Dateline: January 28, 1996 – Super Bowl XXX featured the two greatest NFL franchises of the Super Bowl era: the Dallas Cowboys and the Pittsburgh Steelers. It was the third time the two organizations had collided in the championship game. The Steelers won the first two, Super Bowls X and XIII, claiming their place as the "Team of the '70s." The Cowboys got a measure of revenge in Super Bowl XXX, winning that one 27-17.
That clash of titans marked the Cowboys' eighth trip to the big game and their fifth win. They were the kings of the hill.
No more. What has happened to these two franchises in the intervening years has been the story of two ownerships. One that knows what it takes to achieve and maintain excellence, and one that knows what it takes to let ego and ignorance destroy a once-proud legacy.
In one corner, you have football royalty in the Rooney family. In the other, you have Jerry Jones, the Arkansas wildcatter.
A quick comparison of the two franchises' fortunes since their meeting in Super Bowl XXX will illustrate what I mean:
|Dallas Cowboys||Pittsburgh Steelers|
|Super Bowl Appearances||0||3|
|Super Bowl Wins||0||2 (so far)|
Jerry Jones hired coaches like Barry Switzer, Dave Campo, Chan Gailey and Wade Phillips, men he felt he could control; men that, if successful, would not detract from the glory he desired the way Jimmy Johnson had. The Rooneys stuck with the model they believed in, hiring coaches Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin.
Cowher and Tomlin are not just football men—they are leaders of men.
The Rooneys, apparently, believe there is glory enough to go around when your team wins, even if they are delegating responsibilities. Jerry Jones still smarts from never getting his just desserts for the three Super Bowl wins in the early '90s.
Jerry Jones did hire Bill Parcells, but that was only after three consecutive 5–11 seasons under Campo. He needed someone to resurrect the franchise from the ruins his ego had put it in. And, as he confessed in a drunken rant that was recorded without his knowledge, bringing in Parcells was a ploy to shut up the media and fans so he could get his precious new stadium built.
Jones quickly replaced Parcells with the most puppet-like coach ever to wear the Cowboys' head coach headset: Wade Phillips. It was not until the Phillips experiment imploded midseason this year with the Cowboys at 1-7 that Jones finally admitted failure and hired Jason Garrett.
Who is the greatest team of the Super Bowl era?
Garrett, by all appearances, will be a strong leader, but that is conjecture—and history not yet written.
The Steelers will be bringing with them one of the heroes of the AFC Championship Game, running back Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall was available when Jerry Jones listened to his Arkansas Razorback roots and selected Felix Jones in the first round of the 2008 draft.
In his three seasons with the Cowboys, Felix has run for 1,751 yards and seven touchdowns. He has caught passes for 579 yards and one touchdown. He has failed to establish himself as a consistent starter in that period.
Meanwhile, Mendenhall has run for 2,439 yards and 20 touchdowns and caught passes for 445 yards and one TD. He is renowned as a battering ram kind of back that can tote the rock on a regular basis.
Don't get me wrong, I like Felix Jones. I love his big-play potential. However, I do wonder why we are still talking about potential when he is already a three-year veteran, especially when you consider the relatively short shelf-life of an NFL running back.
So, here we are. Fifteen years after the Cowboys and Steelers last met in a Super Bowl and they are set to meet again: The Steelers as participants in Super Bowl XLV and the Cowboys as their unhappy hosts.
The Steelers already have the most Super Bowl wins with six. The Cowboys are tied with the San Francisco 49ers with five. Now, the Steelers and Cowboys share the lead with eight appearances.
There is hardly any argument left about which team is the greatest of the Super Bowl era. If the Steelers beat the Green Bay Packers in Arlington, they will, for the moment, end the argument altogether.
And all the Cowboys' fans will say in unison, "Thanks, Jerry."