Cowboys' glitter has top billing

THE BALTIMORE SUN

IRVING, Texas -- Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman spent his day off Tuesday flying to New York to appear on "Late Show with David Letterman," where he threw passes into the windows of passing taxicabs.

The Green Bay Packers spent their day off watching Aikman appear on TV.

That's the main difference between the Cowboys and Packers, who meet today at Texas Stadium in an NFC divisional playoff game.

The Cowboys are the defending Super Bowl champions, the marquee guys. They get the endorsements. They appear on all the best TV shows.

The Packers are just the opponents, the other guys. They've got Reggie White and Brett Favre and, uh . . .

Try to name a couple of other Packers.

OK, Sterling Sharpe has set records by catching 108 and 112 passes the past two years, but he usually declines to talk to reporters. He apparently was upset the way his slow start in his rookie year was reported and has remained a relative unknown. No Letterman appearances for him.

All the Packers can do is use their underdog status for motivation.

Coach Mike Holmgren said he would be sure to remind his team that Letterman, though in a joking manner, used phrases such as, "You're going to mop the field with Green Bay," and "You're going to just kill them," when Aikman appeared on the show.

"Yes, we are playing the world champions and, yes, we have been up and down this year. We all kind of understand what's happening here. I don't have any problem with that," Holmgren said. "But I'm going to use all of that. I'm going to use everything I can."

Holmgren also will remind the team that it's a two-touchdown underdog.

"That's a lot in this league," he said. "They [players] look at those things. . . . It conjures up some emotion. They read things and it should have an effect on them. We have a lot of pride on our team."

Defensive back Terrell Buckley said, "Half the time, they [oddsmakers] are not right."

That means they are right half the time, and Dallas says this is one of those times. The Cowboys come in with a swagger. There's none of that Joe Gibbs-type hand-wringing about being worried about an upset.

The Cowboys admit that they were rooting for the Packers to beat the Detroit Lions last week. They wanted to play the Packers -- a team they beat, 36-14, on Oct. 3 -- instead of having a third game with the New York Giants, who took them to overtime before losing, 16-13, two weeks ago.

Aikman said: "It would have been difficult if we had to play the Giants for a third time this Sunday."

Safety Bill Bates said: "We didn't want to have to turn around and play the Giants again."

Cornerback Kevin Smith said: "It's better for us to play the Packers right now. The Giants are more physical. We're beat up and sore from the last time we played them."

Do you get the idea the Cowboys aren't too worried about this game?

Even coach Jimmy Johnson isn't going to wring his hands about it.

"Some coaches are scared to death every week, and they are going to give the same locker room speech, no matter if it's a team you're supposed to beat," he said.

Not Johnson.

"When you're the best team, I think you have to say that, simply because your players already know that. When we meet on a Monday, I tell them we're going to win on Sunday, but only if we prepare like we're supposed to prepare on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.

"The challenge is for every individual player to get himself ready to perform on Sunday. If the players meet that challenge, the rest will take care of itself."

Johnson will throw in a little coach talk in an attempt to show some concern that it won't be as easy as last time.

"I've been amused to listen to talk about the Green Bay Packers that assumes it will be the same kind of game Sunday that we played against them earlier in the season," he said.

He added: "There is a danger any time you play a team that you don't play on a regular basis. The Packers will improve because they can correct their mistakes. They can make adjustments, and I told the team we've got to make the same kind of improvement."

The Packers will need a lot of improvement. The Cowboys had a 395-214 edge in total yardage in the first game and held the Packers to 36 yards rushing in 18 carries.

The Packers do have one thing going for them -- Emmitt Smith's tender shoulder. If Smith is knocked out, the Cowboys are vulnerable.

Smith makes the Cowboys dangerous just being in the game. His first start after his holdout was against the Packers, and he was held to 71 yards. But the Packers spent so much time focusing on him that Aikman passed for 317 yards.

In any case, the game doesn't figure to match the drama of the memorable 1966 and 1967 NFL title games between the teams. Both games -- the second was the "Ice Bowl" -- went to the finish and the Packers won both, 34-27 and 21-17, and went on to win the first two Super Bowls.

But Smith, who wasn't even born then, said: "All that's kind of ancient history. We won't be playing any 'Ice Bowl' in Texas Stadium. This is a different era. The old games don't matter."

These Cowboys are too busy making their own history to worry about the past.

NFC SEMIFINAL: PACKERS AT COWBOYS

Site: Texas Stadium, Irving, Texas

Time: Today, 12:30 p.m.

TV: Channels 11, 9

Radio: WBAL (1090 AM)

Line: Cowboys by 14

Last game: The Packers beat the Detroit Lions, 28-24, in a wild-card playoff game on the road last Saturday. The Cowboys defeated the New York Giants, 16-13, on Jan. 2 in their regular-season finale to clinch the NFC East title and home-field lTC advantage throughout the playoffs.

Last meeting: The Cowboys beat the Packers, 36-14, on Oct. 3, (( as Emmitt Smith ran for 71 yards in his first start after coming back from his holdout. Troy Aikman passed for 317 yards with the Packers trying to key on Smith.

The series: The Packers lead the regular-season series 8-6 and have a 2-1 edge in the playoffs, including the back-to-back NFL title games in 1966 and '67 -- including the Ice Bowl -- that were the Packers' springboard to victories in the first two Super Bowls.

On the sidelines: Dallas' Jimmy Johnson, in his fifth season, is 48-37. Green Bay's Mike Holmgren, in his second season, is 19-14.

What the Cowboys have to do to win: Keep Emmitt Smith healthy. As long as Smith doesn't take a blow on his sore shoulder that knocks him out of the game, the Cowboys should win easily. With Smith in the game, the Cowboys' passing game is even more dangerous because the defenses have to key on him. The Cowboys' one weakness is that they don't have a solid backup at running back, so they're vulnerable if Smith goes out.

What the Packers have to do to win: Get a big game from quarterback Brett Favre and wide receiver Sterling Sharpe. The Favre-to-Sharpe combination is the best in the NFL. Sharpe has caught a record 108 and 112 passes the past two seasons, even though he's the team's only deep threat. Somehow, the Lions let Sharpe get loose for a 40-yard, game-winning touchdown catch in the final 55 seconds last week. But Dallas isn't likely to lose to a one-dimensional team. The problem is that the Packers don't have a running threat. Edgar Bennett led the team with 550 yards. The Packers' only hope is that Favre can scramble and improvise with some big plays.

Injury report: Packers: TE Jackie Harris (knee) is out. NT John Jurkovic (ankle), G Harry Galbreath (knee) are questionable. Cowboys: DT Russell Maryland (ankle) is doubtful. DE Charles Haley (back), RB Emmitt Smith (shoulder) are probable.

Outlook: As long as Smith stays healthy, the Cowboys should win with ease. The only question is whether they can cover the two-touchdown spread. The guess is that since Johnson likes to keep his foot to the floor, they'll cover.

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