Thursday, January 31, 2013

All the Way Back

On this day in 1993, I watched the Dallas Cowboys hammer the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII.

I was living in Norman, Okla., where I had just started my second semester of teaching journalism, but my thoughts were with my parents and my brother, about three hours south of me in Dallas, Texas.

I had been living less than an hour's drive from them for the previous four years while I pursued my master's degree. I had been working for the newspaper in Denton, and I had covered Jimmy Johnson's first press conference as head coach.

I spent many Sunday afternoons watching Cowboys games with my father. Sometimes my mother joined us, although she was frequently busy with her grading (she was a first grade teacher, as I have mentioned here before). She would sit at the dining table and grade papers — and listen to my father and me as we watched the game.

When something exciting happened, she would stop what she was doing and come in to the living room to watch with us for a few minutes before going back to her grading. If I close my eyes, I can still see her in her bathrobe, a cup of coffee nearby while she graded her papers at that dining room table.

Anyway, the Cowboys were not very successful in those years. They won four games in my first two years of graduate school, then barely missed the playoffs in my third year. (I would have liked to finish grad school in two years, but I was hindered by out–of–state tuition rates.)

The next fall, the Cowboys finally qualified for the playoffs and won their first game but lost their second.

The following summer, I moved to Oklahoma. And wouldn't you know it? The Cowboys made it to the Super Bowl.

I almost felt cheated. After my parents and I had invested all those Sundays in watching as Johnson rebuilt the team, they finally climbed the mountain after I moved away!

The Cowboys were all the way back.

I wanted to go back to Dallas to watch the game with my parents, but I knew I couldn't. The game didn't start until late on Sunday, and I had to teach a class Monday morning.

Had I known that it would be the blowout that it turned out to be, I would have come to Dallas for the weekend, watched the first half and left for Norman around 7 p.m.

But, in fact, the halftime score was Dallas 28, Buffalo 10. I don't know if I would have regarded that sufficient to leave at halftime — and, if I didn't, I might or might not have felt that the game was on ice by the end of the third quarter, when Dallas' lead was 31–17.

I wish I had the memory of watching that game with Mom, but, in hindsight, it is probably for the best that I stayed where I was.

To put things in context, the Bills had trailed Houston in the opening round of the playoffs, 35–3, before mounting the most incredible comeback I have ever seen. Buffalo won that game, 41–38, in overtime. In January 1993, you simply could not count the Bills out.

The Bills had played in the previous two Super Bowls and lost both. Most NFL fans — myself included — wanted to see someone else — anyone else — represent the AFC. But the Bills were a bit defiant about winning, and they didn't care who pulled against them.

Well, anyway, knowing the road the Bills had traveled to Super Bowl XXVII, it was probably for the best that I stayed in Norman that weekend and watched the game in my home. The Cowboys scored three touchdowns in the final period to cap perhaps the most lopsided Super Bowl I have ever witnessed, 52–17.

I still would have liked to watch it with my parents — especially my mother, who died a couple of years later.

In a game in which 69 points are scored, it's hard, if not impossible, to identify a pivotal moment. About all you can do, I suppose, is pick out memorable moments.

And Super Bowl XXVII had plenty of those.

I guess the one everyone remembers is the play when Buffalo QB Frank Reich fumbled the ball and Dallas' Leon Lett picked it up and began ambling toward the opposite end zone. The big man started showing off near the goal line, not noticing that Buffalo receiver Don Beebe had overtaken him.

Beebe knocked the ball from Lett's hands; it bounced into the end zone and out of bounds and was ruled a touchback.

The game was out of hand by that time, but it kept the Cowboys from setting a scoring record that would still be standing today. If Lett had scored, Dallas would have eclipsed the number of points the 49ers piled up on Denver a few years earlier.

That was a minor point, really. As I watched the final minutes of that game, I thought of my grandmother, a longtime Dallas resident and the only one of my grandparents who had been alive the last time the Cowboys won a Super Bowl but had been dead only a few years when Dallas routed Buffalo.

She was always proud of the fact that Tom Landry went to her church.

I thought of my other grandmother, also a longtime Dallas resident who died before Landry's second Super Bowl title but lived long enough to see his first.

And I thought of my grandfathers, neither of whom lived to see the Cowboys play in a Super Bowl.

I never really knew my grandfathers, but I think they, like most Southerners, loved football. That goes for my grandmothers, too.

I wondered what any of my grandparents would have said on that occasion 20 years ago — or of the Cowboys' long road all the way back to football's biggest stage.

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