted for pushing off on Carnell Lake and the touchdown was negated. The Cowboys were threatening again afterwards, but Levon Kirkland and the Steeler defense forced a Chris Boniol field goal from 35 yards out. With 6:05 remaining in the half, it was 13-0 Dallas. The Steelers did nothing with and suffered another three and out again. This time it appeared that the Steelers would catch a huge break. Stark boomed a 55-yarder that seemed to bounce off of Robert Bailey’s lag and the Steelers recovered the ball at the Cowboy 15 yard-line. But Myron Bell had pushed Bailey into the ball, giving the possession to Dallas. On the ensuing drive, a massive hit by Levon Kirkland on Emmett Smith that left the running back temporarily limping and Chris Oldham’s knocking of the ball away from Michael Irvin (who appeared to be in the clear for a long score) forcrd the Cowboys to have to punt for the first time. The Steelers took back to the field, desperately in need of getting some points on the board before halftime.

With 3:52 left in the first half, the Steelers got a great return by Andre Hastings to start at their own 46. O’Donnell missed a wide-open Thigpen on first down and on second down Charles Haley rocked the Steelers quarterback for a 10 yard loss on the sack. On third and 20, O’Donnell found Hastings again for a 19 1/2 yard gain. The Steelers brought in Stewart to go for it on 4th and a half-yard again. The dynamic Kordell converted again. On third and seven from the Cowboys 27, O’Donnell found Ernie Mills at the 20. Because of a possible generous spot, Mills was awarded the first down. But Neil was sacked again, this time by Chad Hennings. Then O’Donnell came up big with a 17 yard-pass to a leaping Ernie Mills in traffic. Amazing catch. On the next play, Yancey Thigpen was being interfered with by Deion Sanders, but the leading receiver for Pittsburgh in 1995 came down with it for the touchdown. After Norm Johnson punched through the extra point, the score was 13-7 going into the half.

After Diana Ross escaped Sun Devil stadium in a helicopter, the Steelers were set to receive the second half kickoff. Boniol had an errant kick that went out-of-bounds and the Steelers were in great field position at the 40-yard line. But the Steelers couldn’t capitalize on a great series by Bam Morris that included a 15-yard run and a reception out of the backfield of 10 yards. Instead of going for the 51 yard field goal at the 37 yard line, Bill Cowher chose to punt the ball away and only netted 13 yards. On the Cowboys first possession of the new half, the Steelers defense tightened down and forced a punt by John Jett, but it only sailed 23 yards. The Steelers starting from their own 36, started to work their way into Dallas territory. However, this is where it all started to go wrong. Despite his offensive line picking up the blitz, Neil O’Donnell panicked with the Steelers at their own 46 and threw a ball towards nobody except Larry Brown, who was waiting at the Cowboy 36-yard line. Brown intercepted the ball and ran it all the way back to the Steeler 18. It was a devastating blow. After a reception by Irvin, Smith pounded it in from the 1. It didn’t appear that Smith got in, but the refs allowed it. It was now 20-7 with 6:32 left in the third.

It didn’t seem to be getting much better from there. Starting their possession at the 15-yard line, O’Donnell was sacked on first down. On third down and eight, Andre Hastings made a second effort to fight for a first down. With the Steelers on their own 46 and less than two minutes left in the third period, Bill Cowher elected to run Morris three times with two yards for a first. He lost that gamble and the Steelers turned the ball over on downs. This was a great opportunity for the Cowboys to put the game away, but the Steelers defense came to play. Greg Lloyd almost intercepted a pass on second down of Aikman. Then Rod Woodson, making his triumphant return from the Week 1 knee injury, knocked the ball away from Michael Irvin to force another John Jett punt. Starting from the 20 and following a completion for a first down to Ernie Mills and a 4 yard run by Bam Morris, the third quarter ended.

To start the fourth quarter, the Steelers had the ball on their own 35 and were looking for points. Bam reeled off a 12 yard run and then the Steelers got lucky. Ernie Mills grabbed a pass over the middle and got absolutely walloped by safety Scott Case. The ball popped free and rookie tight end Mark Bruener pounced on it. Instead of a turnover, it was a first down at the Dallas 35. O’Donnell started to heat up finding Morris, Hastings, Thigpen, Mills and John L. Williams on the drive, but a a pass to Stewart towards the end zone fell to the ground and O’Donnell was sacked by Charles Haley again. Instead of a touchdown, Norm Johnson connected on a 46-yard field goal to make the score 20 to 10. But the Cowboys were about to get the ball back. But were they?

The Steelers called the surprise onside and Deon Figures came up with the key recovery. Cowher was going crazy and the towels were feverishly flying in Tempe as the Steelers set up on their own 47.

With new life, O’Donnell was sacked again. But he dusted himself off and connected on two straight passes to Hastings. The next play, a pass to the right to Ernie Mills, may have been one of the most devastating plays of the Super Bowl. Just nobody realized it at the time. Mills caught his eighth ball ball from his quarterback but got cracked by Larry Brown and his knee was twisted underneath. He would end up with a tear to his ACL.

After this unfortunate injury, O’Donnell would rely on and after after a pass to Thigpen to get to the Cowboy five, Bam would take it down to the two and then to the one foot line. The ball appeared to have broken the plane of the goal, but unlike Emmett Smith earlier… They did not give it to him. It didn’t matter, on the next play, John L. would lead the way as Bam walked in on the right side to put the Steelers back within three after Norman Johnson tacked on the extra point. With 6:36 left in the game, it was 20 to 17 in favor of Dallas. But all of the momentum was with the Steelers.

After Johnson kicked it away, Troy Aikman led his white, silver and blue Cowboys back onto the field starting from his their twelve. The Steelers defense had shut down the Cowboys by allowing only 41 yards over the last five possessions and it needed to continue, But Aikman struck right away with a 22 yarder over the middle to Kevin Williams. On second down, Kirkland burst through, and with Troy slipping backwards, sacked him for a huge 3 yard loss..It was now third and 17, No. 8 couldn’t hook up with Kevin Williams and the receiver wanted a flag on the play, but was denied. It was clean coverage by Carnell Lake and the Cowboys had to punt. After a John Jett punt, the Steelers were set up with a chance to tie or take the lead with 4:15 remaining in Super Bowl 30. But after a first down past fell incomplete to Andre Hastings, disaster struck. You all know what happens next. O’Donnell from the 30-yard line threw the ball toward Cory Holiday who ran the wrong route and Larry Brown took the ball all the way down to the five. It was his second interception of the contest. John L Williams saved the touchdown by knocking him out at the six. If the Steelers held the Cowboys to a field goal, they would have remained in the game. But that did not happen. On second goal, Emmett Smith scored his second touchdown of the game with a 5-yard run. After Boniol made the extra point, the score was 27-17with 3:43 left in the game.

O’Donnell tried feverishly to get things going, but he was hurried and couldn’t find open receivers often enough. On fourth and 10, O’Donnell’s pass to John L. Williams felt incomplete and the Steelers turned the ball over on downs. The dream was over at that point and the Cowboys would run out the clock and win the game 27-17. It was a game in which the somewhat overmatched Steelers showed true grit in defeat, but fans still suffer from what-might-have-beens in a game that the Steelers ultimately could have won.