- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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In 1988, my last year as coach of the San Francisco 49ers, we played a late-November game against the Washington Redskins at Candlestick Park. The Redskins were the defending Super Bowl champs but, like us, were 6-5 and struggling. Our 37-21 victory is not so much what I remember about that day. It's what happened after the game that I recall vividly.
I walked across the field to shake hands with Washington coach Joe Gibbs, for whom I had tremendous respect. And I said to him, "Great game, Joe. God, it was like two dethroned champions battling in the ring out there."
He looked me right in the eye. "The hell we're dethroned!" he said.
Well, what a fool I am, I thought. I walked off the field that day, pondering what Joe had said. He wouldn't accept losing. He wouldn't accept being dethroned. And I'll be honest: Joe inspired me. It might have been coincidental, but we lost only one game the rest of the way, and we finished with a classic 20-16 win over the Cincinnati Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII.
That was the fifth victory in what has become one of the strangest streaks in football history. With the Dallas Cowboys' 27-17 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday, the NFC has now won 12 Super Bowls in a row. I'm baffled by that to some degree, because the 30 NFL teams draft from the same collegiate pool, pick free agents from the same pool and hire coaches from the same college and pro pool.
One big reason for the streak has to be team defense, which has been clearly better in the NFC than in the AFC. Another was illuminated by my 10-second encounter with Joe Gibbs more than seven years ago. It spoke volumes about a point that's very hard to quantify but that is, I think, vital—the refusal of some NFC men to accept second place.
Look at the dominant teams in the late 1980s and so far in the '90s—the Redskins, the 49ers, the Cowboys, the Chicago Bears, the New York Giants. I know when I looked at the competition every year, I figured I had to learn from NFC rivals—even those the Niners wouldn't be playing in the regular season—because those were the teams we'd have to beat to get to the Super Bowl.
I used to stand on the field with former Giants coach Bill Parcells before our games with New York, and he'd say, "We're not very good in this phase or that phase," when he clearly had one of the best teams in the league. He was like me. We were always in a crisis mode, always thinking we weren't good enough. And we'd work our teams that much harder to make sure we were able to compete with each other. We'd work so hard to raise our level to beat our NFC opponents that by the time we got to the Super Bowl, we felt we'd already played the teams at the top level.
It isn't just NFC coaches and players who feel desperate to win. The owners do, too. Seven of the 12 victories in this streak have been by San Francisco and Dallas, and the teams' respective two owners, Eddie DeBartolo Jr. and Jerry Jones, are among the reasons why. When we lost to the Giants two straight years in the playoffs, Eddie was despondent each time. Those were killer days. Just killers. You're at the bottom of life's barrel. And then there's an unrest, an agitation, that starts, and it's a motivator. That agonizing pain is channeled into one teamwide thought: Losing will not be tolerated. Jerry's the same as Eddie, it seems. The Cowboys lose last year, and he breaks the bank to get the guy who he thinks will be the difference: Deion Sanders.
I know every team in a Super Bowl wants to win badly. But Fm not sure that, say, the Buffalo Bills realized how desperate you must be to win this game.