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Excerpt: "Boys Will Be Boys" By Jeff Pearlman

Illustration for article titled Excerpt: Boys Will Be Boys By Jeff Pearlman

"Boys Will Be Boys", Jeff Pearlman's fascinating account of the glory days of the Cowboys dynasty is making the media rounds this week and we will happily join in to promote it. It is ridiculously entertaining. Yes, Charles Haley is the star, but there is so much more to it than just his dong-flapping craziness. Honestly, buy it. It's worth its weight in White House coke. Pearlman has generously offered up another chapter titled "Chapter 24: Super Bowl XXX (AKA: Attack of the Skanks) for the Deadspin readership"After the Super Bowl ended, nobody wanted to leave the locker room. It was like being a marine at sea for seven months. You come to land and think everyone wants to run off the ship. But no one wanted to leave. They knew it was the end and they wanted it to last."-Robert Bailey, Cowboys cornerback When the Dallas Cowboys prepared to leave Texas for Tempe, Arizona, the site of Super Bowl XXX, they made certain every necessary item was packed and loaded for the 1,056-mile journey. Helmets-check! Pads-check! Athletic tape-check! Shoes-check! Playbooks-check! Skanks-check! Skanks? Yes, you read that correctly. Skanks. Lots of skanks. Being a veteran team with a wealth of Super Bowl experience, members of the Cowboys had learned what they needed to survive-and, indeed, thrive-in the week before the big game. Leading up to the first two Super Bowls, Cowboys players combed the streets, clubs and bars of Los Angeles and, to a lesser extent, Atlanta. Yet such an approach comes with risk. The women, for example, could be stalkers. Killers. They might have STDs. Or older brothers with a quick fingers and loaded XM8 lightweight assault rifles. Hence, the skanks. Knowing that the wives and family members would not arrive in Tempe until the Thursday or Friday before the big game, several Cowboys-ranging from Emmitt Smith and Charles Haley to Erik Williams and Nate Newton-paid for a fleet of 11 white stretches from the First Impression Limousine Service to drive 16 hours and 1,000 miles from Dallas to Tempe, many with their special skank, uh, female friends along for the ride. The price: $1,000 per night per limo (Far from objecting, Jerry Jones brought along his own party vehicle, the six-bed tour bus that once belonged to Whitney Houston). By the time the Cowboys arrived for check-in at The Buttes, the team's first-class, $285-per-night hotel, on the Sunday before the game, the lobby was filled with tacky high heels and legs that stretched from Minneapolis to Mahopac. "The limo thing was as blatant as anything the Cowboys had ever been a part of," says one team employee. "We had this huge caravan arrive from Dallas, and some guys had a bunch of their dancer girlfriends ride out and party with them. They brought the White House to Arizona." Irvin enthusiastically endorsed the port-a-skank concept and, in fact, rented his own 10-passenger, 30-foot monstrosity customized with a black leather-and-brushed crome interior (and equipped with a bounty of Absolut Vodka and hip-hop CDs). What baffled some about Irvin's ways was that his wife Sandy was intelligent, loving, an excellent mother to the couple's two daughters-and drop-dead gorgeous. "She's the most beautiful black woman I've ever seen with my eyes," says Kenny Gant, the former Cowboy defensive back. "I've loved her to death since the first time I met her." Yet Irvin-who sported a large gold cross around his neck-never thought twice about professing his devotion toward his family one minute, then jumping into the hot-tub with two coked-up strippers the next. Why, on the evening before the Cowboys departed for Tempe, Irvin had partied with a pair of prostitutes at the Irving Residence Inn. "This stuff happened more and more under Barry, because the rules were just completely relaxed," says a team employee. "Now here comes Deion Sanders, the most flamboyant guy going. The combination of Sanders' flamboyant ways, Irvin's lifestyle and the fact that Barry Switzer said, 'Hell, I don't care what you do. I'll see you Sunday afternoon,'-it led to bad things." Awaiting the Cowboys and their high-heeled entourage in Tempe were the AFC-champion Pittsburgh Steelers, a gritty 11–5 football team that had upended