SAN FRANCISCO -- For a few moments, it looked as if Steve Young was going to have a chance to pull off a comeback that was vintage Joe Montana.
With the San Francisco 49ers trailing the Dallas Cowboys, 24-13, in the fourth quarter of the NFC title game, he put together a 93-yard drive that cut the deficit to 24-20 with 4:22 left. If the defense could stop the Cowboys, Young would have his chance.
"We've done it a couple of times before, and, really, I felt like we were going to do it again," he said.
That's when the Cowboys struck for the clinching touchdown in the 30-20 victory with a 79-yard drive in four plays that started with a 70-yard pass to Alvin Harper.
"To their credit, they turned around and took it right back down on us. When we got the momentum back, we get the ball back, and we've got a chance to win the ballgame, and they go 80 yards ," he said.
The bottom line is that Young didn't take the team to the Super Bowl. In San Francisco, that's not living up to the Montana image, even though Young was the league MVP.
When Young was asked to assess his play, he said: "I'm going to want to take a long look at the third downs in the first half when we had to settle for field goals. . . . I felt very calm and confident, throwing the ball well. Even when we were down, we came back and put ourselves in a position to try to win it."
Asked if following Montana was a problem, he said: "I just concentrated on playing ball. I had a great time playing."
Asked what he expects next season, he said: "What I expect? To come back and go all the way. C'mon."
Asked if there would be a quarterback controversy, he said: "You guys would do that."
The 49ers may trade Montana in the off-season, and it was the defense, more than Young, that let the team down yesterday.
Young still has a long way to go to be accepted by the San Francisco fans. After the game, a San Francisco radio station conducted a call-in poll, and 75 percent of the callers wanted
Young traded and Montana to start next season. Dallas coach Jimmy Johnson brushed off the holding call on Guy McIntyre that rubbed out a Jerry Rice touchdown. "That was so long ago. If they had scored a touchdown, that would have been fine. We would have gone about business and outscored them," he said.
McIntyre said: "[Russell] Maryland is quick and just jumped inside and was about to get by me. I guess If I had to do it over again, I'd react differently. I started with the first mistake, and it went downhill from there. I was slow reacting to him. I didn't get my feet in front of me. I just kind of went down toward his legs, and they called it."
Tackling not allowed
A controversial holding call on Pierce Holt for tackling Emmitt Smith set up the Cowboys' first touchdown in the second quarter. The 49ers argued that Holt tackled Smith because he thought Smith had the ball on the play-fake.
Jerry Markbreit, the referee, said: "In the judgment of the head linesman [Paul Weidner], it was apparent No. 22 of Dallas did not have the football when he went through the line. Consequently, when he was tackled, he was tackled in order to keep him from getting out in the pass pattern. The rule is the defender cannot tackle anyone who obviously does not have the football."
The winning route
Of his 70-yard catch that set up the clinching touchdown, the Cowboys' Harper said: "The play was set up for me to do a hook, but when we left the huddle, Michael Irvin ran to that side and ran that route. The ball always goes to the person running the hook, and I think Michael wanted to be the person to win the game.
"However, [Troy] Aikman spotted me running the post. I was very winded when I was running, but I was thinking, 'Just hold on to the ball, we'll be in the Super Bowl.' However, when I crossed the 50, I was sucking wind, the end zone seemed to be getting farther away."
Aikman said that Irvin was "greedy" on the play, but that his move backfired because Harper was open.
Johnson defended Dallas' aggressive play that included throwing (for a 70-yarder) on the first play after San Francisco cut the deficit to 24-20 and going for it on fourth down in the fourth quarter.
"That's been kind of our style all year long. People criticized us for throwing out of the end zone against the Redskins at RFK [when Jason Buck knocked the ball out of Aikman's hand to give the Redskins the winning touchdown], but we're going to play aggressive football. It was aggressive football when we went for it on the fourth-down try. We felt like we needed to do that to try to put them away."
Johnson said he didn't regret going for it on fourth down in the fourth quarter. "I don't regret anything. We tried it, and it didn't work. Had we come up short, I would have been a goat, but I'm
not a goat."
Long time coming
The Cowboys are playing in the Super Bowl after a 14-year absence, a record for longest time between Super Bowl appearances (year is for date when game was played):
Team .. .. .. .. No. .. .. .. Years
Dallas ... .. .. 14 ... .. .. 1979-1993
Washington .. .. 10 ... .. .. 1973-1983
Denver ... .. ... 9 ... .. .. 1978-1987
Oakland .. .. ... 9 ... .. .. 1968-1977
Cincinnati .. ... 7 ... .. .. 1982-1989