In 1989, the Dallas Cowboys selected Troy Aikman, the 23-year old college QB who attended both the University of Oklahoma and UCLA, with the first overall pick of the NFL draft. He was named their starting QB before the season began and got his first career start on September 9th, 1989 against the New Orleans Saints in the Louisiana Superdome.
It was not a pretty game for Aikman, or the Cowboys for that matter, and he ended up going 17-for-35, 180 yards, and two interceptions in a 28-0 loss. He would start eleven games that year, going 0-11 with 1,749 passing yards, nine touchdowns, and 18 interceptions. It was not very pretty for the rookie but it would be the last time he struggled so badly and by 1992, he led the Dallas Cowboys to Super Bowl XXVII, the team’s sixth ever appearance.
They were matched up against the AFC champion Buffalo Bills, who were making their third consecutive Super Bowl appearance, tying the Miami Dolphins for most consecutive Super Bowls. But after losing the previous two Super Bowls, the pressure for the Bills to win this one was extremely high. They finished the regular season with an 11-5 record and due to tiebreakers, ended up making the playoffs as a wild card team.
This was the year the Bills staged the greatest comeback in NFL playoffs history when they faced the Houston Oilers in the Wild Card round. The game got out of control and the Bills ended up trailing the Oilers 35-3 midway through the third quarter until the Bills scored five consecutive touchdowns to take the lead before eventually winning in OT thanks to a clutch 32-yard field goal by Steve Christie.
After that amazing comeback, the Bills would easily defeat the Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins by a combined score of 53-13. It looked as though the Bills offense was back and that Super Bowl XXVII was going to be a classic.
Thurman Thomas scored the first touchdown of the game which gave the Bills their only lead of the entire night. By halftime, it was 28-10 and the Bills had turned the ball over five times, three picks and two fumbles.
The halftime show was quite possibly the best one ever, featuring Michael Jackson performing by himself. It was one of the only times the Super Bowl television audience increased during halftime and it remains one of the most watched broadcasts ever.
As the second half began, it was quickly looking like the only team to show up for the Super Bowl was the Dallas Cowboys and they easily ran away with the game scoring 24 more points to finish the Bills off and win 52-17.
Let’s take a look back at the 15 best members of the Dallas Cowboys from that Super Bowl and see what they are up to today.
15. Leon Lett, DT
With 5:00 minutes remaining in the game and a 52-17 lead, the Dallas Cowboys DT Leon Lett made one of the most memorable plays of his career and of Super Bowl history. After Buffalo’s backup QB, Frank Reich was sacked, he fumbled the ball right into the hands of Lett who had nothing but grass between him and the goaline.
He ran down the right side of the field and just before he crossed the goaline, he began celebrating the score by holding the ball in his right hand unprotected. What he did not know was that Buffalo Bills wide receiver Don Beebe was in tow and knocked the ball out of his hands just before he got into the endzone. The play meant nothing to the outcome of the game but it did show people the type of character Don Beebe had and that, even in a blowout loss, he would never give up.
14. Darren Woodson, CB
After the Dallas Cowboys traded Herschel Walker to Minnesota, they received draft picks in return and one of them was used to select Darren Woodson in the second round of the 1992 NFL Draft. He was a small linebacker in college but was able to play the safety position thanks to the Cowboys defensive coordinator, Dave Campo, noticing his athleticism on a scouting trip to Arizona State.
He would become one of the Dallas Cowboys key defenders during their ’90s dynasty. During Super Bowl XXVII, he was a big reason for keeping Andre Reed from the endzone while also helping to keep the Bills wideouts at bay for most of the first three quarters. He had five tackles in the game finishing third on the team.
13. Alvin Harper, WR
Alvin Harper played for four different teams during his NFL career after leaving the Dallas Cowboys in 1995. He played for the Tampa Bay Bucs, Washington Redskins, and New Orleans Saints before getting another shot in Dallas in 1999.
Following the Cowboys third Super Bowl win in four seasons, Alvin Harper was able to field offers that turned out to be very lucrative and he ended up signing with the Bucs because of the money, which was a mistake that he did not realize at the time because he would never reach the production he did while in Dallas.
His career highlight happened in Super Bowl XXVII when he caught a beautiful 45-yard touchdown pass, his only catch of the game. He is now helping is son reach his dream of playing in the NFL. Alvin Harper Jr. is a WR at UAB, who will return to football in 2017.