the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Championship Game to reach its first Super Bowl in 16 years. Were there ever a textbook example of overlooking an opponent, here it was. The Steelers featured the league's No. 2-ranked run defense and a powerful tailback in 244-pound Bam Morris, but nobody-the Cowboys, the media, the fans-believed Pittsburgh could challenge Big D. When the Cowboys prepared for Super Bowl XXVII three years earlier, they practiced with an intensity that Jimmy Johnson and his crew demanded. This time around members of the team came and went as they pleased, working out with half-hearted determination. In what was undoubtedly a Super Bowl first, Nate Newton, Erik Williams, Leon Lett and Irvin took a stretch Lincoln to and from practices. The players stayed out early into mornings and arrived to work hungover following wild sojourns to clubs like Empire and Jetz & Stixx. "The police came in and gave us a list of places not to go," Newton said. "I wrote 'em all down and went there." The Cowboy who partied the hardest, the longest, the latest was not Irvin or Sanders or Newton or Lett but Barry Switzer, 58-year-old night owl. The Cowboy coach transformed his two-bedroom suite into a 24-hour rave, with an endless stream of family members, friends, confidants and strangers. "You have to understand the scene," says Michael Silver, the former Sports Illustrated scribe who spent much of the week alongside Switzer. "Barry basically decided, 'OK, this is the only time I'll ever be at a Super Bowl and I'm going to live it up.' So he called everyone he knew and said, 'C'mon, we're all going to the Super Bowl!'" Along for the ride were-among others-Switzer's three children, his girlfriend Becky Buwick, his ex-wife Kay (the two women shared a room) and a never-ending conga line of former Oklahoma players, coaches and boosters. The end-of-the-week liquor bill exceeded $100,000. On the night following the team's arrival in Tempe, Switzer and a slew of assistant coaches and players attended a Super Bowl party beneath an enormous outdoor tent. Switzer and Larry Lacewell, the Cowboys' director of pro and college scouting (and the man whose wife Switzer once slept with), downed shots until both were stumbling around like kangaroos atop surfboards. Silver was minding his own business when he turned and spotted Switzer furiously kicking with his right foot. "What the fuck are you doing?" Silver asked. Upon stepping closer, Silver saw that Switzer was actually booting Lacewell, who was trying to urinate beneath a wood deck. "Barry was getting Larry to piss all over himself," says Silver. "Urine everywhere." Done harassing his friend, Switzer stumbled to the dance floor and began hyperactively shaking his body-a la Pee Wee Herman. Nearby Emmitt Smith was grooving the night away, showing off the moves that, a decade later, would make him a champion on Dancing With the Stars, when he caught a glimpse of Switzer. "Emmitt can't believe what he's seeing," says Silver. "He just stops and stares at Switzer, and his jaw drops. He just gets this look on his face that I can only describe as 'Oh my God, my coach is fucking crazy!'" Switzer's week was one uproarious blur-a little bit of football (Steelers? What Steelers?) mixed in with a whole lot of debauchery. On the night of Friday, January 26, less than 48 hours before kickoff, Switzer hosted his dream party in Suite 4000 at The Buttes-his suite. With his son Greg, a trained classical pianist, jamming away on the room's black Steinway, Switzer led an obnoxious, infectious, inebriated sing-along of Ray Charles' What'd I Say. Instead of repeating Charles' lyrics, however, Switzer and Co. filled in their own words-praising Jerry Jones, mocking Jimmy Johnson. Tell your mama, tell your pa I'm gonna send Jimmy back to Arkansas Oh yes, ma'm, Jimmy don't do right, don't do right Aw, play it boy When you see him in misery Cause Jimmy fuckin' sucks on TV Now yeah, all right, all right, aw play it, boy "I didn't know if we'd win or lose the Super Bowl," says Switzer. "But I knew I was gonna have one helluva week. You don't reach the heights and then play it down. You make the moments memorable." Although the Cowboys expended a great deal of time, money and energy overtaking Tempe, not every player thought it appropriate to turn Super Bowl week into Animal House II: Attack of the 300-pound Texans. Defensive lineman Russell Maryland, for