THE Dallas Cowboys' overwhelming 52-17 victory over the Buffalo Bills in Super Bowl XXVII at the Rose Bowl turned out to be just the kind of game that would have pleased the late Vince Lombardi. If you remember, Lombardi's Green Bay Packers won Super Bowls I and II in 1967 and '68, stressing fundamentals, a barbed-wired defense, and the multiple talents of quarterback Bart Starr.
When Jimmy Johnson was signed to coach Dallas in 1989, like Lombardi he inherited a team with little ability to play four periods of strong football. The Cowboys were finding ways to lose that hadn't been invented yet, and memories of their last Super Bowl victory, in 1978, had faded badly.
In the next three years, Johnson and new Dallas owner Jerry Jones would draft 54 players, make 41 trades, and sign 29 free agents. Defense would be given top priority. With so many new pieces to fit into the puzzle, Johnson's Cowboys produced just one victory in his first season. Yet Jimmy continued to promise Dallas fans a Super Bowl appearance in five years and did it in four.
Dallas is not a complicated football team. The Cowboys have about six running plays, with options, and they use them over and over again. Johnson's passing attack is about the same.
Buffalo, which established a record for Super Bowl futility with its third straight loss, blocked a Dallas punt early in the game and quickly marched 16 yards to its first touchdown and an encouraging 7-0 lead. After that, though, the Bills played like 11 guys trying to juggle sticks of dynamite while standing up in a hammock.
Buffalo turned the ball over a Super Bowl record nine times. The Bills' miscues helped Dallas to strike for what were virtually back-to-back touchdowns on two occasions.
In the first quarter, the Cowboys scored two TDs within 15 seconds of each other, including a 3-yard lunge by 276-lb. lineman Jimmie Jones with a fumble recovered in midair. Just before half time they needed just 18 seconds to cash in with another pair that gave them a 28-10 advantage.
"Once that happened, Dallas had taken us out of our game plan and put us in the position of playing catch-up football," explained Bills coach Marv Levy. "Once the Cowboys put their fourth touchdown on the board we never looked like we could win."
Even though Buffalo quarterback Jim Kelly went out with an injury before the end of the first half, Levy was candid enough to admit that even if Kelly had been able to return, it probably wouldn't have made any difference.
Troy Aikman, the Super Bowl Most Valuable Player on the strength of four touchdown passes, no interceptions, and 273 passing yards overall, had a career day for Dallas; Emmitt Smith meanwhile ran for 108 yards.
Johnson, who took the University of Miami (Fla.) to a national collegiate championship before joining the Cowboys, has built a protective pocket for Aikman that often gives him four or five seconds in which to locate his receivers.
Three ticks is usually enough for most ordinary quarterbacks to find a target. Giving Aikman more is like giving a shark a another set of teeth.
For the Cowboys to return to the Super Bowl next year, they will have to remain mentally tough, an increasingly tall order in today's professional sports world, where money and fame quickly spell the fall of some teams.
As for the Bills, their failures in the Super Bowls are no more difficult to explain than Einstein's theory of relativity.