Defensive end Charles Haley, who underwent back surgery on Dec. 6, is the only hurting Cowboy, and he might well play half the game. The Cowboys could use him. He had four sacks in that 1994 opener against Pittsburgh.
When it comes to injuries, some teams just get lucky. The Cowboys played 18 games (including the preseason) on artificial turf last year and wound up resembling a M*A*S*H unit. They played 18 games on the plastic and concrete this year and came out almost without a scratch.
3. Aikman will be Aikman.
Throughout his seven-year career the Cowboys' quarterback has been a 63% passer in the regular season. In 10 NFC playoff games he has completed 68% of his throws. And in his previous two Super Bowls he has connected at a 71% clip. Aikman is helped enormously by having a running game that sets up a lot of second-and-three plays. Combine Aikman's postseason track record with the fact that the Pittsburgh secondary surrendered 24 touchdown passes this year, and Sunday's game could get downright ugly. Steelers corner-back Rod Woodson, who will attempt to play his first game since blowing out his right knee in the season opener, won't be much help in collaring wide receivers Irvin and Kevin Williams.
For Pittsburgh to keep the game close, linebacker Kevin Greene will have to harass Aikman consistently. The Steelers believe that the Cowboys may be vulnerable to the blitz, especially when Smith and Johnston leave the backfield on short-pass routes, and if inside linebacker Greg Lloyd (page 174) and Greene can steam through unblocked, Aikman could be in peril.
4. Been there, done that.
"I've walked through some big tunnels," says Irvin. "I've walked through tunnels for national-championship college games, for big pro games. Let me tell you, walking through the tunnel at a Super Bowl is a big deal. I'm a strong brother, but at my first Super Bowl, in Pasadena, my knees got weak."
There probably hasn't been a single player in that situation who wasn't in awe. "You never know how much it means until you stand in that tunnel," says former Giants quarterback Phil Simms, the MVP of Super Bowl XXI. "You may think tension before the game is overrated, but when you're waiting to run out for the game, you can smell it, taste it and feel it."
No starting player on the Steelers' roster has ever played in a Super Bowl, and that may be telling against the championship experience of the Cowboys.
Thus, Steelers coach Bill Cowher's mission is simple: Figure out how to penetrate the largest offensive line ever and stop Smith and Aikman, a pair of future Hall of Famers who are in their prime. Then he has to find a way for his offense to score in the high 20's against a solid Dallas defense, which is getting its best player back.