example, spent much of his free time reading, watching TV and quietly touring the area. Upon graduating from Chicago's Whitney Young High School in 1986, Maryland-a former usher at St. John Church-made a promise to the congregation that he would live righteously. "My mom and dad would tell me all the time not to embarrass the Maryland name," he said. "And I took that seriously." Linebacker Robert Jones, about to play his final game with Dallas, avoided the limelight and temptations by sticking with his wife, Maneesha, and their two sons. "I didn't come to party," he says. "I came to win." And then there was the man deemed Cowboy Most Likely to Blow the Super Bowl. Raised in Southern California, Larry Brown attended Los Angeles High, spending four years as a moderately successful All-City selection. With few available post-graduation options, Brown enrolled at Los Angeles Southwest College, where he played tailback as a freshman and defensive back as a sophomore. Asked to assess Brown's collegiate legacy, Henry Washington, his former Southwest coach, noted that, "Larry wasn't what you'd call a great player. But he always got the job done." Brown believed his two years of junior college ball would result in attention from UCLA or USC or at least Cal or Stanford. Instead, the only offer came from Texas Christian University, home to the mighty purple-and-white Horned Frogs. Though Fort Worth was a far cry from L.A., Brown took advantage of the opportunity. He started both seasons for TCU and was named one of the Most Valuable Players of the 1990 Blue-Gray game. "I was sure I'd be drafted in the first four rounds," says Brown. "I'd played on the same stage with the guys from Miami and Florida State and Notre Dame and I more than measured up." On the afternoon of April 21, 1991, Brown sat before his television and waited to be drafted. On April 22, he waited some more. Finally, with the 320th pick of the 12th round, the Cowboys nabbed Brown. He was the 57th defensive back selected, following such immortals as Jacksonville State's David Gulledge and James Smith of mighty Ripon College. In the minutes preceding the pick, those in the Dallas draft room debated Brown's merits. "The kid's OK," said one scout. "Not great, not terrible." "That may well be," said another, "but he's already in Texas. He won't cost us an airplane ticket." Larry Brown it was. By Super Bowl XXX, Brown was enjoying his fifth-straight season as a Cowboy regular-and nobody could quite figure out why. Neither especially fast, strong nor tough, Brown worked moderately hard and studied film with average acumen. When Dallas signed Deion Sanders, it was assumed Brown would finally land on the bench. Then Kevin Smith got hurt and the crabgrass of cornerbacks remained. "Larry's hands were awful-just awful," says Clayton Holmes, his fellow cornerback. "He was knowledgeable on defense and he would bust his ass on the field. But he couldn't catch and he played scared. On the sideline, it was always pretty clear he just wanted the game to be over with." Despite the drawbacks, Brown was-if nothing else-liked. He cracked corny-yet-well-received jokes, rarely complained, attended church weekly and never ripped teammates or coaches to the media. "He was a really good guy with a great outlook on life," says Greg Briggs, a Cowboys defensive back. "He appreciated what he had going." Brown's unyielding positivism was put to the test in August 1995, when his son, Kristopher, was born 10 weeks premature, weighing one pound, nine ounces. Immediately following his delivery, the baby was brought to the ICU and placed on a ventilator. With each passing hour, Larry and his wife Cheryl gained hope. Their 1 1/2-year-old daughter Kristen had been three months premature, and she turned out to be perfectly fine. "Then I was holding him one day and I noticed that the back of his head was kind of soft," says Cheryl. "They took him in to do an X-Ray and found that part of his brain had dissolved." Kristopher Brown was brain dead. "The hardest day was when we had to decide to take him off the respirator," says Brown. "We talked and prayed, but when you're not going to have a brain, there's no hope. I'm still in disbelief. Every day, I'm in disbelief." Kristopher died on Thursday, November 16, the worst day in Larry and Cheryl's lives. Brown had been away from the team for several days, and Switzer insisted he not return