The underdog AFC team was looking down the barrel at its fourth Super Bowl loss.
That's why there will be a few nervous folks at NBC today keeping their fingers crossed and hoping for a close game.
The 55-10 San Francisco victory over the Broncos in January 1990 drew a 39.0 rating (percentage of TV sets tuned in) and was the lowest-rated Super Bowl in more than two decades.
That's why this is the year the NFL should find out whether it makes any difference what the matchup is in the Super Bowl.
What NBC and most fans wanted was Joe Montana in the Super Bowl -- preferably against Steve Young and his old San Francisco 49ers teammates.
Even Montana against the Cowboys would have been an attraction.
Instead, the Cowboys are back and poised to deal the Bills their fourth straight Super Bowl loss.
Of course, upsets do happen. This is the 25th anniversary of Joe Namath's "guarantee" in Super Bowl III.
But it's hard to sell the idea in advance that there will be an upset.
Even in Atlanta, which is playing host to its first Super Bowl, they're not thrilled with the matchup.
"I think it probably takes some of the luster off it," said Jim Kitchell, a member of Atlanta's Super Bowl Host Committee.
The only thing that might save NBC is the mystique of the Cowboys. Love 'em or hate 'em, there's no NFL team with a bigger following.
Last year's Super Bowl game between the Cowboys and Bills drew a record audience of 133.4 million, topping the mark of 127 million set in 1986, when the Chicago Bears captured the nation's fancy and clobbered the New England Patriots, 46-10.
The rating for last year's game was 45.1, the highest since the New York Giants' 39-20 victory over the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXI attracted a 45.8 rating.
The Super Bowl record rating of 49.1 was set at the end of the 1981 season when the San Francisco 49ers beat the Cincinnati Bengals, 26-21, in Super Bowl XVI.
Even though it had the record rating, that game only drew the ninth-largest audience -- 110 million fans.
Since cable TV has siphoned off some of the audience, the 49.1 record is unlikely to be topped. But the audience is bigger because the population has grown.
All the NBC executives, from sports president Dick Ebersol on down, are insisting they're not unhappy with the matchup. They're trying to sell the idea it could even outdraw last year's game.
The Baltimore number
A letter in The Sun suggested last Sunday that Baltimore fans boycott the Super Bowl on TV because the city was bypassed in the expansion derby.
But if the conference championship games are any barometer, Baltimore fans haven't been turned off yet.
The ratings were virtually identical to last year's for the conference title games.
The AFC title game got a 23.8 rating last year and a 22.5 this year. The NFC game got a 27.4 rating last year and a 26.8 this year.
The number for the Super Bowl in Baltimore last year was 40.1.
The one week factor
If today's game is close, it'll be another sign that the league should stop taking a two-week break before it plays the Super Bowl.
The last time it played the Super Bowl the week after the conference title games, three years ago, the game came down to a missed field goal by Buffalo's Scott Norwood.
There's a feeling that the two-week break tends to throw at least one team off and contributes to the blowouts.
But the league is talking about going back to a two-week break next year when it cuts the number of bye weeks for each team from two to one.
Coach Marv Levy of the Bills said last week there's a "natural rise and peak" for the players in a one-week break.
"There is so much hype and hoopla that you become jaded by the end of two weeks," Levy said.
For the league, though, the more hoopla, the better.
If the Cowboys win, the trophy presentation could be as interesting as the game.
Owner Jerry Jones will want to make sure that he gets as much credit as coach Jimmy Johnson for the victory.
Watch to see if he hands the trophy to Johnson or keeps it himself.
Jones and Johnson always want to make sure they get their proper due for the Cowboys' success.
Jones was irritated at a Dallas paper a week ago when it ran a story on how the Cowboys were built and didn't mention his name. He figures he did as much as Johnson to build the team.
When the Cowboys showed up for their first media session on Monday after their arrival in Atlanta, Johnson was waiting to go to the podium when Jones jumped up to it first.
"I've been pre-empted," Johnson muttered.
Jones welcomed the media and said he could take a few questions.
Since the reporters were on deadline and were eager to get a few Johnson quotes, no one asked Jones any questions.
Jones seemed surprised and reluctantly relinquished the podium Johnson.
