SAN FRANCISCO -- Michael Irvin is prolific and talkative. And that's a tough combination to beat. But Alvin Harper, who plays opposite Irvin, made the two biggest catches in Dallas' 30-20 victory over the San Francisco 49ers yesterday.
Harper, a former high jump champ, is one of the most acrobatic receivers in the NFL. And he proved it again yesterday. After Irvin grabbed a 16-yard third-down pass early in the third quarter as Troy Aikman read blitz perfectly, it was Harper's turn.
As he came out of the huddle, Harper said Aikman told him, "I'm coming to you, Harp." And when Aikman says that, Harper said, "He doesn't look at anybody else."
Aikman threw down the right sideline. Harper was behind cornerback Eric Davis and when the ball got close, Harper stopped and reached over Davis to bring it in at the 49ers' 7-yard line. Two plays later, Darryl Johnston scored from the 3 to give Dallas a 17-10 lead.
Then Harper and Aikman connected on the play that put the game away. The 49ers had cut the Dallas lead to 24-20 with 4:22 left. The Cowboys were at their 21. The Candlestick crowd was in a near frenzy. Suddenly, Jimmy Johnson's decision to go for it on fourth-and-one at the San Francisco 7 with 7:06 left looked as if it could cost the Cowboys. Instead of Dallas taking a field goal to make it 27-13, Emmitt Smith had been stopped short of the first down.
The Cowboys gambled again. Instead of trying to run out the clock, they were putting it up. Harper was supposed to line up on the right side and Irvin on the left. But coming from the huddle, Irvin was convinced the ball was going to the right so he "got greedy," in Aikman's words, and went right, leaving Harper no choice but to go left.
He ran a "skinny post." Aikman fired a 10-yard pass, Harper was two steps in front of Don Griffin and he kept going.
"Troy put it on the numbers," 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, Aikman spotted me running the post. I was very winded when I was running, but I was thinking just hold on to the ball and we'll be in the Super Bowl."
Irvin joked, "That was supposed to be my catch. But that's OK."
Three plays later, Aikman hit Kelvin Martin for the touchdown that guaranteed Dallas' trip to the Super Bowl.