Friday, January 23, 2004

1992 Cowboys-49ers NFC Championship

Went to Best Buy earlier this evening. They had the 1992 Cowboys-49ers NFC Championship Game Recap playing on HD TV. The format showed each play, usually twice, interspersed with retrospective commentary from the participants. Ended up watching for about 45 minutes.

HD TV is noticeably superior to regular TV. Emmitt Smith had a jagged cut on his arm, and it felt like I could reach out and touch the blood.

This was a fun uniform game. Against the Red and Gold 49ers, the Cowboys pants have never looked so blue. The field was wonderfully muddy and wet, with globs of turf shearing up everywhere. The uniforms were wet and muddy and grass-stained and ripped. HD TV showed this beautifully.

It's easy to forget how powerful the 49ers were going into this game. All through the game, through body language and facial expression, the 49ers showed they thought they were the superior team. Their defensive front seven was rugged and aggressive and talented. This was a frenetic and viciously contested game. The 49ers scored with 4:22 remaining in the 4th, drawing within 4. Both Young and Rice stated at this point, they fully believed they would win. The Cowboys would be stopped; the mighty West Coast Offense would win the game.

It was then that Alvin Harper caught his slant. Alvin Harper sucks. After the catch and run, he raised his arms in a method intended to celebrate himself-- not his team's accomplishment. Aikman comes on the screen and says he saw the coverage as he broke the huddle for that play. He knew Irvin would have gotten across the CB's face against the coverage, but he was nervous about Harper doing so. On the replay, presnap, you can see Aikman actually hand motion to Harper to get across the CB's face. Aikman said he decided to trust Harper, but remained concerned. Thank goodness Harper made the play. Harper had more talent than Irvin. But Irvin is going to the Hall of Fame, and Harper had an average career.

Again and again, on crucial downs, Aikman threw the slant to Irvin. I saw three of them, and I didn't watch the whole game. Irvin was wearing Eric Davis like a fur coat at a drug trial, but he caught all three slants. Any other WR would've been covered. With Aikman's accuracy and Irvin's size, the plays were successful.

Irvin also caught a skinny post for 20 yards, going down inside the 5 yard line. This pattern is straight for about 12 yards, then slants at a shallow 25 Degree angle. Again, the coverage was excellent, and Aikman gunned the ball exactly into a small opening. Irvin made an aggressive striding move for the ball, catching it in the classic index fingers and thumbs triangle, 12 inches in front of his chest. As he began to tuck it he was violently double hit and whipsawed between Mervin Hanks and Davis: Bam/Bam. Irvin never even got a foot on the ground after the catch. Irvin, as best I recall, was insta-spun 270 degrees-- his butt drill-bitted itself into the turf, exploring for oil under Candlestick. He tipped over at the end of his spin. From a prone position, Irvin flipped the ball to the ref and popped back to the huddle, a Weeblo that wobbled but didn't stay down. Watching, I realized I never doubted that Irvin would catch the pass. He was so big and tough. He knew he would take whatever Hanks and Davis had and still make the catch. It was almost routine for him. For anyone today, the catch would be praised to high heaven. I doubt Randy Moss, for instance, would've made this typical Irvin catch. What am I saying? Moss wouldn't even have run the pattern.

Both Aikman and Young took 3 and 5 step drops, not 7. There was not much blitzing-- compared to today. Twice, on crucial 3rd and longs, Aikman dropped 5 steps, hesitated, and dumped to Emmitt Smith-- once for 15 yards and a first down, once for about 12 yards and a touchdown. It's shocking that the 49ers would ignore Smith, who began both plays as a blocker. Smith was at the height of his greatness in this game: running, blocking, receiving, protecting the ball. He was such a pleasure to watch. He could do one thing about as good as anyone: he could make a defender miss within a very small space. He did it twice while I watched. Once, Emmitt had about 12 inches of space on either side. A normal runner would've been dead. Somehow, Emmitt "Ole'd" the defender and went through that little space.

Leon Lett was a monster in this game. Thomas Everett was all grit and guile. Without a salary cap, this team would have won who knows how many Super Bowls. Even when the 49ers beat them in that great Championship Game in 1994, the Cowboys had already suffered significant Salary Cap losses: Ken Norton was playing for the 49ers, defensive Linemen were gone, Kevin Gogan was gone. This 1992 Cowboys team was impossibly deep and impossibly young. That's why they would've run off an incredible streak of Super Bowls. My opinion, anyway. Shared by a lot of others.

It still amazes that rookies Kevin Smith and Larry Brown stood up against Rice and John Taylor. Course they had some help. Still...

Aikman and Smith protected the ball. Young and Ricky Waters turned it over. That was the difference in the game. Without the turnovers, these teams might of played dead even. To me, protecting the ball is an attribute of great players. It's not an accident.

Anyway, it was an enjoyable 45 minutes of viewing. The winning touchdown was scored by a golden oldie: Kelvin Martin! Number 83. Worming the ball juuust atop the Goal Line with an ankle high shimmy. That was a great game.

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