The best team that money can buy considers the Super Bowl its home away from home.
After the Cowboys qualified for the Super Bowl for the third time in four years by bashing the Green Bay Packers, 38-27, in the NFC title game at Texas Stadium yesterday, they treated the return as a homecoming.
Wide receiver Michael Irvin, who caught two touchdown passes from Troy Aikman, said, "Fellows, we're going home. We're not going to the Super Bowl, we're going home. We let somebody buy our house last year. Now I'm going home. I'm going to check the lease, see if they left it dirty. Where we're going is home. Period. That's where we belong."
The Cowboys will play the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XXX in Phoenix on Jan. 28, but they consider that a coronation.
Because the NFC champion has won the Super Bowl 11 straight years, cornerback Deion Sanders had no doubt that the team will make it 12 straight.
"I deal with facts," Sanders said. "What are the stats?"
The victory was vindication for owner Jerry Jones -- who spent a record $62 million on his player payroll -- and coach Barry Switzer, who has had a caretaker image since replacing Jimmy Johnson two years ago.
"It has its own aura about it," Jones said of the Super Bowl trip. "It reminds me of the first time we went."
Irvin strongly defended Switzer.
"He's gone to back-to-back NFC championship games and you still say the man can't coach. He can't do this. He can't do that. Barry gets no pops [credit], no pops whatsoever. I want to hear it now. Somebody write it tomorrow. Please. Give this man a little credit. He deserves it," he said.
Switzer brushed off his critics.
"You always have critics. I'll continue to have them. I've never been to the big one before. They tell me it's a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to the opportunity," he said.
This one wasn't easy for the Cowboys, though.
The underdog Packers actually led 27-24 going into the final quarter before the Cowboys put the game away with two fourth-period touch downs by Emmitt Smith. That gave him three for the game, and he finished with 150 yards on 35 carries.
After the Cowboys marched 90 yards in 14 plays to take a 31-27 lead, Larry Brown picked off a Brett Favre pass to set up the clinching touchdown.
"I'm glad it struck midnight," Irvin said. "Cinderella, go home."
The Packers tried to single-cover Irvin at times, but it backfired as he caught seven passes for 100 yards and two touchdowns.
It was the sixth straight time during the past three years that the Packers have lost at Texas Stadium, including playoff losses the past three years.
But this one left a sour taste for the Packers because the game was filled with scuffles and Erik Williams knocked Packers defensive tackle John Jurkovic out of the game with a block behind his knees.
In the third period, Frank Winters of the Packers was penalized for pushing Chad Hennings. A few plays later, Leon Lett was penalized for retaliating against Winters.
Cowboys linebacker Dixon Edwards, who got a penalty for hitting Keith Jackson out of bounds, explained all the mayhem by saying, "It was because it was for the Super Bowl. Guys get heated during the game."
The Cowboys dominated the first half, but led only 24-17 at halftime because Green Bay stayed in the game with a pair of big plays.
The first was a 73-yard touchdown pass from Favre to Brooks, who beat Larry Brown and then outraced him to the end zone.
That touchdown cut the Cowboys' lead to 14-10 and Antonio Freeman, of Baltimore, set up their next score with a 39-yard punt return. The Packers gained 15 more yards when John Jett was penalized 15 yards for dragging Freeman down by his face mask.
Two plays later, Keith Jackson caught a 24-yard touchdown pass from Favre to give the Packers a 17-14 lead.
But the Cowboys came back with a 34-yard Chris Boniol field goal.
Smith then scored on a 1-yard run with 24 seconds left in the first half to climax a 99-yard drive in 11 plays.
The Packers seemed to have a chance for an upset when they scored 10 points in the third period on Chris Jacke's 37-yard field goal and Favre's 1-yard pass to Brooks that climaxed a 79-yard drive.
But after the Cowboys reeled off a 90-yard drive of their own to take the lead, Favre threw the interception to Brown that turned the game.
Favre said, "I saw Mark Ingram looking at me. He wasn't the primary receiver, but he was looking at me. I thought he was
going to stop. Larry had his back turned when I threw the ball. Then he turned around and made the play. Turnovers were costly."
The Cowboys and Steelers will now be trying to tie the record San Francisco set last year when it became the first team to win five Super Bowls. The matchup will be the first time the same two teams have met three times in the Super Bowl.
Dallas will be attempting to become the first team to win three Super Bowls in a four-year span. Pittsburgh won four times in a six-year span in the 1970s.
Defensive lineman Chad Hennings said, "There's no comparison between this win and our previous NFC championships. This one is so much sweeter because of all the adversity we faced this year."