I watched the tail end of the 49ers’ Dynasty Week on NFL Network, and then caught a healthy dose of Cowboys coverage this past week during their Dynasty Week. I’ll have to say it was a good idea – especially for March and April – to draw some attention to their channel lineup.
But watching some of the 1994 highlights for the 49ers, and then all of the Cowboys’ history, I can’t help but wonder.
In fact, I’ve wondered about it for the last 20 years or so.
Like any fan of sports, especially teams we have passion for, I’ve had my share of heartache losses. In fact, two of the worst happened a few months from each other in the 1994 NFC Championship Game (which was played in late January 1995), followed by the 1995 national championship game between Arkansas and UCLA. My hogs lost out a chance to win two straight.
A few months earlier, the Cowboys lost out on a chance to win three straight.
The second one was a result of a better team winning. The first one, the Cowboys and 49ers game, I don’t know about San Francisco being the better team.
To this day, if you gave me one re-do in all of sports, a simple do-over, I’m taking a play in the final few minutes of the Cowboys and 49ers from that day in early 1995.
We all remember that game for the 21-0 hole the Cowboys dug themselves with three turnovers in the first seven minutes of play. The 49ers were determined to beat the Cowboys, who had knocked them off in two straight NFC title games. They loaded up on hired guns like Deion Sanders and Ken Norton Jr. and had the pieces in place to unseat the Cowboys, who were looking to make an unprecedented run.
But to me, the play I want to see again occurred late in the fourth quarter with the Cowboys trailing 38-28 with about 6:30 left in the game. It’s a deep ball from Troy Aikman to Michael Irvin down the left sideline. Irvin was running stride for stride with Sanders, who put his left hand down into Irvin’s two hands, keeping them from coming up to catch the ball above his head. Irvin never could get his hands up and the pass fell incomplete, setting up a third-and-10.
But it never got to third-and-10. The Cowboys’ bench went irate, led by head coach Barry Switzer, who couldn’t believe a pass interference flag wasn’t thrown on Sanders. It seemed like an obvious call, both from the sideline and the TV booth.
Switzer was flagged instead for unsportsmanlike conduct and the Cowboys faced a third-and-25 and ultimately turned the ball over on downs. From there, the 49ers took over and the Cowboys ran out of time.
But just one play – one snap of the football that I want see played out again. Give the Cowboys the proper pass interference call right there and the Cowboys take over, first-and-goal at the 5. They’re going to score a touchdown because the way they were moving the ball there in the second half, it was happening. Either Emmitt Smith scores or Irvin catches another one in the end zone, and it’s going to be 38-35 with about six minutes left.
To that point, the 49ers had scored just seven points in the second half and had been held to two straight punts. Even if they would’ve driven down for a field goal, the Cowboys had a chance to win the game on the ensuing drive.
And obviously, we’re not talking about just any game – but a game that would’ve changed the course of the franchise. If the Cowboys win in San Francisco, they’re winning two weeks later against the Chargers – mark it down.
One of my favorite lines in all sports occurred that day on the Fox broadcast when Pat Summerall voiced the intro of the 49ers-Cowboys clash. “In two weeks the Super Bowl will be played … after that the Pro Bowl … today, we’ll play both.”
It was obvious these were the two best teams with the best players. The winner of that game would be the winner of the Super Bowl and there was nothing San Diego or any other AFC team could do about it.
But, Irvin didn’t get that call. We’ll never know what would happen after that.
My gut says the Cowboys come back and win that game. Not only does it change the course of the Cowboys, but what about Steve Young, who made a spectacle about getting that proverbial monkey off his back. Well, lose a 21-0 lead in the NFC Championship Game at home and that monkey becomes the biggest gorilla known to man. There’s no way Young makes the Hall of Fame without a Super Bowl title and who knows just how far the 49ers’ franchise would’ve plummeted if they lose that game.
Who knows, maybe Deion doesn’t sign with the Cowboys the following year if the 49ers lose. Maybe Jerry Jones doesn’t feel the need to go out and get him.
One play, one non-call that could’ve changed the course of two franchises.
Obviously, it doesn’t matter now. But since we got to relive it here the last two weeks, it’s certainly worth revisiting now and then.