SI Vault
Michael Silver
February 05, 1996
The Steelers handed the Cowboys two ugly interceptions and a 27-17 victory that kept the NFC's Super Bowl streak alive
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February 05, 1996

The Steelers handed the Cowboys two ugly interceptions and a 27-17 victory that kept the NFC's Super Bowl streak alive

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There was enough love, booze and R-rated language to fill a Texas-sized swimming pool Sunday night in Barry Switzer's hotel suite when the coach of the Super Bowl-champion Dallas Cowboys finally got his deliverance. It came in the form of a hug and a speech from a man wearing a checkered suit, black derby hat and superfluous sunglasses. Several hours after the Cowboys had defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers 27-17 in Super Bowl XXX at Sun Devil Stadium in Tempe, Ariz., flamboyant Dallas receiver Michael Irvin burst into suite 4000 at The Buttes resort and offered a tribute that brought Switzer to tears. "Hey, let me ask you something," Irvin shouted to the assembled revelers. "Is there anyone who deserves this more than Barry Switzer?"

"Hell, no!" answered 50 or 60 of Switzer's closest friends and family members, including football's wackiest pair of suite-mates—Switzer's girlfriend, Becky Buwick, and his ex-wife, Kay. After Irvin had finished his speech, the gang went back to singing Switzer's praises, reprising a scene that had occurred in the wee hours of last Saturday morning at another party Switzer had hosted: Greg Switzer, the elder of Barry's two sons, was displaying his skill at the piano by improvising riffs on Ray Charles's What'd I Say, while the revelers danced and took turns supplying humorous lyrics. Most of the impromptu verses contained good-natured pokes at Switzer's critics as well as pronouncements of unbridled affection for a man who, despite his team's Super Bowl triumph, will probably be remembered as the most maligned coach ever to have won an NFL championship.

Had the heavily favored Cowboys lost this game, something that seemed quite possible late in the fourth quarter, the defeat would have finally provided critics with enough ammunition to bury Switzer. Yet by Sunday night Switzer was a Super Bowl champion. Bash him all you like, but give the 58-year-old coach his due. The same goes for owner Jerry Jones and the rest of the Cowboys, who, in becoming only the second team to win five Super Bowls (the San Francisco 49crs share the distinction) and the first to win three Super Bowls in a four-year span, traveled an exceedingly bumpy road.

"Our guys have taken a lot of shots. Our character has been questioned," Dallas defensive end Tony Tolbert said after the game. "But we came through, and now it's time for us to do the celebrating we deserve."

Switzer hardly needed prompting. Rubbing his chronically sore neck as the Cowboys' team bus pulled into the parking lot at The Buttes, Switzer said jokingly, "I need something to kill the pain—Jack Daniel's and Percodan." As he stepped off the bus, Switzer saw Dallas defensive lineman Leon Lett and screamed, "Let's party! Let's win the party!"

The soiree that ensued obscured for the moment some troubling issues that the Cowboys will soon have to deal with. For one thing, salary-cap constraints will almost certainly force the Cowboys to part with several valued free agents, including linebacker Darrin Smith, defensive tackle Russell Maryland and cornerback Larry Brown, who earned MVP honors on Sunday with two second-half interceptions. Then there is the conflict between Switzer and Troy Aikman, which won't go away. Less than a half hour after becoming the first quarterback to win three championships by the age of 30, Aikman—who was 15 of 23 for 209 yards, one touchdown and, as usual, no interceptions—stood on a podium inside an interview tent and uttered these jubilant words: "I've never been so happy for a season to end in my entire life."

Though he also started off on rocky ground with Jimmy Johnson, his first pro coach, Aikman came to appreciate Johnson's discipline and attention to detail during the 1992 season when the Cowboys won their first of two consecutive Super Bowls, and he has had a difficult time adjusting to the laid-back Switzer. Says one Cowboys executive, the coach is somewhat "paranoid" in his belief that Aikman is out to get him. The fact that Aikman still speaks often with Johnson has hardly helped allay that fear.

During Super Bowl week the Fort Worth Star-Telegram recounted an incident that had occurred between Aikman and former Cowboys defensive line coach John Blake, a staunch Switzer ally. Blake, who left the Cowboys in January when he was named the coach at Oklahoma, had been viewed by some Cowboys players as Switzer's locker room snitch. The Star-Telegram reported that earlier this season Blake had accused Aikman of yelling more at black players than at white players and that Switzer had then confronted his quarterback. Switzer and Aikman both downplayed the story, but relations between them were clearly frosty. Last Wednesday night Aikman was getting off an elevator at the team hotel while Switzer was getting on; neither greeted the other, though Switzer looked in Aikman's direction. The coach felt he had been snubbed by the quarterback, but one witness said that Aikman may simply not have seen Switzer.

"Please don't drive a wedge between me and Troy," Switzer pleaded to a reporter late Sunday night. "We can make this work. He'll learn there is more than one way to do this. A lot of these players like it my way."

For better or worse, Switzer's way was vindicated on a temperate evening in the Valley of the Sun as the Cowboys and the Steelers staged the best Super Bowl show since the New York Giants sweated out a one-point victory over the Buffalo Bills in Tampa five years ago. Dallas became the 12th consecutive NFC team to accept a Vince Lombardi Trophy, but the usual blowout was averted despite some ominous signs in the early going.

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