Thomas is anything but trivial to Dallas


IRVING, Texas -- Blair Thomas is the answer to a trivia question.

Who is the running back who was selected ahead of Cortez Kennedy, Junior Seau and Emmitt Smith in the 1990 draft?

Thomas, the second player picked in that draft by the New York Jets, has been a bust. The Jets cut him at the end of last season and the New England Patriots signed him and then cut him again this year.

The Cowboys then signed him on Nov. 30 to back up Smith. He carried 24 times for 70 yards in the final two games after Smith went down with a pulled hamstring.

Now Thomas could be in the spotlight in the NFC title game after Smith again injured his hamstring yesterday. If Smith can play only sparingly, Thomas will have to carry the load.

"It's a golden opportunity," Thomas said.

But he said he's not trying to prove the teams made a mistake by cutting him.

"I don't think I have to prove that anybody was wrong. I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time on numerous occasions," Thomas said.

Thomas was held to 10 yards on eight attempts in the first half, but rallied to finish with 70 yards on 23 carries.

Thomas said the Cowboys made some adjustments to the running game in the second half.

"I was hitting the holes too fast because I was anxious," he said. "The adjustments allowed me to make some yards."

Cowboys vs. '76 Steelers

When Fox personality Terry Bradshaw visited the Cowboys last week, the team's PR director, Rich Dalrymple, a Pittsburgh native, needled the former Steelers quarterback.

He said if the Steelers had been able to beat the Oakland Raiders without ailing running backs Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier in the 1976 AFC title game, the Cowboys wouldn't have to deal with all the questions about becoming the first team to win three straight Super Bowls.

Now that Smith is hurt again, the Cowboys will hear a lot more questions about trying to win a conference title game with their best runner ailing.

The comparisons with the Cowboys and 1976 Steelers are almost eerie.

As the Cowboys are now, the 1976 Steelers were two-time defending champions playing the same foe in the conference title game for three straight years. Dallas' opponent plays in San Francisco, and the 1976 Steelers' opponent played in the same area, across the San Francisco Bay in Oakland.

In 1976, Harris suffered bruised ribs when Joe Ehrmann fell on him at Memorial Stadium during the Steelers' 40-14 first-round playoff victory over the Baltimore Colts. Bleier suffered a foot injury.

Neither was able to play in the AFC title game in Oakland the next week when the Raiders, who had lost to the Steelers in the two previous AFC title games, beat them, 24-7.

Harper shows up

Alvin Harper, who had two catches in the last four games, caught two for 108 yards yesterday, including his record 94-yard catch.

Coach Barry Switzer said, "Alvin shows up in big games. Everybody's asking me, 'Where's Alvin, where's Alvin?' Well, Alvin was here today."

The Harper play broke the NFL playoff record of an 86-yard touchdown catch held by Bob Hayes of the Cowboys and Tim Brown of the Raiders. Elbert Dubenion of the Buffalo Bills set the AFL record with a 93-yard touchdown catch in 1963.

Signal switch

Switzer said it was Troy Aikman's best game since the opener in Pittsburgh.

Aikman replied, "I would dispute that."

Whether it was or wasn't, Aikman used a radio helmet for the first time instead of having the plays signaled in from the sidelines.

"Maybe teams were getting a bead on our signals, not what the play was, but being able to tell the difference between run and pass based on the way we signaled things in. It was a concern of mine that maybe that might be going on. I never gave it a second thought, but some of the players mentioned it to me. I had to break in a new helmet in order to put the radio in," Aikman said.

Why didn't he use the radio helmet earlier?

"I'm kind of a creature of habit," he said.

Sharp without Sharpe?

When Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre was asked if it would have been different if wide receiver Sterling Sharpe had been able to play, he said: "I haven't had time to stop and think about that. His health is more important to us than any contribution he makes on the field."

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