Steals Sink Steelers in Super Bowl

Jerry Jones, the flamboyant owner of the Dallas's championship football team, is not the type to hire rhinestone Cowboys. He likes a team with big eyes for the big prize, and after it won the franchise's fifth National Football League title Sunday by beating Pittsburgh 27-17 in Tempe, Ariz., wide receiver Michael Irwin let the boss know of his expensive taste in Super Bowl jewelry.

"I want Jerry to know I want big, big diamonds on our rings this time," he said. "Make it giant ones, Jerry."

More than likely, the owner, who provided the team with a fleet of limos during Super Bowl week, will spare no expense in adorning the ring fingers of his employees. After all, he spent $35 million on one player didn't he? Yep, on versatile and vocal pitchman/cornerback Deion Sanders, who was given a seven-year deal, a starring role with Jones in a pizza ad, and carte blanche to promote himself so long as he backed it up.

Ironically, however, it was another, much quieter Dallas defensive back who made the biggest impact on Sunday's game. Larry Brown intercepted two second-half passes and returned them for a Super Bowl record 77 yards, 21 more than the Cowboys' offense rushed for. Brown, as a result, was named the game's Most Valuable Player. Afterward, Brown said he knew he held the key to victory, since Pittsburgh was likely to throw in his direction and not to the opposite side of the field, where Sanders patrolled.

On a day in which neither team generated much running (a Super Bowl low 159 yards combined), the Steelers took to the air often. Pittsburgh's Neil O'Donnell threw 49 passes, completed 28 of them, and threaded a 6-yard needle to Yancey Thigpen (in front of Sanders, incidentally) 13 seconds before the first half ended. That gave Pittsburgh its first points, cut the Dallas lead to 13-7, and provided a ray of hope for the second half.

And in fact the Steelers did make a game of it, delaying the Gatorade victory dousing of Dallas coach Barry Switzer much longer than the Cowboys might have liked. Especially sweet was a stretch in which Pittsburgh followed a 46-yard Norm Johnson field goal with a perfectly executed on-side kick recovery by Deon Figures (not Deion Sanders) and a 52-yard touchdown drive that sliced Dallas's lead to 20-17 and put everybody on the edge of their couches.

But here's where Brown stepped up for the second time to collect an errant pass from the normally interception-resistant O'Donnell. Good defense is a collective enterprise, and Brown's easy pickin's (which both thefts were) were partly attributable to Steeler miscues and game-long defensive pressure applied up front, where Charles Haley collected a sack and a record fifth Super Bowl ring (three with San Francisco, two with Dallas).

The 49ers and Cowboys are now tied with five Super Bowl wins apiece, making for some interesting drama next season. Dallas could conceivably lose seven starting players to free agency, but given Jerry Jones's open-wallet policies, if there's any way he can work around the salary cap and keep 50 guys happy, he surely will try.

Touching other bases

*Pop quiz: What sport dictates that its Olympic and world championship competitions be played on artificial turf? (Answer below.)

*Australia's Emma George, a converted long jumper, has hitched her long-range Olympic hopes to a fiberglass pole. She recently raised the women's pole vault record to 14 ft. 1/2 in. in Perth. The event continues to gain acceptance. In 1997 it will be on the program for the indoor world championships. And in the year 2000, the Sydney Olympics seem likely to add it.

*Given today's city-switching pro teams, sportscaster Al Michaels suggests a form of fan protection. "Maybe," he says, "season tickets should be sold with the warning on the back, 'Root at your own emotional risk.' "

*To enhance long-distance spectating at Boston's new FleetCenter, vendors in the upper reaches rent binoculars for $5. That's in addition to the cost per seat, which runs to $30.

*Quiz answer: Field hockey. The sport is best played when the field provides a consistent bounce and roll.

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