The reporters knew Jones would be available at every media session. When the Cowboys didn't have a table for him Wednesday, he took over the one assigned to Bill Bates.
"Jerry Jones is Bill Bates," the Cowboy media types said as they passed out a diagram of which players were sitting at each table.
When Hugh McColl of NationsBank threw a party, Jones left a message on all the reporters' phones that he would be a featured guest.
Nobody enjoys winning more than Jones does.
Looking for a stadium
Here were commissioner Paul Tagliabue's comments Friday on why the league sometimes has to settle for domed stadiums even though it prefers open-air stadiums:
"If you ask any owner or ask any commissioner what would you like to have, a domed stadium or an outdoor stadium with a brilliant sun shining above, more often than not you'd get the answer that you'd like to have an outdoor stadium with a brilliant sun shining above. The problem is you can't build them because in today's economics it's increasingly the case that the stadiums that get built are domes because they're matched with convention centers," he said.
He overlooked the fact there was one town that had the municipal financing in place to build an open-air stadium and yet the NFL snubbed it.
Remember that city?
Tagliabue has trouble even remembering it. He said the Redskins' new stadium would be built between Washington and "elsewhere."
Maybe Baltimore should change its name to Elsewhere, Md.
The last word
When it comes to holding news conferences, Tagliabue still doesn't understand that he's not supposed to act arrogant and condescending.
During Friday's session, Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated asked him why the league doesn't enforce the crowd noise rule. When Tagliabue said he has fined teams for violating the policy, Zimmerman replied that's not enforcing the rule on the spot. Tagliabue snapped, "You and I have a disagreement, but I don't think it's worth discussing any much further here."
Tagliabue's not much for discussing anything with people who disagree with him, which is why most people in the league office understand it's not a good idea to disagree with him.
The Gibbs watch
If Norv Turner is named the Redskins coach this week, the two expansion teams -- Carolina and Jacksonville -- are expected to start pursuing Joe Gibbs.
Since the Redskins will then have a coach and the expansion teams don't want Gibbs to coach until 1995, when his Redskins contract will have run out, they feel they should be allowed to talk to him.
It remains to be seen what owner Jack Kent Cooke's reaction is to this argument, but Tagliabue may have to get involved if Cooke continues to deny permission to teams to talk to Gibbs. Cooke apparently wants compensation.
Carolina is expected to have the edge on Jacksonville because Gibbs' race car team is in Charlotte.
But Jacksonville owner Wayne Weaver could outbid Carolina for Gibbs.
There's been speculation that Gibbs might be able to command $10 million for five years and become the first coach to earn $2 million a year.
Gibbs, meanwhile, indicated that he's going to wait for the teams to deal with Cooke on the matter.
Gibbs dealt with Cooke for 12 years as Redskins coach and has apparently decided that's enough.
Although Gibbs said he called Cooke to wish him and the Redskins a good season at the start of the year, Gibbs said Cooke has never called him since he resigned last March 5.
The Shula watch
Now that Wayne Huizenga has agreed to buy the Miami Dolphins from the Robbie family, look for coach Don Shula to get a contract extension.
Huizenga is close to Shula and wants him to continue coaching past next season. Since Shula's contract expires after the 1994 season, Huizenga figures to extend it.
The NFL has to bend its rules -- or change them -- to allow Huizenga to complete the purchase because he owns the Miami baseball and hockey teams.
NFL rules don't allow their owners to own teams in other sports.
Tagliabue said the league will look at it, but a higher authority -- Jerry Jones -- has said it's fine with him. That should mean the Huizenga deal will be approved.
Going for two
Ever since the AFL merged with the NFL in 1970, Kansas City Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt has proposed a two-point conversion for the NFL. It's never gotten much support.
But now with the league concerned about dull games, Tagliabue said Friday that it may get "some fresh analysis."
A two-point conversion could make the finish of games with scores such as 28-20, 21-13 and 14-6 exciting because the trailing team could tie it with one touchdown and a two-point conversion.
fTC It still may be difficult to get 21 votes for the idea. Old habits die hard in the NFL.
Don't tell Bills coach Marv Levy that these Super Bowl trips are getting old hat for the Bills.
"Does Christmas become old hat for a kid?" he asked.
For the Bills, though, the Super Bowl is more like Halloween. They get the trick instead of the treat.