for that Sunday's game against the Raiders in Oakland. "Take whatever you need," Switzer said. "Give yourself time to heal." Despite his wife's objections, Brown decided the best way to recover would be to do what he loved most. On the day before the game Brown flew to Oakland on Jerry Jones' private jet. He was mentally drained and physically weak-and shocked by the reaction of his teammates. The Cowboys had decided to dedicate the rest of the season to Kristopher. Every helmet was adorned with a small KB sticker. "The whole thing moved me to tears," he says. "Before the game I told myself, 'Play this for Kristopher,' and I did. My conditioning was so poor that they took me out to give me oxygen, but I felt like I was in the right place." Dallas won 34–21, momentarily lifting their cornerback's blighted spirits. For the remainder of the regular season and into the playoffs, Brown was a mixed bag of emotions. He could focus on football, but thoughts of his son always crept in. There were good days and bad days, smiles and tears. Against Green Bay in the NFC title game, his fourth quarter interception of a Brett Favre pass sealed Dallas' trip to Tempe. "Larry had a very, very hard season," says Darren Woodson. "He deserved something really great happening to him." The Pittsburgh Steelers were pissed off. Who could blame them? In the two weeks leading up to Super Bowl Sunday, members of the AFC champions were asked hundreds of questions-nearly all of them having to do with Dallas' irrefutable advantages in skill, experience and legacy. It was as if the Steelers were lambs being led to slaughter; the questions from the media their last rites prior to the butcher's knife. "The whole thing was really annoying and disrespectful," says Levon Kirkland, Pittsburgh's standout linebacker. "You got tired hearing how great Dallas was. Everyone thought Dallas would run us over. We believed we were going to shock those guys." Throughout the week, members of the slighted Steelers griped incessantly. Why, they wondered, had each member been permitted to purchase only 20 Super Bowl tickets, while the Cowboys were granted 30 apiece? (This was an understandable complaint. Recalls Greg Schorp, a member of Dallas' practice squad: "Everyone on the team was selling their tickets for $2,000, $3,000 a pop. It was a great chance to make a lot of money.") The Steelers also caught wind of Dallas' snazzy digs at The Buttes, which was like The Four Seasons compared to their digs at the $180-per-night Doubletree Paradise Valley Resort. During a team meeting, linebacker Greg Lloyd fumed aloud about the "cheap-ass accommodations," when head coach Bill Cowher interrupted him to say, "Greg, I'd like to introduce you to Peter Ottone, the hotel's general manager, who's standing next to you." As the Cowboys loafed, the 13½-point underdog Steelers felt they had something to prove. Under the 38-year-old Cowher, Pittsburgh had implemented a 3–4 defense that evoked comparisons to the old Steel Curtain of the 1970s. Like Dallas, Pittsburgh's unit-led by the Lloyd, Kirkland and veteran linebacker Kevin Greene-was built on merging speed, reaction time and power. "We were the best in the league, and there was no way Dallas was going to take advantage of us," says Kirkland. "Whether they knew so or not." With lines clearly drawn between the "good" Steelers and "bad" Cowboys, Dallas nestled comfortable into its black hat. The Cowboys were callous and cocky; perfectly represented by the string of expletives Irvin fired at the assembled TV cameras three days after the victory over Green Bay. "The media can't control my mouth," he said. "I'm not living on the plantation. Get the hell out of my face with that." One week before kickoff a PR firm announced that, come Feb. 2, the Cowboy cheerleaders would release a video entitled, "1996 Dallas Cowboy Superbowl (sic) Shuffle." During Dallas' Media Day session, Sanders said that Arizona was "too white" for his tastes. "I just bought a 747 and I'm telling them to stop in all the other cities and bring some black people in here," he said. "Someone asked me if I'd like to live here. That's like asking Rodney King to take a stroll through the LAPD." Wrote Dan Shaughnessy in the Boston Globe:


The Cowboys are going to Super Bowl XXX, which means two long weeks of bad hair, big egos, big hair, bad egos, arrogance, corporate gluttony, cheap shots and cut blocks.