12. Jay Novacek, TE
Until he arrived in Dallas, Jay Novacek was good, not great. But his time in Dallas turned him into a great Tight End on a team that so desperately needed one in the ’90s. He was more than just a stat line though, he was a blocker that could catch the football making him more valuable than most Rob Gronkowski’s of today’s game.
During the Super Bowl, he managed seven catches for 72 yards and a score when the Bills secondary were shutting down the wide receivers for most of the game. The Cowboys scored 52 points but it was mostly on big plays or following turnovers. Jay was the most targeted Cowboys receiver with 10 targets.
Today, Jay is big on charity and helping youth football players and runs a football camp that he has been doing for almost 20 years now. He is also a big part of helping West Texas football programs by raising money for them through several different charities.
11. Russell Maryland, DT
The 1991 NFL Draft got a little crazy when Raghib Ismail signed with the Toronto Argonauts instead of playing in the NFL leaving the New England Patriots looking for offers for the top overall pick. So the Dallas Cowboys stepped in and sent three players and two draft picks to the Patriots and then they grabbed Russell Maryland, the monster defensive tackle from Miami.
In the Super Bowl, Russell Maryland did not produce the eye-catching numbers like when a player gets sacks and interceptions. But he did manage to grab six tackles which was exactly what he needed to do to help the Cowboys defense put pressure on the Bills offensive line.
Over the past few years, Maryland has been racking up awards and honors and was even hired by the Cleveland Browns to come in and help mentor some of their troubled players including Johnny Manziel and Josh Gordon.
10. James Washington, FS
Many of you remember James Washington for his role in a huge halftime brawl between the Cowboys and Redskins players in a game on November 7th, 1994. He grabbed a camera and monopod from the Dallas Morning News photographer, David Leeson, and was going to use it to defend his teammate Alvin Harper but never actually struck anyone with it.
Two years earlier, James Washington helped the Cowboys defense shut down the Buffalo Bills offense and even nabbed an interception too.
9. Charles Haley, DE
During his playing days, Charles Haley was considered a short-tempered volatile person that was always making headlines for his various outbursts and altercations with teammates. In a recent book that he published, it was revealed that he was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and that it was a major part of his issues during his career.
His Super Bowl performance could have been better but one of his sacks was taken away following a Dallas penalty. He managed to bust through the offensive line constantly and disrupt the Buffalo backfield throughout the entire game causing many of the turnovers simply by putting pressure on the QB.
8. Larry Brown, CB
A couple of years before he became the Super Bowl XXX MVP, Larry Brown was helping the Dallas Cowboys win their first Super Bowl in nearly 20 years by making three big time stops and picking off a pass just before the half as the Bills were driving down the field.
His performance in Super Bowl XXVII was the beginning of a legacy that he would build over the next few seasons in Dallas. By the time he won his third Super Bowl ring, in 1995, he was one of the NFL’s best defensive backs. His MVP award in the Super Bowl marked the first time a defensive back ever won the award. He was also the first defensive player since 1972 to claim it too.
7. Emmitt Smith, RB
Even though he had 108 rushing yards, it was not the typical Emmitt Smith performance, regardless of whether or not it was a Super Bowl. He was coming off his second best rushing season of his career, and at the time it was his best to that point, with 1,713 yards rushing, 18 touchdowns, 59 receptions, 335 yards receiving, and one receiving score.
He had 28 yards rushing in the first half until he busted the game open with a 38-yard run to put the Cowboys in scoring position with two minutes remaining. For the half, Emmitt rushed for 73 yards while catching a few passes for a couple more yards.
His only score of the game would come late in the fourth quarter when he ran it in from 10 yards out on a draw. The play was a highlight of his playing career because he broke three tackles along the way. It was anything but easy and yet he broke the goaline for the score anyways.
After being the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, Emmitt Smith has become more of an entrepreneur and as of 2016, he runs several companies including The Emmitt Smith Gran Fondo, Emmitt Smith Enterprisese, EJ Smith Construction, and several others.
6. Jimmie Jones, DT
Much like the rest of the defense, Jimmie Jones was good not great. He was better as a unit than by himself. During the 1992 regular season, he only started two games, had four sacks and 23 tackles. He was a huge defensive lineman, standing 6’4″, 285 pounds. His best moves were making himself a wall in the middle of the line, blocking opposing running backs from getting through.
He had himself quite the Super Bowl performance this year and ended up recovering two fumbles, returning one for a touchdown in the first quarter. The two fumble recoveries tied an NFL record for most in one game. It was just one of the many moments that the Cowboys took advantage of a Buffalo mistake which is exactly why the Cowboys won the Super Bowl so easily.
