"Most definitely," said San Francisco cornerback Deion Sanders after the game. Sanders, the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, basically had nothing to do during his time afield. The Bears never tested him. They knew better. Things will change. Consider that Sanders will be paid a $750,000 bonus by the 49ers if they win the Super Bowl. "Hell, yes, things are going to change," said Prime Time.
They certainly will against Dallas. On Sunday the Cowboys mauled the Green Bay Packers 35-9, with Aikman completing the usual 23 of 30 passes, etc. Two days before the game, Aikman had dug into some onion rings at a Dallas steak-house and allowed as how he was sick and tired of people questioning both his and his team's focus, talent and drive.
"We've been mentally, physically and emotionally drained," he began testily. "All we've heard, starting in July, is Super Bowl talk, and you can't imagine the constant pressure of having to be perfect. We've had to justify being 12-4 and winning our division despite more injuries than we've ever had, and I've had to justify my play. I hear it everywhere: Aikman's not the same guy."
Then his sky-blue eyes bored a hole in his dinner companion. "Believe me," he said. "Aikman's the same guy."
He is, and so is Young, this year's NFL MVP. And that is the first place where the Cowboys and the 49ers step above the barking dogs: They have Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Chicago's Steve Walsh? Pittsburgh's Neil O'Donnell? San Diego's Stan Humphries? Forget it.
Around great quarterbacks you need the Big Quartet at the skill positions—two quality wideouts, a tight end and a tailback—and Dallas and San Francisco may have the best four-man packages in the game. The Cowboys have wideouts Michael Irvin and Alvin Harper, tight end Jay Novacek and running back Emmitt Smith. Jerry Rice, John Taylor, Brent Jones and Ricky Watters fill the respective slots for the 49ers. You need selfless, strong and crafty offensive linemen to protect these arsenals, and again these two teams are loaded. Finally, you need quality centers, and with Oates and Dallas's Mark Stepnoski the two clubs have Pro Bowl veterans.
On defense, more than anything, you need fervor and speed and a good scheme and at least one standout, slightly antisocial or remarkably self-centered maniac who puts the fear of God in opposing quarterbacks. For the Cowboys that's pass rusher Charles Haley, who looks enraged even during the national anthem, and for the 49ers it is Sanders, who sometimes looks like a peacock running routes for the enemy offense.
So why don't other NFL teams just go out and do what these two have done? Because they don't have ownership or management skills like these two have. Say what you will about the ego of Dallas owner Jerry Jones, but he works hard at his job and he spends money when it can help his team. The same is true of San Francisco owner Eddie DeBartolo, whose largesse (flowers for players' wives, Hawaiian trips for their families) is legendary and whose right-hand man, Carmen Policy, seems able to stretch the limits of the salary cap beyond rules and reason.
Then, too, both clubs have been built in every way possible—through trades, astute drafting and the cunning acquisition of good players who fit comfortably. Haley was an outcast with the Niners; with the Cowboys he's a leader. The 49ers have so many free-agent additions on defense—Ken Norton, Rickey Jackson. Gary Plummer, Toi Cook and Richard Dent—that you could overlook the fact that Sanders came to San Francisco in mid-September for less money than he might have earned elsewhere so he could be part of a championship venture.