Ugh. Dallas in the Super Bowl means Nike "swoosh" stickers on every cactus in Arizona. It means 77 Farrah Fawcett look-alikes prancing on the sideline. It means the insufferable Neon Deion as Grand Marshal… Really, how can anyone root for Dallas? If you back the Cowboys, you've got to be an insatiable front-runner, a cabbage or, worse, a Texan. On the morning of Super Bowl XXX, Larry Brown woke up, brushed his teeth, took a shower, ate some breakfast and, before leaving the hotel for Sun Devil Stadium, heard his wife ask, "Larry, are you nervous?" It was a fair question, in that Larry Brown was almost always nervous. Whether he was playing for Texas Christian or the Dallas Cowboys, rare were the pre-game rituals that didn't include heaping spoonfuls of anxiety. For some reason, this day was different. "Nah," he said. "With Deion on the other side they're going to be throwing at me all day. I plan on picking off two or three balls by the time it's over." Although Cheryl would later boast of her husband's Nostradamus-like moment, it didn't take a starting NFL defensive back to know that, in the battle of quarterbacks, Dallas possessed a tremendous advantage. While Pittsburgh's secondary had to contend with the strong-armed Troy Aikman and his two favorite targets, Irvin and tight end Jay Novacek, Dallas' defense would be facing Neil O'Donnell, the league's most ordinary signal caller. A fifth-year veteran out of the University of Maryland, O'Donnell possessed above-average accuracy, slightly below-average arm strength and an introverted personality that hardly inspired teammates. "Neil was very self-critical," says Mike Tomczak, Pittsburgh's backup quarterback. "He was a tough kid from New Jersey who strived for perfection." O'Donnell's stats were always more impressive than the actual, in-the-flesh player. Over 12 games during the '95 season, he threw for 2,970 yards and 17 touchdowns, with a mere seven interceptions. "Was Neil a good quarterback?" says Andre Hastings, a Steeler wide receiver. "Well, he was pretty O.K., I guess. But I would never say he was a Hall of Fame or Pro Bowl type of guy. He did his job." "I look at it this way," says Ernie Mills, another Steeler receiver. "We ran a lot of four- and five-receiver sets, so somebody was going to be open." After the requisite two weeks of hype, Sunday evening finally arrived. It was a mild evening in Tempe-70 degrees, little breeze, a blue, cloud-less sky. As America's Team, the Cowboys were used to charging onto the field and hearing substantially more cheers than boos. Such was certainly the case in the previous two Super Bowls, when the Cowboys were the Rolling Stones playing Madison Square Garden and the Buffalo Bills were Bad Ronald at the Stormville Flea Market. This time was different. The Steelers represented every blue-collar American fatigued by the whole flash-and-dash Dallas mojo. It didn't hurt that Pittsburgh had won an NFL-high four Super Bowls, a past that made them one of the league's more popular franchises. "Usually when we came to Arizona, if there were 75,000 fans at the game, 50,000 or so were Cowboy fans," says Dale Hellestrae, Dallas' long snapper. "Well, this time we go running onto the field for pre-game warm-ups and we're getting booed. Cowboy fans were outnumbered by Steelers fans and those Terrible Towels are everywhere. I remember us looking around and going, 'What the hell is going on here?'" Dallas took the opening kickoff and casually marched down the field behind a 20-yard pass from Aikman to Irvin followed by a 23-yard Emmitt Smith run. Though they settled for a 42-yard field goal from a shaken Chris Boniol ("I couldn't make a kick from 25-to–45 yards in pre-game," Boniol says. "I mean, not one."), the Cowboys had set a tone. After limiting Pittsburgh to three plays, Dallas dominated again, this time starting at their own 25-yard-line and confidently attacking the vaunted Steeler defense. The key play-the sort of play that becomes a game's signature-came on a first down and 10, when Aikman dropped back and launched a 47-yard spiral to Sanders, who dashed past cornerback Willie Williams to make an artistic, over-the-left-shoulder haul. Four plays later Aikman hit Novacek, who tiptoed into the end zone from 3 yards out. When Boniol kicked another field goal on the following series, the score was 13–0. Across the nation, 94.8 million TV viewers began to wonder whether Diana Ross' halftime extravaganza would feature songs from her Supremes days or the solo years. "Those Cowboys sure didn't lack for