5. Thomas Everett, SS
One of the reasons the Dallas Cowboys were so good in the early ’90s was because of their balanced offense and tough defense. During the regular season, the Cowboys offense was ranked second in points and fourth in yards while their defense was ranked fifth in points allowed and first in yards allowed because they played as a team, not as a group of individual stars.
Thomas Everett was part of a rotation that featured James Washington, Ray Horton, and Kenneth Gant. He started nine games that season and had two interceptions with 54 tackles. But during the Super Bowl, he was all over the field. He matched his season total with two interceptions, and almost had a third but dropped it in the end zone. He added a sack for good measure tying him with Leon Lett and Charles Hayley who each had one sack too.
4. Mark Tuinei, LT
Bruce Smith is a legendary defensive end. He retired from the NFL in 2003 with 200 career sacks, first place all time. He also is one of only three defensive ends in NFL history to have 13 sacks and more than 100 tackles in a season, more than once. Bruce Smith, Clyde Simmons, and Reggie White are the three men to accomplish this feat at least two different times.
At Super Bowl XXVII, Bruce Smith lined up on the right side, as usual, and was ready to have a field day on the Cowboys O-line following a 14 sack season. But when the game started, he was nowhere to be found and he managed one sack in the game and not much more thanks to Mark Tuinei’s lockdown on the left side of the line. He was so brilliant throughout the entire Super Bowl that he more than deserves this high ranking.
Sadly, Mark Tuinei passed away in 1999 after being found unconscious in his car. It was later revealed that he died from a fatal combination of heroin and ectasy. It was ruled as an accidental overdose and was not a suicide.
3. Ken Norton Jr., ROLB
As far as defensive performances in the Super Bowl are concerned, Ken Norton put up a great one in Super Bowl XXVII. Although tackles were not officially recorded at the time, we went ahead and watched the game ourselves and counted all of the tackles. Ken Norton lead all players with 10 total tackles for the game and was a force to be reckoned with the entire time and put two huge hits on Jim Kelly, the second of which knocked him out of the game for good.
He capped off his impressive performance with a touchdown following a bad snap that bounced right off the hands of Frank Reich. It was the final score of the game and it happened just 41 seconds after Emmitt Smith scored a rushing touchdown from 10 yards out.
2. Michael Irvin, WR
Following a Steve Christie made field goal in the second quarter, the score was now 14-10 in favor of the Cowboys. On the following series, the Cowboys quickly moved down the field following a 38-yard run by Emmitt Smith, right before the two-minute warning.
At this point, the game was close and as it was approaching the half, seemed to be heading for a tight battle the rest of the way. However, things changed as they returned from the two-minute warning break thanks to Michael Irvin.
Although the Cowboys defense forced nine turnovers, it was Irvin who actually turned the game around for the ‘Boys when he scored on a 19-yard pass from Troy Aikman, leaving just under two minutes left in the half. Buffalo received the kickoff and then fumbled on their first play, giving the Cowboys the ball on their own 18-yard line. That was when Michael Irvin scored his second touchdown of the game.
Between the two plays, it only took Michael Irvin and the Cowboys 18 seconds to score both touchdowns and change the entire course of the second half.
Today, the NFL Hall of Famer can be seen on NFL Network’s NFL Total Access Kickoff pregame show every Thursday and Sunday night during the season or you can attend his Playmaker’s Academy training camp in July where he teaches kids about the difficulties beyond the game and having a little fun in the process.
1. Troy Aikman, QB
For the first time in his career, Troy Aikman was at the Super Bowl. After leading the Cowboys dominate offense, with plenty of help from the NFL’s top-ranked defense, to a 13-3 regular season record, the odds was in his favor for the win but it was not obvious yet that he would emerge as the MVP. Sure, he was a candidate to win the award but with so many other amazing stars on the field, no one knew he would put up the numbers he did to be voted as the Super Bowl MVP, the one and only time he ever won that award.
In the game he went 22-for-30, 273 yards, and four touchdowns. He finished the game with a 140.7 QB rating, which was just short of Phil Simms 150.92 passer rating record he set in Super Bowl XXI. Once the game was easily in hand, the Cowboys put in Steve Beuerlein, his backup, to finish the final 9 minutes of the game. At that point, unless the Bills came back from trailing by 35, he was the obvious choice for MVP.
Troy Aikman now works for Fox and is teamed with Joe Buck and Erin Andrews as part of their “A” broadcasting team. His color commentating has won him an Emmy and he has been doing it since 2002.
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