Cowboys' Switzer is left crying in his root beer


SAN FRANCISCO -- Barry Switzer steadied a can of root beer in his hand so as to avoid spillage, then reached for stage props.

"This is all I did," said Switzer, banging his left hip into an innocent bystander. "I'm looking for flags, and there are none. So I went up to the official and demonstrated what happened. Comical. It was comical."

Alas, that's how it ends for world champions. With their rookie coach doing curtain calls before strangers in a soggy, losing dressing room. Switzer's right. There's a word for it, but it's not comical.

Oh, the Dallas Cowboys probably were doomed anyway yesterday, for they fell off their horses early against the San Francisco 49ers and never got up. You don't yield three touchdowns five minutes into an NFC championship and live to chase a third straight Super Bowl title.

But the Cowboys were still trying in the mud of Candlestick Park when Switzer, a college retread from Oklahoma, reinforced his amateur standing. He thought Dallas receiver Michael Irvin was held by San Francisco's Deion Sanders on a second-down pass attempt, and Switzer probably saw correctly, judging from TV replays.

However, when an interference penalty was not forthcoming, Switzer childishly barged onto the field and bumped Sid Semon, the head linesman. Switzer got his yellow handkerchief, and the Cowboys stalled at 38-28, which is how it finished.

"If they make the right call," Switzer droned on, "I promise we score, and it's 35-38. Who knows then?"

And who knows whether the Cowboys might have been more organized this fateful afternoon under their previous mentor? Jimmy Johnson, who led Dallas to consecutive Super Bowl routs, never had a hair, or a detail, out of place.

"I can't speculate on that," said Jerry Jones, the owner who escorted Johnson out of Texas. "That penalty Barry took, it wasn't timely, but I can't blame our defeat on that."

Certainly, the Cowboys can't say they lost because of paralysis through analysis. They didn't seem especially prepared to defend their rings or their honor.

After the trauma of falling behind 21-0 on three turnovers, the Cowboys made it 21-7 and were driving for another score when they got in their own way.

On third-and-10 at the San Francisco 12, the play call seemed strange indeed. Draw-play handoff to Emmitt Smith, off left tackle? Why not take one shot at the end zone? He didn't make it, and Dallas missed the field goal. So much for momentum.

Naturally, the 49ers turned around and put up a field goal -- but only after Steve Young sought Jerry Rice for more. Rice dropped the ball. He was not as cooperative with only seconds remaining in the first half.

The Cowboys had thoroughly bungled their way through the final two minutes. Following three incomplete passes, John Jett punted for only 23 yards, and the 49ers had possession at the Dallas 39 with a half-minute left.

Eat the ball? Not the 49ers. Chew this. Young unloaded to an utterly open Rice, and it was 31-14.

"Dumb," Switzer bellowed in a stream of unconsciousness that touched all bases. He didn't like the defensive scheme, and the punt was lousy, but, hey, the footing was even worse.

"A disgrace!!" Switzer droned. "A championship game should never be played on a field like that."

He wanted a complete new sod job, but he heard the 49ers rejected the idea. Switzer hears a lot of things. Including, you suspect, bells, whistles and choo-choo trains.

"I'm not going to lie to you," said quarterback Troy Aikman. "That penalty [on Switzer] hurt us. But did it cost us the game? I don't think so."

Aikman, courageous as ever, walked away from the dressing room without being decked by a 49er. That was a first for Sunday. But there was another red alert as Jimmy Johnson, the world's most fastidious TV analyst, strolled into the San Francisco celebration with a tight smile.

Maybe the Cowboys lost yesterday's big game last March, when they lost their leader. And maybe Jerry Jones deserves the yellow handkerchief.

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