confidence," says Kendall Gammon, the Steelers' long snapper. "But neither did we. We were new to the Super Bowl, so maybe there were some nerves. But we were too good to lie down and get our butts kicked." Following an exchange of punts, Pittsburgh attacked. Facing a third-and–20 from his own 36-yard line, O'Donnell rifled a 19-yard bullet to Hastings. "That was awful," says Switzer. "(Linebacker) Darrin Smith was supposed to play zone and just stay in the middle. Instead he followed a receiver and (Hastings) was wide open. If the players just followed my damn instructions we would have won easily." On fourth-and-one, Cowher's directive was a simple one: Make a first down and steal momentum. Come up empty again, and the night belongs to Dallas. Into the game came rookie receiver/running back/quarterback Kordell Stewart, who gained the needed acreage with a three-yard dash. As Stewart popped to his feet, thousands of Terrible Towels twirled in the air, transforming Sun Devil Stadium into a swaying black-and-gold ocean. With 13 seconds remaining in the first half, O'Donnell hit receiver Yancey Thigpen with a 6-yard touchdown strike. A potential blowout had turned into a legitimate battle. Halftime score: 13–7. "We were rejuvenated," says Hastings. "The rest of the game was going to belong to us." In the Steelers' locker room, Cowher was at his fiery best. The players loved their head coach because he never concealed an emotion; instead, he was known for shoving his ironworker's jaw in a Steeler's face and screaming or crying or laughing. Now he was all rage. "Those sonsofbitches thought you were nothing!" he screamed. "They thought they were going to run all over you! They thought you were a joke. Well, they're not laughing anymore! We took their best shots! Now it's our turn! Let's go take what's ours …" As Cowher spoke, not a peep was uttered from his players. Pittsburgh had endured two weeks of ridicule, and it stung. The players stormed back onto the field with a fire Dallas lacked. This was about disrespect; about payback; about overcoming the odds and doubters. "You hear enough trash, you snap," says Hastings. "We snapped." After dueling unsuccessful drives to start the third quarter, Pittsburgh began to grind its way down the field, rolling over a sagging Cowboy defense to its own 48-yard line. Facing third down and nine, O'Donnell received the snap, took five steps backward and was pressured by Chad Hennings, who charged through the middle of the Pittsburgh line. On the verge of being sacked, O'Donnell tossed the ball to the outside, where he expected to find an uncovered Mills. Instead, it floated into the arms of Brown, who returned it 44 yards to the Steelers' 18. On the Dallas sideline, players lept with excitement. "I can't lie," says Brown. "That one was a gift." With 6:42 left in the third quarter, Emmitt Smith ran in from one yard away, handing Dallas a 20–7 advantage. "That was Neil's fault," says Mills. "He played great for us that season, but on the one play he made a really bad read." The Steelers and Cowboys traded aborted drives, and when Pittsburgh got the ball again, they used nine plays to advance from their own 20-yard line to the Cowboys' 19. But on third-and-eight, O'Donnell was hammered by Dallas defensive end Tony Tolbert, who slammed the quarterback down for a devastating nine-yard loss. A 46-yard field goal from Norm Johnson cut the Dallas lead to 20–10 with 11:20 left in the game, and then Cowher-a calculated gambler-took a major chance. With the Cowboys lined up for a run-of-the-mill kickoff, Norm Johnson squibbed the ball off the tee toward the right sideline, where Pittsburgh defensive back Deon Figures scooped it up. First and 10, Steelers, on their own 48-yard line. "At that moment I was thinking, 'We're gonna lose this thing. I can't believe it,'" says Dallas linebacker Jim Schwantz. "Because I thought it was gonna be an easy game. I thought we'd throw our helmets out there and win." Nine plays later, Pittsburgh running back Bam Morris rammed through a one-yard touchdown run, cutting the deficit to 20–17. "Once we got the jitters out," said Steelers cornerback Carnell Lake, "we outplayed them." It was going to happen. It was really going to happen. The Pittsburgh Steelers were about to beat the Dallas Cowboys. Impossible. Unimaginable. With 4:15 left in the game, Pittsburgh got the ball back on their own 32-yard line, momentum on their side, the fans in a frenzy, one of the greatest upsets in Super Bowl history within reach. And their quarterback was