"The officials let the Cowboys get away with a lot, which is what happens with a good team," says free safety Merton Hanks of the San Francisco 49ers, who last year beat Dallas 38-28 for the NFC crown. "Every time I see them on TV, they get the breaks."
Hanks agrees that on Sunday the Steelers must pressure Aikman and should not be tempted into crowding the defense to stop Smith. "Which is worse?" Hanks says. "Emmitt getting his 100 yards or [wide receiver] Michael Irvin making three big catches, all for TDs?"
Offensively, the Steelers will get their yards and their points. The Cowboys don't shut people down, they outscore them. In the Dallas- Pittsburgh game on Sept. 4, 1994, at Three Rivers Stadium, the Cowboys repeatedly chased O'Donnell out of the pocket and forced him to put the ball up for grabs. But things have changed since then. Cowboys defensive end Charles Haley is just now returning from back surgery, and he won't be nearly as effective as he was in that '94 showdown, when he had four sacks. And O'Donnell finally clicked this season with his corps of receivers, especially Yancey Thigpen, who caught 85 passes for 1,307 yards.
The Steelers still run the ball, but when they found themselves in short-yardage situations in their Jan. 6 divisional playoff against the Buffalo Bills, in came the wide-outs. The following Sunday, in the conference championship game against the Indianapolis Colts, Stewart took the snaps on short-yardage plays, sneaking or running an option. In the old days Pittsburgh would have slammed an opponent with a big back.
The Steelers' four-wideout set has been especially effective on short and intermediate routes over the middle, and against Dallas that will be a sensible way to travel. " Pittsburgh should forget any play going to the corner," says 49ers offensive tackle Harris Barton. "The Cowboys are just too fast to the outside. You want them to have to defend between the tackles or over the middle."
"Deion doesn't like to cover crossing routes, where he has to chase through traffic," says Hanks, who played beside Sanders last season. "He'll take away an outside receiver all by himself, but he can't play a slot receiver. You don't want to throw outs on him. If the throw isn't perfect, he'll bring it back for six. You can't run go routes on him. He eats them up. You want to get him covering inside."
Finally, much has been made of the matchup between the two coaches—the hands-on approach of Pittsburgh's Bill Cowher versus the laid-back style of Barry Switzer. "Cowher is so emotional, so involved," says Harris. "He's going to get those guys so high that they'll exhaust themselves in the first quarter, and Dallas will blow them out. I could see another Buffalo-type Super Bowl here."
Sorry, but I can't. I can see a Steel Curtain reborn. The final: Pittsburgh 24, Dallas 20.