nervous. Extremely nervous. O'Donnell's eyes were wide and his breaths were deep. "I talked to some offensive guys later and they said Neil wasn't looking so good in huddle," says Jerry Olsavsky, a Steelers linebacker. "I didn't understand that-we weren't scared on defense. We were never scared on defense." On first down and 10, O'Donnell scrambled left and threw toward Hastings, who dropped the ball. On second down and 10, two men sealed their eternal NFL statuses: One turned into Mookie Wilson. The other-Bill Buckner. O'Donnell and the Steelers bounded out of the huddle convinced they had a play certain to work. O'Donnell would take a four-step drop and fire a pass to Hastings, who planned on using his speed to run a slant route across the field and in front of the sagging Dallas secondary. Worst-case scenario, Hastings scoots for a first down. Best-case scenario, he outruns the Cowboys and scores the game-winning touchdown. "We were going to pull it out," says Olsavsky. "I felt it." Aware of O'Donnell's spineless reputation, Cowboys defensive coordinator Dave Campo spent the game urging his linemen to thump the Steelers quarterback whenever possible. "We caught Pittsburgh by surprise by running zone blitzes," Campo says. "We wanted to confuse their quarterback." When the two teams met to open the 1994 season, the Cowboys sacked O'Donnell nine times. The memory was in his head. Had to have been. Now, with a Super Bowl in the balance, Campo wisely called out "Zero!"-code for a nine-man blitz. Darren Woodson looked toward Brown and shouted, "Larry, be aggressive here! Be aggressive! They're coming your way!" As O'Donnell dropped back, he was harassed by a collapsing wall of defenders. He did what a good quarterback does-threw to the spot, knowing exactly where Hastings was supposed to be and trusting the route-running abilities of Pittsburgh's second-leading receiver. Yet instead of slanting one way, Hastings went the other. For the second time that evening, Brown was in the exact right spot at the exact right time-all alone with a football fluttering his way. It was Christmas and Easter and Kwanzaa and Purim rolled into one, and Brown eagerly caught the ball and dashed 33 yards to the lip of the end zone. "It was like a cartoon-noooooooooooooooooo! Poof!" says Hastings. "It was a pretty bad feeling. Like, 'This cannot be happening.' It's one thing to get blown out and say 'OK, it wasn't our Sunday.' But to be that close, it's pretty heartbreaking." Emmitt Smith scored shortly thereafter, and the game was done. The Steelers had held Smith to 49 yards rushing, limited Irvin to five catches for 76 yards, held Aikman to a single touchdown pass … and still lost. Cowboys: 27. Steelers: 17. "We gave away the Super Bowl," said running back Erric Pegram. "We gave the darn thing away." What few Steelers could know in the immediate aftermath was that while O'Donnell was responsible for interception No. 1, it was the inexperienced Hastings who, in the final minutes, cost his team the victory with the errant route. Hastings later publicly blamed O'Donnell, kicking off a mini-war of words among ex-Steelers. "That definitely wasn't Neil's fault," says Tomczak. "He made a read and it was right. Mistakes were committed by other people. But the quarterback always gets blamed." Though O'Donnell turned into Pittsburgh's No. 1 goat, Brown found gridiron salvation. Upon entering the locker room, he was greeted by an unruly serenade of "L.B.! L.B.! L.B.!" The 12th round pick was now Super Bowl XXX's unlikely MVP. He would get the car and-as a pending free agent-a $12 million contract to join the Oakland Raiders. Wrote Shaughnessy in the Boston Globe: "(Brown) was like a backup catcher who wins a World Series game by getting hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. He did almost nothing to earn the trophy. Twice Brown was standing in the open field, minding his own business, when an O'Donnell pass came his way. Both of his catches could easily have been made by Mike Greenwell, Jose Canseco, Charlie Brown or Downtown Julie Brown." Few could argue. "Man, Larry knows he's lucky," says Briggs, the Cowboy defensive back. "If I'm standing there like he was, minding my own business, I'm the Super Bowl MVP. Shoot, that would have been sweet." Briggs pauses, taking a minute to reconsider. "But you wanna know something," he says. "Larry was a great dude. And guys like that deserve to have their moments, too. So God bless Larry Brown. God bless him."

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